Monthly Archives: May 2011

Video Clip of the Week: Black Sabbath for Ukulele

As I often do on national holidays such as today (Memorial Day) I went shopping. No, I didn’t leave the house in fear of the highways crammed with families scrambling to the closest lakes and rivers. Instead, I go online and check for the specials that coincide with the holiday (anymore, commerce seems to be the reason for these holidays).

I rarely buy anything on these searches, and I didn’t buy anything today.  But, while filling my virtual shopping cart with items I would eventually opt to not get from MusiciansFriend.com, I came across something pretty incredible.  I’d reached the $190 mark with my purchases when I realized that if I went above $250 I would raise my percentage off from 5% to 10% (this is how they getcha!).  “Hmmm….what do I need….what do I need?” I asked myself, fully knowing I don’t need any of the $190 dollar items already set aside. Then it hit me: a ukulele! Of course! Everyone needs a ukulele!

After finding a real sweet deal on a uke, the site suggested items that would go great with my purchase. And that’s when I saw it. “Black Sabbath for Ukulele.”  I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this April Fools? No, that’s not a national holiday. I clicked on the link, and sure enough, Ozzy and the gang stared back at me from beneath the title “Black Sabbath for Ukulele.”  The juxtaposition of Black Sabbath and ukulele blew my mind.  How did the happy-go-lucky sound of a ukulele work for playing the dark, sinister riffs of Sabbath?

I had to find out. Soon after, I found myself on YouTube searching out amateurs covering the legendary band on the Hawaiian instrument. After clicking on a few embarrassingly bad clips, I found this clip. Although his voice is suspect, he illuminated just how surprisingly great the meeting of these two musical forms could sound.  Plus, as his introduction says, this was posted for a “Metal on Ukulele” contest. Although I didn’t end up purchasing a uke or the songbook, I have begun practicing Slayer on banjo, just in case.

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Tyler, the Creator “Goblin”

Tyler, the Creator

“Goblin”

[XL, 2011]

Rating: 4

Ever since his self-released “Bastard”, Tyler the Creator has been riding on a wave of hype due to his violent, homophobic lyrics that at times resemble a hip-hop take on “A Clockwork Orange.”  Tyler, along with his group Odd Future, have been raising high expectations ever since, whether it be their high-energy performance on Jimmy Fallon or their endless stream of mix tapes over the past two years.  Eventually, Tyler found himself signing with XL Records, resulting in one of the most anticipated albums of 2011 in “Goblin.”

I’m one of those that was excited for “Goblin,” after gobbling up “Bastard” and its raw, intimate lyrics.  Throughout, the songs are infused with a unique, at times hilarious voice that has been missing from hip-hop for a while now.  The stage was set: Odd Future were to be the next Wu Tang and Tyler the next GZA.

And of course, just as we were ready for Tyler the Creator to crack into the mainstream and stake his claim as a heavy-hitter, the mysterious “Goblin” steps out from the shadows and resembles Gizmo more than a full-fledged Gremlin.  Yes, the hype is the rug in the room, and it has just been pulled out from under Tyler’s feet.

I would like to blame the production here. The beats are lame, melodies are absent, and the synths are limp.  While the energetic tracks on “Bastard” have your head bouncing, “Goblin” is simply mind numbing.

But it’s not the production that brings this album down. As a lyricist, Tyler the Creator doesn’t need songs to carry him; his words are the proverbial pair of footprints in the sand when there was only one.  And there are some great, cutting lyrics here, especially on “Sandwitches” and “Yonkers,” the latter being the one song on the album that I’ve listened to a dozen times the past few weeks.   But there are 14 other songs on this album that lack the same bite.

“Yonkers,” one of the few highlights of “Goblin”:

The authenticity of his venom on “Bastard” now at times borders on cliché and predictable, much in the same way Eminem’s endless spew of anger quickly became anesthetizing and commonplace.  While Tyler got a lot of attention for his unwillingness to quit using the word “Faggot,” it feels like at times on “Goblin” he’s grasping for more controversial straws, yet, in this case, he comes up empty-handed. He goes after bloggers, white people, and Bill O’Reilly; easy targets by any standard (I fit under two of those categories, and no, I’m not Bill O’Reilly). But still, it’s not the beats; it’s not the lyrics; it’s not the attacks on Bill O’Reilly. It’s the concept that flushes this “Goblin” like a “Ghoulie.”

This is a more fitting album cover

They used to call me “The Concept Album Kid,” but on “Goblin,” the psychiatrist gimmick makes much of the album unlistenable. On one hand I commend Tyler for not simply trying to create a radio-friendly album that could have pushed him into the mainstream, but his concept here is the biggest swing and a miss since Casey went to bat.  Almost every track features the psychiatrist character, talking to Tyler in an irritating voice that resembles an anonymous interview on Dateline NBC.  He questions Tyler from song to song, pleading with him to open up, ignore his haters, or talk about his parents.  While I get that this creates continuity of narrative, it also distracts from anything Tyler has to say, and in the end, weakens the once toxic voice that made “Bastard” so riveting.  At times he sounds whiney, and other times like a hypocrite, but worst of all, he sounds uninteresting.

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Video Clip of the Week: St. Vincent does Big Black

Over Christmas, I met up with my friend SongsSuck for a few drinks, and our discussion got into books. He asked me to list my top 10 favorite books of all time.  As I tried coming up with my list, one book kept popping into my head: This Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad. At first, I resisted listing this title, trying to focus on the classics, but again and again the book kept creeping into my brain. I knew why. This one book had such a profound affect on me and my love for indie music, that I dare to say that this book could change your life.  It did mine.

You can’t help but be changed by the stories of bands like Sonic Youth, Minor Threat, The Replacements, and Black Flag and how they were able create music that was original and honest without any money backing their efforts. To this day I reference moments from the book, whether it be the tumultuous relationship between Lou Barlow and J. Mascis or the untimely death of D. Boon. This book shows you music at its rawest form and gives you insight into the trials and tribulations these kids dealt with as they took their four-track garage rock and made it into something legendary.  Our Band Could Be Your Life is the indie rock bible; no question about it.

Yesterday, to mark the ten-year anniversary of the book, a show was put on at the Bowery Room consisting of current indie bands covering bands from the book, just another testament to the staying power of the book.  While I enjoyed the clips from the show I saw of Ted Leo, tUnE-yArDs, and Titus Andronicus, it was St. Vincent covering Big Black that blew me away. I’ve never gotten any St. Vincent and never had any desire. What I’ve heard has never really peaked my interest, but after seeing their take on Big Black, I’m all in.

Their incredible performance “Kerosene”:

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Lyric Man

My review of tUnE-yArDs has gotten quite a few responses (well, in BDWPS terms, 3 responses is a reader outpouring) and most comments have said something like “I’m not a lyric person.” This infers that I am a “lyric person”, whatever that is.  At first I accepted this label; I do, in fact, love great lyrics, whether they enlighten me, affect my emotions, or connect to my life and my experiences.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel that I shouldn’t be branded as simply a “lyric man.”  My enjoyment of many of the albums that have come out this year has nothing to do with lyrics. Many have no lyrics at all (Geotic, Colin Stetson, Earth) while others are in languages I don’t even understand: Davila 666 (Puerto Rico), Aurelio (Honduras), Ponytail (Rivendell).  And even the albums with English lyrics that I’ve been listening to are not filled with poetic language. Snowman’s best song “Hyena” on their album “Absence” (which I recently rated a 9 out of 10) consists primarily of the word “Hyena” being repeated over and over and over again.   Why would I expect a musician to also be a great writer? No one ever expected Robert Frost to be able to write great music to coincide with his poetry (although I heard he was into black metal).

So, no. I’m not a lyric man. In reality, I side more with the masses who responded to my tUnE-yArDs review (yes, all three of them). Brain research would suggest that a lyric “man” doesn’t even exist. I believe that females are more likely to fit in the legion of “lyric people.” The female brain is generally more empathetic and superior to men when it comes to language-based thoughts due to their larger frontal lobe.  The male brain, on the other hand, is more commonly associated with strength in breaking things down and analyzing them.  In a nutshell, women listen to the lyrics while the man is breaking down the music (obviously this a generalized, semi-sexist, uneducated hypothesis, but it is my view nonetheless). This supposed “lyric man” I keep hearing about is about as realistic as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

This brings me back to tUnE-yArDs “W H O K I L L”.  For a guy who can joyfully listen to an hour of Ponytail’s Molly Siegal shout “Wha? Dobeeeda? Jabajojo!” for 40 minutes, it takes a lot for lyrics to annoy me.  But Merrill Garbus accomplished it.  The fact that the music on her album is refreshing, energetic, and fun only magnifies how bad the lyrics have to be to make the album so irritating. Her lyrics are like Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”, totally taking the viewer out of what is an otherwise great movie. I’m not saying my lyrics have to be like Christian Bale in “The Fighter”. Marky Mark Wahlberg will suffice: sure, he’s getting out-acted by everyone else in the cast, but he’s able to tread generally unnoticed and not totally distract the viewer from the film.

Then again, when lyrics are truly great, they can take an album to a higher level.  Looking at my top 10 albums list of 2011, I can pinpoint five albums that are profoundly impacted by their lyrics.  Titus Adronicus’s “Monitor” is a lesson in allusion, constantly jumping from references to the Civil War, Bruce Springsteen, and Patrick Stickle’s own personal struggles, all woven together into a brilliant patchwork.  Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs” is packed with lyrics that all fit within an overall theme of alienation and lost innocence. And No Age’s “Everything in Between” lyrics aesthetically match the world within the music, with the noise being a character in the narrative, representing that one thing that makes us all ache.

I take it all back. I am a lyric man.  Please welcome me into the fold Mr. Loch Ness.

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Video Clip of the Week: Hitler’s take on “King of Limbs”

I know the gimmick of subtitles set to the movie “Downfall” have run their course, but I recently stumbled across this clip of Hitler ranting and raving about Radiohead’s “King of Limbs” and thought others might enjoy his take on their latest release.  I never thought I’d say this, but I agree with most of Hitler’s take on this one (although not nearly as vehemently). “King of Limbs” isn’t bad by any means, but this is Radiohead for Christ’s sake. Eight songs that don’t even reach the 40-minute mark?  And there won’t be a part two as originally reported? I digress; Hitler says it so much better than me.

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Snowman “Absence”

Snowman

“Absence”

[Dot Dash; 2011]

Rating: 9

There is a rule in my car: if you are listening to Fugazi, the stereo must be set at five bars or higher. This rule was set years ago by my friend SongsSuck, and the rule has generally been limited to Fugazi because, well, they fucking rule. But today, I dare to add another band (or at least album) to my Honda Element’s “five bar” pantheon: I present to you, Snowman’s “Absence.”

Snowman have been a dominate force in the Australian music landscape for the past 10 years, so it’s pretty disheartening to find out that I just discovered them and their latest release “Absence” a few weeks ago, especially since the album is being released as a footnote to their recent break-up. Not since At the Drive-In’s “Relationship of Command” has a band sounded this cutting edge and on the verge of shattering all molds on their final release.

As a music reviewer (I feel like a douche referring to myself as such) an easy approach to reviewing an album is comparing it to what has come before. Whether it sounds like Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” or Ziggy Stardust, the use of compare and contrast helps guide the reader toward what they are in for with a certain album. With “Absence”, my guiding light is, well, absent.  It is both brooding and sinister like Earth and Pyramids, but you’d be hard-pressed trying to find any distortion here. It’s filled with harmonizing, ghostly vocals, but it is far and away from anything resembling Bon Iver or Panda Bear.  It has the synthy pulse of Four Tet and Flying Lotus, but the drumbeats take more from tribal territories than dance clubs.  There is no need to pigeonhole it: this is Snowman; this is “Absence”.

You try categorizing “Hyena”:

The first time I listened to this album, I had it on while watching a Thunder versus Grizzlies playoff basketball game (listening to music while watching sports is the greatest discovery I’ve made in the past year; hasta luego Mark Jackson, you dolt!). Unfortunately, I had the music on low and much of my attention was on the game as I watched Zach Randolph “over-the-back” his way to another upset win.  The reason I note this is that the album didn’t do anything for me.  It finished without me noticing and left me feeling as empty as anyone outside of Memphis felt watching Marc Gasol and Tony Allen celebrate.

It wasn’t until a few mornings ago that Snowman hit me with a cold shot of brilliance: driving to work, with my stereo set at five bars, “Absence” filled the void of my morning drive with a luminosity that woke me up more than any espresso could ever accomplish. During a journey that is usually pure zombie mode, the atmosphere of Snowman had my mind reeling visions, my heart beating with anticipation. I realize that the word “atmosphere” gets thrown a lot in music reviews (it’s become somewhat of a crutch for me) but in this case, it truly transports you to a temple of both solitude and mystery. It somehow calms the soul, yet builds a tension within.

Turn your computer speakers up for “White Wall”, damn it!:

For the first time in years, I arrived to work and didn’t want to leave the car, didn’t want to leave the fantasy world created within Snowman’s music.  I was in the wardrobe with the Lion and the Witch, I was in Wonderland, I’d found Oz, I’d discovered a solace within the monotony of life. Yet, standing before me, was my place of work. I looked at the five bar status on my car stereo, and slowly lowered it, listening as the magical world vanished, one bar at a time. But I smiled, knowing I would be back – for this I was certain.

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