Songs: Getting the Young Ones Involved

Hello all,

One new trend I’ve noticed in alt rock the past few years is the inclusion of many singers, particularly a group of youths, in a quality song. At first, I wasn’t in favor of it as I often am reminded of the gawd-awful songs I had to sing as a youngster in music class. Rather than listen it closely, I felt all of those crappy memories of singing about who knows what…(I can’t even remember, uh…Christmas elves or something probably) coming back to me and that made me quickly turn the radio dial. But despite my original prognosis, you CAN combine quality, alternative music with a group of young singers to make something pretty special. I notice it’s usually a group, almost never do you hear a solo youth artist. And that ‘s probably a good thing because I’ve seen that before and know what evil can come of that…

JUST SAY NO!

Excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth a little…Okay, moving on, these next three songs help illustrate my point. The first is one that came out a few years ago. Maybe you’ve already heard it before, but if you haven’t (better yet, if you’re totally new to this artist), you’re in for a treat. The song is “Little Secrets” of off their album Manners. They utilize children doing backing vocals in many of their songs, most notably the popular track “The Reeling” or the more recent “Carried Away”

The song starts out sounding like a video game and has many other sounds throughout that sound like something you’d hear from your Super Nintendo. How the singer manages to sing as high as he does, I have no idea. I can’t imagine how he could do more than one or two shows a week with that style….which is a combination of high AND loud for most of the track. All that said, it is his voice and everything else unique that Passion Pit has done that has drawn my interest. “Little Secrets” features the young ones doing backing vocals during the chorus. They chant “higher and higher and higher.” What do they mean by it? I’m not sure, hopefully it’s something innocent like climbing higher and higher up the jungle gym. That’s probably wishful thinking; considering when I look at the lyrics, drugs appear to be what the singer is referring to. Many key words including the song’s title lead me to this conclusion. Maybe I’m wrong, though. Either way, it’s a hell of a catchy tune.

The next track here is from a group simply named Cults (not to be confused with THE Cult, who had a groovy tune called “She Sells Sanctuary” back in the 80’s). They are still relatively unknown and I, myself, haven’t heard anything from them since their debut self-titled album that was released in 2011. The album was a stellar effort and I implore you to listen to the opening track “Abducted.” That song is not the focus here, however. I’m somewhat cheating with this one as I do not believe Cults uses any vocalists other than the two band members Madeline Follin and Brad Oblivion. After you listen to a few of their songs, you’ll most likely agree with me that Madeline’s voice sounds a lot younger than she actually is. If you’ve never seen her singing, you might mistake her for a teenage girl or something. Maybe it’s just her style; many vocalists have singing voices that are vastly different than how they sound when they talk. Rush’s Geddy Lee is a good example of this (thanks Pavement). You combine it with the dubbing of her voice during the chorus to make it sound like a small ensemble performing, and you get that specific sound that is the reason I classified this song in this category.   “Oh My God” is the track I’m showcasing here. It’s somewhat unusual in that beat if very uplifting but the lyrics are not. Regardless of the mostly pessimistic message I get from the lyrics, I usually feel good after listening to this song.

Youngblood Hawke is a group that, how do you say…I don’t really like. I listened to a few of their songs and don’t really dig the overall mood of most of their productions. It seems a little too overblown and artificial sounding. Despite this, they have created a song I’ve come to like tremendously. I didn’t like it instantly, but after a few listens with the good headphones, I recognized it for what a great song it really is. The band features a lot of youngsters in it for multiple parts of the song. They’re mainly included in the chorus and the post-chorus “Whoa’s” (@2:16) that I think it the best part of the song overall.The lead singers voice isn’t strong in my opinion so it’s the kids vocals that make the song for me. The effort by the entire group is very solid overall and they wrap up the song very nicely with the final chorus sing little musical accompaniment. See what you think and leave your comments on one or all of the tracks…

Okay, from the top everyone. And this time, let’s try not sounding like a complete and utter disgrace.

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Album Review: Shields

Grizzly Bears’s Shields has generated a lot of Buzz since being released last September. I was fairly unfamiliar with this group other than I knew they were the group that did “Two Weeks.” While it is a great song, it almost has a gimmicky feel to it which, to me, usually does not result in me taking a lot of interest in the group’s other works. I’m glad I reconsidered in this case, Grizzly Bear is an extremely talented, unique group that I have taken a liking to after listening to Shields. The first song I heard off of it was “Sleeping Ute,” which took a few listens before I stopped hating it. It’s funny how your opinion of a song can change so drastically. I used to think that “Sleeping Ute” was boring and sloppy, but now I think it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album. But there are some other winners on this album so let’s get started.

1. Sleeping Ute-(8/10): “Sleeping Ute” is a fun, all over the place track that is a good preview for what the rest of the album holds in store.  It mainly features a quick, choppy guitar riff that is complemented rather nicely by multiple percussion methods that are unpredictable but well placed (this is a staple of Grizzly Bear). The lyrics give me little to work in terms of a song meaning and at first the song itself gave me that impression but as I listened closer I could hear the emotion being poured on by the group in terms of the mood this song creates at a couple different junctures. The first is just following the first chorus @ 1:34….beautiful song writing in that select spot. The next is the concluding lyrics that are accompanied only by a solo guitar is another highlight for this track (@3:10). But I still haven’t figured out what he means when he says he can’t help himself.

2. Speak in Rounds (6.5/10): Although I have heard this on the radio a few times, I’m not very partial to it. It it almost a knock off of “Yet Again,” which may be the best track on the album. Boring verses, boring chorus; can’t really get into this song. Probably the only thing I like about it is the lyric “Learn how to be alone,”  a lesson that many need to learn.

3. Adelma (N/A) I generally don’t rate songs that are this short. I welcome their presence on the album; they serve as an intermission or breathe new life into the album. Track three is a little early to do that, however, and virtually nothing (and I mean NOTHING) happens for this short-lived segment. A cheap way to get 10 tracks on an album.

4. Yet Again (9.5/10) This is the breadwinner of the album, the track I would attribute most of the record’s success to. And it is for that reason that I have posted it below. I am torn on whether this song is meant to be of a sad nature or a “lesson learned” type of deal. It sounds like it’s about two friends that seem to find themselves together despite the friendship going stale or being at odds with each other. Not an uplifter by any means (made evident by the gloomy chants @0:57), definitely a better chill out song. It features a nice blend of guitar and piano along with Edward Droste’s vocals. I think he is the more talented lead vocalist over Daniel Rosen, fellow band-mate. But they all employ excellent backing vocals, and that is certainly a strength of Grizzly Bear. Their weakness would probably be creating songs that are catchy or that have a hook. That’s okay, though; the songs are laced with substance and if you put a little effort into enjoying them, they are well worth discovering. Such is the case with “Yet Again”

5. The Hunt (4/10) This song is a snoozer. Begins on a awkward piano/guitar combination and doesn’t really get much better. The lyrics appear to have the same meaning or idea as “Yet Again” but the song is nowhere close to being as good. Hit the skip button and be ready for a heavy hitter up next.

6. A Simple Answer (9/10) “A Simple Answer” is a simply great fucking song. You certainly get your money’s worth with the 6:01 run time. It starts out with some odd instrument that I can’t identify but it then smoothly transitions to a cool piano beat. This songs combines both Droste and Rosen’s vocals. Right from “Those saints in lockstep,” I’m hooked and prepare myself for what is a fine listening experience. One of my favorite parts is Droste’s part following chorus (@1:43), it creates an alternate mood for the song that will reappear later. While Rosen has some creative, innovative lyrics and sings them rather nicely, it’s Droste performance that steals along with the musical breakdown that happens right @4:28 and goes on for the rest of the track. A true work of art, it moves at a snail’s pace but it is so transcendent it cannot go unnoticed. Listen to it for yourself and if you don’t like it the first time you hear it, I won’t even know what to say, I guess (I’ll try to come up with something, though…somehow)

7. What’s Wrong (5/10)-This is another miss for me. It’s a song that starts out modestly but doesn’t really build up to anything. Features some more electronic effects than some of the previous tracks on the album but they don’t seem to work with Rosen’s vocals for this effort. I know that there’s some out there who think Grizzly Bear changed their song too much for this album and that it was an overall negative impact on the band. I don’t believe this to be true but it’s songs like this one where I see where they are coming from. A poor beginning is trumped by an even worse outro featuring a bad piano/horn segment.

8.Gun-shy (6.5/10) Back to the singing of Mr. Droste. I dig the flow of the songs where he is the featured vocalist. I don’t mean for this to be a dig at Rosen, I believe him to be a great singer also (his effort in the recording of “Sleeping Ute” is outstanding). But Droste vocals sound less forced and allow for the listener to tune out and enjoy the song at the same time. The lyrics about being lost or hesitant to act on something are well written. Droste and Rosen sing simultaneously during this song (@1:45) and they pull it off rather nicely with the help of some effects.

9. Half Gate(5/10) Starts out with some violin or cello and then picks up shortly after. The song appears to be of a more serious nature than most of their other tracks. There are some parts of it that almost sound overly-dramatic to me (@2:15). Much like real life, I want none of that in my music. One of the reasons I like Grizzly Bear so much is that it’s subtle yet intricate style puts me in a good mood. Not a bad effort, does some have hooks (4:07) which is seldom seen in even some of their better tracks.

10. Sun in Your Eyes (3.5/10) Unsatisfying final track on an otherwise solid album. Most of the non-supporters of Grizzly Bear complain that their music is too boring. I wholeheartedly disagree. I think that many people just misunderstand what Grizzly Bear is about and what type of sound they are trying to create. That being said, I will concede that this song is rather boring. Impossible for me to get into right from he start and it drags on with little bright spots other than a nice piano send-off at the end

Overall Grade-B. Grizzly Bear is a band like few others and it’s apparent that their talent will enable them to put out more albums and produce some more memorable songs.

Quick Hitters: Long Live the 90’s Spectacle

Quick Hitters…well, not this time. I hope you have some time on your hands because the next three songs have some length to them. But believe me, when there is as much musical talent displayed throughout the entire song as three tracks have below, that is most definitely a good thing. One thing I have never prided myself in is my remarkably short attention span. I become bored rather easily. This is especially the case with music. It takes a lot of gall to release a song filled with some of your prime material that is over six minutes in length. First off, you are limiting its radio play as most popular radio stations don’t like to play songs much over 4 minutes. I suppose they either presume that all listeners will lose interest and change the station or perhaps it creates too long of a gap between advertisements. Either way those stations can fuck off. This post is a salute to the artists who, at the risk of it not being exposed to the masses, produced unique, memorable tracks that reward the listener for buying the album. I’ll never forget the first time I listened to Green Day’s Jesus of Suburbia. I’ve never heard that song played on the radio and I only saw the music video on TV once…complete travesty (highlight for me is Billie Joe’s distinct voice singing out “lost children with dirty faces today” with Mike Dirnt yelling out “Hey!”  in the background).

But today, I would like to celebrate some of the most memorable 90’s (as much as I hate to say it…uh…) EPIC songs. The first is a track by an artist you probably haven’t heard of if you were born after 1990. Their name is Ride and their song is “Leave Them All Behind” Prepare to be taken for a trip. It starts out with some keyboard and some bass almost leading you to believe it’s of the techno genre but it ends up being very grungey. That mark starts roughly @ 2:16 (see top comment @ link for excellent description). The vocals are sub-par. They take little away from what is an instrumental masterpiece.They do enough to mix it up and hit you with many different combinations of meaningful lyrics and guitar riffs. My interpretation of the lyrics is that the vocalist is describing  an unearthly experience such as departing this earth for the afterlife and not really caring about what has happened up until then. Turn your headphones up and tune out to “Leave Them All Behind”

The next track I have known about only for a short time thanks to a childhood muddled by car rides where I listened to less-than-inspirational artists. I heard from Chicago more than once that “I” was the inspiration and that Londonbeat has been “thinking about me” when I should have been more exposed to groups like My Bloody Valentine. Let’s take a peak at their closing track “Soon” from their album Loveless. Little description is needed, the quality of the song speaks for itself. Especially Kevin Shields’s gloomy vocals and the kick-in of the guitars, they’re what really make this song (@3:04). My Bloody Valentine is a mysterious group. We were not exposed to all that much and then they disappeared completely it seemed. It was Siruis XMU that re-acquainted me with this artist and the very reassuring fact that they are releasing new material! I still have high hopes for this group and think that their best is yet to come. Time will tell but for now, give “Soon” a try and leave your comments on this beautiful, elongated for the sake of their listeners, work of art.

The last song I will post is by Smashing Pumpkins. They seem to be my crutch when it comes to signifying momentous works of art. The work they produced though their 1st-3rd albums still leaves me speechless…it’s that remarkable. I wanted to use “Thru The Eyes of Ruby,” however, I have already posted a track from Mellon Collie and this appears to be a good opportunity to share what is and will always be my favorite Smashing Pumpkins song “Hummer.” The intro is misleading; it’s a scrambled mess that, while intriguing in itself, does not exemplify the clarity that is achieved for the duration of the song. The first episode of this occurs @ 1:44. Notice a theme between all three songs I’ve posted? They all have long running times, yet by comparison, there are not a whole lot of lyrics. That is because all three artists have the capability to say more than most of us ever could with some simple yet thoughtful lyrics mixed in with powerful instrumentals.  The best part of an already brilliant song starts @3:12 and goes on through the 4:00 minute mark of “Hummer.” It doesn’t drop a beat when the guitars kick right back in @4:04 and rehash the grass roots of this masterful track.  After that, it’s mostly low-key the rest of the way. Still, one cannot downplay the effect that listening to “Hummer” will have on your whole perspective of things…literally (on the link, sit through the ad…it’s worth the excellent sound quality of this player)

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5690210/smashing_pumpkins_hummer_1993/

So young…even they may not have known at that time how much influence they would ultimately have on the alt rock/music scene for years to come

Artist Profile: Deerhunter

The loked-out expression this gentleman is showing gives you an idea of what you’re in store for with gloomy surrealism that Deerhunter creates

One thing I always look for in a great band is variation. The ability to consistently modify their sound while still maintaining their identity. An album gets old quickly when you hear a song that reminds you of another that you heard just a few tracks earlier. It’s even worse when a band comes out with the same album twice. This is where experimental bands come in. Their system of writing songs makes being repetitive utterly impossible. And one of my favorite experimental bands will always be Deerhunter.

Deerhunter originate from Atlanta. They have been around for much longer than I was aware. As soon as I heard “Desire Lines” for the first time, I was hooked. They could be listed as several different genres but it is their indie roots that I most know them for. Their ability to craft such great music with more basic features including acoustic guitars and scratchy vocals always amazes me. Throw in a little shoe-gaze and you got a recipe for success. “Desire Lines” is a great chill-out and reflect on everything kind of song. Very simplistic lyrics, more there as a reason to showcase the fine vocals of Bradford Cox rather than to have much meaning. What I think makes the song great is the backing vocals that compliment Cox’s perfectly. I’m sure you’ll notice them (they start during the verses @ 0:34). Once the lyrics are done, the song goes on for some time with the guitar leading the way. Although the execution of it is exceptional, it goes on for about a minute too long. It is quite enjoyable, though. See what you think…

This next track is a downer. But it has to be included because of what a great song it truly is. If you read the lyrics you can tell that Cox put a lot of pain in them to describe an horrible, inhumane experience. He doesn’t get too graphic, though. It’s mostly open for interpretation. The song doesn’t really build up to anything, its purpose is to send a message. Once again, not a feel-good song but it hooked me the first time I heard it and if you listen to it with an open mind you may be able to appreciate it for the great work of art it is.

And for the last Deerhunter track, I have posted “Nothing Ever Happened.” I felt it was necessary to feature one of their more upbeat offerings. Most of their work is slower but they can put together a quick, catchy tune like Nothing Ever Happened with the best of them. The guitar is the highlight off this song along with some base-lines. The lyrics do not have much meaning in this song either and that could be the singer’s goal. He knows that the music alone on this track is enough and there’s no reason to let attention seeking lyrics or overbearing singing get in the way. This is a smart yet just great song to rock out to…it also features a lengthy guitar solo for the last half of the song or so for those not overly interested in vocals, much like myself. It’s necessary to not read into the lyrics too much with Deerhunter. It could make for a pretty depressing  listening session if you over think their music. Enjoy it for what it is.

Experimenting with all sorts of line-ups/instruments has been their bread and butter.