Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Foster Child

The Kids Behind the Kicks

A band that I consider to be undeniably on the rise is one of Los Angeles’ best kept secrets, Foster the People. These up-and-coming hipsters have already made it onto NME’s list of Best New Bands in 2010, and I predict the real head-turning splash will happen in the new year. The best part about them? We’ve only had a taste – most fans know next to nothing about this mysterious indie closed-society. Still riding the wave of their only released song “Pumped Up Kicks”, these Peter Bjorn and John sound-a-likes need to get something else brewing, and soon.

The addictive “Pumped up Kicks” is a creative use of four minutes that invites listeners like new friends to ride their relaxed musical wave. A kick-drum beat and catchy bass line are the thread through this indie-cool ditty, providing the tempo for a good head-bob. The laid-back intercom vocals are both sexy and slack - creating the zoned-out sound that the idle youth latch on to nowadays. You’re guaranteed to keep listening after the first chorus, which features echoey 60s-remiscent harmonies and a happy-go-lucky Venice Beach vibe. A Peter Frampton talk-box effect paired with a clap-along make up the delightful hook of the song - how can anyone not like that? And just when you think the musical treats have ceased – they break it down and whistle the tune. Another P, B and J resemblance – and something that always makes me (a big fan of the whistle) happy with any track.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I sense a flashback coming on...

This weekend, 15 high school best friends gathered in Ottawa for what was probably the first reunion we have all been able to attend in five years. It was two chaotic days of countless laughs, stories and beverages - all set to the soundtrack of some musical throwbacks that sent everyone into hysterics.

Most were, of course, the prophane and inappropriate hip-hop we listened to on the way to sporting events, parties, drives downtown and dances. It's nothing as painful as what's on the airwaves today, but the appreciation we had for Ludacris, Mase and G-Unit need not be mentioned any further than this. *Note: our Grade 12 dances were cancelled....enough said.

But, amidst the hilarity of party mixes and practically unreadable burnt CD's, I spent a lot of time reminiscing about the other songs that shaped our/my adolescence. Some that stood out were:

1. Jukebox Hero - Foreigner: This song had an effect on us. A party could be at full volume, but the playing of this song would send a hush over the crowd and put a sneaky smile on everyone's faces while we waited for the beat to build up.

2. You Only Live Once - The Strokes - This song walked me to school almost every day for my final year of high school. It always managed to make the sun come out.

3. I Miss You - The Rolling Stones (Dr.Dre remix) - Something we would have played while drinking cheap beer and strangely mixed drinks at the "table" - a magical place also used for dining and homework in most homes.

4. Speeding Cars - Imogen Heap - A heartwarming, coming-of-age song that brought us girls into plenty of group-hugs nearing the time of graduation.

5. Eyes - Rogue Wave - Still one of my favourite acoustic ballads to this day. I always wished it were just a few minutes longer. 'I can handle a lot, but one thing I miss is in your eyes.'

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


British. Very good-looking. Talented. The recipe for something great, if you ask me! I'm loving Fyfe Dangerfield right now, and he's all of these things and more. Classic, clean-cut and confident, Dangerfield's solo album Fly Yellow Moon is a scrumptious collection of stylish, instrumentally diverse, mod-pop sounds. Formerly the lead singer of indie-rock band Guillemots, this unshaven, suited-up Brit is bound to make a splash as the next Robbie Williams or Rufus Wainwright solo sensation with his Beatles-esque melodies. His vocals are on-target and smooth, resembling those of Travis' lead singer Fran Healy or Damien Rice, and his lyrics are charming and relateable. Remember though, don't be fooled by his boyish charm - these love tunes pack a vim and vigour punch that will raise you from your seat.

Take the downtown disco beat in "She Needs Me": A full-bodied, toe-tapping tune with sassy lyrics, a pumping string arrangement and Billy Joel piano. When Dangerfield shrieks 'This is where I want to be,' you are where you want to be also, naturally.

For an optimistic love song, listen to" Barricades". This one pulls on the heartstrings, and Dangerfield seems to have cracked the code as to what every cynical twenty-something-year-old woman wants to have said to her. The song means...well, exactly what he is saying in it. It's about being made with someone, and his simplistic, sweet statements hit the nail on the head.  'When love is a crippled dream, when love is a crippled dream/ That's where you'll find me, saying I'm not afraid/ And when love is a barricade, when love is a barricade/ That's where I'll find you/ Saying we're already made/ I, I want to be near you all day.'

Give Fyfe a listen, he's pretty infectious.

Dangerfield...Fyfe Dangerfield.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Boys Are Back In Town

It's like Christmas Eve, really.

Tomorrow is the (official) North American release of Kings of Leon's fifth studio album, Come Around Sundown. And let me tell you, the Kings are one step closer to rock royalty. I spent the last month or so doing the (shameful and) obvious, searching for early leaks of the new stuff - stopping to snack on tid-bits and appetizers of whatever I could find. After hanging up my music website vulture shoes, I finally got ahold of the whole leak about a week and a half ago, and an interesting week and a half it's been.

Now, I'm really not sure where to begin. I suppose Sundown is a natural progression in the Kings timeline. The Followill boys, all raised under a strict Southern Baptist roof (and equally as strict "no rock n' roll" reign) sneak out and form a rock band. In a nutshell, it was the beginning of a musical journey filled with defying Daddy's word and mixing nightly drinks of sin and deliverance from a suffocating upbringing. The music is dirty, real and everything about it scorches like the Tennessee South that the Followill boys call home. Several albums proceed to be churned out - and it's real rock and roll. The songs are raunchy and raw, featuring growling guitars and the shrieking rasp of Caleb Followill (the best rock vocalist of our generation). Each song on the early albums is like a drunken party in a pick-up truck, but naturally, every second or third song is the heavy hangover where the confessions pour and the audience listens in silence to the fascinating complications of the Followill mind.

Slowly, the albums lighten up. That could have been the "man" calling for a prettier sound, or it could just be the evolution of a band whose stories and personalities are ever-changing. I'm going to side with the latter - because music should be about evolution, and if anything, I am more intrigued every time I analyze the songwriting behind the newest Kings material. Come Around Sundown has already been pegged as "typical" and "corporate-driven," and personal bias about the band's worth aside - I can say with confidence that that is not the truth. It's a progression in a diverse and blossoming discography, it's the same (slightly more primped) dirty South rockers shouting their story at us in a new way. Take Only By The Night, the last studio release from Kings. It featured "Cold Desert", a heartwrenchingly beautiful but disturbing tell-all about rejection and the search for salvation ('Jesus don't love me, no one ever carried my load, I'm too young to feel this old'). Their albums tend to always feature a little something alluding to the fact that they're not quite there yet, and we're only a few chapters into this ongoing must-read musical autobiography.

This time around, I hear some real genius again. The starting track was a fantastic choice. "The End" is telling and desolate - a distant testimony of longing told overtop sonic guitars and Followill's effortless croons. The title of this song opens the window for a lot of music-review mockery (clearly from those I disagree with), but the lyrics are undeniably an insight into the reason the song was put at the forefront ('Cause I ain't got a home, I'm out here all alone'). "Back Down South" is a sleepy Southern beauty that's addictive in its simplistic chords and mellow vocals - a guaranteed like for anyone who has ever listened to music. It's perfectly redundant, timeless and will without a doubt be dusted off by future generations.

But in my mind, the real underdog pullin' in for the wind is "Mary." I can't get enough of the song. Slap the handlebar moustaches and biker leather back on the four of them, because this is the classic Kings sound we know and love. Warning: there's a lot happening and it comes across as fast and busy, but it's really just a slow-dancing ballad caked in bluesy-rock goodness. It's the doo-wop lyrics, the choral harmonies, the pounding beat, and the break-it-down guitar riff that makes you want to pounce on your bed in your underwear and do air guitar like you were eight years-old (or 21 in my case - I just did that a few minutes ago). It's soulful and swaying, it's a love song, it's an anthem - and between the four opening bass chords and Caleb whining the "Ha ha ha ha ha ha's" throughout, I'm not letting up on Sundown just yet.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Queen of Leon

KOL before the primping
I'm too infatuated with the new Kings of Leon release, Come Around Sundown, to put into words just yet. Wait until I fully ingest the album (I'd say by the end of the weekend should do it), and I will be in a psychotic writer's frenzy about their new tracks. Similar to my Springsteen obsession, my love for Kings puts me in a sort of music nirvana. I am NOT one of the Kings fans who discovered them when "Fans" and "Use Somebody" came out...I have had a loyal and unhealthy obsession since Youth and Young Manhood, and the days of them being drunken, dishevelled and unstyled rebels. Well, they're still drunken, but you get the point. In the mean time, I'm still in listening heaven - but will be ready to gush very, very soon.

Off Sundown, find a way to hear "The Face", "Mary" and "Back Down South" by Kings of Leon and you'll be as hooked as I am. It's a newer Kings sound with that nostalgic old twist.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Translating the Soundtrack

Sifting through our shelves of movies last night, everything (as always) seemed like it had already been watched 12 times in the last month. Just when I was going to suggest we play rock-paper-scissors for the duration of the night, an old goody was suggested that my friend had never seen. A great idea, as I couldn't remember the last time I had thrown on Sofia Coppola's critically-acclaimed Lost in Translation (2003).

I've seen the movie dozens of times (I even, for some reason, had a poster in my room at one point), so I wasn't necessarily fascinated by the plot line to the point of needing to contemplate every detail. I finished contemplating this movie about four years ago when I first fell in love with it - deciding that it was a wise storyline consisting of so much nothing that it ends up meaning a lot of something. The concept of the film, which is set in Japan and stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, lies exactly in the title of it. It's about being lost, at any age, and searching for some type of meaning - only to find bits and pieces of it in a truly unexpected place. Anyway, in not needing to pay attention to the entire dialogue, I found myself remembering how breathtaking and practically flawless the soundtrack is.

Assembled by Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine (who contribute their song "Sometimes" to a scene where Murray and Johansson cab through Tokyo at night - a perfect script/music match), the soundtrack is so eclectic and different in it's composition. Featuring everything from Phoenix (my first ever listening experience with one of my now-favourite groups) to Sebastien Tellier to Air, each song is a painting of a person looking for their place. The instrumental pieces range from dark and haunting ("Fantino" by Tellier) to airy and transcending ("Ikebana" by Shields). Even the characters' on-screen musical moments are thought-provoking, like Murray's karaoke-singing of Roxy Music's "More Than This" ("You know there's nothing more than this") - a hefty spoonfeeding of thematic indication from Coppola and Shields, if I do say so myself.

But possibly the best moment - causing this to easily be (actually) one of my favourite songs of all-time - is the ending. Untwist your panties, I'm not going to spoil it. It's as simple as the romantic opening beat and chords of "Just Like Honey" by the Jesus and Mary Chain kicking in during the final exchange between Murray and Johansson. A truly memorable moment in film, and as often is the case, I think we can safely say it has to do with what captures our attention from the background.

Watch it! You'll either love it forever or decide you don't know what happened to two hours of your life (I've heard both verdicts but side with the former, obviously).

The old poster!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gems from the Stomping Ground

One of my favourite things to do when I get home is raid my old computer/music library and find some of the classics I've forgotten about. It always feels good to discover or rediscover something. Rediscovering is probably the more likely theme in this day and age of constant modernization - it's going to become difficult to remember everything we once cared about when we get bombarded with the newer and flashier version of it.

Needless to say, I found some diamonds in the rough. The rough, of course, being my ancient and hardly functional computer that I wanted to pitch against a wall the entire time I was attempting to use it. I really can't emphasize how impossible it was to navigate this thing. Anyway, off-topic - here are some of the little treats I came upon:

  • Heart of Life - John Mayer: This song never gets old for me, and I really needed to find it this weekend. I needed that pick-me-up, that hopeful ditty, that inspiration - and I found it in this song. The lyrics really do pick you up off the ground, if you need it.
  • Bootleg - Creedence Clearwater Revival:  John Fogerty. Rock n' roll. No further explanation needed.
  • Best Friends - The Perishers: This song is important for you to hear if you haven't already. It's about that level of love and comradery that you get to with a person when you're really, really in love. The smoky-voiced Swedish frontman Ola Klüft portrays the reminiscent and heartbreaking as he repeats "Let's do it all again."
  • Trouble - Coldplay (A String Quartet Tribute) - There have actually been two string quartet album tributes to Coldplay, both worth listening to. Some don't overly translate into strings, but this one I find to be striking.
  • America - Simon and Garfunkel - A tinkering storybook track from the iconic pair.
  • Dakota - Sterephonics - I think most people can relate to this song. I appreciate and love most music by these guys - his voice is so unique and you can always taste the romantic angst.
  • Drive - The Cars - One of the reasons I really love 80s music.
  • Come Close to Me - Common featuring Mary J. Blige - This song makes children. Whether you want to or not, when this song comes on, a child is immediately 9 months away from popping into the picture.
  • Hear Me Out - Frou Frou- Aside from her smash-hit solo career, quirky Brit Imogen Heap is one half of Frou Frou - a duo quite good at making addictive little love songs like this.
  • Richest Man in Babylon - Thievery Corporation - Thievery Corporation is always good for their trendy, cool grooves. This one in particular used to be a big favourite for me, and it's good for a dinner or cocktail party if you're looking to have an edgy but relaxed soundtrack.

What was I thankful for this year?

...These songs!

I can definitely say that my long weekend home was a great success. It was everything I love about the holiday - sunny, leafy, relaxed, busy, filled with laughs and filled with love. The drive home was different, seeing as I took the bus in the daytime, but my Thanksgiving playlist still managed to perfectly compliment the autumn backdrop. The trees were full of life, that's for sure. I was treated to layers upon layers of harvest colours and a crisp blue, cloudless sky...doesn't get much better than that. Here's what I kicked my feet up to during this year's drive:

1. I Taught Myself How to Grow - Ryan Adams: Off of Adams' nearly perfect 2007 album Easy Tiger, the closing song is undeniably timeless. It represents the type of profound sound and meaning that makes him arguably one of the best North-American songwriters of my generation (if not the best). This sleepy country song is proof - not only are his lyrics poetic and relateable ("I taught myself how to grow without any love and there was poison in the rain") but his slow use of cowboy instruments make each note hit home. The harmonica in this song really does stop time, weighing heavy on any listener.

I Taught Myself How to Grow - Ryan Adams

Harriet Wheeler looking coy
2. Wild Horses - The Sundays: This cover re-appeared into my life only recently, but let it be known that this version and I have had a love affair for almost a decade. I, like most other kids, was introduced to The Stones at an early age - and always had an affinity for "Wild Horses", one of the slower tracks from 1971's Sticky Fingers. It's been covered a silly amount of times, most of the time really not doing anything for me. But, when I was about 13 years-old, I stumbled upon The Sundays' cover and was naturally intrigued that an English female-fronted 80s band would cover it (I figured it would be sappy and pathetic - it wasn't). Lead singer Harriet Wheeler has a rich, sweet voice that can do just about anything. She took the song up several octaves to a U2-esque, vocally impressive place. The original couldn't and shouldn't be replicated, so I love that she stripped it down to it's very basics, making the new focus her milky smooth pipes. Wild Horses - The Sundays

3. Homesick - The Vines:  Ah, the Vines. Remember them? A bunch of tipsy, messy Aussies throwing their guitars around stage like hooligans? That they were - but they also had some great moments during the reintroduction of punk-garage-rock in the early millenium. I can't really say I know what these guys are talking about in this song (aside from being Homesick, duh)...but damn, is it ever pretty. Their British-invasion sounding harmonies are a selling-point in this atmospheric ballad. The droning guitar and music-box piano that closes the song shows why they were one of the bands attributed to the 1960s rock-revival that happened around the time of this album. Listen for the gorgeous guitar and Thunderclap Newman similarities in the song's final moments - they really pull off the vintage sound.

Homesick - The Vines

4.  All to All - Broken Social Scene: Where do I begin? This song is precious. It was performed this summer at the Toronto Island Music Festival, and I suddenly heard it in a different way than I had when I first picked up Forgiveness Rock Record - the latest from one of Canada's most extroardinary rock collectives. This ambient track is uplifting but mysterious, and lead by the fresh and dreamy vocal abilities of the newest addition to the already-stacked BSS gang, Lisa Lobsinger. When I saw it live, the sun was setting, Lobsinger was practically motionless at the front and centre of the stage, and the crowd was still as the warm breeze carried her voice over our heads. All to All - Broken Social Scene

* All to All (Toronto Island Music Festival performance)

The Kid himself
5. The Prayer - Kid Cudi:  I came into the Kid Cudi scene a little later than most for some reason. Oh, that's right, I know why - because "Day n' Nite" was my first experience with him. After hearing that song I wasn't exactly turned on to the idea of an entire album of his music - sue me. But, that being said, I retract my initial hesitation about him, because Cudi is catchy. And, Cudi is, in fact, different. So different that I can't figure him out. Sometimes he is just another mindless, play-dumb rapper that unfortunately occupies the mainstream airwaves nowadays. However, I hear shades of insighftfulness and depth in some of his tracks. Not only in his choice of infectious background melodies, but also in his rhymes. Exhibit A: "Tell me what you know about the night terrors - nothing." What do YOU know about the night terrors Kid Cudi? Tell us, now we're intrigued. It seems like he has a little something to say and I feel that's the case in this song, which geniously samples the song the "The Funeral" by some of my main men, Band of Horses. He once again touches on the themes of life and death, making us wonder if Cudi has more demons than the rest of his more "typical" comparisons. The Prayer - Kid Cudi

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chan, Sing One For Me.

So, I was walking home in the rain (understatement - terrential downpour) late last night and my iPod was on it's last battery legs. Before it conked out on me (making it such an unfortunate, soaking final 10 minutes) an old Cat Power tune came on. Off her unbelievable record of 2006, the track "Love and Communication" was a real, gritty stand-out. Mind you, the entire record was unbelievable - a compilation of songs representing Chan Marshall's darkest period before breaking down due to paralyzing anxiety and alcohol abuse. "Love and Communication" is just real rock n'roll - served straight up with no twist. Marshall's sultry rasp tangos with the big electric guitars and thumping beat in the sexiest way, and walking home last night I might as well have been strolling into a smokey bar in the deep south with a real chip on my shoulder. Check it out: Love and Communication - Cat Power

And on another note, if you want to get into an artist you're almost guaranteed to enjoy, check out the rest of Cat Power's stuff. She is hands-down in my top five favourite artist list. She's weak, strong, heavy, light...anything you could imagine. And all as the result of her rollercoaster emotional existence. The woman is, essentially, a musical genius. But the funny thing is, people have to convince her that, she feels "undeserving" of her fame and success. Her comeback album (post-hiatus) was one of the most fascinating moments in musical history. She released Jukebox in 2008 - her eighth studio album and second collection of cover songs (she released The Covers Record in 2000). On Jukebox, you can hear, smell and taste her revival in the eclectic, seriously re-crafted covers of her favourite rock n' roll, country and soul classics. She also adds a few of her own originals: "Song to Bobby", about her longtime devotion to Bob Dylan, and a powerful piano-driven re-creation of a song written in her darker days, "Metal Heart". She put her complete 360 degree spin on each cover, making them into new entities - meaningful and personal tales of resurfacing with faith. She and the Dirty Delta Blues cover The Highwaymen, James Brown, Hank Williams, and most amazingly - Bob Dylan. She takes Dylan's twangy (and in my mind, not memorable) acoustic "I Believe In You" and unravels it from a Christian-country ditty to an electric, sharp-edged anthem about believing in herself. Listen to the electric guitar soar overtop the drum kit. Simple, and impossible to forget.
Listen to it, it will honestly change your life!

....Girl power.

Want to know more about Cat Power? Elizabeth Goodman will tell you her tales in A Good Woman.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Someday, Somehow...

I will be an art collector. Similar to having your own taste in music, appreciating and choosing visual art is another way of sculpting style and persona in yourself or your home. Unfortunately, my young adult life isn't exactly a lucrative one and I find myself with other expenses to worry about - causing me to not necessarily be in a place to afford any sort of non-canvas, non-print or non-"ripped from a magazine" decorations. But, that doesn't mean I can't peruse artists' websites online in the hope of someday actually being able to properly accent a home and maybe even call myself an art buyer. One artist who I really love and feel is a glimpse into "me" and what I find endearing in a piece of art is Debra Hurd.

I have a thing for big cities, metropolises, skylines, etc. - and Hurd seems to be all about the same sort of thing. I love the vibe, the colours, the anonymity, the music, the uniqueness, and (most of all) the stories that come with a downtown street. Hurd uses thick, bright colours to paint rainy streetscapes, neon-lit buildings, bustling traffic and romantic people in her art - and it's completely eye-catching. She used to be a jazz musician, which might be part of the appeal as well, and therefore also paints beautiful abstract profiles of jazz, funk and soul artists gone past. Her perception of these greats brings them to life again.

Here is probably my favourite piece of hers:

New York City by Debra Hurd

Some of the songs I would listen to while looking at this would be "I'm in the Mood For Love" by the great Louis Armstrong or "Body and Soul" by the silky-voiced Billie Holiday. Nothing like a little jazz on a rainy day.

For more on Debra, see her website.

The Fall 2010 Soundtrack

It's been an interesting fall so far. Actually that's not exactly the word for it - let's say it's been a difficult fall season so far. Either way, I'll talk about the silver lining and how I came to find it. I guess you could say that the silver lining is obvious and has to do with transition and change - all things pass, all things get better, and all you can do to keep yourself afloat is purge your life of the toxic and move forward with the beauty. Because it does exist, sometimes you just need some sleepless nights and a few walks around the block to see it.

Needless to say, I've been doing a lot of purging pretty recently of the non-post-meal kind. I'm afloat enough to see that new and wonderful things are on the horizon. And, if it doesn't kill you... it will most likely come quite close to it, but in the end, you'll probably still be alive. And I am! So let's toast to that.

Here are some of those soundtrack songs, those walking songs, that have kept my head above water so far this fall:

1. Changes - Stars: Not-so-coincidentally, a song that follows the theme of today. Off of Stars' latest release, Five Ghosts (which is really wonderful), this song is lead by one of my favourite female singers, Amy Millan, and her sweet, schoolgirl vocals. It takes you through an innocent, romantic journey of someone stuck in that ambivalent phase that comes right at the beginning of one big change. Puncuated by a playful piano and sweet-sounding violin, it's all about beingy caught off guard by transition - but giddy about what it holds. If anything though, the truth shines between the lines of this song - and that is that change is certainly tiring. Changes - Stars

2. Love Lost - The Temper Trap: LOVE this band. I was only recently turned onto them, and I really do love them. This group of pop-rock Aussies are extremely versatile in their sound - with their music being definable as theirs but unique in each track. This song is a great example of that - an atmospheric, soulful taste of rock that's lead effortlessly by singer Dougy Mandagi's rich and trained vocal range. The pitch and vibrado on his voice are like a smooth glass of wine, and the power he has over the grandiose instruments in this song is impressive. Play this song while you're in a downtown area - you'll see how the shoe fits. Who doesn't like a song that starts with a clap-beat.

3. Dancing in the Dark - Mat Kearney - An instant classic in my mind. Now, most who know me and my deep-rooted obsession with Mr. Springsteen (and his brood of E Street boys) are going to think I naturally love this song because it's a cover of the boss' 1984 up-tempo hit. This is partly true. In all honesty, nothing can ever top the original music video with Bruce bopping around stage on his heels in his tight leather pants and unbuttoned dress shirt. I probably should have been watching the Little Mermaid like all other respectable toddlers instead of wearing out my VHS version of Springsteen: The Complete Video Anthology at age four.  Mat's acoustic cover was the result of an iTunes Live Session that spun a number of other great Kearney slow-down's - but I think this clever cover takes the cake. The slow tempo and gentle guitar are accented with a little piano at the perfect moments throughout the song. His voice isn't overbearing, making for a complete breakdown of the 80s synth-version that is both beautiful and quiet. Probably my favourite aspect of this tune is that it allows for anyone who hasn't countlessly googled the lyrics (I figure that's only me...) to really hear the ingenious in Springsteen's words. Dancing in the Dark - Mat Kearney

 More to come!