Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review Number Tres: Donavon Frankenreiter, Glow

This review may have never been published. It is definitely not online and I was out of town the day it may have ran in the print section. My EDITORS did not like it, possibly because it is mean:

The way that music reviews work here at the ol’ badger-herald is simple. Our editors read out a bunch of album titles, and we (the writers) raise our hands and pick the ones we want to review. There wasn’t anything that particularly piqued my interest this week so I raised my hand and accepted the assignment of reviewing Donavon Frankenreiter’s latest LP Glow. Since I didn’t know anything about Frankenreiter at this point, I scoured the internet searching for information on this man of mystery. I was a bit perturbed when I saw that Donavon used to be signed to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records, simply because if I’m going to listen to an unassuming guy sing unassuming songs with an unassuming acoustic guitar, I’d prefer to just listen to Johnson himself. But I decided to keep an my mind open to Donavon’s message and I’m glad I did because I learned a lot. Here are some of the things I learned:

Donavon Frankenreiter wants to see you glow. Trouble is, he doesn’t know exactly what that means. According the title track, “the more things change, the more they shine.” So it’s possible that Donavon Frankenreiter wants to see you change as much as possible to increase your glow, which is a bit of a confusing sentiment if he’s attempting to be romantic.

Donavon Frankenreiter knows it’s hard to let go (on the fifth track, “Push”). You and he keep breaking up and making up and it’s really getting old. You can’t keep pushing him down like this. You’re not letting him hold your hand and play in your park. But you know what, it’s okay. At the end of the song, nothing has happened. You guys are still just making up to break up. Just like Method Man.

Donavon Frankenreiter wants you to do what the eighth track is called and “Dance like Nobody’s Watching.” I found this to be a particularly admirable, not to mention original, sentiment. Why hasn’t anyone ever put this on a poster, or a facebook profile or something?

Donavon Frankenreiter posits (on the track “Hold On”) that “if everyone lived just like they felt, oh there would be so much love, that hate would just have to melt.” I agree. People should start doing what they want more often. If everyone was doing exactly what they felt like doing, no one would ever get mad at anyone else. (In Frankenreiter’s defense, this may very well be true if you live in Hawaii.)

Donavon Frankenreiter reminds me of the guy with the guitar at the party trying to pick up chicks. Not because he is that guy though. He’s the other guy, the one next door to the popular sleaze, with half the audience, and a quarter of the talent. Jack Johnson’s best songs are either pretty stories (“Taylor”) or detailed, romantic sketches (“Banana pancakes”). The man can get a little boring, but even at his worst, he’s way better than his surfing buddy Frankenreiter who on Glow fails to say something noteworthy lyrically or musically. If the things I learned from Frankenreiter appeal to you, and you’d love to delve in deeper, by all means, run to the nearest record store and pick up Glow immediately. If not, maybe try someone (anyone) else.

Music Review Dos: Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, Lonely Avenue

The novelist Nick Hornby has proven himself to be singularly talented at capturing the voice of a fanatic. In “Fever Pitch,” he writes from the perspective of a football obsessive. In “How to Be Good”, he impersonates a woman who is fascinated by her own morality. In the famous “High Fidelity,” he writes from the perspective of a man who knows everything about music and nothing about women, and is equally compelled by both topics. So it’s unsurprising that, on Lonely Avenue, his new collaborative album with Ben Folds, the most successful songs are written from the perspective of characters that are driven by a singular, overwhelming focus.

Most of these character studies make for immensely successful songs. “Claire’s Ninth” turns a sympathetic third-person perspective on the eponymous Claire, who’s being taken out for her birthday by her newly divorced dad. Unfortunately for Claire, her father can’t help but focus on trying to get the waitress’s number and thus even on her special day, the focus is inevitably on her parents.

On the short, upbeat album opener, “A Working Day,” Hornby ridicules anonymous online criticism with such tongue in cheek lines as “A guy on the net thinks I suck and he should know/He’s got his own blog.” Perhaps the most poignant character study is made in the song “Belinda” about a washed up musician whose only hit song is dedicated to a woman he foolishly chose to leave.

Unfortunately, some of the studies are a bit too bold. “Levi Johnston’s Blues” qualifies as a misstep, as Folds tries to craft an anthem around Hornby’s faux sympathetic lyrics about being “a f*ckin redneck” who likes to “hang out with the boys, play some hockey, and kill some moose.” Even though some of these lyrics are lifted straight from Johnson’s Myspace page, they still come off as a patronizing attempt to simplify a public figure’s life.

A similar mistake occurs on “Doc Potus,” a song that’s probably meant as a tribute to the groundbreaking songwriter who wrote for Elvis and Ray Charles among others. Due to the necessarily short running time of a pop song, Hornby is forced to paint Potus with a broad brush as a man who wrote great songs in order to escape the bitterness of living in a wheelchair.

The music on the album is typical of Ben Folds moving from upbeat, jaunty piano songs to slower ballads. Folds is a practiced piano player and instead of showing off here, he fits his musical knowledge to the lyrics at hand. His voice is a bit of a double-edged sword; a juvenile whine that provides the right tone on the more caustic, witty songs, but can undermine the atmosphere on the songs that are a bit more serious. However, even Folds’ nasal voice doesn’t stop him from knocking the album’s highlight out of the park. “Picture Window” is a gorgeous ballad about the power of hope that’s somehow not corny at.

On paper, Lonely Avenue seems like a bold experiment, a collaboration between a practiced musician and a virgin songwriter. However, both Hornby and Folds have played their roles with élan, and the result is a strong, intelligent album that’s well worth a listen.

Badger Herald Reviews Uno: Michael Franti & Spearhead, The Sound of Sunshine

I'm working as a music critic and possibly a columnist for my school paper, the eminent Badger-Herald. Here is my first review:

At Rothbury Music Festival in 2008, pseudo political reggae-rocker Michael Franti displayed a knack for impressions, showcasing an impressive Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster in the middle of his set. On their new album, The Sound of Sunshine the 44-year-old and his band Spearhead display a similar ability, alternately producing Sublime, U2, Jack Johnson and John Mayer rip-offs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The first single and title track is a pleasant, bouncy affair, in which Franti channels Bradley Nowell’s sound while substituting optimism for melancholy. The anthemic “I’ll be Waiting” sounds like a more agreeable Bono. And the down-tempo “Gloria” is a pretty acoustic ballad, executed perfectly.

Unfortunately, Franti does not show the same gift for songwriting as he does for sonic imitation. His lyrics are insubstantial and vague at best and contemptibly schmaltzy at worst. On the odious “Headphones” Franti asks his romantic partner to “Plug your headphones straight into my heart/ Because I want you to know what I’m talking about.” There’s nothing wrong with this sentiment, but the way that it’s expressed makes you want to plug your headphones into a jack that’s not playing a Michael Franti song.

On the self-described “rock n roll with soul” jam “The Thing That Helps Me Get Through” Franti discusses his worldview: ““It’s a crazy world, a mixed up world, involving politics and the underworld.” But don’t worry. The subtle complexities of politics and the underworld won’t matter according to the chorus, which exclaims that “Nobody knows what you doin’ when you do to me, the thing that helps me get through.” Franti is well-known as a politically conscious musician and activist, and yet lyrics like these make him seem naïve, if not downright stupid.

The Sound of Sunshine is a follow-up to the band’s 2008 effort All Rebel Rockers, their most popular album ever, which at its peak reached number 38 on the Billboard 200 pop charts. That success, along with the success of the hit single “Say Hey (I Love You),” has clearly influenced the new album, as most of the songs avoid the political themes that Franti has grappled with in the past and instead deal with enjoying, celebrating and loving life. However, this overwhelming optimism can also be attributed to Franti’s recent near-death experience, which occurred when his appendix ruptured on tour. After undergoing major surgery, Franti told Blender magazine that he was now more interested in writing songs that were inspiring to him that would help him get through the day.

This positive outlook on life, combined with the newly redefined message of the band ensure that The Sound of Sunshine is a listenable, pleasant affair. Despite the lack of depth or substance, the album remains an optimistic, fun, 43 minute experience. These songs are really more about family and the vague overwhelming power of love than they are about anything important or even specific. But at the end of day, the music is likable and diverting. With The Sound of Sunshine Michael Franti and Spearhead have created a passable imitation of a good album, one that fans of lighthearted, bouncy reggae-rock are likely to enjoy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Advice that's Impossible to Follow

Celebrities say that they keep it real. But I don't think they remember what being a non-celebrity is like. Perfect example? The-Dream. His advice to you, is, if you ever happen to make your girlfriend mad, it's no thing. Just drop FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS on designer clothing and all will be well. This is kind of like the time that Jamie Foxx was asked by Sports Illustrated about how he picks winning teams and Foxx, obviously hoping to appeal to the average fan, said that he calls Kenny Smith, and shoots the shit with him for a while. Thanks Jamie Foxx and The-Dream, I will definitely call Kenny Smith right after this five thousand dollar shopping spree I'm about to take my girl on.

Video: Curren$y-So High


When I started listening to rap, everything seemed really simple. First there were Eminem and Dr. Dre, and their 2000 albums, The Marshall Mathers LP, and 2001. Then, after enjoying those albums, I went back and got everything either of them had ever done (which obviously worked a little better for Dre) and everything anyone who collaborated with them had ever done. And from there, I just spread out, listening to the music I liked by the artists and producers I liked. And the cool thing was, I was naive enough to think that this was all just rap, no further categorization needed.

Things are different now. Gangster rap doesn't occupy the mainstream space it once did, and people like me who grew up on Gangster Rap 2.0 have a hard time figuring out what to listen to. Rap is about 25 years old now, and just like Rock N Roll right before it hit that scary third decade, it's splitting itself and multiplying, producing sub-genre on sub genre in an effort to to further define an original and unique sound.

This is bad for some music, but its terrific for others. Most notably, stoner-rap, one of those genres that's been around forever but that I failed to categorize, even after going back and listening to Devin the Dude's entire catalogue after hearing him on F**k You, on 2001. Stoner-Rap is strong right now, with rappers like Devin still going pretty strong (Suite 420 is not bad) and a new breed of rappers joining him, most notably Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y.

Curren$y is great. He's got a weird, slow flow which doesn't seem to adhere to the beat quite right, but somehow makes sense. What's more, he's got a great ear for beats, and an ability to make his co-stars sound as good as him (which probably has something to do with whatever he's sharing with them in the studio.) This is a long post to pretty much introduce this video for the Curren$y song So High, but I hadn't blogged for awhile, and wanted to get back into it a little bit. Anyway, this song exemplifies Curren$y's style, and the ladies in the video are extremely pretty.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Grow Up Hot Chip

These are the lyrics to a song by Hot Chip called "Brothers."

Brothers, I can take it if I know I'll see my brother
And just step back when I'm dancing with my brother is dancing with me
Brothers, I would give my life for my brothers
When we're driving and its late with my brother sat next to me

It's a wild love I have
it's a wild love that I have
it's a wild love I have
it's a wild love that I have for my brothers, for my brother

Brothers, I can play 'Xbox' with my brother
It's not about who won or lost with my brother
We play to be free
Brothers, I will drink my fill with my brothers,
And if one of us is ill then my brothers will watch over me

It's a wild love I have
It's a wild love that I have
It's a wild love I have
It's a wild love that I have for my brothers, for my brother

Brothers, when will we be three again my brothers?
The way we used to be again my brothers?
Now I bounce you on my knee again, my brother
We should be together now my brothers
There's four of us and what is more my brothers, my brothers, my brothers

It's a wild love I have
It's a wild love that I have
It's a wild love I have
It's a wild love that I have for my brothers, for my brother
It's a wild love I have
It's a wild love that I have
It's a wild love I have
It's a wild love that I have for my brothers, for my brother

I Mean, I love my bros as much as the next guy, but come on Hot Chip

Monday, February 1, 2010

Three different versions of Take On Me

Take on Me is a song from the eighties you have definitely heard. It's got a lot of synths, a chorus sung in a register which makes the gender of the singer questionable, and it's a lot of fun to play at parties. However, two things you might not know. One, is that Reel Big Fish covered this song for the Baseketball soundtrack, and despite what the av club says, I don't think it's half bad. However, nothing touches the brilliance of the literal version of the song. All three videos posted, and the best one, (the one I would recommend watching) is first.

Best quote from that version: When I stand here, it makes me human/I'm handsome either way/ You know you like it that I'm flirting with you

Here's the Reel Big Fish version. I honestly think it's pretty good.

And, for a point of comparison, the original, also worth watching, if you can stand it for the third time:

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Grammy Thoughts, Start at the Bottom

Ok, finally done with this. I did it like a liveblog, going up, which was silly, but I would recommend, if you're interested in reading any of it, starting at the bottom, because a. that's the beginning, and b. I was a lot more interested back then. (What a well written penultimate sentence, not counting this jaunt right here in the parentheses). Now to pick a picture!

11:25 John Legend and Santanna, randomest two people of all time, Album of the Year award, hope Beyonce wins, or possibly Lady Gaga. I think Beyonce's got it. Nope, Taylor Swift. Good for her, I'm annoyed, especially since i think I am...Sasha Fierce is a really good album. Meh, my sister will be happy. This is not a story, Taylor, and your grandchildren will not be more annoyed than I am right now.

11:13 Starting off with a new verse from Wayne. And so far, it's better than his original verse. And now its so censored that I have no idea what he's saying. Oh wait, yes I do, he's doing "Drop the World" off Relapse as a prelude to "Forever," I guess. Yup, here's Eminem. This is pretty good idea because both of these rappers kill their respective verses on this song. Ok, here's Forever. And what I thought was censoring, is just my tv randomly losing sound, unless Drake has been cursing a lot before he even started rapping. Now we're getting into the regular verses. Ridiculous that Drake wasn't nominated for Best New Artist, because the cut off date for the grammys is so early. He may have had one of the best years that anyone anywhere had in 2010. Drake is enjoying Wayne's verse A LOT. I maintain that Em has the best verse on this song, followed by Drake, then Kanye, then Wayne. Pretty good performance, but nothing special. Drake and Wayne love each other though, Eminem looked like he felt left out until Drake gave him a pity hug. Please let this thing be over with after the next commercial break.

11:12 Tarantino is getting fat. His shirt would be perfect for someone who had a little bit of cocaine on their shirt and didn't want it known. He's introducing "Forever" with Drake, Wayne, and Eminem, and Travis Barker. Pretty hilarious, actually.

11:04 The Les Paul tribute, featuring Jeff Beck is upbeat and diverting, thank God, because this ceremony had gotten extremely boring.

10:55 LL introduces Maxwell who will probably be a sleeper. And is singing with an as yet unidentified lady. Oh it's Roberta Flack.

10:47 Best Female Vocal Performance, hopefully Beyonce for "Halo," and yup, Beyonce for "Halo." I am doing pretty well predicting and junk. No big deal. Beyonce is giving a good speech. Unsurprisingly.

10:40 In the first interesting moment since the last time I wrote, Adam Sandler is on stage, wearing what is, apparently, Usher's jacket. Sandler has already been funnier than Colbert with two jokes. Oh, great, Sandler is introducing Dave Matthews Band.

10:26 Wyclef Jean and Will. I. Am. are exchanging jones. And now here comes a Haitian tribute performance by Andrea Bocelli, and Mary J. Blige and others. This performance is pretty good, and as my mom pointed out, the pairing of the two distinct voices works well.

10:17 Prediction for best rap sung collaboration:Run This Town Actual Winner: Run this Town. Happily, Jay called the barred Kanye a genius. And a little kid said that he didn't want to talk.

10:15 I'm officially tired of doing this for everything, so I'm only commenting on things I'm interested in from now on. The fans picked "Living on a Prayer." And Glee will probably cover it. And I will begin to hate it as much as I now hate "Don't Stop Believin" Thanks sopranos finale!

10:10 I freaked out at my family about how bad Dave Matthews Band is (because I thought they were about to perform) while Sheryl Crow quietly introduced Bon Jovi in the background. Now Sugarland is performing alongside BJ. I've just found out that my Dad "loves" both Dave Matthews Band and Sugarland neither of whom I've ever heard on his favorite XM Station, Channel 23, The Heart.

10:00 Everyone gives a totally deserved standing ovation at the end of the song for musical icon Michael Jackson. Now apparently some Jackson children are going to speak. The children that he tried to keep out of the public eye for years and years. The kid who is talking is very poised but looks sad. He gave a good, clear speech.

9:56 Jennifer Hudson is also singing. and Horsies! and Orcas! and Polar Bears! Beyonce is enjoying the crap out of the animals in 3-d but Jay doesn't even have his glasses on. He's getting crotchety in his old age, doesn't hold with this new- fangled dimensional technology. Will-I-Am is furious that he was not invited to freestyle over this beat during the performance, he is clearly of the caliber of all these other artists. The performance itself is decent, but the 3-d images are pretty distracting. Usher felt the need to kneel at the end of the song, utterly defeated by the power of music.

9:52 Lionel Richie is introducing Michael Jackson and "This Is It." I really want to see the movie, but I don't think I would ever buy the dvd. I do have my 3d glasses from avatar but I'm not going upstairs to get them. Blogging is sooooo tiring. Especially pretend live-blogging. MJ will be singing with Celine Dion, Usher, Carrie Underwood, Smoky Robinson.

9:46 Taylor Swift is performing her new song "Today was a Fairy Tale. Amelie Gillette of the Av Club said it best. Now Stevie Nicks and she are performing together. My dad thinks it sounds terrible. The girls (Both big T-swfit fans) are enjoying it. I am pretty much neutral. Now she is playing "You Belong with Me" which is a decent, if boring song, but I don't understand how with hits like hers she can masquerade as a country artist. She is doing this song in a little more of a country fashion, which is good, because she doesn't have to stretch her teeny tiny voice. They are giving her a lot of time, probably to draw in younger viewers.

9:45 Ryan Seacrest comes out alone, because he's too insecure about being so short to stand with anyone else. He's introducing "the phenomenal Taylor Swift." The marginally talented Taylor Swift takes the stage to ravenous applause.

9:38 Now they are playing "Chicken Fried" which I really like. My mom, who being a big fan of country radio has heard this song a billion times, but just burst out with: "What are Chicken Fries?!!" In her defense, it is strange that they refer to Fried Chicken backwards. Now the music is being played, speedily, which is enjoyable, and the lead singer is definitely enjoying himself. Good performance. The fiddler looks like a Julliard graduate, and does not fit in with the band's general boots and beards aesthetic.

9:35 Here come the Zac Brown Band to perform, with a country legend named Leon Russell, who I've never heard of, performing along with them. They start off singing "America the Beautiful," and singing it well. I wish this was the National Anthem. My sister on the heavily bearded Leon Russell: "It's Santa!" I'm enjoying this performance pretty well.

9:32 Katie Perry's whole thing is being a big ho. That's all she's really got going for her. She's not talented. Neither is Dave Mathews Band. These nominees (for Best Rock Album) are not exciting. I predict Green Day to win. And I am right. My family is too loud to hear the speech, but Billy Joe Armstrong was smiling the whole time which means he probably didn't get political.

9:26 Justin Bieber and Ke$ha, a match made in heavan. Bieber did his joke he does where he's in love with Beyonce. You might think it's a dumb joke, but when Jay is seventy, and Beyonce is only fifty, and Justin Bieber is forty, he'll have a definite shot. His best move is to keep doing the joke for three more months, and then abandon it entirely. Then when he meets Beyonce at a party in thirty years, he should casually bring it up. It's definitely going to work. Ke$ha's $ is even worse than P!nk's !.

9:20 Robert Downey Jr. looks weird. He's introducing the most confusing part of the ceremony so far. Which turns out to be Jamie Foxx and T-Pain singing "Blame It." I hate Jamie Foxx so much that I won't even pretend to be unbiased about this performance. It sucks. They just cut to a shot of Jay-Z nodding his head slightly while grinning and looking lame. Jamie Foxx makes everyone less cool. Not surprisingly, the Black Eyed Peas are enjoying his performance. Josh Duhamel looks confused though. George Clinton loves it. Thank God, T-Pain came in. He's not helping though. Jay-Z considered stopping his fake enjoyment of the performance, but then his eyes flashed grimly and he soldiered on. This whole thing has devolved into chanting mumbled nonsense, a fat chick dancing, and a Slash guitar solo. It's a mess. I hate Jamie Foxx so much. His outfit makes him look like a gay doorman.

9:17 "You belong with me" will win Best Record. Except it doesn't! Wow, I'm surprised and happy for the Kings of Leon, who used to be my favorite band and who I still like a lot. After three amazing albums, I'm ok with them becoming every celebrity's favorite band and winning a grammy.

9:11 Yeah, Colbert won. Now he's sucking again. I don't even dislike the guy but he's just not being funny tonight. And he keeps doing this stupid joke with his daughter. My mom: "If I were his daughter, I would want to shoot him."

9:10 Man, geeks suck. What was the point of this? Oh, Juanes, and random CBS girl are introducing the best comedy album. I don't have a prediction. Oh yes, I do, Colbert. Not Patton Oswalt, who is hilarious and definitely deserves it. Too many crappy comedians in this category. And no Aziz.

9:05 OMG JONAS BROS. Are they still popular? Has Kevin come out? His voice is getting higher. Here's a country performance from Lady Antebellum. My family is very happy with this performance but I'm pretty bored. And there's not any robots or naked trapeze ladies to distract me.

8:59 If I'm going to hear this song, sung especially badly because Fergie can't sing live, I do like to have the robots marching around to distract me. But I can't count that as a good performance. So 3/5, beginning to get back to standard grammy numbers

8:57 The Black Eyed peas are surrounded by robots and people who look like, according to my sister Kira, the Vermicious Knids, from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, which I've always liked better than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

8:54 Oh, good, another target advertisement. No wait, this is just their performance. I also maintain that Fergie is not that great looking. It really freaked me out as a teenager when she was on the cover of Rolling Stone's Hot Issue. That was the first time I realized that Rolling Stone was probably wrong about most of the stuff they wrote.

8:53 Just in case you forgot how omnipresent and crappy the Black Eyed Peas are, they're now doing commercials for Target. Whoohoo! Because going to Target somehow equates with having a "good, good night." and "living it up."

I forgot to mention that at the very beginning of the night, "Single Ladies" won out for Best Song over "You Belong with Me." Score one for Kanye. And Beyonce. And me. TayTay, as I've often heard her fans refer to her, won best country album. Score one for Tom Rehwaldt, Taylor Stewart, and my sister.

8:48 MGMT, who are no longer anything close to new, lose out on Best New Artist to Zac Brown Band. I like the one song I've heard, "Chicken Fried," but Oracular Spectacular was amazing and I have a hard time believing, (because I'm a snobby jerk) that ZBB's debut was better. Keri Hilson also lost. So -1 for hot chicks who kind of look like aliens.

8:44 Now she's all wet. And still spinning. and naked. and singing. I guess the song is so boring that she has to engage in all this high-flying madness to distract from the tedium. I don't think that was a great performance. Keith Urban, an Australian country singer: "That was amazing."

8:43 Now shes kinda naked. and now, as predicted, she is trapeze-ing. It's all a bit surreal although not unenjoyable. My mom's take: "Why would she want to do that?"

8:42 Boring performance so far, but I think she might start trapeze-ing around in a moment.

8:40 I have to learn to like P!nk as she's one of the most popular stars in Australia apparently. I don't really feel any kind of way about her, other than that it bothers me slightly to write that exclamation mark in her name instead of an i. The only person who uses a non letter in their stage name which I accept is Curren$y. Because that just makes sense.

8:40 Thought Seal was performing there again for a moment, very confusing.

8:34 3 for 3 on performances so far, unbelievable from the Grammy's. There's nothing to be angry about yet, other than Colbert's hosting.

8:28 This Beyonce performance looks to be incredible. "If I Were A Boy" good song, better video. My mom didn't like the crotch grab though.

8:26 It really bothers me how Taylor Swift is speechless with every award she gets. She writes catchy, pop country songs but I just don't like her. Maybe because everybody turned on the far more interesting Kanye after he interrupted her. She did give a really classy speech, once she calmed down from her (faux) surprise.

8:25 I don't care what Bon Jovi plays, but I guarantee they play "Livin' On a Prayer."

8:21 Listening to "21 Guns" by Green Day during the commercial break to see if it's any better than I remember. It's not, but that performance made me like it a lot more than I did before.

8:15 One of the most overrated album ever spawned a musical?! Are you kidding me? If any more casually pretty good pop punkers become political and are celebrated for becoming political, it will be American Idiot's fault. However, after all that I'm enjoying this song, and the whole cast of the musical performing it. 2 for 2 on performances tonight so far.

8:11: Colbert's monologue is absolutely terrible. It makes sense that he wouldn't be so great at this, his entire persona is devoted to being completely self-congratulatory

8:07: "How wonderful life is with gaga in the world." Says Elton John. Pretty epic duet and one of the best grammy performances I've seen in a while.

8:06 I love Lady Gaga and her performance at the grammys is cementing it. She gets being a celebrity in a way that most modern celebrities don't get. No one knows much about her personal life and no one cares. We're captivated by her public persona because she is always in costume, and that's what makes her so fascinating.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vampire Weekend Album Review: Contra

This is belated, but I have wanted to review this album ever since I got what my dad would refer to as my "grubby little hands" on it. I liked their first album, and although I did find the lyrics pretentious, (because in many cases they were pretentious,) I figured you have to let four Columbia guys write what they know. And from what I've heard from Brandon Cole I think Columbia knows some pretension.

Vampire Weekend is still writing what they know. But what makes Contra lyrically superior to their eponymous debut album, is that now they know what its like to be scorned for being pretentious. Contra is a contra, a rebuttal, a counterargument against the criticism that their first album received. And luckily, for anyone who likes them, they haven't abandoned their sound or the tone of the lyrics. Instead the lyrics are actually more substantive.

You can see the lead single, "Horchata" as being a prelude to the counterargument. It sounds a lot like any of the cuts on the first album, and its harmless and beachy, and yes a bit pretentious. But the key here, is that Contra is going to be more Room on Fire than First Impressions of Earth. The band isn't abandoning their sound.

The second song and second single "Cousins" is not quite as clear in its intent. However it is clear that "you" the song is addressed to is an anonymous blogger, as he is a "greatest hits list maker" and "was born with ten fingers and is gonna use them all" probably to insult vampire weekend. The mood of the song, while not particularly edgy, is more upbeat and drum heavy than most VW songs, which matches the muted anger towards the song's target. The cousins line is not entirely clear although on my blog you have to allow me to some moments of complete speculation, and I think it's saying that the bloggers are extremely similar to the members of Vampire Weekend, in effect, their cousins, so to paraphrase, STFU already insulting us when you're the same as us.

The third track, California English, is similar to Horchata in that it sounds like the same ol' Vampire Weekend, complete with references to Hapa Club, Skiing in the Alps, and Hair Gel. But it's bouncy and fun, and Ezra Koenig sings the lyrics pleasantly and speedily. Also, this track, just like the other two, is short, which makes its buoyant mood easy to bear. I wish I weren't listening to this album in the dead of winter, but Australia looms in two weeks, so I figure I'll listen to it properly there.

"Diplomat's son" is similar to California English in tone and feel, but catchier, and the story about the seduction of a diplomat's son (obvious) is more interesting than most VW lyrics. It took me a while to figure out that Koenig was singing IT was 81, as opposed to HE was 81. Confusing for a bit.

"Giving up the Gun" is my second favorite song on the entire album. It's catchy, it's interesting to hear young people writing about not being young anymore and the obviously Freudian sword/gun metaphor just makes the whole thing a pretty funny surprise. If all the songs were about this, the band would be indulging themselves in writing about things they know nothing about. But with this song, it just works.

"Holiday" is the worst song on the album, (and unfortunately I still like it). Its oppressively upbeat, and sounds like something you'd sing to a preschool class on a morning when it wasn't actually a holiday. Cheesy, ridiculous, and yet, I still kind of like it.

"I Think You're a Contra" is another song that's not particularly great. It's a slow burner and that makes you want to sit back and really listen to the lyrics, but they're cryptic, and bit annoying. The lyrics address an unknown, and question whether that unknown (who I always imagine to be a girl) is a contra or not. Two important sets of lines seem to hint at what the song's about. The first is: "You wanted good schools/ and friends with pools/ you're not a contra/ you wanted rock n roll/complete control/well I don't know." The point of this seems to be that a contra is someone who wants things that don't add up into a consistent persona. It would make sense for someone who wanted good schools to also want some friends with some g*ddam* pools. But NO ONE could want rock n roll and complete control. The second set: "Never pick sides/ never choose between two/ but I just wanted you" pretty much means, I love you despite your inconsistencies. And Vampire Weekend, possibly addressing that omnipresent blogger/hater in the back of their minds just want to be loved.

"Run" is Holiday done right. Also an answer to "Summertime Clothes." If I were the type to dance around or run around in meadows, those two songs would be on repeat all the time.

Taxi Cab is another song that's about the similarities between "you" and the band. But instead of being aggressive like "Cousins" this one is more confused. The most telling lyrics: "In the shadow of your first attack/ I was questioning and looking back/ you said baby we don't speak of that/ like a real aristocrat." If the you is still the blogger, or a disillusioned fan, this aggrieved response makes sense; Vampire Weekend was a hugely hyped band, which met with the inevitable backlash that hugely hyped bands always meet with, and they just don't get it. The music is subdued and pretty, and the song serves perfectly as the slower counterpart to "Cousins."

My favorite song, "White Sky" is not complicated and I haven't thought about the lyrics at all and don't really need or want to. This song is just joyous, and summery and encapsulates what I like about the band while leaving out what I dislike. It reminds me of my favorite thing they've ever done, which wasn't actually them but a reworking of one of their songs done by Esau Mwamwaya:

The sound of this album is remarkably similar to Vampire Weekend, which for fans is just about perfect. And if you were offended by the lyrics of the debut, these lyrics definitely refer to your concerns, and are probably more addressed to you than they are to me. So at least listen to them before you decide to be a contra.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This is Cool, The Girl is Hot

Cinnamon Chasers - Luv Deluxe (Music Video) from Saman Keshavarz on Vimeo.

Brett and Tyler, you guys would like this for sure.

Also, if you like me posting videos like this, or you watch them, please leave a comment so I know to keep posting them. When I'm not sure people if people will like the links I'm posting, I don't post them.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Wake Up Call to Anyone who Marginalizes Gangster Rappers as Being Stupid or Inarticulate

This is a video of rapper Mike Bigga, formerly known as Killa Mike, answering the question why do we still use the N-word today? Listen carefully, because he starts answering the question right away.

Mike Bigga and Dr. Cornel West Speak on the N-Word from on Vimeo.

This serves as an excellent short lecture on the relevance and significance of a word versus the connotation of that word; and as such, a rebuttal of those who say that the N word is a bad word no matter who is using it. It also offers us what might be a previously unclear lesson on why white people should avoid using this word with a troublesome history; especially in a nonacademic context. It is simply difficult to understand the tone and connotation with which a white person person might imbue the word. And it is much easier to imagine someone who is not black using this word in a hateful manner.

This video also serves as a different sort of rebuttal: a wake-up call to those who would dismiss gangster rappers as boneheads; and obviously and unfortunately, those people are still out there. This is a guy whose name was Killa Mike; who to the untrained ear sounded just like any other gangster rapper. And he is articulate enough to have Cornel West building upon his point rather than making a completely individual one, or arguing. Pretty impressive.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Animal Collective: Brothersport Video

For some reason, people seem to believe that a hyped band is often a band not worth listening to, disregarding the opinions of thousands which is literally what hype is. Normally we see this attitude when holier-than-thous discuss pop music (which means that they're missing the most digestible, danceable, and viscerally appealing music that is put out) but occasionally, when the holier than the holier-than-thous get together, they discuss between themselves why bands like animal collective and phoenix are overrated. And that's ridiculous. Watch this video, and listen to the song, both are equally excellent and together they're dam* near undeniable.