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Old School Pop

31 Oct

The pop music played on the radio years ago wasn’t as bad as today.  Turn on your average, everyday pop station and you’ll hear Lady Gaga, Lil Wayne and Bruno Mars multiple times per hour.  Like K$sha?  Me neither.  But she’s still played 42 times a day like she has some sort of deal with the devil and I’m not talking about the good kind, like a Robert Johnson or Led Zeppelin type deal, but one that someone talentless would make, say Vanilla Ice, to stay relevant.  Well, maybe I just have an over romanticized vision of the whole thing but at one point real musicians ruled the airwaves.  Sure, not all pop acts were great (cough Barry Manilow, cough), but enough to make me reminisce of days long before I was alive  where driving in a car didn’t require satellites or an iPod cable to get cool tunes.

The Beatles were the ultimate pop band and while their later albums added to this sound, they never really lost their pop sensibilities upon breaking up.  Paul McCartney went on to form Paul McCartney and Wings famous for such songs as “Maybe I’m Amazed” and my personal favorite, “Band on the Run”.  George Harrison development as a songwriter continued with the sound he developed in the later Beatles albums (compare “Here Comes the Sun” and “My Sweet Lord”).  You can’t forget John Lennon who came out with almost a prayer for peace with his seminal work, “Imagine”.  I really feel bad about being like everyone else and leaving out Ringo but then again, I can’t really pick any of his music out by name.

I didn’t realize how long this article would become so stay tuned for some non-Bealtes pop music from back in the day in a future post.

The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance: Indie Pop

28 Oct

I know that I’ve not always held indie music in the highest regard simply because it’s indie.  Indie means deviation from the norm, something different then what I’m used to and that doesn’t always entice me.  However, indie is how pop should really sound.  It’s not even worth apologizing to Lady Gaga or Katy Perry because let’s face it, your music is called pop because there is no “bad music category.”  As catchy as pop music sounds and as much as I may kid about the artists that produce such noise, there are certainly bands that get the short end of the stick when it comes to radio play and popularity.

In the movie Garden State, Natalie Portman turns to Zack Braff and says a certain song will change a certain someone’s life and while I can’t claim such transcendence from The Shin‘s “New Slang,” I can claim a restored faith in pop music.  The Shins finely craft melodies and catchy hooks without losing the thing that separates them from mainstream artsits.  Katy Perry talks about California Girls in bikinis and Lady Gaga says we are all born special, yet the Shins leave their lyrics open to interpretation as  they talk in metaphors and speak without judgment or  expectation.  My first Shins album, Chutes Too Narrow, was given to me in high school and I listen to it to this day because no two songs sound the same or deliver the same message.

I also love the band Vampire Weekend.  Just like The Shins, they have an unconventional musical and lyrical style.  Musically, lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice’s tone is not only  unconventional, but also just plain different and the band incorporates such diverse elements as African rhythms into pop songs.  And yet, the band always makes sure to add pop hooks to such an eclectic mix that their music always comes out surprisingly catchy and lyrically engaging to merit another listen and another listen after that.

The Greatest Post Ever for the Greatest Band Ever

25 Oct

For the most part, I’m out of bands so I’m going to give my ode to the greatest band of all time: The Beatles.  The thing about The Beatles is that they are in an almost exclusive club of bands that weren’t reactionaries to the times in which they lived in. They defined the times.  I used to think (incorrectly) that The Beatles were overrated.  I mean, songs like “Love Me Do” and “Help” and “Please Mr.  Postman” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” are just simple pop songs, yet they formed the mold for future rock groups to follow.  In addition to setting the paradigm of 2 guitars, bass and drums, The Beatles also added elements of  music of black musicians like Little Richard and Chuck Berry with white musicians like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley that would influence rock n roll music for decades.

So let’s put The Beatles impact on music on the backburner for now and just look at the music itself.  The Beatles first phase was the “Love Me” phase characterized by simple song structures, simple I love you, love me lyrics (like the song above).  It’s what first captivated America on the Ed Sullivan show performance and really sparked Beatlemania.  Fast forward to the time they played Shea Stadium and decided to stop touring. So born the social commentary Beatles, who started growing beards and doing drugs.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is their seminal work from this period, almost a rock opera that is considered one of the greatest (according to Rolling Stone the greatest album of all time) that introduced innovative techniques for recording that included adding musicians in addition to just the fab four and experimenting with innovative recording techniques.  Just check out the sound below that builds upon the original Beatles sound.

Last but not least of the Beatles phases results in their last album while together and my absolute favorite: Abbey Road.  It shows a mature group who’s ability to combine their music together in the face of falling apart absolutely amazes me.  Listen to the White Album and you will hear a band at war with itself.  Each individual song sounds like it was done by an individual member and in fact that’s the case.  In fact, all members except for Ringo refused to record when another member was in the studio.  There were George songs, John songs and Paul songs.  Abbey Road sees the Beatles come together for one last hurrah and tolerate each other.  Their individual tastes and song writing abilities combine to create a concept album like Sgt Peppers of epic proportions.  Just listen to the whole album.  It’s a piece of absolute genius.

The Distant Future: Comedians who Happen to Sing

20 Oct

I would like to apologize to my dedicated following for posting a few days late, or one day early (matters which way you look at it), but my schedule has been unrelenting.  I will, however, attempt to cheer whomever I can up with the following group of musical comedy geniuses who have made me cry simply from laughing hard on more than one occasion.

New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo is the description the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords gives themselves.  Don’t let it fool you.  Flight is the best (and most popular) guitar based acappalla rap comedy folk duo that just happens to use bongos, rap and funk in their music.  My favorite thing about Flight on the musical side is that they (as their description suggests) are real musicians.  Songs aren’t simple four chord songs with a single melody, but they use varied instrumentation, vocal harmonies and expand upon simple musical structures.  On the lyrical side, Flight stands out for their comedic style.  If Flight was a girl, she’d be the one you’d want to bring home to mama because their humor isn’t crude or vulgar but witty and clever.  Just check out their name (Flight of the Conchords).

While Flight takes a mostly clean approach to comedy, most comedians use vulgarity and crudeness as part of their acts and many musical comedians are no different.  Enter Stephen Lynch.  Lynch would be the kid you’d never want to get near your parents for fear he might curse, tell inappropriate jokes and be an all around %*$&#*$.  Lynch’s style isn’t for the easily offended or overtly sensitive.  However, if you do enjoy jokes about just about any topic imaginable, Lynch is your man.

The Misfits

14 Oct

I’d like to pay homage to some bands that I haven’t quite gotten to talk about, not because of any faults with these bands, but because they each bring something different to the table.  Whether it be through interesting instrumentation, unique song structure or unique influences, I couldn’t quite fit the following bands into any other category. Here goes nothing.

They may have recently garnered a Grammy for Album of the Year and yet it’s still not the Arcade Fire’s best album.  Don’t get me wrong, the winning album is good, but it gets away from their baroque roots in favor a more modern rock sound.  “Neon Bible” and “Funeral” both sound like complete orchestras as many of the band members play multiple instruments, accentuated as band members switch up what they play during songs (compared to the new album which is more guitar heavy).  The varied instrumentation and the influences of multiple styles of music makes Arcade Fire more than a band that keeps churning out similar sounding albums, but a group of musicians that creates many different cool sounds.

Beirut also features a full band but centers really on a single particular influence not normally heard.  I mean, who listens to Eastern European folk music (like polka) and decides they want to start a band with it?  If you didn’t get the hint, that’s what the members of Beirut did, fusing Eastern European folk music with indie pop sensibilities, highlighting such a global span with songs in other languages, notably French.  Like  Arcade Fire, Beirut does not rely upon the guitar and instead mixes up instrumentation to create music corresponding to their influences.

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