Friday, November 6, 2009


In preparing to write a review of Tegan and Sara's new album Sainthood, I figured I would take quick listen to their last album The Con, for comparasin.

I do this because when I found out that the follow-up to The Con would be released, I had to tell myself "there is no way it will come close to The Con, and no reason to expect it will."

For a while, I had been planning to write a post on how my favorite albums are, to this day, albums I first heard in my teenage years. I wondered if this had something to do with my impressionability at a young age OR the drop off in quality of music in general since, say, 1994. I think it could be a bit of both. Having said that, I have heard some great albums in the last sixteen years, but I wouldn't place any of them in my top ten. Some are fleeting (Pretty Girls Make Graves "The New Romance" comes to mind) or some I feel have not been in my system long enough to be counted among the best, despite my absolute emotional indulgence in them (The Thermals "The Body, The Blood, The Machine").

If coerced I would probably at this point name Tegan and Sara's 2007 album The Con as being in my top ten, if not top five. While I think Pink Floyd's Animals and Nirvana's In Utero are almost certainly to forever remain in that upper crust of my musical psyche (impressionability) and Fugazi's Repeater and Sleater Kinney's The Hot Rock (they don't make them like they used to) are ingrained as musical quality standards in my world, I must leave open the possibility that better things are yet to come, and here come Tegan and Sara.

Believe it or not, I distinctly remember the night I bought The Con. I remember putting it in my wife's car stereo, and during our errand running of that evening, hearing just enough of the album to remark "Hey, this is pretty good, isn't it?"

So, having seen them live (with Eileen, John, Jesse, Jae, and Liz, and it was awesome), and loved all of their albums to this point, I was very excited when I found these contemporaries of mine had made a new album.

So comes the actual payoff of this post, a review of Sainthood. I can already tell, as I sit here listening to The Con, that I will be comparing that album to this one.

In the first track "Arrow," the vocal melody puts its arms around me in a way that piques my interest and sets my hopes very high for the rest of the album. For the next few tracks I am not disappointed.

I sense a dancy groove right off on the second track, and I have no problem with that. It is cool. The third track "Hell" is the single I heard weeks ago anticipating the new album. It has a key change in the chorus, yet flows quite well overall. So far so good.

The next track "On Directing" is the high point of the album, though only lyrically and emotionally. It seems to be anti-climactic musically. When you expect it to break out, it ends.

The rest of the album is incidental to me, except for "The Cure," with its flowing melody, "Alligator," a Madonna circa 1985 rip-off, and "Someday," a cool rally song who's message I undoubtedly would argue despite its snaking, enticing melody.

Were these young Canadian twin sisters trying to follow up their masterpiece The Con with Sainthood in the way Brain Wilson tried (in vain) to follow up Pet Sounds with Smile? I sure as hell hope not. (The Con is not comparable with Pet Sounds, so don't even go there.)

Please keep trying, Tegan and Sara, to make the best music since The Con, because you were in the ballpark with Sainthood.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's all rock and roll to me

With a little research (ok, not much, really) I came up with my top ten list of best rock and roll quotes. Drum roll, please...

10. A girl can't sing rock & roll too well. It's basically too savage. - Connie Francis
(I happen to agree with this; others may refute it, which is why it's at number ten.)

9. I sit and I write automatically. I don’t really try to write. My subconscious mind takes over and writes the songs for me. Songs come very easily for me. When I’m inspired, it takes me 20 minutes to write a song. - Brian Wilson

8. Rock and roll is commitment. Rock and roll is passion and spirit. - Mick Fleetwood

7. It used to be called boogie-woogie, it used to be called blues, used to be called rhythm and blues…It's called rock now. - Chuck Berry

6. We never said it was a utopia. Rock & roll is played on enemy ground. - Mick Jones

5. I always felt rock and roll was very, very wholesome music. - Aretha Franklin.
(that one just makes me giggle.)

4. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first—rock and roll or Christianity. - John Lennon

3. Music has to breathe and sweat. You have to play it live. - James Brown.

2. Videos destroyed the vitality of rock and roll. Before that, music said, "Listen to me." Now it says, "Look at me." - Billy Joel.
(who knew he had anything good to say?)

1. I like rock and roll, and I don't like much else. - John Lennon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Vinyl vs. Cd's

I was asked by Shawn months and months ago to become a part of this blog and though I've been a "contributor" since about April, this is my first post. So here goes.

As a kid, we had vinyl records. I remember very vividly my father buying me my first record: Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth. I was five or six years old. The record is now proudly affixed to the wall in my bedroom, encased in glass. (Yes, I'm that sentimental about songs like "We Could Be Together" and "Lost In Your Eyes.")

Twenty-something years later, I still collect vinyl, though I think my taste has improved somewhat since 1989. My basement is ridiculously full of records, meticulously arranged in alphabetical order, and in my bedroom next to my beltless drive turntable, I keep all my favorites like Beatles 65, The Minders' Cul-de sacs and Dead Ends, and several Guided By Voices records.

As a teenager, I began buying cd's at Compact Disc World. I limited myself to buying one cd per week, as I had an allowance, and my collection slowly grew. I sort of forgot about records for a few years until my dad let us listen to his band's, Tramp, 45 from 1969, a kind of post-punk teenage angst sort of thing. And I was amazed at the quality of sound, not having heard such a thing in years.

Now the real question is WHY is vinyl so much more amazing than anything else? Well, there IS a simple scientific explanation for this: a cd's analog is digitzed. A digital recording doesn't contain all the sound information a vinyl record does. This causes vinyl to sound much better.

Aside from the scientific reasoning behind this, I think vinyl just reminds us of simpler times. I didn't have bills, car payments, or a mortgage to pay when I first received Electric Youth or listened to Thriller or Hall and Oates' Rich Girl (which was and still is a pretty damn good album.) I played outside until dark, considered skinned knees battle scars, and rode shotgun in my brothers' General Lee.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Playlist

Why haven't we been posting lately? Because it's nice outside!

If you're trying to get your recommended 30 minute cardio workout three times a week, use this playlist:

1. Digital Love - Daft Punk. A good warmup at a moderate tempo.
2. Police On My Back - The Clash. Pick up the pace with this punk classic. Imagine the cops are chasing you.
3. Black Panther - Crystal Castles. Now you're moving! The fastest song on Crystal Castles' debut album.
4. I Am A Poseur - X-Ray Spex. Do you feel like a dope in your bicycle shorts? This song will help. "I am a poseur and I don't care, I like to make people stare!"
5. DVNO - Justice. This is your midpoint cool down. A little slower, but still full of energy. Clap your hands a little.
6. Postcards - An Horse. They used it in a Mercedes commercial, because it kicks ass.
7. Konichiwa Bitches - Robyn. A good confidence booster at about the 2/3 mark.
8. Hop A Plane - Tegan and Sara. A quick bouncer to keep you going.
9. One More Time - Daft Punk. Another Daft Punk number. Most of their stuff is the perfect tempo so if you don't like this song, sub in Around The World or Human After All.
10. I'm On A Boat - The Lonely Island feat T-Pain. For me, this is the victory lap theme song. Of course its a joke, but it is the perfect tempo for a cool down jog and the lyrics are uplifting and inspirational.

The list above clocks in at 31.1 minutes. Play it twice if you prefer a one hour workout.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


First I'm going to capitalize on the alley-oop from Bryan regarding the Beach Boys (see previous post). Then I'm going to provide some quick reviews on some (mostly) cool music I've heard in the last few weeks.

As Bryan mentioned, I "grew up listening to the Beach Boys." As a matter of fact, my mother claims she was heavily into the group while pregnant with me (if Eileen and I ever have a child, I plan to have a small speaker implanted in her uterus playing "Pet Sounds" on a constant loop for nine months). I did not, however, get into the band's more "serious" stuff until I was in high school. Years before a middle school teacher had told me that "Pet Sounds" required a certain degree of maturity on the listener's part to really be appreciated. At the time I didn't know what that meant, but as soon as I heard the album, I understood his sentiment. On first listen, the album seems very obtuse. But after a few spins, it grew on me and I recognized its greatness.

I'll stay away from asserting why the Beach Boys are clearly better than the Beatles, but I will say that the Beach Boys' entire body of work is greatly under appreciated by the music world at large.

Lastly I must agree with Bryan's point that the Beach Boys' music will make the listener happier, so give it a try!

And now some random record reviews:

Lily Allen - "It's Not Me, it's You" - I thoroughly enjoyed Allen's first album for it's blending of musical styles and upbeat mood. On her second album, the strength lies less in the music and more in the lyrics. This is very interesting from an artist who's debut was lauded for its eclectic mix of ska, hip-hop, pop, and jazz. The lyrics on "It's Not Me, it's You" are somewhat autobiographical but loaded with cultural commentary. Allen sings about fame, sex, religion, drugs etc with a lyrical skill that belies her age. However as I mentioned there is quite a heavy trade-off in terms of the music. Here, it is mostly straight-up pop. This is fine, and in a way it makes the complex lyrics even more interesting against the simpler music, but it took some getting used to at first.

She & Him - "Volume One" - I confess, I took the bait when I heard Zooey Deschanel had made an album. Why not? She is cute a button and the album got universally good reviews. Well, I have listened to the album quite a few times, and I feel it got an almost-free pass from the critics. First, the strong points. Deschanel has quite a decent singing voice and is more than capable as a songwriter. The music by M. Ward is simple yet warm and makes the album a pleasant listen. The problem is the album lulls itself to sleep after the first three tracks. The opening track "Sentimental Heart" is incredible. It is sad and beautiful, but it makes me think about Feist. As a matter of fact it makes me want to listen to Feist. As a matter of fact it made me quickly realize that Feist did this song first with the vastly superior "How My Heart Behaves." It is still a great song though. The second half of the album, unfortunately, is very weak. It contains three cover songs, including "You Really Got a Hold On Me." Did the world need another version of this song? The Beatles "I Should Have Known Better," sung by Deschanel in a low vocal register is a massive miss. It just comes off as boring. Lastly there is another needless cover of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." I can't bash a band too much for doing covers, especially considering this an admirable effort from an actor/musician and is essentially a glorified collection of her demo tapes. I wish that they had just made an ep of the first three tracks with some other strong pieces and none of the filler.

She, of She & Him

Beastie Boys - "Paul's Boutique, 20th Anniversary Edition" - "Paul's Boutique" is the "Pet Sounds" of hip-hop. You can apply everything Bryan and I said about "Pet Sounds" to this album (including that it will one day play inside my wife's uterus). Since most people know the album, I want to focus more on this remastered edition, and how it was extremely necessary. Two of my favorite albums are recorded at such low volumes that even when maxing out the volume and e.q. the listening experience is lacking. These albums are Fugazi's "Repeater" and this Beastie Boys album. While a remaster of "Repeater" is nowhere in sight, this new version of "Paul's Boutique" is what I always wished it would sound like. The beats are louder, but not in a "hope I don't blow out my speakers" kind of way. The vocals are crisper, the samples and sound effects clearer, and each track individually now stands apart from the others more than ever. The high point for me is "Looking Down The Barrel Of a Gun," which now truly has the fierce aggression that so many phony "rap-metal" bands have tried and failed to emulate over the years. In an album which, similar to "Pet Sounds," the listener can pick up on new sounds with each listen, this version brings to the surface sounds I never even knew were there. If you haven't heard this album, seek out this new version. If you are a long time fan, it is still worth your while to add it to your collection.

Neon Neon - "Stainless Style" - This one was quite an interesting surprise. About a year ago, I heard two vastly different tracks from this album on the group's myspace page. When I saw the cd cheap I grabbed it. It is a concept album: a biography of John Delorean. The trick is the album sounds like it was made in the 80's. The singer sounds like Eddie Money and the music is chilly synth-pop with antiquated drum machine beats. For someone like myself, who hates fake 80's nostalgia, I'm almost surprised that I like it so much, but it is catchy, smart, and features Fatlip on a track. Definitely worth checking out.

Neon Neon with a sweet Delorean!

The Beach Boys - "Party!/Stack-O-Tracks" - This late 90's reissue of two odd Beach boys albums on one disc is really a treat. They are both the product of the record company's pressure on Brian Wilson in the year leading up the release of "Pet Sounds." The band released ten albums in 1965 and these two are indicative of the struggle to come up with fresh material for Capital Records. The Party album, as most people know, was a hoax. It was recorded in a studio with party banter dubbed in later. It is, however, still completely convincing, fun and overall excellent. "Stack-O-Tracks" is another interesting experiment; a greatest hits of sorts with all the vocals removed. The original copies came with lyric and music sheets so the listener could play and sing the songs him/herself. It was your own Beach Boys karaoke album. Unfortunately, the cd reissue does not include these music sheets, which was a huge disappointment to me. The album is important though, because it will make you realize that the Beach Boys were not just riding their excellent harmonies. Even on songs I thought I was completely familiar with, I could hear and appreciate them in a whole new light with the vocals removed.

This album contains a cover of "I Should Have Known Better"
that is superior to the original version.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Good Vibrations and Excitations

At the risk of sounding naive and idiotic, let me say i'm just discovering lately that The Beach Boys are brilliant. It all started with me needing new (old) music. I always feel like there is so much classic rock out there and that I'm only familiar with the hits, so I searched some used cd's on to hear some more album tracks from various bands. I can't quite remember everything I purchased. There was Simon & Garfunkel, Lou Reed, The Pogues, Gordon Lightfoot, Nick Drake, some random others, and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.


I always kinda wrote off The Beach Boys as a corny boy band from way back when. However, upon hearing Pet Sounds I got such a different impression of them. Not only is the songwriting on the album amazing, but there are layers upon layers of beautiful instruments and vocal harmonies carefully arranged to Brian Wilson's specific tastes. The lushness makes you want to hear the songs again and again so you can pick out all of the little things that are happening. I found myself listening to Pet Sounds almost obsessively; first thing in the morning when I woke up, at work, driving in the car, while cleaning the house, etc. I suppose this is a small example of why it is considered one of the best rock albums of all time.

Wouldn't It Be Nice from Pet Sounds

I told Shawn about my excitement with their complex arrangments and harmonies and he told me about how he kinda grew up listening to The Beach Boys. Then he gave me their Greatest Hits Vol. 1, Sunflower, and Surf's Up. I then went out and purchased Smiley Smile and Wild Honey. Shawn went out and purchased a couple more, one of them being Beach Boys' Party!. Suddenly we're watching documentaries and discussing controversial subjects like "which band is better, The Beatles or The Beach Boys?" *GASP!*

The Beach Boys - Live on Ready Steady Go! 1964

I will go so far as to say that The Beach Boys are positively affecting the way I see things, exciting me to write songs, and making me a much happier person in general. I was living under a rock and now I'm enlightened. Their voices are an inspiration. I could probably go on and on but I'm sure Shawn will have something to post on the matter when he round round gets around to it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I am the Last Omega Legend

Spoiler alert!

Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I am Legend has been given three film adaptations as of 2007. In the past two years I have read the book and seen all three movies. I'd like to apply some grade school compare and contrast tactics to these four pieces of work.

I'll start where I started. I saw I am Legend (film, 2007) when it was in theatres. At the time I thought it was great. I really enjoyed the post-apocalyptic feel and the special effects. As a huge fan of Will Smith, I knew I would enjoy a movie which featured him as the only man on a desolate version of Manhattan.

Many of my friends had already read Matheson's book, and though I hadn't, I had enough confidence in the film after seeing it to recommend it to them. I know now that this was ill-advised.

Richard Matheson

Matheson's book is the tale of Robert Neville, seemingly the last survivor of a viral outbreak that turns people into vampires. The novel does a fantastic job with the themes of desolation and loneliness. Although it is told in the third-person, it really puts the reader in Neville's lonely, desperate world. Neville in the book is a man with some serious flaws, not the least of which is an on and off problem with alcohol. None of the three films seem to portray the main character this way, instead opting for a more stoic leading man.

After reading the book, I checked out The Omega Man (1971), featuring Charlton Heston. Out of all three films this version strays the furthest away from the book. Rather than vampires, a majority of the population has become part of "the family," a cult of albinos who chase Neville around downtown Los Angeles (the book was based in Los Angeles, as were the first two film adaptations). Although it is somewhat unclear what made "the family" the way they are, it can be inferred that they have suffered some kind of radiation poisoning from a nuclear weapon. Their mission is to destroy all technology, especially military technology. I guess this change from book to film was a reflection of the time in which is was the film was made.

One thing I am Legend 2007 and The Omega Man both got totally wrong is the ending. In the novel, Neville is in fact the last man on Earth. The novel ends when he is captured and killed by a militant group of what some vampire enthusiasts would call "half-breeds." These are infected humans keeping the viral side effects at bay with medications. They see Neville, the uninfected (and immune) man as a threat and so they dispose of him. It is a sad and great ending to a great story. The human race is no more, hence I am Legend.

I think the makers of both I am Legend 2007 and The Omega Man thought the book was called I am LegendARY because they both give Neville a heroic, schmaltzy Hollywood ending. In both these films Neville is killed at the end, but not before saving the human race with a vaccine he had devised and passed along to another survivor.

This change to the ending on the part of both films was a massive miss. One of the main points of Matheson's novel is that the human race is over. The whole book has a desolate yet claustrophobic feeling, capped off with the back breaker of Neville actually dying. Making Neville the savior of the human race completely throws this breathtaking concept right out the window.

So, does The Last Man on Earth (1964), featuring Vincent Price as Neville and with a screenplay written by Matheson himself, get any of these major themes correct? I think so.

Although Matheson was not happy with how the film came out, it played out pretty much how I imagined while I was reading the book. First of all, it got the ending right, albeit with some major dramatic points changed around. Also I felt the scenery in the film, being much more suburban than the other two films, matched the book quite well. I expected Vincent Price to play the part like a weirdo, but he handled it very well with very little cheesiness. I would consider this to be hands down the best film adaptation of the book, but I wonder if I would think so if I saw this movie before reading the book.

I am glad my friends encouraged me to read Matheson's book. Thank you John, for giving it to me for my birthday last year. I would recommend all three films to any fan of the book, but only as an exploration of the many different ways a literary work can be adapted to film, and in particular, over a pretty long period of time for a modern work.