Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
I enjoy chick rock. I enjoy singer-songwriter chicks. I love Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michealsen and St. Vincent, like some of Feist's stuff and Reluctantly Enjoyed Cobie Callait's "Realize" So why didn't I like Brandi Carlisle?
Perhaps it was the over-hyped Grey's Anatomy music video for "The Story." I end up liking alot of the music they use on the show, but the idea of forcing us to connect a certain artist and song to a glorified commercial, instead of creating backdrops for the drama, seemed like an attempt to get veiwers to buy the soundtrack.
Maybe it was Brandi's interview as part of VH1's "You Oughta Know" series. She claimed that she wasn't dramatic, so she "allows my voice to be dramatic." Sister, if you have to tell me your voice is dramatic, it probably isn't. It's just weird.
Whatever reasons, I was underwhelmed. Until recently, when Vh1 put the video back in rotation (I don't know why) and my pop station at work upped the plays of the song. And this line just kept burning into my brain: "These stories don't mean anything when you've got no one to tell them to. Oh it's true, that I was made for you" That is why Brandi writes songs, and that is why I blog. I shouldn't have resisted the allure for so long, this song is genius. Listen here.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
At the show Saturday night 3.12 really brought it all to the table: full band, two original songs and over a dozen covers of CCM, pop and Broadway tunes. Opening with a cover of Krystal Harris's "My Religion" before segueing into "Seasons Of Love" from Rent, Deb, David and Jason's polished and professional vocals were well-served by the addition of a band. Midway through the first set they really hit a high mark with a stunning version of Seal's "Love's Devine" featuring Jason on lead vocals over acoustic guitar and a tribal beat. The trio followed that with a southern gospel vamp on the modern standard "Bridge Over Troubled Water" before introducing their stellar band. A few songs later, including the original "Bold New Song," and the first set ended.
After the snack-filled intermission, during which time I picked a copy of 3.12's Christmas EP available at their website, the early highlights included a faithful cover of Sheryl Crow's "I Shall Believe" and hymn medley. The true standouts were a dramatic and moody piano ballad original "Not Afraid" and a really delightful variation on Avalon's massive 1998 hit "Testify to Love," which started with an acoustic guitar reminiscent of Wynonna's version for Touched By An Angel before veering into an arrangement similar to the hit version. Those two performances created a one-two punch that lead to the finale: my favorite gospel standard, "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" that truly exemplified 3.12's motto: "Healing Music For Wounded Souls." If you enjoy harmonious adult pop, you really should check out 3.12 at a coffeehouse near you.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Many have assumed as much, but Clay himself has bull doggedly defended his right to keep the sexual part of his life a secret. While it may seem ridiculous to many that anyone would stay in the closet in this day and age of increased tolerance, I totally understand his hesitancy.
It was only a year and a half ago that I came out to my sister and some of my close friends. I was scared of what God thought, which is something a southern Christian like Clay would be worried about too. So many anxious thoughts: "Am I already going to hell, just pumping that gas?" "Even I think guys are hot but don't ever act on it, can I still go to heaven?" "What if I pretend to like girls and get married and everything, and finally tell myself the truth after it's too late? That would suck!" It takes a lot of soul searching to reconcile my truth with God's truth, and I think that's something Clay Aiken probably did.
The thing is, people have been assuming that Clay knew all along that he was gay, since the world kind of had him pegged from day one. And maybe he did, I don't know. But everyone in my circle knew before I did, back when I thought I was confused. And just because someone loves the theatre, disco, designer clothes and hair color; hates sports and outdoorsy things; and generally acts gay, doesn't mean they know they are. Their family might know it, but they won't pressure them to come out until they know it too. After all, my family loves me whether I'm gay, straight or a hot tranny mess. And I hope Clay has those kinds of friends and family in his life. He's gonna need them.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Artist: Regina Spektor
Album: Begin To Hope
Highest Billboard Chart Position: Album Cut; Begin To Hope peaked at #19
Players: Regina Spektor - singer, songwriter, piano, co-producer; David Kahne - producer
Regina Spektor is probably crazy. She is most definitely Russian, quite probably lives in Brooklyn and is undoubtedly talented at songwriting.
I first learned of her existence through VH1, where I get a lot of my musical knowledge. "Fidelity" was a new video, and I was loving the black and white themed look, the oddly endearing vocals and the interviews in which she discussed being inspired by art and literature. I knew I needed to know this girl, find out what her music was all about. I bought Begin To Hope and have had it in heavy rotation on my car stereo ever since. It sits behind ABBA Gold and Relient K's Two Lefts Don't Make A Right... But Three Do as the longest continuous appearance in my car's CD wallet. Despite the obvious pop appeal of "Better" and "Fidelity," it was the gorgeous ballad "Samson" that had me hooked.
The lyrics of "Samson" owe a huge debt to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" The genius re-writing of biblical story to tell a tale of heartbreak is very similar, I used both songs (the k.d. lang version of "Hallelujah") on Sweetest Downfall: A Broken Hearted Mix Tape. The mixtape's title comes from the line "You are my sweetest downfall/I loved you first" which opens the track over a simple piano. In the song, which also appears on Regina's out of print album Songs from 2002, Regina's strong voice weaves among the piano and a few strings, singing about Samson, whose hair she cut, who couldn't bring the columns down, remembering that "the history books forgot about us/and the Bible didn't mention us/not even once" Those lines stand in direct opposition to the grandiosity of "Us" a single from her major label debut Soviet Kitsch, in which she proclaims "they made a statue of us." This was a quieter love affair, one where Samson eats a slice of Wonder Bread and went back to bed.
The track was used in an episode of CSI:New York, and was an NPR "Song of The Day."
But I still hold onto my dreams, I don't box them up and ship them postage due via UPS! I still want to start a family; to have six-pack abs; to write a novel; to write for Blender; to live in London; to sleep with Justin Timberlake; to be on Oprah discussing my novel, my love/hate relationship with Oxford commas, and sleeping with Justin. I doubt all of my dreams will come true, but a boy can still dream!
With various other alternative bands as influence, We Started Nothing reads like a greatest hits of college rock. Ripping off Nirvana for the guitar riff on the opening of the title track, Spoon for background vocals at the end of "That's Not My Name" and Chic (OK, not an alternative band!) for the beat on the VMA-nominated "Shut Up And Let Me Go" is a great way to keep me entertained, though. They should skip the attempts at slow jams like "Traffic Light" that quickly turn mawkish. But the album does have a couple of few funky-fresh tracks to throw on your next party play list.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I'm not sure this is the same song, I don't remember it having such a gospel-tinged country/jazz sound, but this title track off of Allison Moorer latest album a really nice classic Americana song, no relation to the Carly Simon song or the lullaby with the same name. The smooth sax solo is straight out of big sister Shelby Lynne's brillant Just A Little Lovin' disc, and the emotive vocals put Allison in the same league as the great American song-interpreters like Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra.
With or without the big guns, Cyndi has created a diverse collection of club music. From the more mainstream club sounds of single "Into The Nightlife" to the urban-inspired "Lyfe" to the strange Latin fusion instrumentation of Basement Jaxx's "Rocking Chair" and the retro-disco of "Set Your Heart" Ms. Lauper creates an exciting blend of dance music.
Occasionally the beats swallow Cyndi's vocals, making it sound like a remix, not original techno music (notably "Grab A Hold.") It may not have the emotion-drenched lyrics of her hits like "Time After Time" but this a club friendly collection, perfect for getting asses on the floor.
Monday, September 15, 2008
"You Don't Know Me" is much more Ben than Regina, but I still like it. I've never been a big Ben Folds Five fan, so I don't know if this is Ben's usual sound, but it fits well with Regina Spektor's cutesy vibe. Despite the sweet sound, it's really a breakup song about a couple who don't really know each other. Sort of an "in love with love, not with me" song? Is that a song category? Anyway, here is the Regina-less video, directed and starring those obnoxious Adult Swim stars Tim & Eric:
Lead single (and Bud Light Lime jingle) "Creator" does have a M.I.A. vibe, with bizarre electronic noise and obnoxious vocals (that can only be described as the sound of dolphins being raped )opening the track. But the B-side, "L.E.S. Artistes" is a more subdued affair, which can only be classified as "indie rock" with a stunning bass line and soul-baring chorus. But the majority of Santogold's debut disc share more with Mark Ronson's retro-fetishing neo-soul (the two collaborated on a track for his 2007 album Version) and the B-52's breed of surf rock-inspired, party-friendly new wave. This is most evident on "Say Aha" with it's surf-rock-meets-dub guitars and hefty drum beat. Other standouts include "Lights Out" which features a bass line straight out of a John Hughes film soundtrack and "Anne" with it's conflicted spiritual chorus of "J-J-Jesus Pieces, rescue me, the more I try, the more it gets too complicated" and lo-fi electronic beat. A seriously thrilling debut!
Sunday, September 14, 2008
But what about those gender-roles? Besides her hit "I Kissed A Girl" and it's exploration of girl-on-girl action, we find straight boys who act gay ("Ur So Gay") and "PMS like a bitch" ("Hot N Cold") tomboys who started "reading Seventeen and shaving my legs" to catch a man (the title song) all set to pop sounds that derives from the androgynous New Wave scene of the 1980s.
A former gospel singer, Katy does nod to her Evangelical heritage with a biblical reference in "Leaving My Fingerprints" and casts herself in the role of prodigal son on the lyrically sublime "Lost" which features my favorite lyric on the album: "Have you ever been so lost? Know the way and still so lost?" In that single moment, Katy places herself square in the shoes of the modern former churchgoer, who is confused about God, about her place in His plan. She wants to pray, but "am I just sending words into outer space?" We search for something to fill that void, but don't want the pain and guilt thrust upon us when we do seek a higher power.
Unfortunately, over production cause some of the songs to sink. "Lost" is a prime example, the lyrics are great, the melody serviceable, but the music bed is cluttered with too many instruments. Song doctors like Dr Luke, Max Martin and Dave Stewart produced and co-wrote a large portion of the album, creating hooky pop music that becomes somewhat repetitive in nature. However standouts like "Waking Up In Vegas" "I Kissed A Girl" and "Hot N Cold" make this a disc to pick up, and the breezy power-pop-meets-techno vibe makes it a serious party-starter.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Let's start with the arrivals. On any other award show, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus showing up together would be the biggest shocker. But no, Tokio Hotel shows up in a monster truck decorated with their own faces, T-Pain sets this circus down and Paramore shows up in little baby Smart Cars. Seriously, T-Pain on a elephant was far more insane than the Tokio Hotel stunt, no matter what MTV voters thought during the pre-show.Other than that, it was alot of the usual: Christina looked drag-y, Slipknot looked Slipknot-y and the the Jo Bros were super polite. They even told Sway to be safe in his helicopter overseeing the entrances. So cute!
But then the show starts! Britney and Superbad's Jonah Hill had a modestly humorous video bit, in which Jonah continually attempts to mack on the resurgent pop star. Then Britney walks out on stage, breezes through the teleprompted lines and opens the 25th Annual VMAs!
With that, Rihanna kicks off the show with a Thriller-inspired performance of current hit "Disturbia" with zombie dancers and a breakdown of The White Stripes' "Seven nation Army" and if I'm not mistaken, some "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)" synth lines. Despite the fact she can't really sing, she is truly a major pop force. This captivating performance was repeated when she guest on T.I's "Live Your Life" later in the evening.
Russell Brand made his entrance afterwards, being extremely funny in his opening monologue. He joked on his lack of US fame ("Without fame this haircut could look like mental illness." As if the two were mutually exclusive) and politics. The riff on Sarah Palin's daughter's baby daddy was priceless. "Use a condom or become a Republican." And I actually liked the Jo Bros/promise ring jokes. Mostly cause it gave Jordin Sparks a chance to call everybody a slut. Go girl!
During Jamie Foxx's obnoxious turn a presenter for the Best Female Video award, he made mention of giving it up for the ladies. Cut to a bored Zac Efron. Best camera cut all night!
Next The Jonas Brothers perform the follow-up single to "Burnin' Up" called "Lovebug." It's pretty awful, in that fake-Juno-soundtrack kind of way. But the screaming girls couldn't get enough!
The house band for this year's VMAs was DJ AM and Travis Barker. By house band, they mean maker of thirty-second snippets of music to play the commercials in and out. Katy Perry performed "Like A Virgin" with them and with two peels of her banana peel shoulder strap, she proved you don't need major stunts to create a fabulous performance. But alas, she only got a half-minute of screen time.
Yay! Zillion-time gold medalist (and male butterface) Micheal Phelps introducing his playlist king Lil' Wayne. Now, I'm not really a Lil' Wayne fan. But I've heard his Nina Simone sampling "Don't Get It" and was impressed. By the sample more than the song. So I was pleased to see brill pop diva Leona Lewis recreate Nina's legendary version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" for Weezy's performance. But his ass hanging out of his britches was less legendary.
Ugh. The Pussycat Doll's "When I Grow Up" needs to go away now. It's not a song, it's a cacophony of horrible squelches and the fact that is was nominated, let alone won, is sad.
Ok, we have a couple of meh performances. Pink "rocked" her new single "So What" in a very safe rah-rah kind of way. Which is not to say I won't be love with this song at some point. It's just taking longer than usual for a Pink song to grow on me. But I don't know if it's her face, or her new hair, or what, but she looks weird. Oh, I got it! She looks like Jackie from Workout. Also, not a fan of this new T.I. joint "Whatever You Like" but I'm kinda feeling the Rihanna collabo, "Live Your Life." But as much as a love Paramore and "Misery Business" the way Russell totally telegraphed the big lame reveal during the performance was stupid.
But then we come to Christina Aguilera's performance! Her reworking of debut single "Genie In A Bottle", (which she was reportedly not satisfied with the original mix ten years ago) and the new single "Keeps Getting Better" both had a glossy euro-disco sound, similar to the Chris Brown/Ne-Yo/Rihanna sound we've been hearing lately. Actually, the new track sounds very much like UK sensation Sam Sparro's "Black And Gold" a major club hit across the pond. I'm very excited about this song, and I'm hoping the new version of "Genie" is the one slated to appear on Christina's greatest hits package coming out in November. I fucking love it!
Britney was so cool and sane in her first acceptance speech, and the I figured out why during the second one. She must have had a script, cause it was the same speech both times. But I'm just happy she's sane enough to remember to thank anybody! Welcome back Brit!
I hated Kid Rock's performance, except Lil' Wayne's killer outfit. I'm loving the vest!
Then Kanye closed the show! This new song, which surprisingly did not leak before his unveiling, was a strange funk-dirge with a killer drum line and old-school soul vocals vocoded over. It's called "Love Lockdown" and I'm think I love it.
So that was the VMAs! Maybe next year I'll get my act together and live-blog the thing. There is nothing better than snarking on shit as it goes down! But thanks to Rachel and Beth for live-texting with me. We snarked together from different zip codes.