Tag Archives: pop music

SXSW 2011

This year I decided to listen to all the SXSW 2011 showcase tracks: all 1154 of them. The torrents are available from the Unofficial SXSW torrents website, a whopping total of 6.5 Gb. The point of this exercise? I consider myself someone who knows music, who is fairly objective and will mark anything as likable, as long it has a combination of good unpredictable music. Good intelligent lyrics is a plus. The end result of this two week endeavor (picking out songs I liked vs. songs I didn’t like) is fairly bad: only 6% or so actually made it to my iPod. There were days that the state of popular music (listen, indie music doesn’t really exist) made me depressing as every song turned to be about the typical themes of love, hate and desperation. There are bands (and artists) who seem to get it, go against the mainstream and produce truly unique songs: the list of 75 songs I marked as good, I will discuss some other day. Without hesitation, 5 songs that surprised me:

  1. ‘Once and for all’ – Clock Opera (youtube): The lead singer is not afraid to use his falsetto voice which is something I so much appreciate, as I’ve been in a similar situation (More about this later). From all the depressing love-hate-kill songs in the SXSW11 set, the lyrics are refreshing and allegedly, based on a popular US play.
  2. ‘Losing sleep’ – Edwyn Collins (Youtube): Sometimes simple is better. Sometimes it’s a cliche. Excellent simple and catchy song.
  3. ‘Lemonade’ – Braids (Youtube live). Montreal-based electro-guitar-pop band with a song that features a surprising outtro.
  4. ‘Havana’ – Lex Land a singer songwriter from LA. I don’t know what to say here but I like the voice and where she’s going, lyrics-wise.
  5. ‘Guttersnipe’ – Bhi Bhiman (mp3) Singer-songwriter, obviously soul, folk with a touch of Sri Lanka and that walking bass.

There are so many more songs, but the one that should have gotten the prize for ‘weirdest’ sound is ‘The Green word’ from The Lava Children. It’s so off-tune or wait, no, it’s modulation or something. I can’t explain what it is but I’m sure it would look interesting on sheet music (for the daring. I’ve warned ya).

Hate My Way

I‘ve beenThrowing Muses a long-time listener of the Throwing Muses music: I was actually a Throwing Muses fan before I started listening Sonic Youth (previously on xsamplex). However, I’m not going to write about the hows or whats: the reason for this entry in my ‘Past The Bridge’ series is that a couple of weeks ago I found out that it was the 25th anniversary of the ‘San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre’ (Wikipedia, personal thoughts of the only reporter at the scene). Obviously, the aftereffects of the massacre (one of the first live covered murder/massacres on TV and radio) had a huge impact on American culture and politics, particularly because of the apparent random killings (the youngest victim was an 8 month baby, the oldest was a 74 year old man).

The Muses’ song “Hate My Way” (30+ excerpt) references that event and (literally) captures the words broadcast by the news organizations (from that earlier mentioned/linked to CNN article):

“I looked down and could see that there was people ducking for cover, and there was a fire truck there with everybody behind it,” she recalled. She saw two boys lying on the ground, tangled in their bicycles after being shot by Huberty, and people hiding behind the low walls of the restaurant’s playground.

The song itself isn’t specifically about the killings but about being a teenager and the insecurities that come when you’re that age: Kristin Hersh at one time explained that the song was written when she was 18 or so, and that at that time ‘like all people that age, she probably took things too serious, or, even, not serious at all’.

Personally, what makes this song so compelling to me is its chorus-less musical narrative: from Dave Narcizo’s signature intricate rythmic section to Hersh’s ‘out of harmony’ singing (obligatory Youtube video, sound out of synch though). This was the Throwing Muses at their best.

Young Ones

I was going to put a long winding post about Cliff Richard (and his excellent backing band, The Shadows), but I decided to keep it to the point: My mother used to be a big fan of the 60’s singer and as a teenager, she had been able to collect all the records and singles, which eventually, ended up being listened to by teenage-me and that one. This is also the 4th anniversary of her death, or rather, funeral, so this is slightly appropriate. Personally, I find that there’s some vindication in the way how things panned out altogether: it’s not that I’m really into this music or that I love this music. That’d be too silly. However, if you think about it, it’s generally better music (or less pretentious) than the noise my other siblings listened to, back in the 70s. I mean, can you say ‘Grease Lightning’? Huh? HUH?

Now, I decided to pick out The Young Ones (If you prefer video: YouTube) because it shows how gifted Cliff Richard’s backing band was. The Shadows, fronted by guitarists, Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch, wrote, produced and co-wrote many of Cliff’s songs. The band eventually went on creating hit-songs of their own (with ‘Apache’ and ‘The Deer Hunter’).

This also reminds me of a theory of one of my sociology teachers in high school in the mid 80s: He opined that fans of Cliff Richard’s music ended up listening to the music of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley fans ended up listening to Prince. I can tell you for a fact that this is not true.

Going Underground

I made it a tradition to bring up VJ day on August 15th, but decided to let it go by and return to it today by including it to a Past The Bridge posting here. The song I had in mind, ‘Going Underground’ from The Jam, (after all) has themes that slightly intersect with nuclear destruction and war.

The usual 30 second sample lifts out the chorus of the song. If you’re interested in videos that describe the mood of those nuclear 80s, the video clip of ‘Going Underground’ can be found on YouTube. You can’t miss the references to nuclear war. Personally (besides awkward TV shows about ‘Russians invading Georgia’ [haha] and others), this song perfectly illustrates that peculiar ‘nuclear war is right around the corner’-feeling of the Eighties.

The Jam (despite their great hits that established them as ‘Angry Young Men’) had an ambiguous political background though (as this fine article at Wikipedia explains) which has dogged the band’s lead vocalist, Paul Weller, for years to come. In 1979, he had announced that the band was going to vote conservative in that year’s General Election, which (as you know) was the year that Thatcher took the oath of office. What followed were years of unrests, strikes, IRA attacks and a couple more millions of unemployed British people. Four years after their announcement, the band expressed their frustration with Britain’s political state in their song ‘Town called Malice’.

Candy

I‘ve mentioned a couple of times that I lived a fairly harmless nightlife, where on Saturday nights, I tried to anonymously enjoy a small club (‘The Swing’) in the center of the city I did not live in before returning back to a club in the city I used to live in. I was introduced to this club by a colleague, who’s brother happened to be a bouncer at that place. This is also the club where I befriended people I would have not dared to talk to if it wasn’t for the thing I didn’t mind the, that is dancing or watching other people dance.

It was one of those nights, where I entered the club expecting to be all alone, and was surprised to find one of my female friends, who was apparently with a date, sitting at the sideline of the dance floor, trying to get a dance out. After a quick greeting, I ran to the DJ’s corner to request a song, ran back and danced with my friend to the tunes of ‘Candy’ (sample in usual 30+ seconds) in our best ‘Iggy’ vs. ‘Kate’ style, half-laughingly making fun of each other. Obviously, we where having fun while her date was not. To add to the absurdness of the situation, we discovered her date had gone at the end of the song. So much for ‘Candy, Baby’.

I mention this event, because during my brief return to The Netherlands in 2006/2007, I happened to run into my friend again, to who I brought up the incident. She remembered the event because of the date she was with (who apparently was a person she didn’t really know but who she had run into and had told her about that club) and the fact that I surprisingly showed up out of nowhere. I told her that I vividly remembered that night, because of the absurd turn of events during that obnoxious song: Generally, I don’t dance with other people’s dates but I wouldn’t walk out either.

And, yes, I generally don’t care about Iggy Pop.

Ready to go

ARepublica couple of weeks ago, I was humming the tune of Republica’s “Ready To Go” (mp3, +30 seconds): earlier I had found an excellent live performance of the song at VH1 Loudly Fashionable (or something like that), which led to a search for the original European version of the song.

Apparently, the band (or rather their record company) released two versions of the song: A US version (which sounds a bit more rock-like and is probably the one everybody is familiar with) and a European one (which sounds a bit more ‘techno-like’). Adding to the confusion, the band also produced two different videos for each continent. Whichever version you fancy, the song became a hit on both continents: in Europe the band got mainly positive reviews and was branded as one of the most promising UK bands. That was until the members decided to disband the band and go their own ways. Saffron, the band’s vocalist, ended up contributing to various other artists’ recordings (The Cure, Junkie XL) and even sang in a London musical called ‘Starlight Express’. In between, there was an incident about a record company releasing an unauthorized ‘Best Of Republica’ CD, which prompted a swift statement from Saffron and her fellow members to their fans not to buy this CD.

What surprises me is that the song is popular with the YouTube crowd: from people who make machinima movies to aspiring musicians who prefer to create ‘unplugged’ versions of any hit-song mankind has ever produced. I’d be the last person in the world to say that this song doesn’t have a catchy chorus.

Sinking Brick

What is more exciting than a rantThe Sinking Brick about rising gas prices and peak oil? Why, a photo of an oil tanker in the Bay, of course!

This week’s attention grabber was Weezer’s video for their new song, ‘Beans and Pork’, which apparently stars prominent YouTube ‘dignitaries’ (MetaFilter). Maybe I’m not really following YouTube, but I only recognized a couple of them. I’m also not really a fan of Weezer’s music. I read that The Barenaked Ladies were the first ones to have used Internet memes in their video production.

The new Indiana Jones (“Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) came out this week: muchly anticipated with good reviews (7.4 on Rotten Tomatoes). This week, the movie made over 120,000 dollars at the box-office. Earlier, the game “Grand Theft Auto 4″ brought in over 500,000 USD in only one week.

So, today, the Phoenix Mars Lander is landing on Mars (ha-ha) and you can (could) follow this at NASA’s Phoenix website (blog). Looking at the mission’s logo, I can’t help thinking that it was inspired by the FireFox logo.

Update (21:08): I guess the Phoenix just (succesfully) landed.

Interstate

I‘m not System 7really a ‘techno-ambient’ music lover: however, as someone trying to enjoy different styles of music during my twenties I ended up listening and buying into several techno-DJs and musicians. During the early 90s, System 7 became the rage: I happened to like their ‘Interstate’ track, and that only because of the first part (30+ second sound bite). There’s not really much to tell about System 7 except for that they’re still around and that their website reminds of the pre-2000-webdesign age. I think I remember that they had this same webpage in 1996 too. I’m not kidding.

Back to the personal bit: There were basically two clubs in my old hometown. One club focused on playing ‘alternative rock music’ and the other one a mix-and-mash of, uh, well, whatever it’s called nowadays, “house and techno”? I only visited the latter on one occasion and I remember the huge video screens playing psychedelic movieclips (sort of like what your current Windows Mediaplayer is playing) and me overlooking the crowdy dancefloor, probably drinking a soda, because it was still too early in the night to drink alcohol. When the tune of “Interstate” started, I remember asking the DJ the specifics of the track, so that I could buy it the next time I was close to a record shop.

This is not the whole story: System 7 also made it to Roskilde ’96 (they were actually so popular that they played at many of the European Pop fests that year), and obviously, I was there too. This is also where I discovered that live performances of Techno-music can be rather uninspiring and, I quickly forgot about this event. Not really, of course: the music of ‘Interstate’ came back to mind when we were driving the Trans-Canada Highway, last week, for no other reason than reminding me of those uneventful couple of nights.

Update 1: ‘Interstate’ can be heard in this podcast @ Most People Are DJs (at the end of the MP3)

Update 2: This just in and official! Europeans get drunk to have sex!

Djed

About ten The band Tortoiseyears ago, I discovered the band Tortoise by accident while looking for new records (or rather CDs) in the (I dare say) legendary Amsterdam music store Boudisque. For the Dutch speaking, the recordstore is prominently and frequently on display on the YouTube channel ‘OndergrondsTV’ (Underground TV), a channel dedicated to “sub-culture in Amsterdam”. Anyway, during that particular visit on that particular day of 1996, ‘Djed’ blared over the soundsystem and since then, it became part of my (then) extensive CD collection.

Before I wade into personal anecdotes: I uploaded a fragment of ‘Djed’ (in you know how many seconds+) for your listening pleasure. The original piece is exactly 20 minutes long and can be described as ‘experimental music': the band’s website and its Wikipedia entry list their music as ‘Post-Rock Instrumental’, which is about correct too. The band itself has gone through several line-ups, but over time, their music has stayed pretty consistent. Let me say it this way: you can either sit through the band’s music or it cringes your toes. I see that someone uploaded a concert of them on Google Video, so, here’s your chance to sit through it, that is, for 30 minutes long. It will probably come to no surprise that their music was quite popular with mixers and DJs, as you can witness in this Djed video/remix (warning: noise ahead).

Yeah, so, one of the reasons to attend Roskilde Fest’96 was this band. To anyone I ran into during the pre-concert days, I proudly mentioned I was going to see this band, which generally was answered with ‘Who are they?’ or ‘What?’. In one case, a British punker thought I had called her a ‘turt-ass’. After explaining I was talking about the turtle-like animal, she quickly corrected my pronunciation (I obviously pronounced Tortoise the French way). The concert itself was held late at night (probably around 9 or 10 PM, on the second day of the Fest) and as expected, there was hardly anyone attending: which was good, because at least it allowed everybody, fans and accidental bystanders, to sit down on the grass and listen to music.

And maybe, that’s why I remember the band these days: after all, there was nothing remarkable about the band’s performance itself, except for that they were playing good music, and most importantly, I guess, it was music you had to sit through.

Moby Octopad

I brought Yo La Tengoup Yo La Tengo a couple of times, skirmishly, I admit (previously on xsamplex). I discovered the band via the ‘regular musical path': As a fan of Sonic Youth I ended up listening to Yo La Tengo. I’m not sure why that is: Yo La Tengo’s music style comes closer to ‘easy listening music': edgy, experimental, yet, predictable and accessible. But fun, yes: the bandmembers are well-known for making fun (“You Can Have It All, Live”) of themselves (“Tom Courtenay”) and their ‘nerdy image’ (“Sugar Cube”). Maybe it’s because they are from New Jersey.

So: Initially, I was thinking of throwing in their song ‘You Can Have It All’ (see link above for live performance) but I decided to go for a sample from YLT’s 1997 album ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One': Moby Octopad (sample 30+second) is the second track on that album. For me, personally, it stands out because of the heavily pronounced bass and drum theme and the (band’s) typical multi-vocal melodic song style. Not brilliant, but definitely different and unique.

Time is Tight

Earlier Booker T and the MGsthis weekend I was reminded of Booker T and the MGs: most people know their ‘Green Onions’ hit-song but aren’t aware of other instrumentals they produced and created, like the catchy ‘Time Is Tight’ (sample 30+ seconds). ‘Time is Tight’ is one of those typical ‘who did this song again?’ songs and that mainly because of the recognizable theme/riff (by lead guitarist Steve Cropper) and the typical (classic?) Hammond organ sound (from the hands of Booker T. Jones).

Initially, Booker T and the MGs started out as backing musicians on the (famous) Stax/Volt records, playing for and with artists like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave (Watch for the band in this Sam & Dave video1). Brilliant musicians, clearly underrated and under-appreciated.

When I was working as a programmer on the Old Continent, a fellow programmer once asked me what I was listening to. When I passed on my MD-player, he listened in to this song and quickly returned the thing with a disgusted face, saying that this was ‘old people music’ because his parents were still listening to this crap. I think that was the first time someone called me an ‘old fart’ at age 28. On the plus side, I wouldn’t doubt that this young programmer eventually became a Stax/Volt connoisseur.

Update: Right in time for this

1 I should probably save Sam&Dave for another ‘Past The Bridge’ posting.

Twiggy vs. James Bond

So, I was Pizzicato Fivebrowsing through my music collection and found myself listening (and afterwards looking for) some Pizzicato Five (or rather ‘Les Pizzicato Five’) songs. You’re probably familiar with that song called Twiggy (30 second sample): you may have seen the absolutely hilarious (and serious apparently) video, or if you’re from a younger generation, you may have heard this song in the remake of ‘Charlie’s Angels’.

I’m not sure how I ran into the Pizzicato 5/P5 (I think early 1998, Alfons bought a P5 sampler with various songs, including the ‘Twiggy’ song and ‘Baby Love Child’). I know the context though: I had just discovered ‘Yo La Tengo’. Their records were released on Matador and it was that very same record company that launched the Pizzicato Five in the US and Europe.

Most of Pizzicato Five’s songs and videos can be found on Daily Motion and YouTube, of course. Daily Motion has a clip of the P5 doing ‘Baby Love Child’ acoustically while claiming that “This is the only song we can play”. Hilarious or brilliant, you pick.

So what is it that I like about the P5? Most songs sound heavily ‘programmed and sequenced’ and remind me a lot of the tunes created for older Japanese games: those cartridges that came with cassette tapes with the game’s music but then performed by hundreds of Yamaha FM synthesizers. Not to mention that mix of Japanese and broken English lyrics (take for example ‘Darlin of Discotheque’). Fun and absurd: Only in Japan.

1 P5 lyrics and translation (excellent translations actually)

Sol

Today, I received my Solaris kit. The good news is that it arrived here ‘unharmed’. The bad news is that it didn’t come with a sticker. What, you mean, Sun can’t afford sending stickers? And no, Solaris 10 does not run in VirtualBox.

I mentioned the ‘Imcooked’-site in an earlier entry but I ran into another couple of sites I’ve been watching with much curiosity: I tend to ignore sites where links hit the main page because they get the popular vote (sites like Digg). Another one of them is ‘Buzzfeed’ (“The web is a 24/7 popularity contest”), which purports to be the site that tracks down the most favourite topics discussed on the ‘Internets’. Right. The other one is probably more interesting for people who love independent or alternative rock music: The Hypemachine. The site tracks blogs that discuss music and provides an interface for MP3s found on those blogs. Yes, you read that right. In most cases, this means (if you look for the Pixies, for example) full-blown listening pleasure (Gentlemen/women, grab your Audacity [and earlier]!). I was in heaven too the other day, when I found a much-loved (and missed) musical piece by Yo La Tengo called ‘Moby Octopad’ (The CD should still lay around somewhere). Thanks-a-bunch.