Sunday, June 29, 2008

Anthem In (Finally some new music)

So it's been a bit stagnant on the whole new band front lately. (although I admit I have been absorbed by huge releases by huge bands lately.) But fear not I have a new minor band crush. Thanks in part goes to the wonderful blog Speed of Dark for turning me on to this Brooklyn band called ANTHEM IN. Kind of a mix of Straylight Run, Rogue Wave and early Jimmy Eat World, the band plays the kind of heart on your sleeve, fuzzy guitar rock that always sounds great out of the car stereo. (added bonus for the use of female harmonies to a male lead singer, I have always kinda dug that). The sound can get a bit repetitive at times, but for a debut album it's a good start. I think once they get some time under their belt they could be something special. I dare you to keep still on "Down", which is the lead single. Really fun stuff!

(mp3) Anthem In -- Down (Courtesy of Speed of Dark)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

In Fond Memory Of...

George Carlin passed away recently. Here are two of what I think are his funniest bits. First is a routine he did on the need for stuff, which illustrates his mastery of the absurdity of language.

Second is a comparison of baseball and football. The single funniest five minutes he has ever done. He will be missed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Track By Track: Review of Coldplay's Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends

I have put this off for a few weeks because I wanted some of the hyperbole to die down. Much has been made of Coldplay's latest as a great leap forward for the band and their establishment is the pantheon of great rock bands. The use of producer Brian Eno (of U2 fame) and the focus of the music away from the more bombastic nature of "X and Y" seems to have paid off. Whether this was just a one off or a genuine advancement in their work is yet to be seen. But, despite the fact that many slag on them for their Radiohead-esque sound, the band still managed to craft something that after many listens does have tremendous staying power.

Track One -- Life In Technicolor
It is always tricky opening your record with a instrumental. Some might find it pretentious while others will call you artistic. I think the song sets just the right tone for the record as a whole. It has a slow build before hitting stride as Chris Martin does his best Sting impression.

This might be the darkest song the band has ever made. It has some great images and a sing along chorus that will play very well live. What struck me about this song is the use of the handclap drum beat and the great guitar work. Definitely an early highlight.

If Cemeteries set the tone for the record, then Lost is the juxtaposition. An upbeat organ driven track with another unusual drumbeat (is this Eno's true influence on the band, an expansion of percussion?) Lyrically the message of hope seems to be a direct rebuttal to the darkness of the record so far. This song raises the bar for the rest of the record and after several listens is easily my favorite.

Track Four -- 42
What starts out as a traditional Coldplay piano ballad takes a sharp left turn about a minute at a half in with the first real Radiohead nod. The guitar seems to have been lifted from the 'Head catalogue which is a little disappointing (I had hoped they had outgrown the need to openly ape other people's sounds). The song then fins a nice acoustic groove at the end as Martin intones "you didn't get to heaven but you made it close." which is a nice turn of phrase.

Track Five -- Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love
On my third trip around the album I cam to the conclusion that Coldplay was actually trying to make an noncommercial commercial album. Hidden songs, instrumentals and songs with odd breaks run throughout the disc. Case in point are these two separate songs that are placed together despite the fact they have no real relation to each other. I will be surprised if "Lovers in Japan" is not released as a single by itself, it is probably the most radio ready song on the album and a definite candidate for biggest live song on the record. The second half, the more subdued "Reign of Love" is another Coldplay ballad with a Beatles feel to it, which frankly left me underwhelmed.

Track Six -- Yes
I imagine when the band was putting this album together they were up very late one night and starting messing around with different sounds and percussion cadences and out popped "Yes". A lot has been written about the Middle Eastern flair on this track, and yes it is there, but I think it's a bit overplayed. What struck me more was Martin's voice is so deep, as if he is trying to consciously play against his falsetto image. This is a nice touch and makes the song much more ominous. Another hidden track plays out the tail end of this song, a My Bloody Valentine knockoff that would have played better as a b side rather than taking up space where another actual song could have been.

Track Seven -- Viva La Vida
The first of two title tracks is the second single (first single depending on how you classify singles these days). It's a great song and will be played for a long time alongside "Clocks" and "Yellow". It's the best of all that is this band. Martin is in his comfortable register singing about French Monarchs. The band is here but only on the fringes, darting in a out behind a string and piano crescendo. I have not taken this song out of any playlist since it came out, so my total plays on this tops 40 so far.

Track Eight -- Violet Hill
When this first came out I wrote of the similarity to Pink Floyd. Now as part of an album it is a song that sort of sticks out. It almost doesn't belong with the rest of the record. In retrospect it was an interesting choice as a lead single. It is so different from what we would expect and gives the guitar work a chance to really shine. If they are smart they open the concerts with this, it will be some much better live. I also think burying it towards the end of the record was a mistake. If you had placed this behind Cemeteries the record would have had a more natural emotional flow. Still a good song though.

Track Nine -- Strawberry Swing
One of the reviews I read of this song said that it's only a matter of time before this is the theme to some quirky romantic drama on TV or in theatres. I think that about some this Lennon-esque track. It's hummable but I think the band will regret it in the long run. I can't see it being one that will be a fan favorite but because it will be popular they will be obliged to include it in their eventual greatest hits. Hell, every band has one!!

Track Ten -- Death And All His Friends
For the first minute and half I hated this song. I dislike the Coldplay ballads, always have. Then the drum comes in and the song goes in a whole new direction as Martin yelps, "No, I don't want a battle from beginning to end, I don't want a cycle of recycled revenge, I don't want to follow death and all of his friends". It's almost as if he is trying to convince himself that everything will be okay after all. A nice way to end the record properly. There is a short coda that brings the music from "Life in Technicolor" back only with some lyrics about escaping and dreaming to close the record.

It's a really, really good album. I stop short of saying great because only time will tell how it shapes up in comparison to their entire catalogue. It could be their "Unforgettable Fire", the record that looking back was the beginning of their time as an artistic force. Or it could be a momentary step forward before a regression back to the original formula. I sincerely hope it's the former. I could get used to this new and improved Coldplay.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Zencast #13 (The Electro Pop Cast)

Anyone who has ever lived in California knows that when the calender hits late June the temperature goes through the roof. Lately it has been about 104 degrees here in Pasadena with little sign of relief in site. What does this have to do with 80's and 90's electro pop you ask? Well, nothing but I have to bitch to someone and you'll do.

Anyway, this particular podcast was born from my profound love of electronic pop music. I grew up on this stuff so it was only a matter of time before I slapped a playlist together. Although not a definitive collection to be sure I think it does a good job of representing the genre with the highlights here being probably the Camouflage track and the hidden gem by B Movie. Enjoy!!


1) Depeche Mode -- Enjoy The Silence
2) Pet Shop Boys -- Domino Dancing
3) OMD -- Enola Gay
4) Cause and Effect -- It's Over Now
5) Moev -- Capital Heaven
6) Manufacture -- As The End Draws Near
7) Camouflage -- That Smiling Face
8) Red Flag -- Russian Radio
9) B Movie -- Remembrance Day
10) Erasure -- Drama!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Don't Care If It Is Kids Music...It's Catchy

I have tried to avoid writing about the state of Kid's Music on this blog. My wife does a pretty good job of detailing what my boys are listening to and what they like over on her site (see sidebar for link) and I choose not to focus on music for the toddler set. But when one has kids your listening patterns do change. So I have had my far share of Laurie Berkner (GAG!), Raffi (The Pied Piper on Ritalin) and The Dirty Sock Funtime Band (Don't ask, we're both better off with you not knowing...) So when something comes along that I actually like it is a double blessing. Since 2 year olds feel the need to listen to the same thing over and over and over, a good song is like a piece of manna from Heaven. Case in point, "Pop Fly" by Justin Roberts. This song has several things going for it.

1) It's about baseball. This in and of itself might be enough.
2) Roberts sounds like Mike Mills from REM. Go ahead listen to this followed by REM's "Superman" and I dare you to tell me they are not separated a birth.
3) The song has a catchy chorus. This would be a great summer song even if it wasn't aimed at those still riding with their training wheels attached.
4) Seriously, it sounds like a lost REM song. Take away the lyrics and just listen to the music and it could fit right in to any of Stipe and Company's albums. (Come on, isn't "Shiny, Happy People" really a kids song?)

So put aside your prejudice to music for toddlers and give it a listen. I even included the video which is also kitchy fun!!

(mp3) Justin Roberts -- Pop Fly

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Quick Hit

So I have three huge posts coming in the next couple of weeks.
1) A Track by Track review of the new COLDPLAY CD. I think I am finally ready to tackle it head on after about 8 listens.
2) A new podcast which has been gestating for about a month.
3) A post about movies and politics in light on back to back viewings of "Recount" and "Primary Colors" over the weekend.

But since the day is winding down I thought just a quick hit post to let you all know I'm still active.

I had to throw together some music for my school's Senior Class breakfast which required me diving into the realm of hit music. Normally I stay out of these waters with only a passing interest in what kids are into these days. Without really knowing the difference between RIHANNA and any other would be Mariah I had to rely on the Billboard Hot 100. Let me say I feel really bad for the youth of America. 99% of what passes for hit music these days is crap (which is exactly what every other old fogey has said about popular music since the dawn of Elvis...). I did however come across a couple of choice nuggets buried in the muck:

Featured in a car commercial and has a decent hook. Not the most popular song out there but it does have a way of sticking in your head.

I actually like her style. Some of her newer stuff is grating and she appears to be pandering a bit to the hip hop crowd but she is so unique that I will forgive her.

This is either the greatest tribute to Prince ever or the greatest rip off I can't tell. But the guitar hook is great and I predict it will be all over the radio by the end of the month.

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Post about Nothing

So I realized the other day that I have been woefully inactive when it comes to this particular blog and the truth is, I have no real excuse. Sure I could say I have been busy at work or with family. I could say that I have been wrapped up in the frustrating drama that is following the Los Angeles Lakers or the Angels. I could say that my lack of inspiration is due to many factors, but the truth is I just haven't been inspired to write anything. Maybe I don't read enough. After all where does one get inspiration but in the words of others. I have been reading "Teacher Man" by Frank McCourt for like 1/2 a year and while it is truly brilliant, one book does not a reader make. My interest in politics has dwindled to the occasional reading of Newsweek or a perusal of the internet but that's about it. So you might say I have let myself down as a literature consumer.

So why then would you, dear reader, continue to trek through such dribble. Because hopefully you trust me enough to know eventually I will snap out of it and get back to writing at least something interesting. So here a couple of songs to tide you over till I get it all figured out.

(mp3) Paul Weller -- 22 Songs (courtesy of The World of Wingrove)

He look a new Paul Weller album. These type of records tend to sneak up someone who is following the artist religiously. Some artists reach a point in their career when they can pretty much release music whenever they feel like it and their fans will buy it. Weller's not looking for a return to greatness, just a comfortable place to play the music he loves.

(mp3) The Editors -- When Anger Shows

For some reason this song has hit a chord with me lately. Things at work have been darn near unbearable. Everyone is looking for excuses and scapegoats. Everyone is looking for someone else to blame. This can lead to a lot of anger and pain for those involved. And you thought being in public education would be easy. Heck, anyone can teach right? (this is cryptic I know, but I can't divulge specifics, needless to say I doubt the others involved in the heated conversations had any idea their words had such an impact...)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


So in an effort to combat stress (and eventually take on a slightly expanding waistline that comes with age) I have begun a short sojourn into the world of yoga. Basically, I do about 15 minutes in the morning and about 25 minutes at night in the hopes that this will turn around the above mentioned issues. Here's what I have learned so far:

1) I am no longer 15. When I was a teenager I was very flexible (played a lot of basketball). Now, my toes seem to be a mile away from my reach. The people on the video seem to so carelessly touch there digits together while I feel like I have the freakin' Grand Canyon to cross.

2) I have never seen a dog do the dog pose.

3) The leaders of these sessions must all get training in speaking with a soft monotone that requires me to turn the volume up so loud that it is somewhat counterproductive to relaxation.

4) Yoga and twister must have been created by the same people. At one point I have expected the lady in my PM session to say, "Right Hand, Green".

5) If you give into it, and don't worry about looking like a fool, this stuff actually does have a calming effect. I find I am sleeping better and have more energy at the beginning of the day. Unfortunately, the job stress overwhelms any sort of inner peace I have attained but its a start.

S0 I will keep at it. They say that if you do something new for 21 straight days it becomes part of your routine. I am on day three, will see if it sticks.

Having done this a a few days I was struck at how important the music is to the whole yoga experience. This song, taken from the "Lost In Translation" soundtrack, has a similar feel.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Randon An Emotional Fish Post

Dublin's AN EMOTIONAL FISH are a great example of a knock off. They recorded three records in the late 80's and 90's that owed a huge debt (or is it thievery) to u2. I would imagine that living in Ireland around the time of "The Joshua Tree" meant that every band that made a record at this time would inevitably be compared to arguably the biggest band in the world but these guys seemed to ape everything about Bono and the boys. Which is to bad. On their own this four piece had some artistic merit, but they seemed to be trying to hard. Even when they tried to change their image they released a more avant garde record at the same time that u2 released "Achtung Baby".

So why do I waste some of your valuable time writing about a non-entity in the world of rock such as An Emotional Fish? Because as I was digging through my cd collection I plucked it out and listened to them and Damn if they don't sound really good. Maybe it's time or maybe I'm in a different place but the songs sounded fresh and interesting. Just goes to show that anything can sound better with a new perspective. I wasn't expecting anything great and was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, the flip occurs. Some great records do not age well. (that is not to say that this is a great record, merely a passable one) Some bands seminal work becomes instantly dated after a year or two. Others have their records mature over time till they ripen with age. So go back to your collection and pull out something you haven't heard in while. Did it get any better?

p.s. I did not know this but the band opened for u2 in Ireland in 1993. Now that's just funny!