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.

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.

Quick Hitters: oldies in present day

You can never have enough keytars…

Hi. If you’re like me, you wonder what things were like back in the 80’s. If that resemblance to me is aged-based then the reason for your inquisitive nature on this decade is attributed to only being around for the tail end of it. Needless to say, I like myself a hefty dose of new wave now and then. There’s the artists that I’m proud to name off as my favorites: Joy Division, The Smiths, Simple Minds. And there’s the others that…uh, despite their image I still liked…A Flock of Seagulls, Mr. Mister, and Wang Chung (Yes, Wang Chung Dammit). Regardless of how cheesy some of them went about their business back then (Flock of Seagulls case in point…Good Gawd,that lead singers hair!), they created catchy, unique songs and paved the way for modern alternative as we know it.

What’s reassuring is that there’s artists out there that are trying to recreate that 80’s sound. These three songs showcase today’s artists ability to bring back those days and with the aid of modern day musical technology, heighten the experience for a truly exceptional new wave experience. The first song I’ve posted is by a pioneer in the revival of 80’s music. He continues to put out good albums and inspire many along the way. His most recent, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, is a masterpiece. Anthony Gonzalez, or M83, successfully made several tracks that have an overall ambient pop sound with plenty of synths and even some saxophone . It all combines to give one awesome trip back to the 80’s. Pay special attention to Gonzalez’s surprisingly excellent vocals and Morgan Kibby’s memorable monologue during the uplifting “Reunion.”

That was fun, now onto our next winner. Jack Tatum’s project Wild Nothing is drawing a lot of attention on the indie scene. I, for one, cannot get into a lot of his work. He does produce that pseudo new wave sound that I’ve made clear I’m practically obsessed with but I find myself disinterested when listening to a lot of his songs.  To me, it’s a lot of loopy singing combined with awkward instrumentals that almost annoy me. Then I heard “Paradise” and it completely changed the way I saw Wild Nothing. It’s quite brilliant for those that won’t let go to their new wave listening roots. The ambiance he creates along with the monotone singing allows for the ultimate trip back in time. My only beef with the song is the minute and a half gap where practically nothing happens besides this weird whaling sound that I guess it supposed to be the feature of that particular segment. But after that’s over, it returns to greatness.

I’ll finish with what I believe is the strongest of all 3 songs showcased here and one of my picks for top artist of 2012. Twin Shadow is put on by George Lewis Jr. He sounds a lot like Eddie Money and right from the beginning of his songs, you’re hooked. Whether it’s his talent in the voice department or the unique, retro sound he has, it makes for something that has been gone from my CD player (vinyl, I wish) for too long! Check out “Run My Heart.” The lyrics are simple and to the point, not overly thoughtful but not really needing to be. Especially when you have the vocal talent that George does. My favorite part is the chorus where he confesses to his and supposed former love interest’s respective genders and the non-relevance of it all in regards to the plight they find themselves in. I hope you enjoyed all these tracks and if you didn’t, I’m very interested to hear your opinion through means of comment postage. Later

Artist Profile: Tame Impala

Welcome back, you may be asking yourself (although you’re more than likely not), what is the objective of a artist profile? There’s several…I’ll write these in hopes that you discover a new artist that you come to deeply admire and follow closely after hearing some select songs. –OR–…you may have already heard of them. In fact, you knew about them before they were semi-famous! Congratulations, if that is the case, my aim is to provide you with my take on them, introduce you to songs by them you may not be familiar with, and of course open the floor to discussion on the band being reviewed.

I’ll do my best not to make all of these artists profiles posts love-fests where I gush on and on about how all these bands and songs have changed me forever. No, I will try to add in some more critical reviews of artists that I believe are getting too much hype.  But I’m not going to throw too many stones as I have little musical experience myself. I have no idea the amount of work that goes into just learning to play an instrument well much less write an entire song. We’ll go ahead and assume it is a lot, not an insurmountable amount, but still probably a lot.

Onto Tame Impala. Some bands have a break-in period with me where I need multiple listens of a few different songs before I become invested in them. Not Tame, was all about them as soon as I heard “Elephant.” This psychedelic group from Australia sounds very Zeppelin-like (not a huge Zeppelin fan, myself, interestingly enough) but they also pour on the synths to produce a classic rock yet, trance like sound. I wouldn’t think those two would go together very well but in this case, I am dead wrong. We’ll start ‘er off with “Elephant,” the track on Lonerism that has received the most airplay. It starts of like a something you’d hear off of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album from 1970. After only a few verses, the meat and potatoes of the songs kicks in and you experience the trance and hypno qualities of the song. Eventually, the more electronic instruments come in and merges the more classic sound with something almost MGMT-like for a spectacular finale (starts at 2:18). Enjoy!

It only gets better, my friends. I love bands that don’t follow the basic hit song composition of 2 sets of verse-bridge-chorus followed by a middle 8 and then one final rendition of a chorus and an outro. Tame Impala does that approximately 0% of the time and it’s so refreshing. “Endors Toi” is up next. A song that is almost entirely an intro, and a great one at that. When the lyrics finally arrive, they’re gone again before you know it. And I, for one, have already been blown away by everything else that has happened up until that point. This really makes me relish what little singing occurs in this song. Give her a whirl and please leave me your opinion on this quirky little number.

The final song I will post of Tame Impala is a goodie off of their last album, InnerSpeaker. “Solitude is Bliss” Can’t say I agree with them but the terrific lyrics and beats make a pretty good case. I interpret the meaning of this song as…”we’re tame impala, you’ll never be as cool/hipster as us, we’re fine with just chilling by lonesome, deal with it.” I mean, just look at the way one of the members wears his jacket in the picture at the top of the page. Nobody who gave even the tiniest fuck about what others thought about him would wear his jacket like that. Personally, I think it’s a rather moronic way to wear a jacket but does he care, not one iota. Ok, I need to stop talking. Enjoy “Solitude is Bliss”