Classic Album Review :: Cardigans — Gran Turismo

Every once-in-a-while, I listen through my music library and wonder how people don’t pay attention to albums.

This is one of those albums.

It straddles the line between being pop gold and being depressing as hell. Something about it is unsettling. The use of synthesizers to fill in the low end leaves the album strongly in this minor chord valley where everything is awkward yet somehow beautiful.

This is far from the biggest album this band released. First Band on the Moon had the single “Love Fool” which got them a ridiculous amount of attention. This band experimented a lot with a take on the almost lounge jazz sound from the ’60s. On this album, they seemed to stray far from that dystopian and haunting sound, instead opting for a journey into almost electronica. They keep the bubble gum pop sound they cultivated, just added this layer of darkness that the ’90s did so very well.

Of course, the song best known off this album is also their second most known song ever. “My Favourite Game” follows the tried-n-true 4-chord structure, but with a twist. The chorus launches the listener into a dark hole, and this song actually works brilliantly as an example of the entire album. Complete with awkwardly placed lyrics, melodic shots, and a tradition but distorted structure.

I recommend this album highly, but everything they did is gold. Earlier albums are very lounge jazz, as I mentioned above, but later albums journey further into a darker void and explore what is possible with traditional pop. Also, this band has this awkward obsession with doing Black Sabbath covers in non-traditional ways. It’s always fantastic, and worth the adventure to find all two or three that were recorded.

In Summation: this album is well worth remembering. I recommend it highly, and very much recommend looking at the whole catalogue.

You used to define me…

I was listening to Circa Survive, and worried that I moved on.

I was listening to “On Letting Go”, which is one of my favourite albums. The drums are the most deceiving orchestration, the vocals sore, and the brilliant guitar leads always lead to my surprise. Yes, over 13 years later and I am still surprised every time I play it through. You would think that, by now, I have learned every part.

That album is not my favourite of all time, but it has been high on my list since its release. I would probably put in on my top ten of all time; or, at least, I would have. I was listening to it today, and found myself let down by parts. I was almost bored by it, and found myself tuning out for the first time since I got my hands on the beautiful collection all those years ago.

I got worried that I was just bored of Circa Survive in general, so I immediately put on ‘Juturna’ to find out. By the song ‘Wish Resign‘, I was comfortably back in a state of bliss.

I have no idea why my attention has been taken away from that album. The track ‘The Difference Between Medicine And Poison Is In The Dose‘ was my favourite song for a very long time, and I feel like I have just divorced a part of my life. Maybe I am just being melodramatic, I am finding putting my dismay into text properly very difficult.

Anyway, I had to share that ‘On Letting Go’ has soft-lost a place in my heart. I still really enjoy the album, and ‘Living Together‘ is still a banger. I am almost positive that majority of my reader base doesn’t care, but it really upset me. Knowing that this was more than a FaceBook status prompted me to write this blog, which turned out to be a lot longer than I meant.

Old music V. New music

I am past the point of using music as a metric of age. What do I mean by that? Some of my favourite albums are over 20 years old, and “kids” no longer are interested in the bands I’m into. Therefore, music is not a metric that I can use to measure age.

It got me thinking: am I stuck in my comfort zone?

Is it bad that I listen to albums from the ’90s still, and appreciate them as if they came out yesterday?

A friend of mine showed me a new release today, and immediately I pointed out how the sound was early 2000’s emo. I loved every note played and was mostly correct on how the chord progression was going to go.

It got me questioning where I keep my mind, as far as the arts go. I started to worry if I was becoming one of those people who refused to keep up with modern trends in audio because I was convinced that it was done better in the past.

I did not stay on that thought long. I remembered that I appreciate new music, and my plethora of older influences shaped, not hindered, my appreciation for new things I found. I didn’t hold onto old sounds because I think they are better, I held onto them because I love them still.

Yes, some of the bands I enjoy are probably outdated. There probably someone else who has done, for example, Godspeed You! Black Emperor better since their magnum opus F# A# Infinity. Once I find it, I’m sure that I will binge it as much, if not more, than I do that album.

Anyway, my point is that holding onto old albums can be a good thing, as long as you aren’t closing your mind to experiencing new sounds. As I write this, I am listening to “…and You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead”‘s album Lost Songs, which was released in 2005. Part of me enjoys it as if it’s new. Part of me remembers that it is 15 years old, ignoring the fact that it is demos and unreleased songs that could be older.

Seriously, though: can we talk about how great F# A# Infinity is?

Classic Album Review :: After the Burial — Rareform

I usually take off the Christmas season because I do not want to bother everyone with depression and philosophical arguments for why life is both tragic and amazing, but I feel like writing something. In spirit of not doing what I normally do, I want to highlight probably the most technical, and brutal, album in my collection. No, it’s not death metal, and I am sure that someone would argue that I have heavier and more technical, but I still feel like this album needs more attention.

After the Burial have done a lot more than I have. I think they are kind of amazing, and I do not see enough love for this group. It is probably because they are in the “scene” part of music, somehow. i will never understand how that could be.

The first track is the most brilliant introduction for this band. Berzerker opens with a blistering dueling guitar riff that would make Van Halen’s jaw drop. From that point, it’s nothing but the most orchestrated chaos for the next 5:30.

I am proud to say that I figured out the drums in this song at the pique of my abilities, but that was after many hours of failing. I probably never figured them out perfectly, but even the version I had crafted was close enough to be nearly as impressive.

The song has an amazing ‘bop’ to it. Starting around the 2:50 mark, the swing being demonstrated will get even the most ardent haters of this band to tap a toe. That goes on for about 30 seconds, before the heaviest bits.

After a beautifully crafted flourish on guitar, a devastating breakdown that does not follow any conventional musical crafting. Then. a reprise of the first bit of the song before quite literal chaos reigns over the last minute.

Fuck, that’s only song one and I have already written that much. I will not be writing about the rest of the album, but that first track is a great example for the ear-bleedingly good time you are in for.

No, this album is not for everyone. It is a perfect example of what conventional metal can do. It is heavy. It is technical. It is brutal and loud. I never have to put my headphones too loud to enjoy the sounds. I mean, I DO crank the volume, but I don’t have to.

I don’t give enough attention to the bass, but this video gives an idea of the musicianship portrayed in this song. Please, watch and enjoy. (There are no vocals, so go this route if you do not wish someone screaming at you)

Before I started writing this, I had assumed that this band was a five-piece. The “dueling guitar” that I mentioned, is done by one guy. Fuck me, this band somehow got MORE amazing.

Music Analysis :: Queens of the Stone Age

I was initially going to write about “Songs for the Deaf” (SftD) when I realized that “Era Vulgaris” gets scrutinized for not being SftD. I will not argue with the fact that SftD one of my favourite albums of all time, but I really feel like Era Vulgaris is still fantastic.

Let’s start with a dissection of why SftD is so amazing.
Dave Grohl.
DISSECTION OVER.

No, that’s not fair. To hold an album as the pinnacle of a band’s career based on the efforts by one member inclusion is shallow. Though, it is true that Mr. Grohl does some amazing work on this album. I mean, just listen to the opening track and you can see what you’re in for. Once you get passed the mock-radio intro you are hit by a wave of pure Metal-Awesome. Track two was a fantastic single when it was released, and was my introduction to this band.

Track three, First It Giveth, is by far my favourite on the album. The punishing and driving beat over the corus mixed with the polyrhythmic verse drumline make it one of the more interesting endeavours I have ever witnessed in music. Then, track four, probably the coolest excuse for an extended drum solo ever.

My analysis of the first three songs on this album are what lead me to believe that it should not be held as high as it is in the QotSA catalogue. I mean, every instrument does amazing things all through this album. It feels like the “Dave Grohl” album we needed, instead of the Foo Fighters. Due to this fact, I refuse to give it the “QotSA best album” lable.

Then, the forgotten (and hated*) sequel, Era Vulgaris.
*it might not be as hated as I read into the discussion, but it was not received as well.

I feel bad for this album. It had to follow up one of the most interesting releases in “metal” that we have heard since “Destroy, Erase, Improve“. It got so many things right, it just could never live up to SftD produced.

It had a much more polished sound, and played it safer by being both accessible and radio-friendly. It focuses more on Josh Homme’s guitar playing. The lyrics are more whimsicle, the bass much chunkier, and the drums are more conventional. Still bloody intricate, but less head-‘splody ridiculous.

The first single, “Sick, Sick, Sick“, focuses on more of a traditional song structure that QotSA have moved on from. More of journey as opposed to a song, the orchestration of layers and subtle changes leave the listener waiting to see what comes next. SftD was this strange combination of floaty-and-whimsical and brain-punch.

I know that I am making up words and phrases, but listening to these albums you quickly notice that my adjectives are apt.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside : OPINION

This is just conjecture. I need to make that clear before people rip me apart for voicing my opinion on the song asking for studies or facts around what I say.

People always seem to point out that this song is promoting rape and rape culture. Then, out come the ravenous defenders of “classic” holiday songs to proclaim how the song was never intended to reflect that sentiment.

Am I here to say that either side is right or wrong? Well, I am neither educated enough or vested in the battle to say either way. I do have a point that I am going to dive into, but I am not going to say either side is correct or wrong.

The song was intended as an innocent exclamation of feelings. It is meant to be “cute”, and is not intended to support an abhorrent behavior type.

HOWEVER:

To state that someone should not feel that way about the lyrical content about that song is a bit deaf to their opinion.

Let me explain in harsh terms. Trigger warning, by the way. I am going to talk about sexual exploitation and taking advantage of gender-roles.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The song talks about a woman being trapped in a house by the weather, and a man trying to convince her that it is way too hazardous to venture into the cold. If taken on face value, it can already be disseminated into two camps: either the man is actually caring and stating that IN HER BEST INTEREST, she should stick around until it is safe for her to go into the night. OR: the man is trying to coax the woman into staying because she wants to sleep with him (in his mind).

The issue, as I see it, is that it sounds patriarchal. It sounds almost creepy and forceful. He speaks, at length, how it’s dangerous. Being the listener, the only side you hear is his. One would be forgiven in thinking that he is exaggerating the state of the weather for nefarious means.

The other way to see it is that he actually has the woman’s interest at heart. He does not want anything bad to happen to her and, therefore, very much intends to keep her safe.

To shoot down either interpretation someone displays assumes history. Maybe, the person crying rape is someone who has actually been through something similar. Maybe, they are just projecting. Projecting does not make their feelings surrounding the song less important to consider. All because someone does not agree with your perspective does not make them wrong.

If a song or situation makes someone uncomfortable, do whatever is in your power (or whatever is needed of you) to fix it. If you do not have any control, listen with a compassionate ear.

On the other side of things, if you think the song is about unsavoury things, do not be a dick about it. If you’re in a store and it comes on the speaker, the employee helping you probably has no way of changing the music. Your friends have no way of doing anything about it. Hell, in big-box store like Walmart, even the managers have no way of changing it.

What you can do is voice your opinion calmly. Yes, the song has become more and more problematic. Ideally, it would just be stricken from playlists and be left to vanish in the annals of history. Yes, you are aloud to be upset about it. However, if you are sitting on your social media of choice and someone mentions to someone who isn’t you how they like that song, let them be. They are allowed to their opinion as much as you are yours. People like things other people don’t all of the time, it’s not going to make rape or sexual exploitation okay all because that song exists.

If you are assuming that this is justification for your actions, you’re a parasite on this realm.

Unfortunately, we cannot punish the past for their exploitative actions. We live in a world where the horrible things of the past are almost celebrated in today’s day-to-day. All we can do is try to survive, and try to make everything as palatable for those around us.

Words to live by — Don’t be a dick. Love other people.

Classic Album Review :: Low — Things We Lost In The Fire

I usually start taking time off after my birthday until the new year. It gives me time to write the novel I’m working on, and catch up on general medical shit. However, I found myself thinking about how NO ONE knows this album and that is a fucking shame. Especially when everything feels so bleek right now.

Things We Lost In The Fire is melancholy: the album. Not in that “15 and deep” kind of way, more in that “I don’t have the energy to do anything today”, and that is a perfect way to define right now. Hell, the lyrics are not even to dower, and the music is the furthest thing from crushing. It’s just so slow, so delicate, and perfectly mixed.

I came across this album by complete mistake forever ago. I thought that it had a beautiful, yet very minimalist, design. I was a fan of the record label (Kranky) and I was familiar with other acts produced by Steve Albini. It was the perfect storm, and I will not say the rest of the discography from this band is disappointing, but they have never lived up to this release.

Defined as “slow core”, this album boasts a very minimalist soundscape. The instrumentation uses very few instruments all being sustained with to the limits of how there sound will resonate. Parts (track 3, Dinosaur Act, song below) remind me a little bit of Matthew Good Band Beautiful Midnight era, mixed with Wintersleep’s Untitled. The lyrics feel like just an added flourish instead of a focus.

That is not to say the lyrics are throw-away. Kind of the opposite: the poetry being displayed is as powerful as the interact play of noises being performed by the instruments. My point is more that they are never overpowering the other sounds, more complementing them.

Seriously, if you are reading while drinking a warm beverage of choice, watching the weather outside, or dwelling how that person you fancy doesn’t fancy you back: this album is perfect. It also works while reflecting on how invisible you are.

Can Music Be Happy and Good?

I started writing a piece about optimism and pessimism the other day, and it got me asking whether or not I even have happy music in my 36-day-long collection of songs.

Knowing that I could never go through all 36 days worth of music, I pulled a few that may or may not be happy.

Dresden Dolls — Good Day
I know it seems like I picked this song based on name alone. It took me a couple of listens to figure out whether or not it is actually happy, however. I kind of feel that it is more cynical than not happy? If that makes sense? It is basically an anthem about how strong someone is in the face of a brutal breakup that would potentially render someone uncontrollably depressed. So, a final verdict? If we are going on the A) B) options I have given myself, I would have to say happy.

Deftones — Teenager
Very symbolic, and alludes to tragedy instead of happiness. It is a song that seems to be about moving past pain and abandonment. To say that it’s pessimistic is undermining potential readings of what the poetry of this piece could be.

Deer & the Headlights — Sweet Talk
I fucking love this song. Not happy at all, and does not even pretend to be. Musically, it could be argued that it sounds “boppy” and aloof. The heartwrenching lyrics are about seeing an ex with a new lover for the first time since you separated. Juvenile? Very much, but a very relatable situation for most of us. What holds this song apart from most in the pessimism group is that it doesn’t really give the listener any sort of reprise, or even an alternate way of looking at the situation. Can I call it happy? Hell no.

Cursive — From The Hips
The most cynical song I think I have come across in my life. It is trying to make an argument that the pinnacle of human interaction is sex. The singer alludes to the idea that sex is the only time we are all truly honest and without alternative motives.

Braid — Do You Like Coffee?
I may be biased by my love for the black substance that is the subject of this song, but I would confidently put this in “optimism” pool. The song tells a tale about seeing someone for the first time in a long time. It could been seen as bitter-sweet, but still optimistic.

Livestalk & the Bodies — Pourvous
I actually forgot about this one until I asked a friend of mine about what they would recommend. I’ll probably get to their suggestion, but I want to point out the irony that one of, if not my absolute favourite song that I played on is incredibly happy-bordering-on-cute. (Don’t tell Kevo I called it cute). A song of love, confessing all manners of appreciation for all parts of the narrator’s partener. Plus, this song has the most amazing piano line written and did I mention that I love it and I played on it and I didn’t write the drum line but I wish I did am I rambling without punctuation I am so sorry.

Broken Bells — The High Road
As a fan of the bands The Shins, of course I came across this gem. The best parts of Danger Mouse cira 2010, and released just before Modern Guilt by Beck, this album combines and jangly guitar that The Shins were known for, and the trip-hop grooves that Danger Mouse produces so well. The name, and parts of the lyrics, lead one to believe that it is going to be a happy song. When you really listen to it, however, you notice that it is about someone burning out after living a great life. So, as most of the other songs on this list: cynical, at best.

The Fratellis — Flathead
EVERYBODY DANCE! FEEL HOW GREAT THE GROOVE IS! BEAT THE PISS OUT OF EVERYONE!
*ahem* This song is great. I will never get a bigger smile on my face than when I’m analyzing this one, but it hides a dark secret behind the bombastic chorus’ and bigger-than-life transitions. It’s alluding to the idea that people are two-faced at best, and horribly spoken about at worst.

The Junction — Untitled (Revised)
This song is not a great example of the album, but it remains one of my favourite pop songs of all time. I have a very hard time deciphering lyrics at the best of times, and this song is a whearwind of metaphors and complicated prose. I THINK that it’s happier than most, even though if fits very nicely in a dark sounding chasm.

The Tokyo Police Club — Bambi
This song is a coating of blunt opinions and a harsh tone over joyous celebration of youth. Maybe I am biased because of the fantastic keyboards coupled with how happy the keyboard player looked while they performed this one day, but I will forever see this as an optimistic song.

WHAT IS MY CONCLUSION? Happy lyrics are possible. Non-cynical lyrics are possible. Music is an expression of the musician’s soul, and it is easier to dwell on the horrible rather than the best of times. Hell, that Livestalk & the Bodies song is the only one out of the full album of fifteen that might be mostly unhappy.

Now, all of this conjecture is just that. I admit that I am horrible with figuring out lyrics meaning on the best of days. There are probably of happy songs. Hell, I didn’t touch ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky, Of Montreal’s entire catalogue, or C + C by Tom Vek.

Classic Album Review :: Bran Van 3000 — Glee

This is an example of one of those albums that I honestly can’t help myself but to recommend. I never feel like I sell it very well, and I feel incredibly upset that it has seems to have been forgotten.

Then again, it is a Canadian hip-hop/alternative album. Yes, there are examples of things thriving in that catagory, but for every success there are hundreds of flash-in-the-pan albums. Unfortunatly, this is a latter. It’s unfortunate, simply for the fact that there are so few albums that explore the corners of musical expression that this album ventures into.

As previously mentioned, this album could be placed comfortably into the hip-hop genre. That does not define it, however. Yes, they use samples and turntables for a large percent of the music, but where they explore other instruments is where they differ themselves. The single (placed below because it’s amazing) toys with an expression of someone who is strung out. The entire album feels like it was made by that group of stoners that you saw in high school. Harmless, brazen, and always saying or doing something interesting.

This is one example of why I have a hard time vocalizing why you need to listen to this album. On paper, it sounds like like drivel. Or, at least, mildly annoying. The fact is that this album has so many ideas. Everything from electonica to folk, dance to metal, and it works as a gateway into a world of unliited possibilities. This album is a gateway into everything this band has in the long term, and things only get better and weirder.

That’s right, I’m recommending an album to recommend another album!

Discossis is the next album they put out. It’s somehow more chaotic yet more intentional. I digress: listen to Glee. If you like it, pick up Discosis. Thank me later.

It’s probably bad form to include a song from a different album, but I need to share this. Second part, in particular.