Music Monday: Silversun Pickups and Reel Big Fish

May 19, 2008

Silversun Pickups — Lazy Eye

This video is 1980s-a-licious. I suppose everybody goes through this as they grow up, but it was shocking to see some of these old styles come back into fashion. There’s the girl’s bob haircut, the leather jacket, the long hair and striped shirts, the teen dance club. The entire thing reminds me of Some Kind of Wonderful (Andrew and I agree Lea Thompson was haaawt back in the day).

But the song stands on its own, too. It’s got that laid-back bass line that always gets me in the groove, and it gradually escalates in the middle to a primal scream. Enjoy.



Reel Big Fish — Take On Me

Forget for a minute that this song headlined the Basketball soundtrack. I went to great pains to find a video sans Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Instead, focus on how catchy Reel Big Fish managed to get this remake of A-Ha’s classic 1985 video (which Andrew and I love — it’s undoubtedly the best of the early MTV videos from back when the channel had actual music). Radio never really treated ska as anything more than a fad, and some (Andrew) would argue that’s just fine. Not me. I think horns are horridly underutilized, and I often wish we could fall back on the good ol’ days when Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire actually got respect for playing technically superior tunes.

God, I hope my father never finds this blog and reads that last sentence. He’s blare those two groups non-stop on a record player when I was growing up, and I made a show of hating his music. I’m never going to change my tune about Barry Manilow, though, Dad.


Music Monday: Such Great Heights

March 31, 2008

The Postal Service

Cleveland doesn’t have an indie or alternative-that-isn’t-Smashing Pumpkins stations, so this song filtered down to me in commercial form. It was released in 2003 by The Postal Service, but I first heard it on the Garden State soundtrack and then (as a cover) on that infamous kaleidescope M&Ms commercial. I didn’t really think much of it at the time.

Then Andrew sent me a YouTube link for the above vid a couple of months ago, and I instantly recognized the song. But what I recognized wasn’t — again — The Postal Service. What tugged at my mind was a jangling ditty I’d heard by piano virtuoso Ben Folds.

I’ve spent a good bit of time in the past few hours trying to decide which version I like better. The original is more clipped and polished with an electric edge.

I think the video is worth mentioning. Remember when Mr. Rogers used to take us to the peanut butter factory of the cotton mill to show us how those things were made? Well, I’m not sure if the PS vid was filmed in a real microchip lab or if some set design engineer deserves a raise, but The Postal Service uses some very nice shots to give us a new spin on the old Earth-as-dirt-under-a-giant’s-fingernail chestnut (think the big pull-back shot at the end of Men In Black).

Ben Folds

He’s a genius. I’ve always had a man-crush on Ben Folds, and here we get so many things to praise: Starting with his awesome glasses, hitting his frenetic piano-key-jamming performance, and wrapping up with the improvised percussion.

After a lot of reflection, this is my favorite version of the song (to date). It’s by far the most dynamic in it’s highs and lows (see what I did there?) and I really think the piano is an underused tool. With so much being done by synthesizers, you can sometimes forget how great that deep, rolling concert piano timbre is. Plus, he adds the word “shit” where it should be.

Iron and Wine

This cover was released right on the Postal Service single in 2003, and it’s my least favorite of the three (I know, Wiki-heads, there are some other covers but I haven’t tracked them down). Iron and Wine blatantly try to yank my emotions around with that angsty whisper-over-acoustics tactic I hate. That’s led to a legion of 14-year-old amateur guitarists posting their YouTube odes. Ugh.

Sadly, it works so well as a soundtrack mood piece that I can’t just blow it off entirely. Oh well.

Music Monday: Royksopp and The Smiths

March 10, 2008

1. Royksopp — Remind Me

There was no Internet when I was very young. Instead we had something called books (pronounced [book] – noun: A written or printed work of fiction or nonfiction, usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound within covers). Among my favorite books were a series called The Golden Treasury of Knowledge, which were published in 1961 and tucked away in cardboard boxes at Grandma’s house until I got my grubby hands on them in the ’80s.

They were like lite encyclopedias and I loved them because they were chock-full of diagrams, maps, charts, graphs — all the things that kept my attention in school textbooks while the teacher droned on and on.

And that’s why I rank the video for Remind Me so highly. It’s like one of those old books brought to life with the power of Flash. It’s all about showing groupings of information and how they interact on the meta level. I hope someday that’s how the Internet’s structured, too – Web 3.0 should be intensely interactive art that’s generated spontaneously from data.


2. The Smiths — This Charming Man

I can’t help but love this song and it’s been lodged in my iTunes top 25 for two years. There’s something incredibly syncopative and driving about it, and regardless what team Morissey plays for he is one of those vocalists who can actually sing well without giving up his new wave-alternative cred.

Unfortunately, some pop conventions from the 1980s didn’t age well, and that gives this video a handicap. Remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation season one episode called “Justice”? The people of Rubicun III were clad in scanty pastels and the writers took a little too much pleasure in showing men walking around in discarded gay porn outfits that looked like they were invented by Freddie Mercury. That Trekisode is all I can remember (it burns!) every time I see this video.

By the way, Morissey publicly refuses to say whether he’s gay — those labels are irrelevant, he claims — but this video really calls it all into question. I mean, look at how long that shirt is unbuttoned. But if you’re too insecure about it to appreciate This Charming Man, that’s your own damned fault. Grow a pair.

Music Monday: The Crystal Method

March 3, 2008

crystal_method.jpgFROM JASON’S DRIVING PLAYLIST — Normally on Mondays I post two songs that show somewhat disparate styles. But while scrolling through my iTunes library late last night and trading links with Andrew, I ran across The Crystal Method and got into a groove. I decided it was time to bow at the altar of Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland.

I love electronica — as long as it stays dynamic. When it starts looping endlessly or is too focused on the beat, I lose interest. That’s why I hate the idea of hearing The Crystal Method, The Chemical Brothers, or The Prodigy in any kind of club. I’d much rather hear it in the context of a soundtrack where it’s used to move a plot.

That said, I don’t like the majority of The Crystal Method’s music. I like it when they keep songs short, intense, and multi-layered with five or six ideas, then wrap it up.

And that’s what makes these three such great songs, and why I get pumped listening to them in my car:

1. The Crystal Method — Born Too Slow     

All the TCM videos I’ve seen are a weird fusion of comedy and symbolism. I watched this one about three times today trying to figure out what it’s saying. It’s directed by Gore Verbinski — director of The Ring and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies — and it’s laced with references to autonomy. In a lot of ways, the main character reminds me of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. Not only is he blue, bald, and naked, but he’s examining his surroundings, moving unhaltingly through a foreign environment, trying to relate to others, and effortlessly reshaping the physical structures around him. But he is artificial and seems to be a projection of some sort (maybe a shadow of a man trying to understand man). Deep.

2. The Crystal Method — Name of the Game

The first time I watched this video, I thought the protagonist was just overcompensating for his huge, obvious facial flaw. I’m not so sure after thinking about it. I’ve seen enough episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to know that when someone is depicted with no eyes and no mouth, it means they feel powerless. That seems suited for a song that’s “callin’ all freaks.”

3. The Crystal Method — Murder

Another complicated story video: This time a man tries to romance a blow-up sex doll that has a decided The Scream expression on her face. Our main character carries a velvet-lined box that I couldn’t help thinking was an homage to Seven, and early in the video the doll (maybe fearing it will be decapitated?) magically flees the house — leaving behind an empty rocking chair facing a window (which seemed like a Psycho reference to me). Maybe I’m reading way too much into that. But by the end of the video we have the doll dropping a bowling ball on her pursuer’s head, and then she’s back in a shop window looking for another victim. Are they trying to say that fake people are the most dangerous sort? I think so.

Music Monday: Tripping Daisy and Rip Slyme

February 25, 2008

1. Tripping Daisy — I Got A Girl

Here’s an example of a talented early 90s band that never caught on. Maybe if the airwaves hadn’t been crowded with Pearl Jam and Bush, Tripping Daisy would have gotten more credit for their irreverent alt-punk. If nothing else, I’m surprised frontman Tim DeLaughter didn’t get more attention for his looks — in this video, he reminds me a lot of Brad Pitt a la 12 Monkeys.

I remember I Am An Elastic Firecracker (the band’s breakthrough album) got a lot of play on the Canadian radio stations that seeped across the US border, but there was never much in the way of follow-up. Maybe it’s because the band’s sound was only very loosely defined, growing more disparate and experimental toward 1996-1997.

2. Rip Slyme — Super Shooter

I don’t listen to J-pop, but I do watch anime. So when Andrew sent me some of his more eclectic videos by AIM a few weeks ago, I recognized this one immediately as the opener to Gantz. I remember always getting pumped up by the song and then having the show let me down (anybody want some leeks?).

Rap seems to me like a distinctly American institution. Pardon my musical xenophobia here, but I laugh when I hear Mexican or German or — in this case — Japanese rap. It’s just bizarre. It’s like a Kenyan playing polka or an Indian singing reggae. Rip Slyme managed to supersede that strange boundary, though, with Super Shooter. I think it might be the video game sound queues that save them.