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Fall 2012 Music Preview

29 Sep

 

Fall is not only Oscar season. Some of the best albums are also released. This Fall is no different. There are several promising albums coming out. I often find it is difficult to keep track of all the albums that are being released. Often, an album is released, and you don’t find out about it until it is already old news. And, come on, I know everyone likes being a Hipster and knowing about things “before they are cool.” So, consider this your Hipster Fall 2012 primer. Here are some albums you should be looking forward to.

Just to be clear, Mumford and Sons released their second LP Babel earlier this week. Ben Folds Five released their comeback album the week before, and the Killers released Battle Born on 9/18 as well. These albums are not on the list because they have already been released. Here are some more that have been recently released for your consumption

– Green Day album Uno (bet you can guess what the follow-up is going to be called)

– Bob Dylan’s Temptest (soon enough, his albums will be composed of one 60-minute poetic narrative)

– The Avett Brothers: The Carpenter

– Pete Seeger: Peter Remembers Woody AND A More Perfect Union

The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth – October 2

What is it?: The Mountain Goats’ ambitious 14th album

Why should I be excited?: Because lead-goat Darnielle is a lyrical master and the Goats’ music has just become more diverse and creative. This supreme cult-band is among my favorite acts, and the album will most likely be crafty, original, and depressing (like all good Mountain Goats albums).

Muse – The 2nd Law – October 2

What is it?: Muse’s 6th studio album featuring “Survival” which was the official song of the London Olympics this year

Why should I be excited?: Muse has been working on this article since last September. This is their first release since 2009, and that album featured the incredibly popular “Uprising.” The band is comfortably in the zone of solid releases. The album combines their blend of symphonic rock with dubstep and synth pop. Will it overtake the popularity of their last release. I don’t know. Check it out to see.

John Cale – Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood – October 2

What is it?: John Cale, of Velvet Underground fame, is releasing his first studio album in seven years.

Why should I be excited?:  John Cale is a talented musician, and he is combining his alt/rock electronic talents with a staff of uber-talented musicians – Danger Mouse, Mike Jerome, Dustin Boyer. This is one of the more interesting releases on the list, and I am anticipating some handy work by these guys

Other Releases to be Excited About:

10/2

  • Flying Lotus: Until the Quiet Comes
  • The Wallflowers: Glad All Over
  • Chris Rene: I’m Right Here

10/9

  • Freelance Whales: Diluvia

10/18

  • Jason Lytle: Dept. of Disappearance

10/30

  • Andrew Bird: Hands of Glory

11/13

  • One Republic: Native

 

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Panda Channels Big Mama Thornton

20 Sep

Watch that full video. Yes, the entire thing. Above is 42-year-old Panda Ross singing Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home” in her audition for The X Factor. She was still suffering from a touch of pneumonia as she performed and later had to be given oxygen. Fact is, all her bubbly personality and incredible stage presence aside, Panda can sing. Sing may even be putting it lightly.

I have watched a lot of auditions in my years of sitting through singing competitions, and this one may have been my favorite. When I heard her first note, I became overwhelmed with excitement. Panda Ross’ voice is not from 2012. Her guttural, gospel, croon is a relic, a call-back to a time in history when the foundation of rock n’ roll was still being founded and the inspiration of blues was in full force. Last night, she channeled the late Big Mama Thornton, who sang the original recording of “Hound Dog.” Just listen.

Strong matriarchal musicians like Mama Thornton became inspirations to ALL female vocalists, especially some of the best to ever open their pipes (Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin). So you understand why I was so excited to hear Panda Ross fully encapsulate some back-shelf blues last night. I only wish her the best in the competition, and I hope she goes a long way.

And, just in case you forgot how good of a voice Sam Cooke had, here is the original version of the song Panda Ross is singing above.

It All Sounds the Same – Pop Imitation

30 Jul

Only three chords to go

Are you one of those people who think all of the songs on the Top 20 sound alike? Well, you may just be right. A team of Spanish researchers explored the extensive Columbia-born Million Song Dataset, a consolidation of one million songs of the last 50-or-so years into data bits, and found that music today has gotten louder and blander. Such plangent pablum can do a real doozy on your ears and your faith in the progression of music.

As the researchers told Reuters, “In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations — roughly speaking, chords plus melodies — have consistently diminished in the last 50 years.”

You see, the problem is not so much the lack of creativity in music, but the minimal desire for anything different. I refuse to condemn the music industry for putting out the same junk over and over again, because that is the music making them money. If we as a collective music listening public demanded more create tuneage, we would get it. But that is long gone. Mainstream has turned away from anything different. To have a hit song today that will repeat on the radio around 15 times an hour, you need a simple, singable, loud song.

What caused this gradual “dumbing down” of pop music? I’m not sure. But sometime after around the early 70s, the mainstream stuff just started get worse and worse as a whole. Yes, there are always outliers. Even some well-written, creative pieces today slip through the seemingly impenetrable wall of uncreative song production and hit the charts. I will say, though, it is happening less and less.

All this talk about music copy cat syndrome got me in the mood for a little basic chord theory. It’s been a longstanding joke among guitarists that an individual can learn just four chords on the guitar and impress members of the opposite sex with sweet renditions of hundreds of songs. When we talk about that, the chord progression we are discussing is the insanely catchy I-IV-vi-IV progression, one of the oldest tricks in guitar book. The chords in this progression change by key but some popular examples are C – G – Am – F and D – A – Bm – G, the latter of which is used in the video I am about to show you below.

This is Axis of Awesome, an Australian comedy/music trio, that, in their song “Four Chords,” sample more than 40 songs that follow the same basic chord progression. “Four Chords” is an excellent example of what we discussed above. And, the singer looks a bit like Jack Black.

Go try it out for yourself. Turn on the popular music station in your area and see if you can pick out the basic chords being used. Because, let’s be honest, it may be the ones used in the video above. Oh, and don’t forget to turn it up. There you have it. The formula to create a great pop song. Add in a lyric about love, parties or loving to party, and you are set.

American Idol Switch (For Better or Worse?). Who Will Judge Next?

16 Jul

If American Idol was a version of its reality show counterpart, Survivor, Ryan Seacrest may have just won the competition. The Fox singing competition has certainly transformed since it premiered in 2002. Long-term judges Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul left the show two years ago to pursue other endeavors (The X Factor), and the Idol producers quickly scooped up Aerosmith leadman Steven Tyler and pop superstar Jennifer Lopez. After two seasons of the new judge configuration, Lopez and Tyler are out, and even steadfast Randy Jackson, who I think has become a bit of a tired act, may leave the judges table. In that case, the producers are going to have their hands full refilling a table of musical talking heads to sit behind the prominent Pepsi cups.

Randy Jackson’s departure is not official, but it could certainly happen. I believe that is time to cut ways with Jackson’s dog house and “in it to win it.” He attempted to take the role of Simon Cowell’s honest critic, but he provided inconsistent commentary and criticism.

Who would be the ideal crew to judge? It’s a difficult choice. The show’s viewership has steadily declined and gotten older. That suggests that American Idol may have a loyal base, but the show is not attracting the 13-year-old screaming girl subgroup. After a relatively unsuccessful first season, The X Factor shedded judges Paul Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger in favor of the younger Demi Lovato and superstar Britney Spears. The show went younger in order to attract younger viewers. That is a good strategy, but, like all things, there needs to be homeostasis. I think The X Factor will demonstrate a rise in viewership this year (especially if they choose a good host).

What does American Idol need? It needs a mixture. If I was given the responsibility of choosing a panel, I would start with an anchor that loyal Idol fans have been calling for since he premiered as an advisor, Jimmy Iovine. He was perhaps the only judge of talent that consistently made sense during last season. He would be the knowledgeable record producer who could help steer young musicians. His role of advisor would only transform slightly. Would he want to be judge? I don’t know, but if he expressed any interest in the position he would be my first choice.

I would then choose a young idol whom everyone would recognize (much like the X-Factor did with Britney Spears), and an older, more experienced musician who knows the industry well and has had a ton of success. The older judge would naturally attract an older population of music fans.

Mariah Carey has been a name floated out there and she would certainly fit the motherly older judge. Aretha Franklin reportedly sent an e-mail to CNN saying she wanted in on American Idol season 12. I would be overjoyed if American Idol let the Queen of Soul sit on the panel. She is not an idol. She is a legend. She also seems like she would give kind, but truthful advice to the contestants.

As for the younger judge, musicians like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj have been propositioned. I’ve also heard Miley Cyrus. At this point, people could simply be shouting out reasonable names. Since money is no concern for the super-show, the judgeship could come down to whoever accepts the necessary time commitment. I think the show would be happiest with Katy Perry. She is at the peak of her popularity and is beloved by teenage girls. But would Perry even be interested? If she is, Idol producers better scoop her up. I think an outside musician would be better than bringing in Jennifer Hudson or Adam Lambert (two Idol alumni). Long time friend of the Idol stage, will.i.am would also be a good choice, but he currently is involved with the Voice UK. Lady Gaga…that would certainly turn the show into a spectacle. I don’t think she has been mentioned because I don’t think there would be a chance of hooking her.

Who do you want to see judge the show?

A New Bohemian Rhapsody

3 Jul

This is American Idol alumnus Adam Lambert performing “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Brian May and Roger Taylor in Kiev, Ukraine a few days ago. Lambert is playing the impossible part of lead-singer Freddie Mercury during a mini-tour with Queen. If anyone is fit to play the part of Mercury, though, it is Adam Lambert. He has been compared with the late theatrical crooner since he auditioned for Season Eight of American Idol with the famous Queen song that he is seen performing above. So, I guess the question is, how does he compare with the original? The answer is simple. He doesn’t. It is impossible to echo Mercury unless you are Mercury. Since that is now impossible, we must rely on videos, like the one behind Queen as they before in Kiev and the one of Mercury I saw during the performance of the play “We Will Rock You” in London this past June. We can ask, though, how he does in his own right? Overall, I’d give him an eight out of 10.

Freddie Mercury’s voice was unparalleled in his particular genre. He was able to sing with a rock grunt and manipulate his voice in such a way that the song came out smooth, effervescent, and effortless. He also had a naturally high voice and demonstrated such extraordinary range that he was able to  successfully hit notes that fell all over the spectrum. In my opinion, his voice may just be the best (if not one of the best) rock voices ever to be recorded. “Bohemian Rhapsody,”  written by Mercury for the 1975 album A Night at the Opera is his chef d’oeuvre. The song is delightfully theatrical and Mercury’s voice shines, ranging from pugnacious to tearful. It is one of the most masterful examples of singing I have ever heard in a rock song. Hence, it is difficult to reproduce on any level.

Adam Lambert certainly has the “type” of voice to sing the song. It actually does have a similar quality to Mercury’s. It is theatrical. That is a good start. But, in a remarkably similar fashion, it is tremendously controlled. Lambert certainly considers his voice an instrument of power. That actually is some of the problem with this rendition. It is a little too grunty. I find that when a singer cannot reach a particular note (whether the note is too high or just too difficult) they grunt and quickly end the note as to not highlight the inability. This most certainly could have been because it was live. Mercury, himself, sang the opening of the song in short bursts similar to Lambert. I am not saying Lambert’s voice is incapable. He has one of the better rock voices out there today (despite the fact that he continues to release mainstream music – he is in the wrong genre!) He is simply not Freddie Mercury. Listen to the famous scaramouche commedia dell’arte operatic part where Lambert drops out in favor of a light show (like in old Queen Rhapsody performances with Mercury) and Mercury is heard on a recording. Yes, it is a mastered recording so that must be taken into account. If you do listen to Mercury perform the song live, though, you can just hear the buttery smoothness of his voice. It is perfection and while Lambert may be one of the only singers out there that can do this song justice anymore, he cannot hit Mercury’s vocal precision.

However, Lambert absolutely destroys the rock breakdown. He flat-out breaks the song open. He also puts on such an incredible show with Brian May on stage. The interactions are fresh and exciting. Lambert hits a high note, owns it, and then continues rising into this classic rock screech that sends shivers down your spine. Then the song quiets down and, in a similar fashion to the London show “We Will Rock You,”  Freddie Mercury’s hologram ends it. That was the best part of the song and Lambert showed he belongs.

I give Lambert an eight because I feel that he held back a little bit – perhaps because he still wants to settle into the role – and I can’t wait to hear him belt it.

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