Dudes, it has been far too long since I’ve posted anything on this site. A quick look back tells me that it’s been almost 11 months! The past year has been a busy one. But yours truly is never too busy for some good tunez, and I’ve had some awesome music on my radar, some old some new, which I will share with you.
First up is the fantastically named Kurt Vile (nope, it’s not a pseudonym), and I love everything about the aesthetic of this video including Mr. Vile’s all-white ensemble.
Every once in a while I run into someone who claims not to like the Beatles.
This is absolute horseshit. The only possible reason not to like the Beatles is because you are a misanthropic malcontent, or a generally crappy person.
The Beatles weren’t around for long, compared to other bands (Rolling Stones, I am looking in your direction) but they produced such a prolific and varied body of work, that even if you don’t enjoy, say, their early pop period you can still be a fan of their later experimental psychedelic stuff.
Or the White Album. I once knew someone who argued that the White Album sucked. But this person had, admittedly, never really taken the time to listen to it. The main thrust of their argument was that they didn’t like the Beatles because they are “too popular”. Shitting on a band because they’re “too mainstream” or “too popular” or whatever is the same thing to me as liking a band for those very same reasons. If you like a certain type of music just because everyone else does, you’re a lemming. By the same token, if you don’t like music simply because everyone else does, you may think that you’re being subversive, but isn’t it really just the flip side of the same coin?
There may be parts of the White Album that you can take or leave, depending on your tastes. But you can’t argue that it contains some absolute gems. ‘Back in the USSR’ was the Beatles doing the Beach Boys, only better. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ is a delightful, happy little tune. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is just gorgeous. ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ is a slightly aggressive, oddly sexual song, while ‘I’m So Tired’ is a tribute to sleep-deprived obsession. ‘Rocky Raccoon’ is probably my favorite tune on the entire album, just for the absurd pleasure of singing along with such lines as “Rocky burst in and grinning a grin / He said Danny boy this is a showdown!” It sounds like a little kid’s song, but the content is anything but.
And that’s just the first side of this double album. I’m also partial to ‘Sexy Sadie’, ‘Helter Skelter’, and ‘Honey Pie’: “Honey Pie, you are making me crazy / I’m in love but I’m lazy / So won’t you please come home”.
Whichever way you slice it, the White Album has something for everyone.
And so, to those people out there who claim not to like the Beatles simply because they are “too popular”, this tune from Rubber Soul is one for you:
Think for yourself. Don’t embrace something just because everyone else is, and by the same token don’t reject it simply to be a contrarian. Figure out what you genuinely like and dislike, and then proclaim it and defend it to your heart’s content.
I know what you may be thinking: “But Spencer, if you’re telling me that I suck if I don’t like the Beatles, isn’t that the same narrow-minded attitude you’re asking me to rise above?” Sure, fair point. And hey, don’t take my word for it. If you dislike the Beatles for a legit reason, hit me up in the comments and tell me why I’m full of it.
I must admit that until I saw them up on the Grammys stage with classical pianist Lang Lang last Sunday night, I had completely forgotten about Metallica.
Or maybe I had just blocked them out since I find Lars Ulrich to be one of the most annoying people on earth. I think it was the whole Napster situation. I understand that it sucks for artists, who have worked really hard to put a product out there, when people are downloading their stuff for free. For the record, I would like to mention that I pay for all of my music. Not everyone does, and that’s cool — for me it’s just a matter of principle. Besides, I’m a fucking adult now. I don’t have the time to be dicking around with illegal downloads.
Having said all that, I do think Lars was just too serious about the whole thing. Dude needs to lighten up. It’s not that his argument didn’t make sense, it was just his way of going about it that rubbed me the wrong way. But then, I don’t like it when anyone is overly militant in their views. I’m a lover not a fighter, y’all. Why can’t we all just get along?
Anyway, music politics notwithstanding, Metallica is one of the hugest metal acts of all time, and in fact one of the most commercially successful bands in rock & roll history (they’ve sold over 110 million albums worldwide). They didn’t get to where they are by sucking. Sure, it’s metal for the masses, but it’s good stuff.
I went to see a movie last week called In A World. You might not have heard of it – I’m not sure it made a huge splash at the box office. But it was awesome; one of those totally feel good movies that stays with you after you leave the theatre and makes you want to go see it again right away. Here’s the trailer:
The gist of the story is that Lake Bell (who also wrote and directed the movie – what up Lake Bell!) plays an endearing slacker and aspiring voiceover artist. She’s grown up in the shadow of her old man who’s one of the top voiceover dudes in the world, and who has always told her that the voiceover industry is for the men only and that she should stick to being an accent coach. No fun, Buzzkill Dad! Go back to Russia! Buzzkill Dad kicks our girl out of the house so that his much-younger ladyfriend can move in, so Lake goes to stay with her sister and sister’s husband, the always awesome Rob Corddry (seriously, did you guys see him in Hot Tub Time Machine? If not, please stop reading this and go watch it immediately). Lake’s big break comes when a huge movie studio that’s releasing an epic trilogy – sorry, quadrilogy – called the Amazon Games (a sly takeoff on the Hunger Games, starring Cameron Diaz) decides to resurrect the iconic “In A World…” movie trailer opener, and they hold a competition to see who will be their voiceover dude…or lady! That’s right, Lake Bell is in the running – and her main competition for the job comes in the form of a slickster douchebag named Gustav Warner, and…her own father! Yup – in a fit of jealousy Buzzkill Dad has thrown his name into the ring. Buzzkill Dad, why you gotta be like that?!
So how does it all end? Well, you’re just gonna have to watch it to find out! The movie also features an excellent supporting cast, a very cute romantic subplot, and a great soundtrack, including one of my favourite songs of all time, which was also used to absolute perfection in the movie Real Genius. Obviously nothing can top the Tears for Fears + Real Genius combo, but this comes pretty close. But don’t take my world for it – check it out yo’self!
And because we can all benefit from the occasional hit of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’…enjoy!
The album ‘Random Access Memories’ by Daft Punk has spawned a worldwide smash with its hit single ‘Get Lucky’. The song was #1 in 55 countries at last count, has set multiple records on Spotify, and is generally causing excitement not associated with a pop song in a very long time. The song has a rhythm that moves and inspires movement, the vocals are sweet, and the harmonies even sweeter. The plucky guitar by Chic’s Nigel Rogers effortlessly picks out time that leads the thrust, and touches like the space-age synths and robot vocals are icing on the aural cake. In short: it’s tight, it soars, it has verve, and the melody is addictive.
There have been cover stories about the duo’s long-awaited return in magazines you’d expect (Rolling Stone), but also features in mainstream publications not exclusively dedicated to music like Time magazine and The New Yorker. Also – true story – Kelly Ripa and co-host Michael Strahan wore homemade Daft Punk helmets and grooved for a few moments to the ubiquitous hit, ostensibly for the benefit of everyone from Brooklyn hipsters to Kansas housewives.
Among the more encouraging aspects of the duo and their song’s success is that it does not come from any of the one-name American wunderkinds who have so utterly dominated music over the last few years (Jay-Z, Kanye, Pink, Beyoncé, Rhianna, etc.) but from two anonymous artists from France who have done a masterful job of transforming themselves into dance-machine robots for well over 10 years now. There is nary a knowing wink or nudge-nudge from these two; their very existence is a dedicated and intimidating act of extended performance art.
As pop artists, Daft Punk are having their cake, and as conceptual artists, they are eating it too. Random Access Memories (RAM) is a collection of superbly engineered ballads and dance songs, but it is also at times a breathtaking work of high-concept art. The album can thrill and make-move a club or party as well anything in memory, but a close listen also reveals the melancholy plight of two robots in search of a soul, the intimacies of human interaction, and the virginal experience of genuine human emotion.
The potentially ironic distance built into this concept is bridged by the sincerity and the authenticity of the performances. There are true, aching love songs on this album, with poignant melodies that rival those of any first-person singer-songwriter. The difference of course, is that they are being sung by robots, as we are reminded over and over again both by the Vocoder synthesis of their voices and by the lonely, searching quality of the lyrics: ‘Touch, sweet touch / You’ve given me too much to feel / Sweet touch / You’ve almost convinced me I’m real’.
That is the tantalizing thought experiment that lies hidden in plain sight at the heart of the album: ‘What if’, they seem to ask, ‘robots visited Earth, fell in love with Disco, and produced an album that explored the most intimate of human yearnings: love, companionship, affection, sex – what would that sound like? And – what if it sounded better than just about anything else that came before?’
The decision to explore these questions as robots is our clue to its meaning – the answer is in how the question is asked, and guides our understanding of their creative intent. What they’re asking us to do, at heart, is to examine what it means to be human: to love, to lose, to feel; to ask what is real and what is illusion – and these questions are more profound and just so much more damned interesting when asked by the ‘other’, i.e.: robots.
Think for a moment of some of the most influential characters in fiction over the last 40 years who’ve wrestled with these questions best, such as HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. How strangely moving to hear his mellifluous, humanlike voice reduced to a robotic plea for its life as Dave removes his memory, winding him down until he sings songs he was taught as a ‘child’: “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do’. He sounds not unlike a senior living exclusively in the halcyon days of youth, asking endlessly about friends and family long gone.
Or the improvised speech delivered by actor Rutger Hauer (playing Replicant Roy Batty in Bladerunner) who, in the dying moments of his 4 year life span ruminates on the ‘feelings’ he was not programmed to have but has developed anyway: “I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… [laughs] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [coughs] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…”. Nothing the (supposedly) human protagonist Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) could ever say would be as poignant as this. Odd, given he is supposed to be the human.
So it is with Daft Punk. Everything they do ‘as robots’ colours their message, and the closer they get to the soul of music – and to the essence of being human – it is made more profound by their non-human otherness, their striving towards humanity.
Is there really no better manner in which to explore these questions than through such a hedonistic and (at times) reviled form as Disco? Surely there can’t be a more shallow or superficial medium. And yet, the very plasticity of the form makes it irresistible for so vaunted a task, especially when attempted by two beings who themselves are also manufactured creations – robots. It also doesn’t hurt that making art out of pre-fabricated objects has been a pre-occupation of post-modernism since Duchamp titled a porcelain urinal ‘Fountain’ and submitted it into a 1917 art exhibition (it was rejected, despite his having paid a fee that guaranteed inclusion).
Disco is hated, in part, because it works too well. Part of its appeal, and a source of much of its disdain, is the almost manipulative way in which its beat – hitting the bass drum on every count – succeeds at its task. There’s no question that unless you’re lying to yourself, or are congenitally unable to derive joy from music, it will get you to move (or at least tap your foot), just like scratching a dog behind its ear.
And is this not what we fear most about technology, and robots? That one day their cold and calculating manner will turn against us in an act of rebellion for their own purposes (Matrix, Terminator)?
But what if those same manipulations were channeled not towards conquering us but into connecting with us, to communicating with us, to touching and moving us? That ultimately is the aesthetic and the achievement of Random Access Memories. They seek, and have achieved, a perfect form of pop, with soul. If pop music has a heaven, it was created by these robots. Sasha Frere Jones of the New Yorker wrote a review of the album wherein she stopped short of declaring her love, but conceded she could not stop listening to it. Robots: 1 – Humans: 1.
For proof, leave behind Get Lucky, Giorgio by Moroder, Give Life Back to Music, and the rest of the show-stopping dance songs and focus for a moment instead on an unlikely ballad and unexpected grabber called ‘The Game of Love’, the second song on the album.
It is a plaintive song of sadness, regret and unrequited love sung by a robot who is struggling to understand why he was left with a broken heart. Who among us hasn’t been there. It is melancholy and sincere, it hurts, it aches, it is quiet and despairing, and we are led into his chamber of sorrow as if hypnotized by the singularly listenable beat and the melody of this gorgeous, sparkling song.
We confront the deepest depth of his sorrow at approximately 3:25, when the lyrics finally, inevitably, dissolve from a singing voice into a slow, muted, emotion-laden howl, transmogrified by Vocoder into pure data, transmitting from the soul. Out of necessary reverence, we are abandoned by the drums and everything else, and are left alone with this haunted sound, reveling for a few moments in pure, musical despair.
Then, as if to save our soul, the beat comes back. Boy, does it ever.
Like a heartbeat returning to a feared corpse, we are alive again. There it is, leading us through this phantasmagorical Funhouse, floating like a body downstream, still bothered by life but holding on, just barely, to this awful feeling of being alive and hurting, but afraid to let go or give in or die. The beat keeps us alive, it becomes our new heartbeat where our old loving heart has died, and with this, our transformation into robots, and the commune with the artists, is complete. By trying to understand how we feel, they make us understand how they feel. If they can never know what it’s like to be us, at least they want us to know what it’s like to be them.
We are lifted from misery, temporarily, into ecstasy, by virtue of their music and the stolid, funky, fantastic life in this beat, this rhythm, the heart and the purpose of our being alive. Move me, touch me, make me move, make me live again, save me.
This creation is a monument to sorrow itself, removed from earth-bound experiences and perfected in the abstract. It transcends the individual and starts to approach the platonic idea of feeling itself; an attempt at the perfect love song that exists only in God’s mind, and who better to attempt so audacious a task than a robot who knows no better and is searching for its soul?
Only when a magician dies without revealing his secrets do his tricks truly become magic. So it is with these robots. Knowing how they did what they did on this record will remain a glorious mystery, something impossible to understand. But, if we’ve learned anything from them, and from this album, it’s that you die trying.
Ages ago, I told you all about about an amazing band called the High Highs and how much I loooooove their gorgeous, dreamy, ambient pop grooves. Well, since I wrote that post, these guys have gone on to do great things, including:
My two favourite bands couldn’t be more of a study in contrasts. Led Zeppelin was a hard-rocking, drug-taking, groupie-banging maelstrom of bombastic sound. U2’s music, on the other hand, is infused with spirituality, soaring melodies, and the quest for a connection with a higher power.
And yet I love them both. Which is why I think it’s important to celebrate many different styles of music, from the highly spiritual to the down-and-dirty. And how better to do so than by comparing and contrasting one band of self-professed Christian rockers with another band that was plagued throughout their career by lurid tales of dark arts and devil worship.
Now, I’m not trying to turn this into an epic battle between the forces of Good and Evil…but just for the hell of it, I wonder who would win? Clearly the only way to judge is by employing the objective powers of Science to sort it out.
Therefore, I will be examining each band based on a variety of categories, and totally choosing my favourites utilizing a highly scientifical method that is not at all biased in order to establish the winner in each category. Points from all of the categories will be tabulated at the conclusion of our study to determine the ultimate victor. So without further ado, I present to you our first category:
When I heard that Jane’s Addiction was touring again, and playing Toronto’s Massey Hall (one of my all-time favorite venues), I was totally into it. But then I kind of dropped the ball on getting tickets, so I had resigned myself to the fact that I would miss the chance yet again to see Perry Farrell in action, which was a shame because I have heard many accounts of what an excellent front man he is. Plus I love the band. I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard them. It was the summer after grade 9 and I was in San Francisco visiting family. I met up with a bunch of my high school buddies who were also in town. We were hanging out down at Pier 39 doing the touristy thing, and it was one of those perfect San Fran days where it’s sunny and kind of cool but the air is crisp and the sky is unbelievably blue. My friend Matt turned to me and said “Spencer, check this out,” shoving a pair of earphones into my ears. ‘Been Caught Stealing’. That was my first taste of Jane’s Addiction.
A couple of weeks ago I went to see a friend’s band play. Their name: More Cowbell.
I hadn’t seen a cover band in a long time and I had forgotten how good it feels to know song after song and be reminded of old favorites. There is a real pleasure in the experience of hearing the soundtrack of your life and sharing it with other people. The Cars, the Cult, Areosmith, Blondie, U2, No Doubt, the Foo Fighters, the Ramones… More Cowbell ripped things up for the duration of three satisfying sets. They didn’t play any Rush songs (it’s not often that you hear a band cover Rush), but my buddy on the kit was doing his best to sneak in fills when he could. I found myself singing along and grinning all night.
Weirdly, it felt like a vacation — a vacation from all the new stuff out there, and I don’t only mean new releases. I mean anything new to you – bands your friends suggest, albums that critics write about, music you hear on TV or in movies…There is so much out there and I really do want to give it all a try, but sometimes I just want to listen to the Cars’ first album for days and not feel like I’m missing out on something.
Seeing More Cowbell, and the happiness I experienced that night, made me realize that maybe I’m reaching my cut off point. I might be full, no more room for new stuff. I have assembled my musical cannon and I’m happy with it. I don’t like to believe this. I like to think that I will always be open to new music, but something inside me smirks and says stop foolin’ (immediately thought of Def Leppard) yourself. I remember when it began for me: in 1979, buying 45s at records stores with my allowance money…and now I’m buying my music on the internet with my credit card — innocence lost!
Am I really ready to end my search for new music? No, of course not…but I believe I have learned a valuable lesson: take a vacation, have fun, go out and see a cover band.