Monthly Archives: March 2013

Song of the Week: “Closer” – Nine Inch Nails

 

 

Even though I came of age at the height of MTV, I rarely miss music videos. When I did watch MTV with any sort of regularity, most videos never left a lasting impression on me. I can only think of a few that left a mark.  However, there are the obvious ones that have become synonomous with the song itself: Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight”, Fiona Apple’s “Criminal”, Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'”.

Then, there’s Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”.  Almost 20 years after its release, it’s almost impossible to hear “Closer” without having the video replaying in your head.  While the song is great by itself, the video transforms the dark and twisted lyrics into something entirely depraved.  The lyrics may have been explicit, but they were nothing compared to the images of bondage, and religious iconography turned on its head displayed in the video. “Closer” pushed the envelope of what could be considered “good taste” and it was all the more powerful because of that. Whatever you may think of it (it’s still considered one of the most controversial videos ever made) there’s no denying that it has a staying power that most videos can only dream of.  A few years ago, Trent Reznor commented on the video’s legacy by saying: “The rarest of things occurred: where the song sounded better to me, seeing it with the video. And it’s my song.”

I can still remember the first time I saw “Closer” on MTV. I had heard the song before on the radio and really liked its industrial stomp and infamous “fuck you like an animal line”.  It came on late one night after my parents went to bed. I wasn’t really allowed to watch MTV at the time, so I already nervous I might be caught. What I saw instead was the most disturbing thing my 13 year old eyes had seen.  I was not prepared for what my television was showing me.  The images of a severed pig’s head, Trent Reznor wearing S&M gear and monkey tied to a cross were intriguing as they were disturbing.  As scared as I was, I was also fascinated by the grainy images of a dark underworld I was being introduced to.

Years later, I would start to listen to the Velvet Underground who made an entire career out of the themes explored in “Closer”.  Like “Closer”, The Velvet’ “Venus in Furs” pushes the boundaries and exposes a world and a lifestyle that most people do not enter into.  Both songs conjure up the sound of that world, adding an eerie atmosphere to the lyrics.  Reed demanded that you “taste the whip” and bleed for him.  Pretty shocking stuff in 1967, when most bands were at the height of their peace and love philosophies.  Even the Rolling Stones – rock’s most outrageous and sexually stimulated band – were singing about girls who were rainbows and only hinted at casual sex with “Let’s Spend the Night Together” that same year.

With “Closer’, Reznor upped the ante on “Venus in Furs” in sound and vision.   The song’s most famous line – “I want fuck you like an animal” – is only shocking because of the word “fuck”.  The actual act, not as much. Certainly not the same way that “Sister Ray” or “Venus in Furs” were.  The most shocking moment of all in “Closer” is Reznor’s declaration that these acts will bring him “closer to God”.  For Reznor (at least in this song), taking part in this lifestyle is perfection. Reed may have found sexual stimulation through pain in “Venus in Furs” but it was still on the fringe.

How “Closer” ever got to be a hit, I’ll never know. In a bizarre way though, it makes me slightly happy that something as twisted as this managed to slip through the cracks and become part of the mainstream.

How We Picked the Best Wedding Mix Ever

 

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Photo credit: Colleen Losh

When my now-wife and I first started planning our wedding, I just assumed that picking out the music for the reception would be the easiest part.  Or at least the most fun.

While it wasn’t as stressful as some of the other details and planning, it turned out to be somewhat harder than I anticipated. Like many weddings, our guests spanned several different generations.  We didn’t want to have one particular style of music dominating the dance floor, thus leaving some guests feeling alienated.  And we were determined that there would be several songs that every single guest would like and be able to dance to.

With that in mind, we created a few categories: soul, slow dancing, and “more popular” stuff.   Everyone loves Soul, and hits like “Shout” and “Respect” are guaranteed to get people up and dancing.  I also suggested throwing in some 90’s hip-hop hits such as “Push It”, and “Now that We Found Love” since most people know them.   There were also a few other oddities thrown in for good measure.

As we came up with a list of songs, Lindsey had a requirement for each one: “Can we dance to it?”   So we took to Spotify (and my Itunes library) and listened (and danced) to each song individually. It seems obvious that danceability would be essential when picking songs for a wedding reception.  But when several songs were put to the test (which I assumed would be a shoe-in), they were immediately thrown out.

The entire process took a few months.  We started coming up with songs in December, and finalized it less than a week before our wedding in March.  Songs were constantly taken in and out.  Just when we thought we were done, we realized that we were short about 25 songs, since we extended our reception to 5 hours instead of the normal four.  Luckily, we managed to up with the additional songs without much trouble.

Both Lindsey and I knew our play-list would be a hit with our guests. Afterall, we had spent months planning (and listening to) this.  But even I was surprised, at the reaction.  Once the music started, the dance-floor was never empty.  For four hours, guests from every age group stayed on the floor and danced the night away. While we picked the music, much of the credit must go to our trusty DJ, Matt Shew from Shew-sical Entertaimment, who kept the momentum going.  Hell, my mom even danced to Ke$ha.  Several people commented to both of us that this was the best collection of music they ever heard at a wedding and that we should copy-right the play-list.  And finally, Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” topped the evening off with a bang.  Take that, Journey!

For those of you curious, here’s what we included on our list for our DJ – though not everything got played – in no particular order.

 

This is How We Do It – Montell Jordan

Push it  – Salt N’ Peppa

What About Your Friends – TLC

Rock Your Body – Justin Timberlake

Tequila – The Champs

Reach Out (I’ll Be There) – The Four Tops

Straight Up – Paula Abdul

Adorn – Miguel

I Walk the Line – Johnny Cash

Good Feeling – Flo Rida

Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry

Magic – B.O.B.

Va Va Voom – Nicki Minaj

Run Around Sue – Dion

Streams of Whiskey – The Pogues (Quite a huge hit actually even among those who didn’t know the song)

Hey Ya – Outkast

I Saw Her Standing There – The Beatles

Twist and Shout – The Beatles

You Got It – Roy Orbison

Got My Mind Set on You – George Harrison

You Can Call Me Al – Paul Simon

500 Miles – The Proclaimers

Let’s Go – Matt and Kim

Kenny Loggins – Footloose

Weezer – Buddy Holly

Biz Markie – Just A Friend

Ke$ha – Die Young

MC Hammer – U Can’t Touch This

Heavy D & The Boyz – Now That We Found Love

House Of Pain – Jump Around

Spin Doctors – Two Princes

Blackstreet – No Diggity

Kris Kross – Jump

Backstreet Boys – I Want It That Way

Jackson 5 – ABC

Fine Young Cannibals – She Drives Me Crazy

50 Cent – In Da Club

Generation 90 – Rythm Is A Dancer

Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want To Have Fun

Little Eva – The Locomotion

The Flares – Foot Stompin’ Pt. 1

Big Joe Turner – Shake, Rattle and Roll

Prince – 1999

The Bangles – Walk Like An Egyptian – Album/Single

Lady Gaga – Paparazzi

Third Eye Blind – Semi-Charmed Life

Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)

Nena – 99 Luftballons

Baltimora – Tarzan Boy – Original Hit Version

Bruce Springsteen – I’m Goin’ Down

Gnarls Barkley – Crazy

The Lumineers – Ho Hey

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson

Land of 1,000 Dances

Sweet Soul Music – Arthur Conley

Higher and Higher – Jackie Wilson

I Want You Back – Jackson Five

Respect – Aretha Franklin

Heat Wave – Martha Reeves & the Vandellas

You Can’t Hurry Love – The Supremes

Where Did Our Love Go? – The Supremes

Twist and Shout – The Beatles

The Twist – Chubby Checker

Shout – The Isley Brothers

Da Do Ron Ron – The Crystals

Do You Love Me – The Contours

Jackson 5 – ABC

 

Musings on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Debut Albums”

I love and hate music lists.  Especially the ones that Rolling Stone puts out.  The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and 100 Greatest Artists of All Time were fascinating as they were infuriating.  Their newest one, The 100 Greatest Debut Albums of All Time pretty is perplexing.  Honestly, how many great debuts albums are there?  My friend and I tried a similar list a few years ago, and we only came out with maybe a dozen that could be considered “the best”.

And looking through Rolling Stone’s list, I believe I’m right.  Debut albums for many artists are a learning curve.  While occasionally there a few that are groundbreaking and among the best of a particular artist (see: Rage Against the Machine) many debut albums by great artists are lukewarm at the most.  U2’s “Boy” for example contains only truly great song (“I Will Follow”) and one pretty good one (“Out of Control”).  Boy isn’t groundbreaking and doesn’t foreshadow what U2 would achieve in their career.  Another problem with creating a list like this padding it to fill up space: Kendrick Lamar is  new and interesting hip-hop artist, but only time will tell if good kid, m.A.A.d City is a great debut.

A final note to RS: MCA is missed and leaves behind a great legacy.  But don’t “honor” him with by giving License to Ill the number one mark, when we all know it’s The Velvet Underground & Nico.

Album of the Week: “Aha Shake Heartbreak” – Kings of Leon

 

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Some artists and bands are meant to superstars and gain a wider audience after years of mid-level success. With each album those artists grow substantially without sacrificing their ideals or the very things that made them good in the first place. R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen and even Prince are great examples of artists who made blockbuster albums on their own terms.

Unfortunately, Kings of Leon are not one of those bands. With Only By the Night and “Use Somebody” specifically, they traded their trade-mark Southern-Punk roots for a glossier and easier digestible sound. I don’t necessarily blame them for wanting extra exposure, but it doesn’t suit them. Caleb Followill’s drunken melt-down a few years back sits better with their original image: the scruffy young kids with long hair who dress, play and party like they don’t give a fuck.  Fans who were introduced to the band through “Use Somebody” didn’t take kindly to this, because a band of Kings of Leon’s stature should be reliable.  If this incident had happened when the band played Baltimore’s Sonar (where I saw them), it would have been deemed as part of their image.

I say this because Kings of Leon’s second album Aha Shake Heartbreak is an album full of debauchery, and it’s still the best thing they ever recorded.  It’s got the down home and drunken sound of Exile on Main St., but the songs are played with the menace and anarchy that fuels much of Funhouse.  This is where Kings of Leon belong – the dirty basements and the dingy clubs. Aha Shake Heartbreak is the soundtrack for a party that teeters somewhere between sheer fun and destruction.

A few years ago, I remember reading an article where Eddie Vedder stated he played the album to some people in Hawaii who were mostly unfamiliar with rock music.  Vedder mused that almost everyone reacted to the album’s “pure” nature.  I’m not entirely sure if I believe the story, but it does paint a pretty good picture about one of the album’s best traits. However you may feel about the band’s lifestyle at the time, or the sometimes questionable lyrics Aha Shake Heartbreak is a very believable album.

As you listen to it, you get the sense that these guys aren’t pretending or fabricating a lifestyle. Like the fore-mentioned Exile the drugs, the women, the hangovers are very real.  And also like Exile, it’s the slower songs such as “Day Old Blues”, and “Rememo” that add a little more depth to the haze surrounding the rest of the album.  “Dripping beards, cold as hell, and the motherfucker’s gonna go to jail,” Followill sings on the latter.  It’s hard not to wonder if he’s referring to himself and his lifestyle.  In that one moment he’s sounds more vulnerable and desolate than on he does on the entirety of “Use Somebody”.

But still it’s the rockers that truly stand-out and set Aha Shake Heartbreak apart from KOL’s other albums and also their peers.  Country twang meets Stooges-style noise “King of the Rodeo”, “The Bucket” and “Pistol of Fire”.  The songs swing but are attacked with a hard-edge that creates an original sound.  Like most good bands, Kings of Leon manage to sound both tight and loose at the same time. Many of the songs sound like they could fall apart at any point, but it’s Jared Followill’s loud and aggressive bass which keeps things anchored down.  If there was a star of the show on Aha Shake Heartbreak, it’s him. Amazingly, the dude was still a teenager when the album was recorded, and almost every single song on the album has a bass-line you could hum to.

Almost 8 years afters it release, Aha Shake Heartbreak sounds as fresh and vital as it did the day it was released.  It’s not a product of its time, nor one that sounds like anyone or anything before it.  The same can’t be said for Only By the Night.

Song of the Week: “Power” – Kanye West

 

Say whatever you want about Kanye West’s rants and personal life, but the dude knows how to make songs. While “Runaway” is emotional center-point of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, “Power” is the album’s sonic masterpiece.  Like Sly and the Family Stone, Prince and even Outkast, Kanye takes a wide variety of sounds and influences to create something new and original.  “Power” incorporates elements of Metal, Gospel Prog-Rock, Emo and Soul into one big package.

“At the end of the day, godammit I’m killing this shit,” West declares half-way through the song.  It’s not really boasting when it’s true.  He knows that whatever else is said about him, it’s hard to argue that he’s not killing this shit.  The trails of the Taylor Swift incident, the Hurricane Katrina telethon and rants are gone every-time the dude steps in the studio.

“Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it,” West observes. With “Power” he seems to be throwing back every insult that’s been thrown at him.   You say he’s got a Jesus complex? He’s going to make a beat out of an entire choir and make it the song’s hook.  Think he’s crazy?  Leave it to West to make King Crimson seem cool and relevant by sampling “21st Century Schizoid Man” in the song’s chorus.

In a stroke of genius, “Power” was played in the background of a trailer for The Social Network.  Though they’re from completely different worlds, Mark Zuckerburg and Kanye West are not entirely different. From the outside, we’ll never to get to know them personally and their stories and exploits will be written about for years to come.  Yet, their achievements have changed the cultural landscape.  Who knows where they’ll be in the future, but as West says, “til then fuck that, the world’s ours.”

 

New Music: “Who We Are” – Nick Moran

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On Who We Are, Nick Moran is all over the musical landscape. There’s a bit of neo-soul and funk (“Out of My Control”), Coldplay-style pop (“Going to Waste”) blues guitar (the title track).  In other hands, this type of musical exploration might hinder the overall flow of an album.  But Moran is smart and skilled enough to make all of the different genres seem seamless throughout Who We Are.  At times his voice sounds a bit like Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, if the iconic singer had decided to record songs steeped in funky horns and organs.

Moran seems most at home when he is expanding his sound and taking it further.  When the horns and organs blast behind him, he really lets go and it’s a joy to listen.  The slower songs seem to falter a bit, if only because Moran seems more reserved (not exactly a place he belongs or seems comfortable in.)    If you’re looking for an artist who doesn’t stick to one particular genre, check out Nick Moran’s Who We Are.

For more on Nick check out his web-site.

New Music: “One Bedroom Apartment” – Loren Benjamin

 

Loren Benjamin’s piano-pop recalls the sounds of early Elton John and 70’s era Van Morrison.  Case in point “One Bedroom Apartment” is upbeat with a retro-soul sound complete with a stellar horn section.  It’s the sound of a man settling down and searching for the perfect place with his love.  It’s the perfect song for spring and the feeling of new love in the air.  “We wouldn’t settle down for nothing less,” Benjamin sings in the chorus.  By the way he sings and commands his band, it’s clear that Benjamin wouldn’t settle for anything less than awesome.

For more on Loren Benjamin check out his web-site.