Monday, December 26, 2011

A Personal History: The Long Blondes

At some point during high school, I took up the hobby of Google image-searching my favorite celebrities. During a routine "Chrissie Hynde" search one evening, I came across a photo of The Long Blondes. I would be lying if I said I was not at all attracted to the aesthetic of the band. As a matter of fact, that was what made me look into them, despite the fact that they were not the droids I was looking for. They had shown up in my search because someone had suggested a similarity between the vocals of lead singer Kate Jackson and Chrissie Hynde. The comparison is quite reasonable. I watched the video for "Once and Never Again" and was instantly hooked. I loved the guitar parts and the general rock sound of their songs, along with the killer vocals and the catchy tunes. My love for the clever lyrics came only slightly later.


Not only did I rewatch the few official videos quite often in the coming weeks, but I purchased both albums as soon as humanly possible. I researched the band, and was very disappointed to learn that they had broken up only a month or two prior to my discovery (due to health-related issues of guitarist Dorian Cox). I continued to listen to the group in excess. Years later, I am still very fond of them. And I still draw fashion inspiration (and envy) from Kate Jackson.

The Long Blondes left to right: Dorian Cox, Screech Louder, Kate Jackson, Emma Chaplin, and 
Reenie Hollis.

Where are they now? 
Since the break-up, Dorian Cox underwent treatment for his paralysis and has joined a new band called Milkteeth. Reenie Hollis and Screech Louder have formed The Bon Bon Club. Kate Jackson is reportedly working on a solo album under the name "Madame Ray."

Other Recommended Tracks:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seasonal Music Roundup: A Christmas Playlist

I do not consider myself a Christian. I don't feel that this is the place to get into specifics about it, but the point I want to get across is that you don't need to be a Christian to enjoy good Christmas music. In fact, Christmas music doesn't even have to be good to be enjoyable. It's something about the dorky gushy feelings we can get inside just because of all the lights we use to run up our holiday electricity bills and the snow that makes it harder to drive and the biting cold. I can't imagine living a life in which I don't romanticize these things even just a tiny bit. And the Christmas songs that play on the radio and in department stores every year around this time are yet another cliched staple that I wouldn't live without.

So, needless to say, I have quite a few personal favorites when it comes to "holiday" songs. Here are some non-traditional or revamped traditional "Christmas" songs that I enjoy. For once, I am allowing this playlist to include the goofiest, most childish songs I enjoy. Because...hey, it's Christmas! You only have to worry about these things for like a month, why not listen to whatever you want?


"Sleigh Ride" by KT Tunstall
This is a nice, poppy Christmas cover. Tunstall manages to cover the song without destroying the original piece and without destroying her own artistic style. 


"Snowflake" by Everybody Else
A couple of years ago, Everybody Else released a holiday-themed song and video just a few short days before Christmas. I fell in love with it instantly and was quite disappointed when it was taken down only days later. Luckily, this track did surface again as a Kickstarter prize but the video has yet to return. Personally, I think it's a very cute, heartfelt Christmas tune.
 
"Riu Chiu" by The Monkees
The Monkees performed this old Spanish carol for their Christmas special. The vocal parts are really beautiful.

"December Will Be Magic Again" by Kate Bush
For the young at heart. Not specifically a Christmas song, more just about the joy and wonder of winter and the Christmas season. A very cool song.

"Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses
You know how some people have a soft spot for things? I have a soft gaping hole for The Waitresses. This song is just...really sweet? It's one of those early rap songs like Blondie's "Rapture" that is just special. I also think the swear word in this song may be the most commonly overlooked in radio history.

"2000 Miles" by The Pretenders
One of my favorite bands performing an original Christmas song. It's a very lovely song, and it can make me a little emotional. There's also a more strings-oriented live version from Isle of View. KT Tunstall and Coldplay have both covered it as well.

"Little Saint Nick" by Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
This might be the best cover of any song ever. I do have a tendency to hyperbolize though. But seriously, Animal alone makes this song amazing.

"Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
This song is frequently overlooked, which is a pity. It's poppier than most Tom Petty stuff, but it's very catchy.

"Carol of the Bells" by The Bird and the Bee
Another example of a great cover of a classic holiday song. This sounds just like a Bird and the Bee song, even though it's clearly a classic Christmas tune.

"Oh Holy Night" by Weezer
Out of an entire album of Weezer Christmas songs, this is by far my favorite.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Death Cab For Cutie
I will listen to almost anything Ben Gibbard sings. Other versions of this song now sound strange.

"One More Sleep 'Till Christmas" by Kermit the Frog
From The Muppets' 1992 film The Muppet Christmas Carol, this is one of the cutest Christmas songs in recent history. I fondly remember singing this song (amended to suit the day) weeks before Christmas.

"Let It Snow" by A Fine Frenzy
This is a beautiful Christmas song, only helped by Alison Sudol's beautiful voice.

"Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band Aid
However you may feel about any of the artists that participated in Band-Aid, this is in-arguably a quintessential Christmas song, as well as being an important historical song.


"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee
Yet another classic. I enjoy this song greatly, no matter how many times I hear it.

Fans of Doctor Who may recognize this song without knowing why. Apart from being a classic 70s Christmas song, "Merry Xmas Everybody" was featured in the 2005 and 2006 Doctor Who Christmas specials. I thought it was a tradition they'd stick with, but no such luck. Rooney also did a brilliant cover.

"Run, Rudolph Run" by Chuck Berry
Particularly memorable from Home Alone, this song sounds like every other Chuck Berry song, but I still love it.

"Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon
You know how sometimes you just like that song because it's embedded in your personal history? But I'm also not going to argue with the message of this song.

"Holly Jolly Christmas" by The Format
When I heard about this cover, I assumed it would be horrible. But Nate Ruess actually makes it sound cute and genuine.

"Christmas is Cancelled" by The Long Blondes
Bearing much similarity to an Elvis Costello song (circa Armed Forces), this is a catchy original Christmas song by one of my favorite bands.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top 5: Modern Male Vocalists

Today I would like to talk about five modern male vocalists that I think have a certain something special. There are a lot of really great vocalists in this modern era, ones that stand out for many different reasons. I'm not going to pretend to be the ultimate judge of vocal talent, or to have heard every single singer ever. All I wish to do is to relate to you some of my favorite male singers who are currently active in the music world. This list isn't in an incredibly specific order, but it will be counting down, as most great lists do.



#5 Julian Casablancas
Julian Casablancas has a rock voice. It’s smooth and coarse at the same time. Not only is his voice perfect for The Strokes, but it’s also beautiful when he uses it on his own (Phrases For the Youth). His vocals make the band recognizable amongst the sea of artists, as well as giving The Strokes, (or anything Casablancas puts his vocals to) a definite edge.


 #4 Ben Gibbard
Ben Gibbard doesn’t have a perfect voice. What he does have is an honest voice. When Gibbard sings, his voice gives you the impression that he’s singing to you, making his emotional and heartfelt lyrics all the more special. Whether he's playing an acoustic solo song, singing along with the digital beeps of The Postal Service, or rocking out with Death Cab For Cutie, Gibbard's voice supplies exactly what the songs need.


#3 Eric Hutchinson
Eric Hutchinson almost sounds like he should be a 60s Motown artist. He has a very powerful voice that suits his piano-heavy songs perfectly. He also does a killer Cher impression.


#2 Nate Ruess
Nate Ruess has taken his voice from The Format to fun., giving each band what they need to make the music wonderful. Like Gibbard, Ruess has a kind of honesty to his voice that allows us to empathize with his tender lyrics.


#1 Carrick Moore Gerety 
Carrick Moore Gerety has to be my favorite modern male vocalist. He can sing almost anything (including "Birthday Sex") and make it sound like a beautiful melody. It helps that his songwriting for Everybody Else actually provides beautiful melodies.



I picked these gentlemen because I think their voices are outstanding amongst the artists that I listen to. There are other great vocalists (like Daniel Merriweather for example) that I know have really great voices, but I just don't listen to them. There are also other men whose music I listen to, but whose voices are not overly outstanding.

 Recommended Tracks: 
Julian Casablancas Vocals:
You Only Live Once by The Strokes
11th Dimension by Julian Casablancas
Boombox by The Lonely Island Featuring Julian Casablancas
Reptilia by The Strokes
Machu Picchu by The Strokes

Ben Gibbard Vocals:
You Remind Me of Home by Ben Gibbard
Little Bribes by Death Cab For Cutie
Handle With Care by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins (featuring Ben Gibbard and Coner Oberst) 
Soul Meets Body by Death Cab For Cutie
Clark Gable by The Postal Service

Eric Hutchinson Vocals:
It Hasn't Been Long Enough by Eric Hutchinson
Rock & Roll by Eric Hutchinson
OK, It's Alright With Me by Eric Hutchinson
Back to Where I Was by Eric Hutchinson
Watching You Watch Him by Eric Hutchinson

Nate Ruess Vocals:
Dog Problems by The Format
Light a Roman Candle With Me by fun.
Snails by The Format
We Are Young by fun. 
The Compromise by The Format 

Carrick Moore Gerety Vocals:
Say Goodbye by Everybody Else
Helter Skelter by Rooney featuring Carrick Moore Gerety
Button for Punishment by Everybody Else
Nine Straight Lines by Push Kings
Soldiers Without an Army by Everybody Else

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Seasonal Music Roundup: A Thanksgiving Playlist

I really cut the work out for myself with this playlist, not because there are no songs about food, but because:
  • I tried to make the list out of serious songs.
  • I wanted representations of multiple food groups.
  • I avoided songs that were too blatantly not about food (i.e. "Pulling Mussels from the Shell" by Squeeze).
  • I waited until the last minute to start the playlist.
Believe it or not, when you sit down to think about songs that have to do with food, it's pretty hard. As such, I apologize for the concentration on fruits and sweet foods.

Without further ado, here is a list of food/eating related songs to get you in the mood for Thanksgiving (explanations after the image):

 

"Hungry Like the Wolf" by Duran Duran
This song represents one in a very small handful of Duran Duran songs that I like. I chose it to kick off this playlist because it was one of the best "hunger" songs I could think of.

"The Sound of Settling" by Death Cab For Cutie
Even though this has more to do with Ben Gibbard's apparent inability to communicate feelings, he does say he's pretty hungry.

"Dinner For Two" by Deerhoof
I don't want to hear any complaints about Deerhoof. Portabello in exploding candle light. I understand.

"Pork and Beans" by Weezer
I never thought Deerhoof would fade into Weezer as well as they did. Rivers Cuomo is going to eat his candy with the pork and beans. 

"Raw Meat" by Black Lips
This song was added as an after-thought when I realized I had almost no main course songs. At least it mentions food fairly exclusively.

"Green Onions" by Booker T. & The M.G.'s
One of the most popular instrumental rock songs of all time! I don't even have to worry about the lyrics conflicting with the playlist.

"Eat the Music" by Kate Bush
Fruits galore are mentioned as Kate Bush prepares to "Eat the Music." This video was part of Bush's production of "The Red Shoes," which I must have watched a hundred times as a kid (as well as doing my own version of it). Song starts at 0:16:


"Pineapple Head" by Crowded House
Another song about fruit. I don't have much to say about it, apart from that Crowded House can be really amazing.
 
"Coconut" by Harry Nilsson
This song is probably the only Harry Nilsson song most people know by Harry Nilsson. It's a classic.

"Banana Man" by Tally Hall
Continuing the tropical fruits theme, we have Tally Hall's "Banana Man." A part of me thinks Tally Hall may regret this song by now, but I still like it.

"Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears" by The Monkees
This is very much a mid-late 60s pop song. At least it does sing of foods.

"Vanilla Sky" by Paul McCartney
This song from the movie of the same title was nominated for an Academy Award. It actually fits the theme better than most of the other songs.

"Apple Pie Bed" by Lawrence Arabia
If you're up for a very beautiful, but creepily sexual video, I recommend this one. Obviously, Apple Pie has very little to do with it.


"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" by The Four Tops
This is such a classic song. It's not really about food, but there are vague mentions.

"A Taste of Honey" by The Beatles
While this isn't one of the best Beatles songs, it still shows what they could do prior to their prime.

"Lips Like Sugar" by Echo and the Bunnymen
This was actually one of the first songs I thought of for this playlist. I hope he doesn't eat his girlfriend's lips though. That would be horrific.

"I Want Candy" by Bow Wow Wow
How great are Bow Wow Wow? This is a cover of a 60s song, yet they totally make it sound relevant to the 80s.

"Savoy Truffle" by The Beatles
George Harrison's song to ween Eric Clapton off of sweets. One of the few songs in this playlist that's actually about food.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Concert Review: Robert Schwartzman in Columbus, Ohio

Sometimes, the way I run things around here is a bit unfair. For example, Robert Schwartzman was not the headliner for this concert, yet he's the one I'm primarily going to review. There is a reason for this though: I don't feel that I can give a fair review of someone whose material I am unfamiliar with. Concerts are much more enjoyable for me when I know the songs being performed and it's not fair to take that sort of thing out on the other acts. So excuse me, if you will, as I review an opening act primarily.

Robert Schwartzman and his band.

Robert Schwartzman and his band took the stage at just after 8. The girls to my left greeted him with a giddy chorus of "we love you Robert!," to which he replied in falsetto, "thank you!" The band opened up with "Out of My Mind," a great opener, but something I would have expected to come a little later had they been the main act. From there, they moved through the remainder of the first four songs off of the album in order. Everything sounded great, all the notes in place. Even "Someone 2 Love," which was probably my least favorite song from the album, sounded great live. The keyboardist, whose name never seemed to be brought up, was amazing. It wasn't just her ability to pound the keys either, she seemed to have an incredible presence on-stage. After "You Don't Have to Lie," they moved into "Funny Money." At the close of "Funny Money," someone in the audience yelled something about moving on to Ocean Grove, jolting a polite reaction from Schwartzman, followed by a much faster "Love Is All Around." "Just a Dream Away," which was one of my favorite tracks, came off wonderfully. I somehow thought it would have been difficult to pull off live, but they managed. The band closed their set with "Innermission" and "I Know Why," and the drummer, keyboardist and bassist left the stage, leaving Schwartzman on alone to perform an acoustic rendition of the Rooney song "When Did Your Heart Go Missing?" before leaving the stage. It sounded really great, and made the fans of Rooney in the audience quite happy. Personally, I would have been content without it, but I appreciated it anyway, along with the fact that he cared to think what his fans would want to hear.

Because the other acts weren't ones I was familiar with, I joined the rest of the Schwartzman fans in heading for the merch table at this point. I exercised my usual inability to pick from two cool designs by purchasing both of the shirts he had out. Just as I'd slung them both over my shoulder, someone rested a hand on my shoulder the way my brother will often do. As I turned around to say something, assuming it was my brother, I found myself face-to-face with Robert Schwartzman. I got my CD signed and he thanked me for coming and gave me a hug. I did my best to thank him for his music, but Ocean Grove had already taken the stage and I'm not sure my quiet voice got through.

From here, I joined my brother in the seats at the edge of the room and watched Ocean Grove perform. Ocean Grove went on second, despite the fact that they were billed as the headliner. They were very loud, but fun and enjoyable. I hadn't realized until he announced it, that lead singer of Ocean Grove, John Lloyd Taylor, is the same man from JR & Jr, a side-project with Robert Schwartzman. He called Schwartzman to the stage and they performed "Emily" from the JR & Jr ep.

Ocean Grove joined by Robert Schwartzman. Photo by Gareth Sedam

Ocean Grove finished their set and Voxhaul Broadcast took to the stage. I still wasn't familiar with any of their material, but Voxhaul Broadcast had a strange kind of energy and rhythm that attracted me back near the stage. Their instrumental parts were very cool. When Voxhaul Broadcast closed the show, the evening felt as though it had been ended prematurely somehow. I wandered out to my truck still feeling a little like there was another act yet to come (there wasn't).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I've Got This Covered: George Harrison's "Thirty Three & 1/3"

Whilst taking my truck in to be worked on yesterday, I was listening to the free CD that came with this month's Mojo. Mojo have a reputation for arranging cover CDs of complete albums. This particular one was just a series of artists covering George Harrison songs, but it gave me an idea for a new series of articles on here. What if some of my (or your) favorite modern artists came together to create a complete "covered" album? What if a series of dead artists managed to travel through time to cover a modern album? I started with my initial idea- Owl City does "Dear One"- and went from there. I'm a big fan of cover versions, they have a tendency to be interesting if not beautiful. So, this is my dream covered version of George Harrison's Thirty Three & 1/3.

1) Woman Don't You Cry For Me -Speak
Everything from the funky bass and 70s drums to the lyrics is perfectly suited for Speak. I can just imagine Speak adding their energy to it to create a great cover version.

2) Dear One - Owl City
As I mentioned before, this was the first cover version that I thought of. Not only could Harrison's ghostly instrumentals be effectively covered, but I think Adam Young is one of the few modern pop artists who could sing about god with as much sincerity as Harrison.

3) Beautiful Girl - Alex Winston
I had trouble picking an artist for this one until I thought of Alex Winston, and then it was the easiest thing in the world. I haven't quite visualized the instrumentals yet, but I feel I can actually hear Alex Winston's beautiful warbley voice flowing its way through this song. Not familiar with Alex Winston? Hear "Sister Wife" below.

4) This Song - Ben Folds
Who can handle both the keyboard-intensiveness of this song and the doubtless humor? My money's on Ben Folds. Folds could be just as angry and amusing as Harrison himself.

5) See Yourself -fun.
I feel that this song is a great fit for Nate Ruess's voice. Lyrically, I hear it as more of a Format song than a fun. song, but I can hear Andrew Dost pounding out the keyboard parts too.

6) It's What You Value -The Mountain Goats
Maybe I'm the only one who thinks John Darnielle really likes to sing about cars, but I still think it. That's not the only reason I think he should cover this song, it's just a bonus. I also think the phrasing is perfect for a Mountain Goats cover. I'm sure they'd make it folkier, but I'd love to hear their take on it.

7) True Love - Miniature Tigers
Technically, this would be a cover of a cover, but it wouldn't be Thirty Three & 1/3 without "True Love." I know Miniature Tigers could handle this because I've heard their cover of Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" amongst other things.

8) Pure Smokey - Paloma Faith
This song needs a very soulful voice, one you can believe is thankful for Smokey Robinson. Paloma Faith's vocals would give this song a wonderful sound.

9) Crackerbox Palace - Coconut Records
Something about the method of story telling in this song seems great for Coconut Records. Jason Schwartzman also adds just enough whimsy to his songs to be able to do this one.

10) Learning How To Love You - Bat For Lashes
This would obviously be a much more ethereal version of "Learning How To Love You," but I can hear Natasha Khan singing this song.



That's how I think it should go down. Questions? Better ideas? Drop me a comment. Or if you're a major magazine that has magical powers over artists, feel free to make this happen.


If you're a fellow fan of George Harrison, feel free to join me in re-listening to all of his albums next week. Follow Emotionsleaking on twitter for more updates.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Album Review: "Double Capricorn" by Robert Schwartzman

 

Robert Schwartzman is capable of producing many different types of music. From the classic rock sound so prevalent in the first two Rooney albums, to the folkier sound of later Rooney and the JR & jr ep, to the 80s synth sounds featured on his Solobob single and the track he produced for Miles Fisher, Scwartzman can vary his styles enough to pass for several different musicians. This genre-shifting talent is perfectly showcased on Double Capricorn, which slides through sounds seamlessly to create something that definitely sounds great.

The album opener is one of my favorite tracks, "Out Of My Mind," which has a very vibrant beat and a great 80s sound. It's catchy and singable, and starts off a vibe that continues through most of the album; one that suggests these songs for summer driving with the windows down. Schwartzman continues with "Second Chances," a song that wouldn't have felt very out of place on the second Rooney album, apart from the fact that it has a more developed maturity to it. "Someone 2 Love" has a nice sound to it, but the half-rhymes and sometimes the complete absence of rhymes leave me a little annoyed (i.e.: "If you've got a problem with the way I wanna kiss // Well you can't turn every moment together into a little fairytale"). "You Don't Have to Lie" manages to sound very modern, with touches of MGMT, but while still retaining some sounds from Calling the World.

From here, the album moves into "Innermission," a short instrumental piece which explains why I thought the album seemed even shorter than its sparse ten tracks. "Innermission" flows smoothly into "I Know Why" and the album begins to take a sharper turn toward the sound of the 70s. "Love Is All Around" is another catchy track with a retro sound. The synths and drums are very reminiscent of the 70s, but not in a negative way. The album is led toward a close with "Just a Dream Away," which reminds me a little of the lovechild of ELO and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The final track, probably my second favorite, is "All My Life," which for some reason sounds like The Beatles as a dream-pop band.

This album does feel a little short to me, in part because I have been spoiled by listening to artists who cram their albums to the max. However, when it circles around to the beginning again, the songs don't feel old or annoying. On the third and fourth listens at least, the songs still feel fresh and bright. My main complaints have to do with the CD sleeve not containing a track listing, but I suppose the titles are unimportant as long as you know what you're listening to. If you take a gander at the liner notes, you will note that almost every sound you hear on this record was produced by Schwartzman (excluding the drums on "Someone to Love" and "I Know Why"). That in itself is pretty impressive, not only for Scwartzman, but for the modern music model in general.

If you're on the fence about whether or not to buy this album, I would just like to point out that this album was released on Robert Schwartzman's own label, California Dreamin' Records, and that all profits go to the Tibetan Healing Fund. So, y'know, you'll be helping out yourself and someone else. Just a point of note.
 
Robert Schwartzman is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer.  
Double Capricorn is his debut solo album.

Double Capricorn can be purchased  here.