Sunday, May 30, 2010

Glee vs. American Idol

I was startled last week to glance at the Top 10 singles on iTunes and see that five of the ten songs were either American Idol finalists or Glee songs. Therein was hatched my idea to listen, ponder and compare a few songs from those two shows. The premise of both shows is that they do covers and add their own touch to them. To some extent the American Idol contestants are at an immediate disadvantage because they need to take a song that was likely done well the first time and make it their own- but not so much that they literally change the song. Doing covers of U2, Paul McCartney and Frank Sinatra is a tough job and the last thing they probably want is for people to be wishing they were listening to the real version. Glee, on the other hand, has more liberty to mix things up a bit and some of the songs they’ve done on the show are pretty fun, especially if there is a good association to the choreography and scene from the show.

We are a Glee family and I’ve watched enough American Idol this season to keep up, even if I don’t want to commit to hours a week of watching it (we can get through the results show in about 10 minutes). I’m a little surprised that Lee won the whole thing- I think he’s good but not “special” enough that I thought people would vote for him more than anyone else. He’s a bit of a chameleon and adapted to whatever song he chose, not generally making it much of a standout, in my opinion. It will be interesting to hear what he does with his own stuff. In the paper this morning, I read a quick interview with him and he named Dave Matthews as someone he tries to emulate, which isn’t much of a surprise, but I was surprised to learn that his favorite artist is Sufjan Stevens, a bit of an obscure indie singer, which is encouraging. Maybe when Lee has the freedom to do his own thing he’ll stand out a bit more.

Crystal, however, has a pretty distinct style and looked really uncomfortable when she had to break out of her comfort zone on the show. Hopefully she’ll also have the liberty to customize her sound a bit, even though it might not have the same broad audience commercial appeal that someone like Lee probably will. She is definitely talented! I also bought one Michael Lynche song because I really liked him on American Idol and I think he’ll go on to some success if he can channel his sound properly (which I don’t think he did in the song I chose- my bad).

Now, Glee… The actors on this show generally have some pretty impressive credentials, so it’s not totally surprising that they can turn out some good songs. If you watch the show, you not only can picture what they were doing while singing a given song but also the reason they were singing that particular song, which is kind of cool. Isn’t there a song for every mood or situation? Based on Glee there sure is. It’s interesting that a byproduct of the show is a bunch of songs that end up being popular. How could you not love an episode where the glee club’s assignment was to take a “bad” song and make it modern and relevant (take note, American Idol- great theme)! Who would have thought Total Eclipse of the Heart and Safety Dance would end up being popular again?

Here are a handful of songs I’ve chosen based partly on iTunes popularity and partly on personal choice. Hopefully it’s a good enough mix for me to report my very scientific results.

American Idol
· Beautiful Day (U2) – Lee DeWyze – Nothing special about this version, definitely better sung by U2.
· Hallelujah (various) – Lee DeWyze – I read criticism for choosing this song because Simon Cowell apparently owns the rights to it, but it’s a really pretty song. Lee did okay with it- still don’t know if it’s worth listening to his version over another (we got hooked on it in our house from the original Shrek soundtrack).
· Falling Slowly (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) – Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox – I fell in love with this song when it was sung at the Oscars a year or so back- it is a really pretty song, slow and quiet. In my opinion Lee and Crystal jazzed it up a little too much and took away from why it was such a great song to begin with.
· Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney) – Crystal Bowersox – It would be intimidating to sing a song originally done by one of the Beatles, but in this case I think it’s easier not to draw comparisons than it would have been if a male had sung it. She stayed pretty true to the original version and sounded good.
· Me and Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin) – Crystal Bowersox – Now this is a version I like better than the original. To me, Crystal’s voice softens the song a little from the brassy original version (I know that was Janis’ style, I just don’t love it). Crystal rocks it toward the end and sounds great!
· The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra) – Michael Lynche – I do love Michael and if I could sit down and have a chat with him about his future, I would steer him more toward John Legend or Al Green than Frank (although that was the challenge that week, so not really his fault, I guess). This particular song is great, and he put kind of a big band sound to it, which unfortunately resulted in kind of a lounge vibe. This didn’t work for me, but I am looking forward to what we hear from him when it’s his own work.

· Poker Face (Lady Gaga) – Until the chorus, it’s hard to even recognize this song no matter how many times you’ve heard the original because it’s quite a bit slower and accompanied only by piano. When I heard this song on the show I didn’t really like, but it’s definitely growing on me.
· Gives You Hell (All American Rejects) – This version is sung by a female, which immediately makes it different from the original, and it’s sung with a lot of feeling (kind of an angry song anyway, not that you can tell from the title), which is cool. I like it!
· Beautiful (Christina Aguilera) – On the show this song was sung by a Jennifer Hudson type girl and I wish she had belted it out a bit more, but it was pretty controlled, even though it was pleasant enough. She got into it a little at the end, but I think it could have been a lot more.

And the winner is: Glee! My reasons: Glee isn’t afraid to REALLY change up the songs, which gives the songs a completely new sound, and they match the songs to a particular situation, making them more heartfelt. I am, however, looking forward to some new songs by the AI crew. Picks from this group:

· Me and Bobby McGee – Crystal Bowersox
· Poker Face – Glee Cast
· Gives You Hell – Glee Cast

Okay, I will use this post as an opportunity to expose people to Sufjan Stevens. A couple of his songs were featured in the movie Little Miss Sunshine. Since he doesn’t seem to do actual videos, use this as more of a way to become acquainted with his work, not necessarily to be entertained by the video. This song is called Chicago and is from his Album Illinoise (yes, Illinoise). If Lee uses Sufjan as his model he’ll be in good shape!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Eighties Flashback

Nothing takes me back to a specific event or time more than a certain song or artist. I went to both high school and college during the eighties, and as with any time period it saw its share of bad music, but there was plenty of good music as well. I consider high school and college as formative years, musically. A lot of what I listened to was influenced by who I hung around and what they were listening to. My college roommate opened the door for me to music beyond Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen, my mainstays, into R.E.M. and U2, both of whom were huge in the late eighties. I had a slightly funkier influence from several older and wiser aunts who were into Talking Heads.

Everyone could compile a list of songs that are memorable to them for some reason from their high school and college days. Here is mine:

· My Best Friend’s Girl (The Cars) – for some reason my friends and I listened to The Cars rather obsessively
· Tempted (Squeeze) – this was a popular bar song. Ah, Squeeze…
· Welcome to the Boomtown (David & David) – I’m not sure why I decided I liked this group and bought the entire album, and I’m also not sure they had another hit
· Modern Love (David Bowie) – I loved David Bowie and bought the Just Dance album with my babysitting money. I’m sure I was NOT David Bowie’s target audience
· Lips Like Sugar (Echo and the Bunnymen) – This was me being sort of edgy in college, although in reality it was my roommate being cool and me just along for the ride
· Pump It Up (Elvis Costello) – I will always associate this song with doing group aerobics in the lounge of my freshman dorm, which I’m sure was quite a sight
· Forever Man (Eric Clapton) – I could not even guess how many times I listened to Clapton’s Behind the Sun [tape] on my Walkman (yes, Walkman!)
· Lean on Me (Club Nouveau) – this was the funky new version of Bill Withers’ song and the girls in the dorm room next door played it over and over and over…
· I’m Sorry (Hothouse Flowers) – While I was studying in Vienna my junior year of college, my roommate there introduced me to this group, and I must say they’ve held up well
· Wrapped Around Your Finger (The Police) – I don’t think there’s much I need to say about Synchronicity
· (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville (R.E.M.) – Again, a nod to my college roommate who got me into R.E.M. when they were still kind of toward the beginning of their careers
· Love For Sale (Talking Heads) – my Denver aunts got me into Talking Heads and for some reason my freshman year roommate thought the name of this song was hilarious
· Sunday Bloody Sunday (U2) – I remember that my roommate mentioned that her little sister told her that U2 must hate Sundays as much as she did because of the title of this song- very funny
· The One Thing (INXS) – This group was kind of getting popular in college. I loved the name of this album, Shabooh Shoobah

The eighties also saw the dawn of MTV, and back then they actually played videos. In retrospect, I’m a little shocked that my family a) had cable, and b) my mom allowed what I recall as unlimited doses of music videos. I’m including a video that is as bizarre to watch now as it was then (who could forget Ric Ocasek’s head on the body of a bug???). Enjoy the flashback!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Black Keys: Brothers

I have to admit that I’m rather surprised this album is so high on iTunes right now (#2 a week after its release), not because it’s not good (it’s very good), but because it just doesn’t seem like it has the sound that would give it a wide audience appeal, particularly in its first week out and being a band that isn’t super widely known (I don’t think- maybe it’s just me). I reviewed Tighten Up in Misc. Singles and loved it. I was excited and surprised to see it doing so well sales-wise, so I took the plunge and bought the album. I can only blame myself for not knowing what I’m getting in these situations, but in this case it’s a good thing! If I had known this was a very bluesy album I doubt I would have bought it, but I have really grown to like it.

My first couple times listening to an album if I’m not familiar with the artist is always kind of a blur- it has an overall sound and that’s about all I come away with. To be honest, I didn’t really like it at first since when I listened to it I was not sitting in a smoky club and am not currently going through a bad breakup but rather was sitting on my back porch or going about my suburban mom kitchen duties- possibly not quite the right setting for this one. My kids were also not impressed, and this one is definitely not designed for the ‘tween or teen set. I thought the overall tempo of the songs was very slow and the lyrics fairly depressing (more on that later). When I started considering the songs individually and got to know them better, however, it turned out there is only one song that I really think is over the top blues and I don’t enjoy. In fact, I’m having a hard time narrowing down a list of singles to recommend because I like so many and think they’re probably better as a group than on an individual basis.

I often think that whether you like or don’t like a particular song or album has to do with what mood you’re in and what emotions the songs evoke. This one digs deep as the sound and lyrics are so soulful. When I found out that one of the two members of the group was going through a bad divorce while the songs were being written, it kind of made sense. I almost feel like I’m invading his privacy listening to the songs and knowing that. Mind you, not all of the songs are sad or depressing- there are upbeat moments, but the blues sound in general is not going to make your pre-party playlist. After I had listened to this album a few times through, I decided that The Black Keys could be compared to Ray Lamontagne in case you already know you like his sound.

Get this album but know that you need to give it some time and consider it contemplatively. Let it reach those deep down feelings and you will really appreciate (and enjoy) it. Okay, I tried to list the singles I would recommend and ended up with a list of 9 of the 15 songs on the album, which is ridiculous. The video for Tighten Up is below. That song is probably the most upbeat and I still think it has the potential to be popular on a wider scale. I guess if you held a gun to my head and told me to pick one or two more to recommend I would say Everlasting Light and The Only One as those would give you a good taste of what the overall album sounds like.

On another note, I’m still loving New Pornographers’ album. If you didn’t catch the video in my previous post check it out- they’re good.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The New Pornographers: Together

One of the things I like about writing these posts is that it has pushed me to try music that I might not ordinarily listen to. It also gives my brain something to do when it’s not otherwise engaged (see previous post). I find it very easy to get caught up in a daily routine that seems quite similar from one day to the next, and while being a mom to four kids is very challenging and rewarding and my job certainly keeps me busy, I sometimes feel itchy to experience more. To me, music is more accessible, from both a monetary and logistical standpoint, than other new experiences (travel or art or even dining). I’ve found it hard to express why I like or dislike a particular song or album, especially in a way that other people will find either interesting or compelling. Music is such a personal thing, so why let someone else choose what new music you hear by just listening to the radio? Whether you like or dislike something new, it’s fun to try something that might be outside of your everyday realm. I also think it’s cool to find music that everyone else isn’t listening to.

And that is my transition to Together by The New Pornographers. I liked Crash Years (from Misc. Singles II) so much that I thought I’d try the whole album by this band. As I mentioned in that post, I had subconsciously formed an opinion of this group based on their name, assuming there would be some vulgarity associated with their music- how Tipper Gore of me! In reality, they are an indie group comprised of two females and five males, and they mix up their music pretty well. Some songs have female leads, some male leads and some both, kind of like listening to a mix tape. You could definitely play this in the car with your kids, although I’m not sure how happy they would be about that- this is not as flashy as Ke$ha or Lady Gaga.

The iTunes version of this album has 3 bonus tracks, bringing the total number of songs to 14. While there are no songs that I strongly dislike, some favorites have definitely emerged. Test drive the 30-second version on iTunes and fork over $0.99 for one of these songs:

· A Bite Out of My Bed (shared lead vocals)
· Valkyrie in the Roller Disco (male lead)
· My Shepherd (female lead) – my favorite
· Crash Years (female lead) - getting radio play
· Your Hands (Together) (shared lead vocals) - video below
· Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk (shared lead vocals)

The video for Your Hands is below, and so far it is the only video from this album, which just came out two weeks ago. Impressive martial arts- enjoy!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Running Inspiration

Last October I completed the Chicago Marathon (note the verb “completed” rather than “ran”). In part, I blame my teenage daughters, who both run track and cross country, for making it seem effortless to run ridiculous distances on a daily basis. This is very misleading and not realistic for someone in her forties who does not have negative body fat like a teenager might. Nonetheless, I was inspired by reading “The Couch Potato’s Guide to Running the Marathon” (seriously) and off I went. I consider the marathon one of my greatest accomplishments to date, as anyone who trains and completes it should, no matter what their time (special huge emphasis on this point).

While immersed in the grueling five-month training process, I was lucky enough to have several coworkers who were also training for their first marathon, so we provided a mini support system for each other. Instant message topics included such technical things as brands of socks that were most effective, at what point during an 18-mile run a cracker might be eaten, etc. At some point I offered what I thought was a brilliant idea: we should all make a cd of songs to run to and trade with each other. What better way to be inspired than with a fresh crop of good music??? To my shock, I was met with a lukewarm response. One person told me that she generally does not run with an iPod or radio and uses the time to really gather her thoughts. What a lovely, new-age concept. Good for her, but my thoughts will only last for about the first three minutes of a run; I can most closely be compared to a toddler who must be distracted from an unpleasant task. Since I haven’t found anyone who runs as slowly as I do and can entertain me during my runs, I have decided that music is the closest alternative.

I was not to be discouraged by the response from my coworkers and prepared what I felt to be a fantastic playlist to train with. Sometimes when I run I like to listen to something new and really focus on the songs, which distracts me from my pain (always the goal, never fully achieved). Often, though, I think a good running playlist acts as an audio cheerleader, making you feel good and inspiring you to keep going. I’ve read that people who are able to match their pace to the music they’re listening to can improve their endurance, which seems reasonable. If you can figure out how many beats (steps) per minute you run, there is a website ( that gives you songs at various BPM. I’ve tried that and it works okay, but I prefer songs that are personal favorites to keep me going. There is also a new device similar to an iPod that you wear while running and it will actually choose music to match your pace, both from your own library and one that’s pre-programmed (a little light on the details for that as it came from Runner’s World, which I don’t read nearly as carefully as Rolling Stone). All this is support that I am not crazy- music can help you run better. Yay!

What follows is my personal playlist, prepared for the pretend swap during last year’s training, which never actually materialized. I’ve modified it a bit since last year to include some newer songs. It includes quite a range of artists and songs to keep things interesting and is about an hour long. Perhaps if you have a good enough playlist, you can also be inspired to exercise!

· Jai Ho! (A.R. Rahman & The Pussycat Dolls)
· Reptilia (The Strokes)
· Cecilia (Simon & Garfunkel)
· A-Punk (Vampire Weekend)
· One Way or Another (Blondie)
· Heart of a Champion (Nelly)
· I Get Knocked Down (Chumbawamba)
· I Like the Way You Move (Outkast)
· Can’t Get You Out of My Head (Kylie Minogue)
· Shake It (Metro Station)
· Two Step (Dave Matthews Band)
· Be Yourself (Audioslave)
· Homecoming (Kanye West)
· I Gotta Feeling (Black Eyed Peas)
· That’s the Way Love Is (Poi Dog Pondering)
· Bouncing Around the Room (Phish)

If you have any other great suggestions, please let me know. During a bout of severe amnesia, I signed up for the 2010 marathon and am facing the commencement of training very shortly!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Misc. Singles II

Airplanes (featuring Haley Williams) and Nothin’ on You (featuring Bruno Mars) (B.o.B.) – This guy flew under my radar, but since two of his songs are on iTunes Top 10 purchases, I think that’s my bad. Nothin’ on You will sound familiar, and its success moved up the release of the album. Airplanes uses the tried and true formula of pairing him with a female, and it works here as it has for many others. I personally think B.o.B. sounds a lot like Kanye West, although I’m not sure his lyrics are quite as catchy. Kudos to anyone who manages to rhyme the word elephant in his song, though (elephant/relevant- pretty close). I would recommend both of these songs.

Little Secrets (Passion Pit) – I had heard this song on the radio once or twice and think this group has a very different, cool sound. The album this song is on actually came out about a year ago and this song topped out at #39. This is a relatively new band and they have a unique sound, so even though this song might not be the next great song, I think we'll hear more from this group. Despite the fact that I really like this song, I could not really understand any of it and had to Google the lyrics, which I also found a bit hard to interpret. Cool sound, though!

Crash Years (The New Pornographers) – Don’t be put off (or titillated) by the name of this band- it’s not Playboy on your iPod. This group has been around for quite some time but just came out with a new album this week. I’ve never really paid attention to or sought out this group in the past and I swear I think I really was put off by the name of the group, but the lead singer (on this song anyway) is Neko Case, who I really like. This particular song is energetic and you'll find yourself singing it to yourself after you've heard it a few times. This is a good song- get it.

1901 (Phoenix) – If you have felt inexplicably compelled to purchase a Cadillac before the age of 70, it might be because this song is used in their commercial, and if you watch as much t.v. as I do you’ll recognize the song immediately. I actually bought the song because it was recommended by a friend, not because of the commercial. I was not familiar with Phoenix before this song, so I was suprised to learn that they're an alternative band from France- cool! They actually won the Grammy this year for best alternative album for Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which contains this song. Good song and probably a band to watch.

The Weekenders (The Hold Steady) – The Hold Steady has been called the “new Bruce Springsteen”, and I can hear why that comparison would be made, but as Lloyd Bentsen would say, “Senator, you’re no Bruce Springsteen.” This isn’t a bad song, but I don’t love it. I theorized that this is more of a “guy” sound, a theory I tested on an adult male in my house, and I have to say that he immediately made the Bruce comparison all on his own, but he wasn't hooked either. Perhaps one song isn’t enough to judge, but so far The Weekenders doesn’t get me excited to hear more of the album.

Nothing But the Whole Wide World (Jakob Dylan) – This is another song I don’t dislike but don’t love either; kind of forgettable, nice background music to nap by. It has a slight country sound and there is some faint female backup vocals that sound nice (which I subsequently read includes Neko Case, also of New Pornographers), but this song just isn’t anything special in my opinion. If you liked the Wallflowers, which I was also kind of indifferent about, you will probably enjoy this.

Whole Lotta Love (Mary J. Blige) – Okay, this one was recommended by RS and I am a BIG fan of Mary J., so I didn’t hesitate. Perhaps I should have made the connection that this is a remake of the Led Zepplin song and I am NOT a Zepplin fan. She sings the song faster than Robert Plant and adds her hip hop zing to it, which I like, but there are still a lot of parts of the song that are pretty dang true to the original version. It took me a while to get used to the song and not continually feel like I was listening to Zepplin, but it’s growing on me now. If you happen to be both a fan of Mary J. Blige and Led Zepplin (and it turns out Mary J. IS a Zepplin fan and also did a cover of Stairway to Heaven) you’ll probably like this song, although I’m not too sure how many crossover fans there are.

Blue Blood Blues (The Dead Weather) – I am frankly getting tired of trying to keep up with Jack White’s various bands. This is his latest (following the White Stripes and the Raconteurs), although I have now learned that this is actually The Dead Weather’s second album- must have missed the first one. He does not have a gentle voice or sound, so one of things I have liked about previous songs is that they’re fast and interesting, but I don’t think this one is particularly either- it just seems like noise to me. If you’re a Jack White fan you’ll like this. If you’re a fair-weather Jack White fan (like I am) you might want to pass.

Better Things (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings) – This was one of those free cards I picked up at Starbucks and has turned out to be my surprise favorite of this whole group- great song! It has such a 60’s soul vibe to it, and you can almost picture them standing around the ‘hood singing (although I might have that image because of the cover). A little research revealed that Sharon doesn’t like to digitally enhance any of her songs, so they sound really true to the real sound. Also, the Dap-Kings contributed on more than half of the songs on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album, which probably had a lot to do with the overall sound on that album. I love how Sharon belts out “I’ve got better things to do than remember you”. Oh Sharon, you are so wise! If you happen to see one of these cards sitting around Starbucks pick it up, but otherwise it’s worth buying.


· Airplanes and Nothin’ on You (B.o.B.)
· Little Secrets (Passion Pit)
· Crash Years (The New Pornographers)
· 1901 (Phoenix)
· Better Things (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings)

· Blue Blood Blues (The Dead Weather)

· The Weekenders (The Hold Steady)
· Nothing But the Whole Wide World (Jakob Dylan)
· Whole Lotta Love (Mary J. Blige) – this one has the potential to move up to “Hit”

Have a good weekend and make it full of good music!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ke$ha: Animal

There is a lot of buzz about Ke$ha these days, and I believe youngsters may soon begin asking their parents if they should brush their teeth with Crest or “a bottle of Jack” because they’ve heard Tik Tok so many times, so reviewing Animal isn’t exactly cutting edge, although it might be for someone my age.

Ke$ha had one of those hard-luck childhoods where she and her single mom drifted about. She actually is from the Nashville area and still lives with her mom there when she’s not on tour; early influences growing up were largely country. Although she’s only 23, she’s been trying for a number of years to break onto the scene and added the ‘$’ to her name sarcastically during the early years (I know, I was also surprised to learn that her given name didn’t include the ‘$’, her actual birth name being just plain Kesha). To illustrate the hard times she went through early on, she sang backup on Paris Hilton’s album- yikes. I did not know (or remember anyway) that she also sang on Flo Rida’s hit song, Right Round. Fun fact: Ke$ha is nearly six feet tall- isn’t that interesting?

Okay, the music… My first impression after listening to Animal all the way through is that little Ke$ha needs an intervention and possible some self esteem classes to choose better boyfriends- oh my! D.A.R.E. officers could use this album to relate cautionary tales of the bad things that happen to you when you’re drunk because Ke$ha details many of them with an unapologetic attitude (although she claims the bad behavior is large in the past tense). I should have realized the direction things were going while perusing the song titles: Your Love is My Drug, Hungover, Party at a Rich Dude’s House (in which she describes throwing up in a closet, which she apparently really did at Paris’ house), etc.

Once the shock of the lyrics wore off I actually did enjoy the album. I definitely liked the more upbeat songs more than the slower ones, which seemed kind of depressing to me. If you’re not offended (or concerned) about the lyrics and just take them as a youngish party girl sharing some of her tales, you might like this album.

Aside from the radio hits, which now also include Blah Blah Blah and Your Love is My Drug, I would recommend Dinosaur, which is very fun and bound to hit the radio at some point, and Take It Off. Overall, I think I would save the album for a younger group and be satisfied with a few song rather than all.

Now that I’ve reached the end of this post I would like to mention how annoying it is to type Ke$ha’s name repeatedly!

P.S. If you enjoy reading these posts, please bookmark my page and consider recommending it to a friend. I’d also love to hear from people who have tried any of my recommendations or people who have music of their own to share. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Misc. Singles

I know a lot of people are more “singles” people than “album” people, and I can totally appreciate that. We can’t always commit to 9 or 14 songs at once. This is a collection of singles I chose to try for various reasons. Some hits, some misses, some kind of in the middle…

Relator (Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johannson)- First, I did not misspell the title of this song- not sure why it is spelled that way and am actually not discerning anything related to real estate in the lyrics. I was interested to hear what Scarlett can do and was intrigued by the pairing with Pete Yorn, who is pretty well respected. Turns out this is a good song! She has a nice voice and they sound good together. I would recommend this song.

New Fang (Them Crooked Vultures)- I was curious about this song because it is Dave Grohl’s (Foo Fighters) new “supergroup”. His sound definitely comes through. Overall, I’m neutral about it- don’t love it but don’t mind it either. It’s a little screamy for me. I’m not sure I would buy more songs by these guys.

You Must Be Out of Your Mind (The Magnetic Fields)- This was recommended to me, largely because of its quirky lyrics, which they definitely are! Any song that compares a relationship to the absence of anesthesia during an appendectomy is intriguing. I’m giving the song a little more time; it’s growing on me and I am still wondering if I’ll end up really liking it. I do have to say that the vocals grate a little, but the overall sound isn’t bad.

Bye Bye Bayou (LCD Soundsystem)- I bought this song because Rolling Stone magazine seems to love this group and I’ll generally try anything they’re very hot on. This is not working for me, though. It’s very techno, the kind of song I imagine they would play in a club that I’m not cool enough to frequent, where everyone is skinny and doesn’t smile (probably because they’re hungry). In all fairness, I chose this particular song to try by LCD because it was most popular on iTunes when I pulled up their songs. I would be cautious about trying another LCD song, definitely trying the 30-second version before plopping down $1.29 for it (although was this one $0.99? Either way).

Born Free (M.I.A.)- You might remember M.I.A. from her performance at the Grammy’s last year- she was 9 months pregnant and delivered the baby (you know, Ikhyd) just days later. I had no qualms about trying this song, which I had read about, because I really liked her hit song, Paper Planes, from Slumdog Millionaire. I am now finding out that Paper Planes did not represent her usual sound, but this song apparently does (unfortunately). Honestly it sounds like a high school band jamming in their garage (heavy on the drums) with her singing/yelling through the door in a way that doesn’t have anything to do with the music in the background. Not a fan.

Skinny Little Bitch (Hole)- American’s little sweetheart, Courtney Love, is back with her band Hole after being freed from her parental responsibilities and that pesky daughter. I swear you would think this song was sung by a male- her new drug must be steroids. I really liked some of Hole’s previous songs, but this one doesn’t have as much of a “musical” sound to it the way something like Malibu did. For this one I feel like she’s just yelling, and I’m not sure why she sounds so angry toward people who are skinny because the recent pictures I’ve seen of her look like she has an eating disorder (maybe she's singing about herself). Chill, Courtney!

Acapella (Kelis)- Kelis is newly divorced from Nas and also a new mommy within the past year (Kelis opted for a more traditional name for her baby than M.I.A. did: Knight). I’m not yet sure if this song has the same hook that Milkshake or Bossy had, but I think she has a pretty voice and it’s showcased well in this song. The music itself has a bit of a techno sound to it, but her voice is what’s front and center. As a bonus, there is an actual acapella portion of the song!

Tighten Up (The Black Keys)- I have to confess that I am completely unfamiliar with The Black Keys and bought this song because it was recommended by Rolling Stone (after reading this post you might conclude that it’s easier to just read Rolling Stone yourself). This is a good song! I’d have to try other songs by The Black Keys to compare, but Tighten Up has kind of a retro sound to it, different than what you normally hear on the radio, but I think it could EASILY be popular- great sound. Since I like the song, I did a little research on the group and found out they have been around since 2001 and had a song on the School of Rock soundtrack- instant credibility. Their album comes out May 18th, so if you start listening to this song you will immediately be cooler than all your friends.

In The Sun (She & Him)- I heard this one on satellite radio and was curious about it because “She” is Zooey Deschanel (of 500 Days of Summer fame or, if you prefer, Elf), and at least on this song, we hear “She” but not so much from “Him”. Zooey has a nice voice and this is a pleasant sounding song. Actually, I shouldn’t knock Elf because that’s where it was discovered that Zooey can sing.

To recap:

· Relator (Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johannson)
· Acapella (Kelis)
· Tighten Up (The Black Keys)
· In The Sun (She & Him)

· Bye Bye Bayou (LCD Soundsystem)
· Born Free (M.I.A.)
· Skinny Little Bitch (Hole)

Somewhere in Between:
· New Fang (Them Crooked Vultures)
· You Must Be Out of Your Mind (The Magnetic Fields)

Monday, May 3, 2010

MGMT: Congratulations

I can tell you a little about MGMT and their sound with the following short story. A week or so ago I was working in the kitchen listening to this album and my 17-year old daughter said sadly, “I wish we liked the same kind of music.” The lesson here is: if your taste stops squarely with Taylor Swift and The Fray, you might not like MGMT. I, however, love this album.

MGMT was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2010 Grammy’s, and a couple of the songs from their first album, Oracular Spectacular, landed on Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 best songs of the decade in 2010. I bought those songs but didn’t love them enough to pull the trigger and buy the entire album, despite the recommendation of a trusted friend. When I started reading about the second album coming out, I decided to give it a try. I am not sorry!

MGMT was started by a couple guys who were attending Wesleyan, and I can only say they sound like they have a tumultuous relationship, going for months at a time without speaking to each other, despite being on tour together. The band has three other members, and the original name of the group was Management, but I guess they opted to just go with the abbreviation. They shy away from self promotion and there isn’t much information about them on their website, although you can submit some of your own artwork to be displayed on it if you want (random).

All of this is fascinating but doesn’t really tell you why you should try listening to MGMT. In fact, you might be put off initially because they sound “different” than what you’re used to, but that is exactly why you should try them. The main word I would use to describe why I like them is “interesting”. Their sound changes from one song to the next, and even within songs it changes- loud, soft, fast, slow.

I watched MGMT on Saturday Night Live last weekend and these guys are pretty freaky looking, so you might be better off just listening to them in case the sight of them makes you think they could carry you straight to the grunge scene. Apparently one of their moms pleaded with her son to stop discussing his drug use in interviews, but the interview I read had lots of drug references. It comes through a bit in some of their songs, and you might need to be a little patient to acclimate, but I promise the songs grow on you.

For beginners, I would recommend It’s Working, Someone’s Missing or Congratulations, which are my favorites. Fun fact: Paul McCartney chose MGMT to open for him during his 2009 tour. So now you have both me and one of the Beatles saying these guys are good, which should be reason enough to give them a try.

By the way, I will not remain this prolific for long if you’re fearful of the barrage of suggestions. Right now I’m listening to some unrelated singles and I promise I will not be recommending all of them. For now, however, enjoy MGMT!