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Archive for the ‘Listen To This’ Category

It’s been months since I’ve written, and years since I’ve written about music (don’t you remember my wildly popular “Listen to This” series? No? Oh.).  I write today to talk about music that should not be listened to. Well, that’s awfully dramatic.  You can listen to these songs. But keep your kids away! I am not a parent (unless you count my puppy, but she doesn’t understand lyrics, so I’m safe), but if I had a child with me, I would absolutely turn the radio off when certain songs come on, because some things are just not appropriate for children.  Children will be adolescents before any of us are prepared to deal with it, and adolescents will be confronted with sex, drugs and alcohol also before any of us are ready to deal with it. So there is really no need of speeding up the inevitable by talking about sex, drugs or alcohol in a way that glorifies the behavior. Their friends will do that on their own in, like, five years.

The first song that made me think about this is actually one that I love.  It’s Doses and Mimosas, by Cherub.  The beat is infectious and it makes me want to dance.  And then I listened to the words, and for a minute, I thought, “Wow, that’s actually sort of empowering.” The lyrics are something like, “To all you bitch ass hoes, who hate me the most, I hate you too; to all you punk ass thugs, who just want to talk shit, I hate you too; to all that high class ass, that’s too hot too fast, I hate you too.”  Here’s what I think is awesome about those words – people talking shit and making you feel like they hate you? F* it! Hate them too.  I love that.  But then comes the chorus: “Doses and mimosas, cocaine and champagne, that’s what gets me through.”

Now, as much as I adore the message of not giving haters and jerks the time of day, I don’t necessarily think that drinking and drugs are the way to get through it.  Isn’t feeling empowered enough? How about being high on life? Does that make me sound old and uncool? Hmph.

Recently, I heard a song being played on the radio by someone called Tove Lo. The song is called Habits and is essentially about a woman who is no longer with her significant other, and has to stay “high all the time, to get you off my mind.”  Not only is she “high”, she sings of going to sex clubs, binge eating Twinkies and then throwing them up in the bath tub – gross – and “drinking up” all of her money.  Hey, that’s neat.  So someone broke up with her, and her response is to mope around feeling sorry for herself and using it as an excuse to stay drunk, high, promiscuous and bulimic.   I think the singer is from Sweden, so maybe “high” is supposed to mean drunk, and video only shows her drinking, but “high” to me generally means drugs. Is this song merely an ode to self-pitying substance abuse and other vices? And an eating disorder?

I thought maybe I was just being an old fuddy-duddy about all of this, but at a work party a few weeks ago, the song “Chandelier” by Sia came on. One of the guys I work with, who has two young girls, said his daughters adore this song, and love to sing along to it, and then one day he realized it was about getting drunk. The “chandelier” of the title is meant to be swung upon after she “throws ’em back ’til I lose count.”  Then, “the sun is up, I’m a mess.”  So at least she lets everyone knows what the consequences of all that drinking will be – a crappy hangover! It’s practically a PSA.

I must be turning a corner in life. I’ve always been a champion for artists’ self expression, but I can’t help but feel that that self expression has taken a turn and we are now glamorizing co-dependent, self-pitying behavior, as well as a plethora of vices as a way to deal with said self-pity. Don’t pick yourself up by your bootstraps and shoulder on like a strong, independent young woman! Spend all of your money on booze and hang out in sex clubs! I can only imagine if I was driving around in a car with my sister’s kids, and one of these songs came on, I would immediately change the channel to Radio Disney or something safe where I can be reasonably sure that none of the songs will have the words “cocaine,” “high,” or “sex clubs.”  Think of the children.

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I’ve purchased a few albums in the past couple of months and have been defunct in sharing my findings.  A few of these albums came out somewhere in 2009, but I am a little slow on the uptake. So, apologies if this is old news for the more hip of you in the crowd, but they are definitely not mainstream bands so some of you may not have heard them before.  Also, I am on an “electropop” kick, which will explain some of my choices below.

* Miike Snow (self-titled):  A trio of guys from Sweden (none of them named Miike).  Of 11 songs, there is only one I’m not crazy about, which seems like pretty good odds.

* Broken Bells (self-titled): This is a duo composed of Danger Mouse and James Mercer from The Shins.  They are so hip and cool that the first song on this album was used in an episode of the hipster-centric show on HBO, “How to Make it in America.”  Hearing and recognizing it while watching that show was a proud moment for me.  The mid-point of the album drags a wee bit, but it opens and closes strongly. The last track is my fave.

* The Temper Trap (“Conditions”): I bought this album based on being in love with one of the singles that’s been getting some radio play out here, “Sweet Disposition” (apparently it was featured in 500 Days of Summer).  It’s really an amazing song.  The rest of the album is very good with a couple of other notable standout tracks and a surprisingly good instrumental song at the end.

* Passion Pit (“Chunk of Change” and “Manners”):  They are my current obsession.   I think “Sleepyhead” is their most popular track, which is on the EP “Chunk of Change,” my first PP purchase.  The six songs were so incredible, I bought the full-length album “Manners” – but the version with some bonus tracks.  It’s got a stripped down version of “Sleepyhead” – think instrumental with piano – that is surprisingly beautiful. The person who first turned me on to them thought I wouldn’t like the entire album and explained it as “experimental.”  I disagree with that and was pleasantly surprised by how good these songs really are.  It is by far the best music purchase I’ve made in quite a while.

* Run Toto Run (various): The way I found them was kind of by accident.  My hipster friend (who I rely on for any and all new music recommendations) turned me on to this cover of “Sleepyhead.”  Being generally ignorant of the hipster music scene, I misread the name of the video and thought that this trio was Passion Pit and they were covering a song by a band called Run Toto Run. Turns out Passion Pit is 5 guys from New York who just sing really high and that this adorable group were the ones doing the cover. They do not have a full length album anywhere (at least not one that I could find), so I bought an EP, “Plastic Gold,”  as well as a few random singles that were on iTunes. Their sound is really great – string instruments and this woman’s soft vocals, which are beautiful. They seem to have experimented a bit with electronica for their newest single, “Hater,” which is an awesome song and may just be the new anthem for my life.

So, there you have it.  It took me almost six months, but I eventually pulled it together.  Hopefully I’ll have another list by November or so.

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Good new music is kind of like a drug to me.  Once I find something I like, I will listen to it over and over again and essentially gorge myself on it.  I become a woman obsessed.

My current musical obsession is the debut album from Florence and the Machine, Lungs.  It’s amazing.  I’m trying to find the words to describe why it is so amazing, and I’m coming up short.   I’m even having a difficult time trying to classify what kind of music it is – indie, certainly, but she’s got some incredible soul and rhythm going on.  The best I can do to help explain is reiterate what I read on her website.  She said she does a lot of songwriting when she’s either drunk or hungover, because it’s when she’s feeling the most passionate. Which is what I think I’m responding to in her music, that level of passion.  At any rate, I highly recommend checking it out.  There might be a little something in there for everyone.

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Let’s say that you were to allocate me an hour with which I could entertain myself.  Very little of this hour would be spent with music.  If I were able to make a pie chart my preference of entertainment would be as follows:

Movies: 30 minutes

Reading: 20 minutes

TV: 4 minutes

Music: 1 minute

Obviously this doesn’t make any sense (who would watch 5 minutes of TV?)  Consider it pro-rated across a week or month or whatever.   But it is the best way for me to illustrate that music is not a medium of expression that I get and/or gets to me.   For every one good song they play on the radio you have to suffer through 20 awful ones.  And usually the same ratio proves true for songs on CDs you buy (Gob bless downloads).

I own about 10 CDs and I haven’t purchased one in about 5 years (a bunch of Dylan, a few Lyle Lovett, one Republic of Loose, Pete Yorn (Addendum: is Pete Yorn duetting with Scarlett Johansson for commerical appeal reverse-analogous to Mandy Moore marrying Ryan Adams for indie credibility?).  

For about a year now I have had one CD in my car and that is pretty much all I listen to:

Failer by Kathleen Edwards

I have spoken in this space before about “knowing” the people portrayed in certain movies, well this is the exact opposite.  The characters of whom Ms. Edwards sings are wholly unfamiliar and the type of women I would like to meet.  Put it this way; when I first heard the album I put it on a loop and wrote a screenplay that could use it as a sound-track.

Hard-drinking, tough-talking losers.  Think about how novel that is in this post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer world.  Every cultural portrayal of a women is like some sort of Barbie fantasy.  That women can, do and must have it all.  But some don’t (men, too), some of us were meant to fail and/or compromise.  Some of us are “thinking about drinking half-way through the day” or get knock-up by the boy who’s face is all over the six o’clock news or even (heart-breakingly) can’t skate backwards.

It was Halloween yesterday, do you realize how many girls came to my door dressed as Princess?  At least with boys the costumes were equally distributed between superheroes (Spider-man) and civil servants (fire fighters).  With the girls it is all Princesses.   These girls would be well-served mixing a bit of Ms. Edwards with the Disney propaganda.

I feel like I have a lot more to say about this album (it’s great start to finish, with the exception of one song that may or may not be about a wolf) but again, I don’t have a grasp of the effects music has on me.  Sufficed to say that if I had a forum (like this) in which I could talk to people (like you) about things that have impacted me–one of those things would be Failer by Kathleen Edwards.

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In an earlier entry, I mentioned that I was so far disappointed in Tori Amos’ latest album Abnormally Attracted to Sin, and that I was hoping it would grow on me.

Well, I wanted to follow up to say, not only has it grown on me, but I truly cannot stop listening to it.  The album is strange.  She is strange. But she is just a brilliant musician.  Her songs have so many layers, and for years I’ve been in love with her voice and the way she drags out her syllables in songs.   The results are always oddly beautiful.  It’s definitely worth a listen, even if you think you might not like it.

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In the era of digital music downloads, very few of us actually buy full albums anymore.  For a while now, I’ve used iTunes to purchase singles, or I’ve added them to my playlist on Playlist.com.  Not long ago, I read an interview with Tori Amos where she decried this trend of the digital music age, saying that when an artist creates an album, they’re really telling a story.  When someone pulls out bits and pieces of that story, they’re missing out on the experience as the artist intended.  I discussed this with a colleague of mine recently, who made the point that some musicians who are truly artists (such as Tori Amos), really are telling stories, while other musicians  (like Brittney or Lady GaGa) are just making singles.

In light of all of this, I’ve decided to stop buying singles and start buying albums again.  In fact, I may even buy the actual physical CDs instead of just downloading from iTunes. I can always rip the files later if I feel like adding them to my iPod.

So, in the spirit of listening to an entire album, I have made a list of albums I’ve purchased in the last few years that are great from beginning to end.  To be fair, there are several albums I’ve bought in the recent past that I really don’t like in their entirety, but it’s always a crap shoot.  Like anything in life, the best experiences follow risks taken.

Natalie Walker – Urban Angel: Technically “electronic,” but very mellow and really cool; her voice is amazing

Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos – The Dust of Retreat: Don’t let the name fool you; they are not bizarre or weird, just an indie pop band out of Indiana

Adele – 19: More commercially successful than a lot of the albums I’ve purchased recently, so this is not such a revelation, but it’s a truly spectacular album so it’s definitely worth a mention

The Kooks – Konk: This is an indie rock band out of England. Their music is super catchy and lots of fun – this album always puts me in a good mood

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Rodrigo y Gabriela: They are a guitar duo out of Mexico, and all the songs are instrumental. If that sound bizarre, give it a whirl anyway. At the very least, it’s cool background music for a summer party (margaritas optional)

You already know how I feel about the Trashcan Sinatras recent release In the Music, so I will not nag by mentioning it again here (even though it’s awesome). 

I am open to any and all recommendations you may have for me.

PS: I recently purchased Tori Amos’ new album Abnormally Attracted to Sin.  I am disappointed to report that I find it a little bit strange, but I’m trying really hard to give it a chance. I’m hoping it’s one of those albums that grows on you over time.

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I have loved the Trashcan Sinatras since about 1990 when their first album Cake was released.  You have probably not ever heard of them, and you are surely not alone.  They are an indie pop band from somewhere near Glasgow, Scotland and their music is wonderful.  Sweet, melodic, poignant – at least I think it is. Sometimes it’s hard to understand through the accents.  Their clever plays on words are always fun, at the very least.  If you are a true music fan, you will be lucky to encounter an artist at some point in your life who (for lack of a better phrase) truly speaks to you.  These guys are it for me.

They have just released a fifth studio album, In the Music.  I am waiting patiently for mine to arrive because, as I just learned,  I am one of the lucky first 250 purchasers who will have my CD signed by the band!  This is sheer nirvana for a super fan such as myself, but I’m trying to keep it together so as not to out myself as the geek that I am.  Also, for the first time since a free concert at the Hatch Shell in 1993 (courtesy of WFNX), I will be seeing them live next Wednesday at the Troubadour.  Needless to say, I’m pretty much beside myself.

In the spirit of my elation of the news that I will receive a signed CD, as well as my excitement about their upcoming show, I am making a list of my favorite TCS songs – in case you’re ever compelled to check them out.  And not to be bossy, but you really should.

Thrupenny Tears – Cake
Obscurity Knocks – Cake
Orange Fell – I’ve Seen Everything
I’m Immortal – I’ve Seen Everything
Send For Henny – I’ve Seen Everything
Earlies – I’ve Seen Everything
The Therapist – A Happy Pocket
The Genius I Was – A Happy Pocket
A Drunken Chorus – Fez (Live)
All the Dark Horses – Weightlifting
Got Carried Away – Weightlifting

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