Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Following in the Footsteps: Kate Bush

No More Blood From a Clone is not dead! Here, in the triumphant return, we will explore the second in a series of articles about the influence artists have had on more recent artists. This week, we're looking at work which owes a good deal to Kate Bush. You can also catch a live show about this playlist Thursday at 7pm on

"Entre ánimas" by Virjinia Glück
It's hard to find much information on this Spanish artist, but it's clear in any language that she owes a lot to "Wuthering Heights," "Sat in Your Lap," and Bush's overall style. Not just in this song either. Almost anything I have found by her sounds similar to Bush.

"Icicle" by Tori Amos
The comparison between Amos and Bush is something of a joke in the Bush community, but it's still necessary to include for all of the non-Bush readers. I have opted for a less obscene track for the radio version of this playlist, but you can hear her influence most on "Icicle."

"Easy" by Joanna Newsom
Newsom was always known in the early years for her unusual voice and harp playing, but her musical skills are not limited. Have One on Me is a massive, three-disc album, with a great deal of Bush sounds. I think this one has the most in common with the earlier artist, bringing to mind "Feel It" or something from The Kick Inside

"Genius Next Door" by Regina Spektor
Before I go much further with these "easy" picks, let me offer up a much more thinkey Kate Bush-following piece. Bush was pretty straightforward with some of her lyrics, like "The Dreaming," "Houdini," and "Army Dreamers," but still others like "The Man with the Child in His Eyes" and "Suspended in Gaffa" are still shrouded in mystery. Apart from the whole woman-with-a-piano thing Spektor has going, she has also borrowed Bush's air of mystery without trying to become a witch/fairy hybrid. "Genius" is some fine songwriting, perfectly bringing to mind vintage small-town America, while telling the very strange story surrounding the town lake. It reminds me of Big Fish as told by a crafty songstress. Thus, much like Bush's works, it has an air of the literary and mysterious. 

"Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus
To every person who just wants to cast this song aside because of Miley Cyrus, I beg you to listen to both the crafting of the song (which Cyrus surely had very little to do with) and the vocal chops (which are pretty much all her). Not only is the verse very Bush-esque, but Cyrus actually has a pretty rad voice. Just appreciate it.

"Clowns" by Goldfrapp
Goldfrapp have admitted to the influence, and while you can't always hear it strongly, I think this is a great example of the influence. It's somehow both more ethereal and more folky than you would expect from a Bush song, but not without connections.

"Horse & I" by Bat For Lashes
Around ten years ago, it seemed as though, as a female artist, you had two basic options: you could be Florence Welch or Adele. Opting for the former option prior to Florence and the Machine even making their first commercial release, Natasha Kahn was actually pretty original. So, of course, she drew comparisons to Kate Bush. Not undeservedly, however. She didn't gain much attention in the states until the very dream-like "Daniel" in 2009, which was often considered to be THE new Kate Bush song. However, careful listeners would have already heard the epic adventure tale told in "Horse & I," a song which audibly brings to mind "Experiment IV" in the strings.

"Breaking Down" by Florence + The Machine
While we're on the subject of Florence Welch, I feel I should mention what I consider to be her most Bush song. It's somewhere between a more melodic "Get Out of My House," "The Man With the Child in His Eyes," and "Them Heavy People." I don't care what comparisons people want to make between the two artists (both of whom I love), this will always be the Bush-esque song to me.

"Never is a Promise" by Fiona Apple
Another young prodigy, Apple brings to mind The Red Shoes with this song, particularly the video, which reminds me of "Moments of Pleasure," but there are touches of earlier Bush songs in the melody as well. She also heavily conveys that woman-with-a-piano vibe.

"Flash Me Up" by Happy Rhodes
With a very Bush-esque sound as well as vague lyrics, this isn't the only song I could have used by a longshot. I thought the performance/film aspect of the song might make it extra fitting though. Sidenote: there were a lot of 90s artists inspired by her as well as the recent surge.

"Fingers and Toes" by Alex Winston
Alex Winston shares both the classical training and vocal range with Bush, but definitely has a sound of her own. Still, I feel that fans of Bush who haven't heard of Winston yet are missing out.

"Charlie" by Milla Jovovich
Yes, that Milla Jovovich once made an album with some Kate Bush vibes. The actress and musician continues to release "demos" occasionally on her website, which she encourages fans to work on. 

"I'll Get You Back" by Kristeen Young
In the vein of "Sat in Your Lap," this song by former art student and pianist is both strange and catchy. Young has collaborated with Morrissey and David Bowie.

"Chloe in the Afternoon" by St. Vincent
Described by some as Annie Clark's attempt at The Dreaming, Strange Mercy, does have some of that distinctive sound to it. Never having delved much into St. Vincent, I can't help but agree on this track at least.

Special thanks to these articles, which I used as resources.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Album Review: "Good Times" by The Monkees

It's been almost 50 years since The Monkees was released, and 20 years since The Monkees most recent album, Justus was released. They've overcome Don Kirshner, seen Peter Tork leave the group, seen Michael Nesmith leave the group, completely disbanded, reunited (minus Nesmith), reunited with Nesmith, reunited without Nesmith, faced the passing of the great David Jones, and regrouped as Micky Dolenz, Tork, and Nesmith. Good Times serves as not only an anniversary celebration, but an attempt to bring back the "good times" feel of the group. 

Good Times has already received mostly positive reviews, and apart from reviewing it myself, I'd like to discuss for a moment what sets Good Times apart from their other post-1970 projects. 

Pool It!, released in 1987 featured Dolenz, Jones, and Tork. The Monkees had been seeing a massive popularity spike since their shows started rerunning on MTV, and a new generation of young fans had been created. However, while Pool It! is not entirely without merit, the album failed chart significantly, despite, as I mentioned, a pretty big fanbase considering they'd originally been popular twenty years prior. The songs on the album were neither written by the band, nor by the famed songwriters they'd worked with in the sixties (with a couple of exceptions). The backing was once again done by studio musicians, and for some reason, they chose to use an album cover that completely ignored what twenty years of aging had done to them. That said, the studio musicians and producer Roger Bechirian did a great job of making the album sound current. It's just that much of the charm the group had originally cultivated was missing. The musical integrity they'd fought so hard for was also out for the day, and this combination of factors really didn't make the album a great success. 

Flashing forward nine years to Justus, we see all four men reunited. As a condition of working on the project, Nesmith made sure The Monkees once again wrote and performed their own material. He also took over the majority of the production responsibility. Early work on the album was said to include tunes penned by various other writers, although it's still tough to know if those writers would have done any better or much worse than what the boys managed. As I've said in reviews before, it's tough to hold a reunion album or an album by an older artist to the same standards as you would a new "hip" band. With or without that information though, Justus did not turn out as a terrible album. What it lacks is the fun they seemed to be having on Headquarters, and the upbeat, yet often poignant songs of the sixties work they did. The album is very much a rock album, which is forgetful of the fact that the band's bread and butter was being a pop group, and what made their records special in the original era was the fact that many genres peeped their head in. Justus also suffered from strange and terrible promotion. The TV special designed to go along with it was released months later, and aired just once, never to be released on VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray. 

The point I'm taking forever to get to here is that Good Times is basically the third attempt to make a post-1970 album good and to make it work commercially. I got excited for the project immediately, and not just because it's The Monkees. Big names whose songwriting I've been a fan of for years started to get attached immediately, and that really made me much more enthusiastic for what was to come.

Good Times begins on a high note (figuratively), with the title track, "Good Times." Harry Nilsson recorded a very short version of this song during the two years he spent on the Tower Records label (available on Spotlight on Nilsson), and had been working on a version with Nesmith in 1968, which got shelved. Dolenz picked the session tape up for Good Times, and sings a duet with the late, great Nilsson, a good friend of Dolenz. The resulting track sounds as vintage as one might expect, but with a few modern touches courtesy of producer Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne).

Longtime Monkees fan and untraditional melodist Andy Partridge (XTC) provides the sunshine-pop tune "You Bring the Summer." "You Bring the Summer" brings to mind "Sunny Girlfriend" conceptually, as well as any 60s beach tune in terms of overall feel. All three living Monkees perform on it vocally, with Nesmith on guitar and Tork on organ.

Meanwhile, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo penned another summer anthem with "She Makes Me Laugh." Cuomo must have been channeling a lot of 60s sound, because you can hear it in Weezer's White Album (released in April) as well. I only bring this up because I could imagine Dolenz (or even the late Jones) singing the Weezer track "(Girl We Got a) Good Thing." All that said, "She Makes Me Laugh" comes out fantastically and also features contributions by the other two remaining Monkees.

By the time producer Adam Schlesinger's track "Our Own World" rears its head, it has become clear that the album definitely has a theme of sunny days running through it. Although "Our Own World" didn't receive as much press as some of the tracks with other names attached, it's really a great track for the group as well. If I have one complaint about it, it's that Schlesinger slipped a little more into his Fountains of Wayne roots for the production of this song than for the rest of the album.

Bringing in another of the composers that worked so closely with the band in the 60s, the group finished work on "Gotta Give it Time," a Jeff Barry and Joey Levine piece with elements that were recorded in 1967 (I'm thinking the backing track by the Wrecking Crew). The backing gives it an authentic vintage feel, but with it being less catchy than most other tracks on the album, one might be able to guess why it wasn't used before (or it may have been because of Headquarters, I'm not speaking in absolutes).

One of the most relaxed tracks on the record, and by far the most popular track has to be "Me and Magdalena." Written by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, "Me and Magdalena" is totally congruent with Gibbard's work (particularly on Former Lives and the soundtrack to Arthur), while still being a perfect fit for Nesmith to sing. Gibbard is another longtime Monkees fan, and has been known to perform "Cuddly Toy" and "Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow" in concerts. Nesmith vocalises the song with the sincerity he would give one of his own tracks while displaying a well-preserved voice.

A Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart tune "Whatever's Right" has an authentically retro vibe. Boyce and Hart originally recorded a version of "Whatever's Right" as the final track for The Monkees, but lead vocals were never added, and the song appears for the first time on a Monkees album here. Dolenz' sister Coco Dolenz and Bobby Hart both contribute backing vocals to the final 2016 recording.

One of the first obstacles that had to be overcome for Good Times was the fact that David Jones is no longer with us. There has never been a Monkees album without Jones and Dolenz, despite the varying degrees of Tork and Nesmith throughout history. Inclusion of Jones was achieved by digging up a semi-rare "Love To Love," formerly featured only on rarities albums or as a bonus track. Dolenz and Tork added new backing vocals and Schlesinger polished it up a bit. While I've been hearing "Love To Love" for years, I'm glad it was given a new feel for the new album.

Tork brings "Little Girl" to the table. Tork says he originally wrote the song with Jones in mind, as a follow-up to "I Wanna Be Free." Jones had wanted to sing it, but as fate would have it, never got the chance. The charming and sincere tune is a perfect fit for the album, and a great piece of work by Tork.

Paul Weller (The Jam) and Noel Gallagher (Oasis) collaborated on "Birth of an Accidental Hipster," a dreamy track that blends the voices of Nesmith and Dolenz together for a sound that could have been found on the Head soundtrack. Once again, Coco Dolenz contributes vocals, and Schlesinger provides impeccable production.

On "Wasn't Born to Follow," Tork again shows off an excellent voice as he leads a Gerry Goffin and Carole King tune. Much of the backing track was recorded in 1968, which can definitely be heard in the harpsichord, but modern touches have been placed on it.

The minimalistic "I Know What I Know" serves as the only Nesmith-penned track. His cryptic blurb in the liner notes could be taken to mean that he sees this song as something of a reunion song, or at the very least, that he dedicates this song to the reunion. Either way, the slow-paced song is moving, and a great song to be placed near the end of the album.

"I Was There (And I'm Told I Had a Good Time)" closes Good Times. Written by Schlesinger and Dolenz, the song title is a nod to a comment Dolenz frequently makes about his partying days of the late 60s and 70s. The track begins with something of a "Sgt. Pepper" sound. As hokey as the track could have been with the premise the title presented, it turned out very nicely. "I Was There" serves as a fantastic closer, as well as being the only track on which Dolenz performs drums.

Overall, Good Times provides a clean, sunshine pop sound. It's consistent in substance, without losing the variety in style that the original albums had. The decisions made for the album by Andrew Sandoval are near-perfect. They hit a great ratio of classic-era composers, modern composers who have drawn inspiration from the group, and songs written by the three living Monkees. The art direction of the album is a massive improvement over the last two as well, featuring illustrations reminiscent of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, but with a very modern-looking cover nonetheless. My primary complaints with the album involve the high-concentration of songs on which Dolenz sings lead at the front of the album, and the scarcity of Nesmith songwriting and vocalisation on the album, the latter of which can easily be excused by the careful choice of a variety of songwriters chosen for the album, which I think keep each track new and exciting.

I personally, wouldn't be displeased if this were the final Monkees album, so that they might celebrate their 50th anniversary, but end their production of new music on a high-note. That said, getting another Gibbard composition, or something by Sam Means or Elvis Costello wouldn't hurt my feelings either.

I have this theory that certain albums are best listened to in particular seasons. Good Times was released at the perfect time, because it is a summer album if ever I heard one. It might not be a perfect record, but it's definitely the best since The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees. Totally worth a listen.

The Monkees in their heyday.

Good Times can be purchased here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Separated at Birth: 2 Songs with Bird Metaphors

If you haven't already heard the news, then I am very excited to announce that Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Andy Partridge of XTC have each written songs for The Monkees' forthcoming album Good Times. It's no huge surprise though, as both songwriters have long proven themselves to be big fans of the 60s group. I doubt that most would compare XTC and Death Cab, however, but that is what I intend to do.

In 1992, XTC released Nonsuch, which included a few compositions by Colin Moulding, along with the majority composed by Partridge. Among the Moulding compositions was "My Bird Performs."

Prior to presenting the track to the band, Moulding recorded a very simple home demo, which was later released publicly.

The track features a metaphor comparing a girl to a bird and expressing contentment with their situation. 

In 2008, Death Cab for Cutie released Narrow Stairs, which included the more morose song "Talking Bird."

"Talking Bird" also had a simple demo, recorded by Gibbard, and released publicly after the album came out.

Obviously, the fact that both songs had demos isn't much fodder for comparison, but the phrasing, even the reference to an "open cage," is very similar in both songs. The Death Cab piece almost plays as a later part of the same relationship, as though the songwriter got tired of the birdlike antics that were once more charming in 1992, but still loves the "feathered" protagonist.

Total coincidence, but I find it interesting when two fairly different songs share common themes. Stay tuned for more.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 10: Albums of 2015

Each year that passes leaves me increasingly worried that I've reached that age at which you can no longer appreciate new music. I had a lot going on in 2014, and ended up not even having a top ten albums, but merely singles. Luckily, my faith was restored in 2015, and I definitely have a top 10.

What's to say about 2015 in music? For pop radio, it almost seemed to be a year of breakout hits, one-hit wonders, etc, except that Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber, and Adele all dominated as well. The pop charts didn't do much to impress me, but that's not to say they were without winners. And there were plenty of independant pieces that totally rocked. Below are ten of my favorite albums from 2015.

10. Hypercolor by Carrick
Carrick Moore Gerety utilizes a great deal of pop-style production for his first major solo project. It lacks some of the soul of his work with Everybody Else, but his voice will make ANY track pretty good, and there is some definite songwriting prowess exhibited as well.

Key Tracks:
"I Get High"
"All I Think About"

9. Still Got That Hunger by The Zombies
The Zombies toured this year to support their 1968 classic Odyssey and Oracle, as well as this crowd-funded masterpiece featuring 80% new material. I understand jazz saw a big comeback overall this year, and I hope the jazz-influenced stylings of this classic '60s group were not overlooked.

Key Tracks:
"Chasing the Past"
"Edge of the Rainbow"
"Maybe Tomorrow"

8. Kintsugi by Death Cab For Cutie
Perhaps it's the loss of Chris Walla that gives this album a more tired feeling, but it just didn't have what Death Cab For Cutie's previous albums have had. Still, it packs quite a few punches. It has more in common with Ben Gibbard's Former Lives than Death Cab's Narrow Stairs, utilizing his storytelling as he bemoans lost relationships and more. It's a step down from Codes and Keys, but still a nice piece of work.

Key Tracks:
"No Room in Frame"
"Black Sun"
"Little Wanderer"

7. Grand Romantic by Nate Ruess
I don't know why I was so hell-bent on finding flaws in Grand Romantic, but I eventually had to admit that even "Ah-Ha," which initially got on my nerves, is a solid and catchy tune. There were a couple of misses on the album, but overall, Nate Ruess blends pop and indie sounds together with his out-of-this-world voice for a wonderful album.

Key Tracks:
"Nothing Without Love"
"You Light My Fire"
"Great Big Storm"

6. Alone in the Universe by Jeff Lynne's ELO
Jeff Lynne's flair for production makes his new project sound as fresh and new as anything from this year, as well as remaining consistent with the earlier works of ELO. As I said in my review, this album features a hefty helping of slide guitar and songwriting that is not to be missed.

Key Tracks:
"When I was a Boy"
"Love and Rain"
"Ain't it a Drag"

5. Glean by They Might Be Giants
Still one of the most enjoyable groups out there, They Might Be Giants reintroduced their "Dial-A-Song" concept this year, which meant a new song every week. This provided them with a great deal of new material for GleamGleam is as varied in style as fans have come to expect from the group, yet all drawn together by the sound understanding of musical principles and songwriting that these gents have shown us year after year.

Key Tracks:
"Let Me Tell You About My Operation"

4. Aureate Gloom by of Montreal
Only a mild step back from what I consider to be of Montreal's best work on Lousy With Sylvianbriar, Kevin Barnes faces divorce and another lineup of the band with his usual verbose and vitriolic tongue. With the backdrop of a funky throwback sound, Barnes also finds time to discuss politics and his own dark side. If you missed my full review, it can be found here.

Key Tracks:
"Last Rites at the Jane Hotel"
"Empyrean Abattoir"

3. The High Country by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Featuring some of  Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin's catchiest lo-fi work yet, The High Country is not only one of my favorite albums of the year, but some of the strongest work by the band. As I stated in my review, they have retained the sincerity of their first album, Broom, and the earworm qualities they broke out in Pershing, but with a great deal of finesse. The High Country is totally one of my favorite albums of 2015.

Key Tracks:
"Full Possession of All Her Powers"
"Step Brother City"

2. Guitars and Microphones by Kate Pierson
Very close to topping this list, Kate Pierson's debut solo album is a masterpiece. For years, she has played an important role in The B-52's, but as of this year, with the help of Nick Valensi (of The Strokes) and Sia, she is sounding her barbaric yawp as a solo artist. Despite the fact that she's a seasoned artist, everything sounds fresh. The upbeat nature of the songs makes them addictive, as does their catchiness and power-pop tendencies.

Key Tracks:
"Bottoms Up"
"Throw Down the Roses"
"Mister Sister"

1. Uptown Special by Mark Ronson
I deliberated for a long time on which album was my number 1, but Uptown Special totally deserves it. As I said in my review, this record combines different styles, recording artists, and moods into one stellar album with a throwback soul sound. The success Mark Ronson has seen with this album (#27 here in the U.S.) is not only understandable, but well-deserved. Uptown Special is a block party, a romp, and a piece of poetry, making it my favorite album of the year.

Key Tracks:
"Leaving Los Feliz"
"I Can't Lose"
"In Case of Fire"

Friday, November 6, 2015

Album Review: "Alone in the Universe" by Jeff Lynne's ELO

Alone in the Universe represents The Electric Light Orchestra's first album of new material in fourteen years. Back in 2001, when Zoom was released, low ticket sales led to the cancellation of their North American tour. This year, however, I think the world is more than ready to receive more of what ELO has to offer. Not only that, but Jeff Lynne's ELO is more than prepared to bring everything to the table.

Bands with distinct sounds, particularly ones that have been around over twenty years, with lengthy breaks in-between albums can sound stale, even when the music is structurally sound, or can sound tired, even with modern recording techniques. Yet as Alone in the Universe begins, all one can think of is that they are listening to a fresh new project.

The album begins softly with "When I was a Boy," a track that could trick the unsuspecting listener into thinking they're listening to a new Beatles album. Of course, we all know it isn't The Beatles, but ELO was created to (in the founders' minds) pick up where The Beatles left off. John Lennon and George Harrison were both big fans of the work ELO was doing as well, and Lynne even produced Harrison's Cloud Nine and Brainwashed. So it's not tough or wrong to hear a Beatles sound in their tracks. "When I was a Boy" marries the soft piano sound of Lennon's "Imagine" with Lynne's signature style of lyricism. Many of the techniques utilized on George Harrison's later 80s work (circa "When We Was Fab") are updated for the song as well. Through it all though, the soft embroidery of the typical ELO sound is sewn. One can't help but be grateful that Lynne's voice is holding up quite nicely, as it certainly does the trick for the song. One slightly notable difference that can be heard in the song, and album as a whole, which makes it more Harrison-esque, is that they have replaced many of the orchestral sounds with a slide-guitar.

Even the video brings to mind the "Free as a Bird" promotional film (a song Lynne also produced).

Alone in the Universe
is also the first ELO album since George Harrison's death, and one can't help but feel that his good friend Jeff Lynne has now more specifically attempted to pick up where Harrison left off. After all, Lynne and Dhani Harrison completed Brainwashed, the last of Harrison's unfinished work.

If you're wondering about this theory, I recommend you listen to "Cloud Nine," the title track of the aforementioned Harrison album before checking out "Love and Rain," another gorgeous Lynne composition. The two songs aren't twins, but they are certainly estranged brothers. A sombre tone accompanies another of many Lynne tracks with a rain motif.

Or course, the sun returns for "Dirty to the Bone," a very ELO composition, which gives a 70s sound a modern feel. Although slightly lacking in energy and lyrics, "Dirty to the Bone" is really a reminder of what ELO have innovated on their own, as is "When the Night Comes," another track with retro vibes restrained by modern production.

"Sun Will Shine on You" is a very different piece for Lynne vocally, beginning with a near-acapella intro compared to the band's usual sound. The positivity of tracks like "Mr. Blue Sky" is echoed with a more acoustic vibe. The verse works slowly and quietly, sympathetic to the sadness the subject of the song is experiencing, while the chorus becomes uplifting each time, offering a very friend-like pep-talk out of sadness. Yet again, the Harrison-like slide guitar tiptoes around in the background.

In the spirit of more energetic earlier ELO songs, "Ain't it a Drag" also borrows from fifties sounds. Lynne has never been the most energetic songsman, but here the reservation is definitely a plus. He doesn't try too hard to sound young or hip, and that is often the saving grace of this album.

Next, Lynne sings what could surely become someone's wedding song with "All My Life," a beautiful ELO ballad, followed immediately by a breakup song, "I'm Leaving You." "I'm Leaving You" is oddly pleasant for the subject matter, but is still one of the weaker tunes on the album.

"One Step at a Time" sounds the closest to the late 70s work of the band, with only a few modern touches (including a guitar bridge, which is more of a drawback than anything). Overall though, "One Step at a Time" is quite solid.

Closing the album is the title track, "Alone in the Universe." It begins slowly, with the sound and energy building. It's a great wrap-up for the album, bringing everything together with the musical poetry Lynne has such a knack for.

Lynne is the only founding member of ELO to work on Alone in the Universe, making Jeff Lynne's ELO a polite (and possibly lawsuit-preventing) way to title the group who did work on it. Lynne's production and arranging can be heard in everything he involves himself in. I know there are those who dislike that fact, much as Phil Spector's work is often disliked. But I feel Lynne has flair. Alone in the Universe is a great new piece for fans of the band. In addition to that, anyone who has been jonesing for new George Harrison material should also give the album a listen. I can't guarantee that all Beatles fans will love it, but Harrison fans will sense his presence, and feel the appreciation he would have had for the album.

This is of course, simplifying all of the album's complexities down to a couple of caricatures, which isn't fair. The album soars as any new album is capable of. The songs are artistic in their composition. The sound is congruent with the band's earlier work, while moving onward, looking to the future without trying too hard to be modern. I can only hope this album will be successful enough for more endeavours by Jeff Lynne's ELO in the near future.

Producer and founding member of ELO, Jeff Lynne.

Alone in the World is out November 13th and can be purchased here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Separated at Birth: 2 Videos That Include Several Genres of Dance

It's not all about setting here at "Separated at Birth." Sometimes, it's the central idea of a video that is repeated or happens to be similar to an older one. So it's a similarity in concept we're talking about today, with just two videos from the last ten years.

In 2007, KT Tunstall was somewhat successful with her track "Hold On." The video involves some kind of strange time machine that takes Tunstall through different moments in the evolution of dance, making her the center of each genre.

There are certain quirks to Tunstall's performance, including being seemingly confused about some of the dances and singing despite the dancing and genre changes.

Flash forward to last year, in which Taylor Swift released one of her many responses to haters with "Shake it Off."

It's interesting that the overall concept not only seems similar, but that something about the personality is comparable.

In reality, I'm sure it's just a coincidence, but it certainly seems like these two videos were separated at birth. Stay tuned for more musical artifacts that were separated at birth.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

One-Mind Tracks: Creepy Age Gap

Rock songs have a storied history of some super creepy references to enjoying the company of people much different ages than the singer. Below are just a few of those tracks.

"Sweet Little Sixteen" by Chuck Berry
Long before Ted Nugent was being creepy with "Jailbait," etc., Chuck Berry was singing the praises of sixteen year olds. Which would have been way less creepy had he not been arrested for transporting a minor across state lines for allegedly "immoral purposes."

"Younger Girl" by The Lovin' Spoonful
Much as The Beach Boys would steal "Sweet Little Sixteen" for "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Younger Girl" is an uncredited adaptation of "Prison Wall Blues" (by Cannon's Jug Stompers). This creepy piece found its way onto the very first Lovin' Spoonful album.

"Outside Villanova" by Eric Hutchinson
What is there to say about this song that it doesn't say itself in "she's getting older and legal soon" and "some girl that I'd be forgetting by the time the cops came by that afternoon"?

"Lolita" by Miniature Tigers

Loosely based on the most creepy age gap story of all time: Lolita, this track seems to be based more on the 1997 film than the book, but it can't be left off of the playlist.

"I Saw Her Standing There" by The Beatles
No, I don't know what you mean about her being seventeen. Please elaborate. Okay, so in it's original context, there's nothing wrong with this song, since Paul McCartney was around that age when he wrote it. But I really don't enjoy hearing men 25+ asking me if I know what they mean about the underage girl they saw standing there.

"You're Sixteen (You're Beautiful And You're Mine)" by Ringo Starr
Speaking of which, why Ringo? I understand that this song is a classic written by The Sherman Brothers (the Mary Poppins guys) and originally recorded by Johnny Burnette when he was 26. No one was anywhere near sixteen when this song was written and recorded. But still, Ringo was thirty-three when he recorded it. Ick.

"Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
Gary Puckett sings this song about a man who decides to blame this girl for seducing him despite her age, although it's still pretty obvious that they were lovers. Let's just hope composer Jerry Fuller didn't write it from experience.

"The Man With The Child In His Eyes" by Kate Bush

As with many songs by Kate Bush, the exact meaning of this song was unclear for years. In 2010 however, it was revealed that it was (at least in part) about her relationship with Steve Blacknell, a man six years her senior (they dated when she was around seventeen), that she evidently saw childlike qualities in.

"Don't Stand So Close To Me" by The Police

All I can say is, it's a lucky thing Sting had The Police on his side when he wrote this song about a young teacher's inappropriate relationship with a student. Ecspecially seeing as he was a young teacher before the band took off. He even name checks Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita. Yikes.

"My Sharona" by The Knack
Doug Fieger met a girl named Sharona Alperin when he was 25 and she was 17. After a year of courtship (and getting rid of his girlfriend and her boyfriend), the duo dated for four years. In the first few months of knowing her, he was inspired to write many songs and to "get it up for the touch of the younger kind." Bandmate Berton Averre didn't want to use Sharona's real name, but Fieger insisted that he wanted it to relay exactly how he felt.

"Maggie May" by Rod Stewart
Alright, here's a song that's pretty much the opposite of every other song on the list. Instead of a creepy older dude, it's a creepy older woman seducing a young schoolboy Rod Stewart who is also narrating the song. According to Stewart, "Maggie May" was based on the real woman he lost his virginity to.

"She Doesn't Get It" by The Format
The main focus of this song seems to be the fact that the guy has an emotionally difficult time having a one-night stand, but why is "New Religion" familiar to the narrator and yet long before the girl was born? Granted, lead singer Nate Ruess was born the same year that song came out, so it's probably more of a cultural thing.

"Sweet Young Thing" by The Monkees
This one isn't that creepy...well, he's yielding before the wisdom of a "child." But there are definitely creepier songs than this Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Michael Nesmith-penned piece. Still, the narrator is way too obsessed with the "Sweet Young Thing."

"Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" by Neil Diamond
Should we worry about the fact that Gary Puckett also did a cover of this song? Neil Diamond wrote it to his young fans, but something seems a little off about the sentiment to me.

"Infant Kiss" by Kate Bush
Award for creepiest song goes right here. Kate Bush wrote this song based on the movie The Innocents. In the film, a young governess is putting a child to bed and he kisses her passionately because he's possessed by the spirit of a man who haunts the house.

Find them all below:

Know any more songs about a creepy age gap? Tell me what they are in the comments.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Separated at Birth: 3 Videos Set in Crowded Diners,

Full disclosure: I know this isn't actually the same set or real diner or whatever. My point is more along the lines of "wow, three different people in less than ten years decided to set their videos in little, cramped fifties-style diners with an almost-identical layout."

First, in 2003, the artist Kelis named her album Tasty, so a Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo composition was brought to life. "Milkshake" has since become something of a legend because of the ambiguity of what "Milkshake" is in the song. The video looks something like this:

So technically, "Tasty's Yard" is the location in which "Milkshake" is set, but it's just a diner that looks very small and crowded, yet still pretty cozy. It's rumoured to have been shot at "Relish" in Brooklyn.

In 2007, Sean Kingston sampled Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" for his breakout hit "Beautiful Girls." He also sampled the idea of a packed, tiny diner in the video.

Now Kingston's diner is definitely not the same one. It's an abandoned restaurant in Hollywood called "Johnie's." And in fact, not only was it a setting in The Big Lebowski, but it's been used in several other music videos which make it look totally different. Tom Petty and Reba McEntire have both shot in this quaint location [source], so really that could have been the three videos covered here. Except McEntire and Petty's videos both make the space look larger. Petty utilizes the space as a full restaurant and McEntire's use makes it look fairly desolate. Kingston and Kelis both have the same central idea with theirs.

Fast forward three years to 2010, when Cee Lo Green works with several other composers including Bruno Mars to make a song that quickly made its rounds on the internet. The radio-appropriate title is "Forget You" and the video was set in...a congested diner!

Green has stated that "Forget You" is actually a message to the music industry rather than a woman who spurned him, but the video is very like Kingston's not only in setting, but in the flashbacks to a former era mixed with present day Green. Green's video was filmed at Cadillac Jack's, a diner in Sun Valley that was also a location in Grease 2.

So while there's no actual link between these three videos (different directors and everything), all three shooting locations are utilized in very much a similar way, with the camera following in the entrance, the bar staying on the left hand side and the booths on the right. Obviously they weren't really filmed in the same spots, and they had different directors, but these videos share some obvious central ideas.

Stay tuned for more musical artifacts that were separated at birth.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Album Review: "The High Country" by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

The musical journey of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin continues in The High Country, an album some say is the culmination of all previous works. The High Country remains unafraid of being poppy, but in this case, it's much closer to noise-pop than the polished indie pop the band generally exudes. The goal was to bring the album closer to the energy of the band's live shows, and it definitely has made this soft-voiced band turn a corner.

From the fore, the new approach is presented on "Line on You," which is still very congruent with their previous work, just with more feedback. The pop-riddled "Step Brother City" has something of a Strokes sound to it, but with the usual aspects of an SSLYBY song: the melodic howls and gentle vocals, and the occasional sprinkling of cutesy lyrics such as "all the good songs and poems are all about you//and all the bad ones too." That particular blend of sounds continues with "Goal Mind," which you could easily imagine Julian Casablancas scream-singing on- but that's not the resulting sound at all. 

Next, "Full Possession of All Her Powers" reminds us what SSLYBY have a talent for: lilting power pop with the shy indie twist. "Full Possession of All Her Powers" is easily one of the best songs on the album, telling the tale of a confident but flawed woman and the man with a crush on her, in a very upbeat manner. It gives way to the pleading "Madeline," the slowest and most tender track on the album, with a Simon and Garfunkel quality.

This album was built for vinyl, something few albums do these days. Not only are the liner notes clearly designed to be a sleeve or vinyl insert based on the layout, but "Madeline" ends side A and the grumbling "What I Won" picks up side B. I rarely make first-time album purchases on vinyl because I feel like vinyl is more of a commitment, but seeing the care they put into making "Madeline" the soft end of side A and "What I Won" an intro to side B, I really wish I'd gotten the vinyl instead. "What I Won" has more of the gravelly guitar sound the band promised on "Line on You," as well as an even more noise-pop style mumbled lyrics. "Trevor Forever" is loud and proud and more punk than anything you'd expect from the rest of the album. That is, unless you count the guitars on "Song Will," which come off as pretty rough (in the good way).

"Foreign Future" and "Magnet's New Summer 'Do" are both straight out of the SSLYBY handbook, with their signature guitars very much at the front of the stage. 

Finally, "Total Meltdown" brings everything together: the feedback, the soft vocals (but this time with audible lyrics, which wasn't a given on every song on The High Country), the SSLYBY guitar, the well-thought arrangement of lyrics, powerpop and just a dash of punk. "Total Meltdown" is very bright, with the line "I'm not afraid" being the mantra of the piece. As it fades out, one can't help but feel both satisfied by the album and hungry for more. 

SSLYBY have come a long way from 2005's Broom. Their sound is miles more refined and their album layout is impeccable. A part of me was afraid they would lose the sincerity of the earlier albums, but the sincerity is ever-present. Tracks like "Madeline" aren't being produced by anyone else. I also feared they'd begin to lose the catchiness they had with tracks on Pershing, but "Full Possession of All Her Powers" is just one catchy tune on the album. Really, there's nothing to fear with The High Country. After listening to it, much like the narrator of "Total Meltdown," "I'm not afraid."

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin are an indie pop band from Springfield, Missouri.

The High Country is out June 2nd and can be purchased here.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Following in the Footsteps: Queen

What's that? Another new article series? You betcha. "Following in the Footsteps" explores the songs of bands or artists who seem to be carrying the torch lit by a previous band or artist. It's yet another type of playlist featured on One-Mind Tracks (the radio show, not the article series), and you can catch this playlist tonight at 7pm on 97.5 WDIF or streaming online. If you're outside of the timeframe though, let me tell you what you missed.

"Grace Kelly" by Mika
Early on in his career, Mika's voice was often compared to Freddie Mercury, to the point that he ended up referencing the comparison in "Grace Kelly," which definitely has some Queen aires. He wrote this piece about his annoyance with the music industry and their insistence that he change to sell records better, but he also wrote a track about his love of larger ladies entitled "Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)." Does that sound like a familiar concept maybe?

"Old Bike" by Rob Cantor
Not that we're just talking about people whose songs deal with similar ideas to those found in Queen songs (although I did toss that idea around for a bit). Rob Cantor's alma mater band Tally Hall often saw comparisons to Queen as well, but you can't deny the similarities in this glammy track with vocal harmonies in just the right places. If you're doubting the comparison, just hold out for the bridge.

"I Believe in a Thing Called Love" by The Darkness
How about a band that wants to be Queen so bad that they hired Rufus Taylor, the son of Queen's drummer Roger Taylor as their new drummer? Kind of like the way The Who wanted to be The Beatles and so they got Zak Starkey for the touring band (I'm joking of course). But seriously, The Darkness has frequently been compared to Queen, and it's not hard to see why. Or...hear why. Either really.

"Welcome to the Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance
Yeah, I know, it's not 2006 anymore. And I'm sure most people got burnt out on this song so much that they don't want to hear it or think of it as music anymore, and the other half of people are being reminded of the embarrassing era in which they shopped exclusively at Hot Topic and dyed their hair black, but this song is still pretty solid. And it's definitely got some Queen vibes going on, so just deal with it.

"At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)" by fun.

One thing to remember about Queen is that they weren't all arena sound. fun. totally could be, but they also have that other quality that made Queen rad; namely "fun" (even when they're a little melancholic). See also: the acapella intro and vocal harmonies in "Some Nights."

"Starlight" by Muse
I know Muse kind of shot themselves in the foot when they got attached to the Twilight series, but they still have a certain polished glam rock feeling to them. It's like a glam-rocker that wears a button-up coat with a scarf covering any troublesome neck that might otherwise show. You can hear a little heterosexual Freddie in there for sure.

"Brighter Day" by Jellyfish
Jellyfish have a wide range of influences from all over the musical map, and they blend it all up into their own thing. "Brighter Day" is definitely their most Queen-esque track. Although if you're looking to find the lovechild of Queen and The Beach Boys, look no further than "Sebrina, Paste, and Plato."

"Stuck on the Girl" by Young Beautiful In a Hurry
Young Beautiful in a Hurry is a band completely unashamed of the influence Queen has had on them. Lead singer Brendan McCreary has even performed as Freddie Mercury in a Queen tribute show (The Show Must Go On). To find out more, check out the interview I did with him here.

"Unstoppable" by Foxy Shazam

Foxy Shazam are honestly probably the closest match on this list. Upbeat lyrics with an arena sound? Check. Lead singer unafraid of running around in tight pants? Also check.

These tracks can all be found below:

Know some more Queen-esque tracks? Leave a comment!