Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Dude, the soundtrack for your biopic sucks!" Part IV

Hello, Fellow Audiophiles!

The late 90's continued to be slim pickings for people who's musical menu board was culled from radio and Much Music.  Amidst all the Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and date-rape frat-boy rap metal courtesy of the shockingly talentless Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit there emerged a second wave of popular alternative music to remind us that hope springs eternal.

Leading the renewed garage band assault was New Yawk City's The Strokes.  Their entire debut album Is This It? is as catchy as audio ebola.  Try getting this out of your head after a listen:

Another biggie is alt/rock/blues duo The White Stripes.  Alternately referred to as the most fake (due to their thematically omnipresent characteristic red, white and black garb and the debatable connection between Jack and Meg White) and the most genuine band in the world thanks to their stripped down sound and live musical assaults, they are certainly one of the most exciting outfits out there today.  Here's a great clip:

The U.K. was well-represented by a couple of acts.  Bloc Party impressed, particularly with the frenetic drumming of Matt Tong:

From Glasgow, Scotland Franz Ferdinand's guitar-heavy new-wavy sound was particularly noteworthy:

Punky Swedes The Hives blasted onto the scene introducing themselves as "your new favorite band".  Their energetic live shows and raw demeanor makes for a convincing argument:

Several Canadian acts also distinguished themselves, such as earnest n' angry Billy Talent, seen here entertaining a s#$&-load of Germans:

Orchestral Quebecois army Arcade Fire also made a concerted effort to eke out an original sound.  Here they are earning their pay (split sixteen ways) on David Letterman's show:

And I'd certainly be lapse if I didn't give a shout-out to gloomy, local geniuses Wintersleep who's uncanny ability to create aural tapestries live is unmatched:

Just between you, me and the wall if I had a grain of musical talent, these dude's would have to keep looking over their shoulders since I'd steal from them mercilessly.  I'm just sayin', is all.

There are certainly other bands of note that have been percolating just underneath the surface.  Such as B.C.'s Hot Hot Heat and The New Pornographers, Toronto-based musical collective Broken Social Scene, from Iceland (the wellspring of weird) the very spacey Sigur Ros,  Portland Oregon's one-of-a-kind tale-spinners The Decemberists, Hamilton Ontario's The Marble Index, Los Vegans (?) The Killers, Tokyo Police Club from Newmarket , Ontario, Washington-state's Death Cab for Cutie and a band that proves Southern Rock need not be synonymous with crap: Nashville's now-regrettably coiffed Kings of Leon.

As we moved deeper into the 2000's (man, that's unweildly.  Why say we just call 'em the "The Oh's", a'ight?) the face of popular music began to improve somewhat.  For each instance that Beyonce sent her gender back to the Dark Ages, Maroon 7 and the Goo Goo Dolls tricked people in picking style over substance, Creed uncomfortably fused "inspirational" Christian music with cock rock (!) and The Black Eyed Peas single-handedly lowered IQ's across the nation, there were a million other good choices for every taste imaginable.  We just had to get off our lazy asses and make some sort of effort to look for them!

Seriously!  If you like pop, there's Lily Allen.  If you like hard rock there's Queens of the Stone Age.  If metal ye be seekin', set a course for Avenged Sevenfold or Alexisonfire.  If you like R&B there's Amy Winehouse or Erykah Badu.  If you like rap and hip-hop, check out The Roots, k-os and Wyclef Jean.  If you dig punk, there's Propagandhi.  There's something out there for everyone, folks, so just go look for it!

Which brings me to perennial whipping-boys Nickelback.  I really do sincerely believe that there are much worse things you can to listen to, but my point in doing all these entries is simply this:

There's also so much better.  

Trouble is, the mainstream media doesn't make things easy.  They want all of us subsisting on their payola-flavored industry gruel.  Frankly I think it's pretty sad that I've relied more upon free 'zines and video game soundtracks to find good music versus local radio and music video channels.  Here are three bands I've discovered from unexpected sources:

From NHL 2K7's "Sub Pop" Soundtrack, my current favorite group, Seattle's (what is in the water out there!?) Band of Horses:

From "Exclaim" Magazine, Canada's free music periodical, readily available everywhere, pride of High Green, Sheffield, England...Arctic Monkeys:

From the video game "Rock Band", bratty Manhattanites The Yeah, Yeah Yeah's:

From it's sequel, Brit-pop influenced Bostonian's The Sterns:

Internet radio is also a great source for hearing music that's new or new-to-you.  Here's just one possible hub:

And I've always relied on the kindness of people with taste to bring good bands to my attention.  I gotta thank Messrs. Buchan and Woodworth for bringing to light for me such diverse acts as The Black Keys, Wilco, MGMT, Silversun Pickups, Tegan & Sara, and The Flaming Lips.

So why did I dedicate four pages of my blog space to music?  Because music to me isn't just background noise during a party or something to keep you motivated at the gym.  It's a source of memory, solace, fortitude, conviction and my personal link to the human experience.

And I'm convinced that if you could hear good, soulful, original music everyday you'd feel just like I do...

Is This ItWhite Blood CellsWelcome to the Night SkyEverything All the Time
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not




Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Dude, the soundtrack for your biopic sucks!" Part III

Good day, fellow music mavens!

Way back in the early Eighties a gent by the name of Mark Arm (later of Green River and Mudhoney fame) used the following colorful descriptors to characterize the sound of his then-current band Mr. Epp and the Calculations:

"Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure shit!"

When an original, independent music movement emerged from the Pacific Northwest woods like a sonic Sasquatch, the industry and the media freaked out, unable to package, label and market it.  "Grunge" seemed as good a term as any, but frankly I hate that description.  Regardless of what you call it,  we had our own modest musical revolution to be proud of in the late Eighties and early Nineties.

The first band of that ilk that I heard of wasn't who you'd think.  It was Temple of the Dog, a tribute band assembled by Chris Cornell in memory of Andrew Wood, a close friend and lead singer of the glam/metal outfit Mother Love Bone who died of a heroin overdose.  Andrew's early demise would prove to be the most galling, cliche and wasteful characteristic of the movement and it was repeated an-nauseum over the next few years.  Here's a sample of Temple's ruminations:

This led me to the works of Cornell's own band, Soundgarden.  Here's a particularly nasty little musical punch to the mush:

In this I'd finally found my ideal music.  This "Seattle Sound" (for lack of a better term) possessed the aggression of metal, a surfeit of lyrical relevance and considerably better musicianship than punk.  I was in a pure state of bliss, of rapture, of...

No.  I won't say it yet.   

This became even more pronounced in late 1990 when alternative was dragged kicking and screaming into the mainstream.  Now this wasn't accomplished by the media, record executives or market research.  It was done in the most democratic way possible: by one earnest, timely and talented band and hordes of fans desperate for genuine music.

To illustrate, here's a chart of top singles in 1990:

Minus a few aberrant examples (such as Sinead O'Connor, Faith No More, the B-52's) the lion's share of what's on this chart is pure product: safe, neatly groomed musical mcnuggets that can be imaged, produced and marketed like any other mediocre commodity designed for easy consumption.

And here's the same chart two years later:

Now, granted, there's still tons of crap (like Boys II Men, Kris Kross, and Lord of Mullets Billy Ray Cyrus) but isn't the difference amazing?  Do you see what can happen when we collectively thumb our noses at musical gruel and embrace better things?  Of course, in order to do that, we do need some incentive...

Now, don't get me wrong, I really think these charts exhibit something totally aberrant.  Alternative music, is supposed to be, y'know, alternative.  But for a few shining years in the Early Nineties, everything made sense to me in this crazy world.

And we owe it all to Nirvana.

As soon as I saw the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on Good Rockin' Tonite I knew at once that my generation would finally have the sort of  musical legacy that folks from the 60's were proud of.  One single, one album and one band managed to give a big 'ole enema to the bloated music industry and a giant "f#@& you" to record executive weasels who wanted to keep feeding us a constant intravenous drip of audio diarrhea.

The Music Business Program ad for "AI International" that Nirvana spoofs in their  "Live!  Tonight!  Sold out!" video is a perfect example of what I'm talking about:

Nirvana is so beloved to me, here's another live clip of them performing one my favorite tunes of all time:

As I said before, this grassroots movement was a bit of an anomaly, but it was great while it lasted.   L7, Brad, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Hole, Blind Melon, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Screaming Trees, and the following  enterprising lads all had unprecedented exposure:

But all good things must come to an end.  Haute couture fashion shows began to sport flannel-bedecked runway models.  Employees at Sub Pop made up fake "grunge-speak" just to get the scene-obsessed media (see FAIL below) to go away and pay attention to something more vapid.  Every crap band with a pulse that lived on the West Coast was getting signed by corporate pinheads in the hopes that they'd become the next Golden Calf.

It was as if Kurt killed himself because he just didn't want to preside over the inevitable.

In the aftermath of such loss, the mid-to-late 90's were a dark time.  Easily interviewed, attractively packaged and completely talentless divas, boy bands and novelty acts began to dominate again.  If not for acts like Sloan, Pearl Jam, Beck, No Doubt, The Beastie Boys, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, A Perfect Circle, U2, Hole, Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, Tool, Rage Against The Machine, and Monster Magnet, I would have cracked up.

A few bands deserve special mention.  I'd missed our very own Tragically Hip during their Up To Here phase but as they got progressively weirder and found their own unique sound, I sat up and took notice.  Here's their historical Saturday Night Live performance of "Grace, Too" from 1995:

With their copious references to KISS, Kitty Pryde and Dungeons & Dragons, Weezer's self-titled debut album as well as Pinkerton and Maladroit provided tremendous sustenance during this time.  Here's "The Good Life" from Pinkerton:

Dogged survivors of the Seattle scene Modest Mouse also kept me duly entertained:

Radiohead was also there for me, taking me into paths barely tread.  Here they are performing "Fake Plastic Trees" at Glastonbury:

And finally Built To Spill convinced me that alternative and indie music was still alive, well, and doing just fine away from the wilting glare of the zeitgeist:

Well, that's all for now, kiddies.  In the final installment of my musical odyssey I'll cover exciting times as hope springs eternal, popular music is hits terrible new lows, prove that today is the best time to be a music fan and finally explain why Nickelback should eat a bowl of d!@%s.


BadmotorfingerTen Temple of the Dog   
IncesticideDay for NightPinkerton
OK ComputerKeep It Like a SecretGood News for People Who Love Bad News

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Dude, the soundtrack for your biopic sucks!" Part II

Greetings, fellow music nuts!

Not content with the spoon-fed pablum on radio and Much Music (and totally unaware of the burgeoning indie music scene in the Late Eighties) I turned to Classic Rock for solace.

I distinctly remember around that time catching snippets of an odd-looking music video with crazy imagery, loopy animation, and anarchic chanting on T.V..  Needless to say I was officially intrigued.  A few days later a friend of mine in High School hooked me up with a copy of the record from which it sprang: Pink Floyd's The Wall.  I remember that it was handed to me like contraband, like audio TNT.  When I got it home and played it, I quickly realized why.  A mere three minutes into it's run time my brain exploded and leaked out of my left ear.

I had no clue what a "concept album" was.  I'd never heard a band say "We don't need no education"/"We don't need no thought control".  I'd never been compared to a brick in a wall before.  Consider my mind officially blown at that point.  Here's a particularly tasty morsel:

Pink Floyd "Another Brick In The Wall"

In fact, this album was considered to be so subversive in my little town that when I went to my local video store to rent the film version a few years later, the clerk behind the counter made me promise not to hurt myself, catch anything on fire or push old women into traffic.

Sure, maybe I was a bit antisocial and intense around that time, but I wasn't exactly "Trenchcoat Mafia" material either.  F#@%*& pinheads.   

Also around that same time I discovered an odd-looking LP in my Grandmother's basement, left there by an older cousin of mine.   The cover was white and trippy-looking, with stereotypical 60's/hippie font featuring the band's name.  When you turned a dial on the side of the album the die-cut holes scrolled by with an ever-changing  kaleidoscope of surreal aerial-themed images.  That alone made it worth investigation.

I brought this artifact home and threw it on my parent's record player.  Flipping the record when it came time to do so was challenging since by that time half my face had been melted off.   

The album was Led Zeppelin III.  It was unlike anything I'd ever heard in my life and to this day "Since I've Been Loving You" is still my favorite Zep tune.  Here's a sample:

Led Zeppelin "Since I've Been Loving You"

Discovering Zeppelin sent me on a quest for as much classic rock music I could consume.  The Who, Cream, Aerosmith, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix and Janice Joplin were all assimilated in quick succession.  Blue Oyster Cult even had the consideration to write a song about one of my favorite childhood heroes: Godzilla.  Here's a bit of Spinal-Tappian cheese to illustrate:

Blue Oyster Cult "Godzilla"

But this was all merely a warm up for the musical smart bomb that was imminent.  When I moved into residence at St. Mary's University I was finally exposed to the sort of musical palette that kids in urban settings take for granted.

Like 95% of music fans at some point in time, The Doors became a major fixture for me, to the point that my first Intro English submission was entitled "Morrison and Hendrix: The Lyrical Revolution".  Color me shocked when I didn't get an "A"!

As you might imagine, the music of The Doors makes for the perfect soundtrack to life in residence, with "L.A. Woman" a particularly appropriate selection:

The Doors "L.A.Woman"   

Eventually I began to move away from the musical wankery that taints a lot of classic crock music (I'm looking at you, Styx).  Thanks to the encyclopedic tape collection of a floor-mate, one Monsieur Buchan, I discovered my enduring musical passion for punk and alternative music.  

Acts like Bad Religion, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Dead Kennedy's were fantastic, since they possessed the aggression of metal without the cheese or the wankery of classic rock.  It also added a healthy dollop of social commentary.  To this day, I'd fight anybody to the death for debating the relevance of The Ramones as one of the greatest bands of all time.  Here's a favorite of mine from Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny and Marky.

The Ramones "Rock and Roll Radio"

I know this sounds stupid, but every one of the songs featured in these links gives me friggin' chills and makes me feel like I could bench-press a Subaru over my head.  Awesome stuff.   

Then something magical happened.  It was like that scene in Star Wars when Ben Kenobi tells Luke: "That's good!  You've taken your first step into a larger world!"

Alternative music surfaced in my line of sight for the first time and I felt a burning anger towards mainstream radio and video shows for completely ignoring it.  Suddenly I was hearing The Cure, Sonic Youth, Ministry, Sugar, Sinead O' Connor, Fishbone, R.E.M., Rage Against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, The Lemonheads, The Proclaimers, Jane's Addiction,  Helmet, Concrete Blonde, Dinosaur Jr, The Sugarcubes, Beck, Velvet Underground, The Pixies, Violent Femmes, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, and Primus.

All of these bands are special to me but two deserve special mention.  One is Throwing Muses featuring power-pixie Tanya Donelly.  Listen to this without being amazed, I dare you:  

Throwing Muses "Not Too Soon"

Now isn't that better than half the crap you hear on the radio nowadays?  Don't your ears just go..."Aaaahhhh, refreshing!"  Damn straight...

Also, upon first listen, the metal/alt/rap outfit Faith No More became one of my favorite bands of all time at that moment.  I still play them incessantly and talks of a large-scale reunion keep me riveted.  Here's my favorite track of theirs, from the desert-island disc Angel Dust:

Faith No More "Everything's Ruined"

I have that same bee suit, by the way.  It's surprisingly roomy...
All of a sudden Canadian acts were revealed to me that just weren't aping their American and British counterparts.  Turns out there were a slew of burgeoning bands that didn't suck in a Kim Michell/Parachute Club/Men Without Hats/David Wilcox/Glass Tiger/Haywire sorta way!  Ska group King Apparatus, alterna-brats The Pursuit of Happiness, alt-rockers The Watchmen, surf-kings/Kid's In the Hall soundtrack maestros Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, the spacey-sounding Gandharvas, folksy geniuses Leslie-Spit Tree-o, more-than-a-novelty act Barenaked Ladies, local boys made good Sloan and Bootsauce, Canada's pervy answer to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.  Having said all that, one band in particular deserves a special shout-out: National Velvet.

National Velvet "Flesh Under Skin"

These guys don't get the credit they deserve for blazing trails in the late-Eighties altenative music movement in Canada.  I wish they'd have stuck around a bit longer and collected some of the accolades they deserved.

Plus I'm still kinda have the hots for their Amazonian lead singer Maria Del Mar.  Dang, y'all.    

I also discovered rap beyond Run DMCKool Moe Dee, Ice-T, KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, House of Pain, Del La Soul, Boo-Ya T.R.I.B.E, N.W.A., Sir Mix-A-Lot, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Cyprus Hill, and Public Enemy all qualified for my harsh criterion: attitude, innovation and social commentary. Here's one of the best::

Public Enemy "Fight The Power"

The great thing about hip-hop back in the day is that it could also make for a fun party jam.  What happened to fun in hip-hop?  Here's what I'm talking about:

Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock "Joy and Pain"

Young MC "Bust A Move"

Maestro Fresh-Wes "Let Your Backbone Slide"

Organized Rhyme "Check the O.R."

OMG, I just realized that Organized Rhyme might be considered the Godfathers of Hip Hop Nerdcore.

In my next entry alternative is dragged kicking and screaming into the mainstream, dark days return and hope spring eternal.

And, oh yeah, I'm also eventually gonna get to why Nickleback sucks Herculean amounts of ass.  Keep yer friggin' pants on...

Led Zeppelin III The WallL.A. Woman
Greatest Hits The Real RamonaCourage
Fear of a Black Planet Angel Dust


Friday, May 21, 2010

"Dude, the soundtrack for your biopic sucks!" Part I

Hello, y'all!

I just picked up two CD's yesterday and tonight I'm going to a Wintersleep concert. It's hard to believe that there was a time in my life when music didn't mean anything to me.  What a stupid six year old kid I was!

Yes, I was exposed to music at quite a young age.  I loved the melodic quality of the 50's music my parents often listened to.  Here are two of my favorites:

Buddy Holly "Rave On"

The Dovells  "Bristol Stomp"

Like most people in their larval stage, music was often just background noise at the time.  And at that time the state of the union was dire.  Radio was awash in disco.  Like this:

Stars on 45 "Stars on 45 (Video)"

If you got through more than three minutes of that crap, by the way,  you're made of sterner stuff than I am.

With disco so prevalent, it was only a matter of time before it seeped into my consciousness osmosis-style, yo.  When I was eight years old I asked for the Spirits Having Flown record by The Bee Gees.  I played that s#!& incessantly, often caterwauling along to the song "Tragedy" (much to the delight of my parents).

As a possible omen (or perhaps it was an ottoman) of better things to come, my ears were also piqued the following year by Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers".  He's the vid:

But for some odd reason I didn't ask for or buy the album.  Alas, my interest in music continued to be pretty superficial as I entered the Eighties.  My listening and purchasing trends continued to be based around the philosophy of "Well, if it's popular, it's gotta be good!"  This resulted in some tentative but ultimately, misguided "Columbia House" disasters.  Such as purchasing my very own copy of Culture Club's Colour By Numbers album (although I still insist it's a pop classic what with the vocal stylings of Boy George and backup singer Helen Terry on display).

Now having said that, some other ventures into Eighties pop continue to resonate with me to this very day.  You may scoff (actually I can hear the scoffage right now) but I still play Cargo and Business As Usual by Men At Work quite often.  It was the first time music spoke to me so directly, so color me delighted that I have so much in common with this pack of homely Aussie weirdos.  

Songs like "Who Can it Be Now?", "Helpless Automaton", "Be Good Johnny", "Overkill", "Upstairs in My House", and "It's a Mistake" all touched on heavy topics like paranoia, isolation, disconnect, parental pressure and fear of nuclear holocaust.  In other words, stuff that most pre-teens in the Eighties likely struggled with.  Here's a sample:

But by then, thanks to my cousin Jason, there came from beyond something called THE METAL (special nod to Jack Black).  THE METAL made me forget everything that had come before it.  As an increasingly antisocial and angry kid with a penchant for horror films, Motley Crue's consciously vacant (or is that vacantly conscious?) Shout at the Devil album was a game changer.  I'd been a bit too young for both KISS and Alice Cooper so when "The Crue" came along it was the perfect storm of time, place, aggression level and modest rebellion.

I was hooked.  These leather clad, makeup-wearing, be-studded punks were obnoxious, dark, loud, boorish and appeared to be wasted twenty-four-seven.  Yes, they were loutish.  Yes, you suspected that they smelled awful.  And you were vaguely amused when Nikki Sixx defended his band against charges of satanism when confronted with the album cover. His rejoinders sounded weak even to a twelve year old ears:

"Uh, yeah, it isn't satanic cuz, uh, you can see by the title of the album that we're...uh, shouting at the devil, not...uh, y'know...with him."

Dude, weak.     

Back then THE METAL was also the perfect foil to terrify parents, kinda like the modern day equivalent of...well, actually there is no modern day equivalent.  Which bring me to a point - why is music so damned safe now?  A few years ago it might have been Marilyn Manson, gangsta rap and death metal.  But what terrifies parents now?  I think I just heard someone say "emo", but that's actually pathetic not EEEEEE-vil.   Where the hell is the EEEEEE-vil in music now?  That's right, I said EEEEEE-vil, not just "evil."  There's a big difference there.

THE METAL proved to be fertile ground for my imagination and self-esteem.  The small-minded people that railed blindly against THE METAL had no idea how much self-empowerment and solace THE METAL gave to shy, angry kids.  I cheered when Tipper Gore got pwned by Dee Snider during the PMRC hearings:

Until the mid-Eighties, THE METAL continued to infuse my wasted youth with tremendous color. I soon found myself be-mulleted, wearing baseball style T-shirts, castration-prone jeans and leather armbands.  I worshiped at the portable stereo altar of my sonic heroes every night.  Ozzy Osbourne wrote about self-conviction in "Believer", Iron Maiden fueled my interest in history and poetry with "Aces High" and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", Judas Priest railed against surveillance in "Electric Eye", and Ronnie James Dio (R.I.P. Ronnie!) gave me an appropriately cheesy soundtrack to my Dungeons & Dragons days with "Sacred Heart".

But by the time 1986 rolled around my metal gods were forsaking me.  Motley Crue released Theater of Pain and shed their bad-ass EEEEE-vil trappings.  Suddenly Vince Neil was tying scarves to his mike stand just like every other glam metal loser.  Ozzy got a perm circa The Ultimate SinJudas Priest invited me to be their Turbo Lover ("WTF is this crap!?"), which is kinda interesting in retrospect given Rob Halford's eventual revelations.  Even the wheels fell off my old standby Iron Maiden when No Prayer For The Dying came down the pike.

THE METAL was moving into thrash and increasingly aggressive tendencies and I had outgrown it.  Looking back, I realize I shouldn't have missed the boat with good metal bands like Anthrax, Slayer, Metallica, and Megadeth but this is how it went.  It was not to be my destiny.

I fell in with a group of friends who joined an Amnesty International group in High School purely to ramp up their sad odds of meeting girls who might mistake them as "sensitive".  I was chided for listening to The Scorpions so I began a "Conscience Rock" phase which involved Rush, The Police, Simple Minds, Peter Gabriel (Yay!) and U2Peter Gabriel I dug right away 'cuz I had previous exposure.  I was pre-disposed to Rush already since they were somehow socially-conscious metal.  I stuck with them until the execrable Roll The Bones album was pooped into existence.  I took to The Police right way thanks to their punky first album.  U2 was initially a tough sell to me, but I borrowed their Live At Red Rocks album from a friend and it eventually grew on me.  Thank God I didn't see the accompanying concert footage until years later since the band's appearance would have been a deal-breaker right there, especially Bono's prototypical mullet, Peter Pan boots and tendency to stage prance.

And, oh yeah, Simple Minds bored the crap outta me.

Coming up:  I delve back into classic rock, eventually find a musically passion that has sustained me to this day and why liking Nickleback is just plain laziness!


"My Humps" is till worse, IMHO.

Also, here's this week's totally non-music-related comic: