Saturday, July 31, 2010

Michigan Musicians

My family is wrapping up our annual week in Michigan. We’ll leave tomorrow and drive the four or so hours back to the Chicago suburbs. We stay on a beautiful little lake about halfway up the Lake Michigan side of the state. It’s interesting because there are two very distinctly different types of people around here: visitors (and I include “transplants”- retirees, etc. in this category) and locals. The visitors are people like us, those who come in for a week or a long weekend during the summer, shop in the cute little stores in town, eat ice cream and go home. You need only drive a short distance away from our lake to see how the locals live differently than we do; Michigan is notoriously poor in many of its rural areas, and the idyllic shoreline doesn’t represent the majority of the areas where people live. Around here, people’s dogs live outside, roadkill doesn’t get picked up and the little general store on our lake sells enormous quantities of beer, chewing tobacco, candy cigarettes and the Amish sell their baked goods outside by the gas pumps. Where else can you find all that in one place?

This week provided my oldest daughter and me the opportunity to see a few different areas of the state as we visited a couple prospective colleges. We also had family from Denver staying across our little lake, and they gave us an appreciation for the “green” that Michigan offers. With my new awareness of Michigan in general and not just my tunnel vision to our little lake, I decided to investigate the music that has originated here. Of course, the obvious music from Michigan is Detroit’s Motown sound, but really Detroit isn’t representative of the rest of the state, just as Chicago and its suburbs feel like they’re completely separate from anything south of I-80. Unfortunately, I discovered that most Michigan music has come from either Detroit or its surrounding areas. Some family members expressed apprehension that trying to compile anything related to Michigan musicians would result is quite a bit of Ted Nugent music, he being the famously fanatical bow-and-arrow hunter who keeps the deer population in check (although I discovered that he now lives in Waco, Texas). What I found is that the musicians from Michigan seem to be as diverse as I would expect based on the population right here in our own little portion of the state. Here is a sampling of what I found along with some recommended songs:

Al Green – Al spent a good part of his childhood in Grand Rapids. Let’s Stay Together remains one of my favorite R&B songs.

Stevie Wonder (a.k.a. Stevland Hardaway Judkins- huh???) – Hmm, no Stevie Wonder on my iPod, but I do like My Cherie Amour.

Eminem (a.k.a. Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Slim Shady) – I am actually a fan of Eminem, which is funny since my teenagers can kind of take him or leave him. We all like his current hit, Not Afraid, but I also like Lose Yourself a lot.

Kid Rock (a.k.a. Robert James Richie) – I kind of like that these guys who make it big stick close to their original roots. My favorite from K.R., aside from All Summer Long, which could be summer Michigan’s anthem, is Wasting Time.

Madonna (real name!) – I think our fancy jet-setting gal likes us to forget that she was born and raised in Bay City and attended the University of Michigan before fleeing the state for good. I must admit that I do not currently have any Madonna on my iPod, but I was with her as a young high schooler during her maiden albums.

Ted Nugent – Okay, here we go. I did not realize (until I read on Wikipedia) that Ted Nugent actually lived in Palatine as a teen- whoa! However, he was born in Detroit and later in his life moved back to Michigan. Cat Scratch Fever, anyone?

Bob Seger – Raised in Ann Arbor, a regular place! Not a huge fan, but I do respect his work and accomplishments.

Uncle Kracker (a.k.a. Matthew Shafer) – I know, I was also surprised to find that his real name wasn’t “Uncle Kracker.” I actually like the ubiquitous Smile song. He’s from Harrison Township, which isn’t far from Detroit (of course).

The White Stripes – This is the Jack White duo, formed in Detroit. I like Icky Thump, but be warned that all White Stripes is pretty “rough.”

Sufjan Stevens – You may never have heard of Sufjan, but he had a great song, Chicago, on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, which made him a bit more mainstream as his roots are more indie. He announced a project whereby he would record an album based on each of the 50 states. Thus, his first album was entitled Michigan, and his second was Illinois. After completing two of the 50 states, he seems to have stalled and has since claimed he was joking about the project.

Yes Michigan!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sheryl Crow - 100 Miles From Memphis

I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited when I bought the new Sheryl Crow album, 100 Miles From Memphis. She’s fine- which was kind of why I wasn’t all that excited. I really like discovering a new artist (new to me anyway) or a song with a really unique sound. While I loved Sheryl’s first album (Tuesday Night Music Club back in 1994), she’s had a hit here and there since then, but quite honestly I think of her music as being a little boring. Why did I buy the album then? That’s a valid question. I recognize that not everyone is interested in breaking new ground when they listen to music and frankly this popped up in the Top 10 albums on iTunes, so it was more of a “Fine, I’ll get it.”

I happened to buy this right before I left for my family’s annual week at my parents’ lake house in Michigan. We arrived Saturday, and I had this album on kind of in the background shortly after we arrived and were still bringing in our suitcases and generally getting organized; therefore, I didn’t really form an impression since I wasn’t listening all that closely. The next morning, I went for a short run, not even long enough to get all the way through the album. Listening to something while I run is quite the opposite of having it on in the background while unpacking- I’m focused on nothing BUT the music (well, that and my watch so that I don’t miss my designated walk breaks). I’m not sure Sheryl is quite right to get you pumped for a run while you’re on vacation and would rather be driving into town for a fattening latte and muffin at 9 a.m. Feeling annoyed and in somewhat of an “I told you so” (to myself) frame of mind, I wasn’t all that excited about continuing to listen.

This afternoon, however, that changed. After several midday hours of boating (by others, not me), my husband, three of my kids, my niece and son’s friend who came along for the trip all decided to go over to the Lake Michigan beach, which is a short boat ride away. This left just my oldest daughter and I in the house (I’m getting to the point, believe me). As I lay on the couch on the porch with the trees blowing outside, the breeze coming in the window and the sparkly lake right outside, I had an epiphany: THAT was the perfect time to listen to someone like Sheryl Crow. Normally the majority of my music listening is done on my train ride and walk to and from work every day. Because one is prone to feeling like a single cow in a herd of cattle during such commutes, a little something special coming through the headphones is a welcome treat. However, lying on the porch on this beautiful afternoon, all I wanted was pleasant music that I didn’t have to work hard at all to enjoy. And that is exactly what Sheryl Crow gave me.

Fresh on the heels of my newfound appreciation of Sheryl, I took her for another run, this time a long one that got me all the way through the album twice (which doesn’t necessarily mean that I ran far, just that it took a long time). This time Sheryl was a welcome companion- she stayed calm and supportive when I walked a little extra (although it doesn’t look like she walks at all during her runs).

I did a bit of research because I’m always curious about what inspired a certain album. I learned that Sheryl grew up in a little town in Missouri, which according to Mapquest is 108.98 miles from Memphis; hence the title of the album (we’ll forgive the extra 8.98 miles since in all fairness we don’t know what she used as her origin and destination to calculate 100 miles). She apparently wanted to give this album a bit of an R&B feel, which in my opinion is pretty subtle- I would not have picked up on this myself. Here is a fun fact that I cannot believe I didn’t know: Sheryl sang backup for Michael Jackson early in his career. WHAT??? She says that after he died last year she was inspired to do an album that paid tribute to him and his sound a little. The last song on the album is Sheryl covering “I Want You Back”, and it pretty much sounds exactly like the original except with her voice instead of Michael’s (and even those sound pretty similar, now that I am paying attention).

If you already like Sheryl Crow, you will like this album. If you want the perfect music to chill with on the weekend, this is for you. If you are looking for something revolutionary that kind of shakes things up, probably not. Recommended tracks:

• Our Love is Fading (a little livelier)
• Eye to Eye (Keith Richards plays on this one)
• Sign Your Name (remake of the Terrence Trent D’Arby song, Justin Timberlake sings backup)
• Say What You Want (good lyrics)

If you do like Sheryl AND you’re looking for something new, you might like:

Same ideaThe Corrs (feat. Bono): When the Stars Go Blue
A little edgierThe Cardigans: I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to be Nicer
StretchLoretta Lynn (feat. Jack White): Portland, Oregon

Here is the video for the first single on the album, Summer Day.  Enjoy

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pitchfork Music Festival Sampler

If you got the Tribune last Friday and looked at the “On the Town” section, you couldn't help but notice that the entire front page was about the Pitchfork Music Festival- literally the whole page. I found this intriguing since I have never heard of the Pitchfork Music Festival (which is probably neither here nor there), so my first order of business was to do a bit of research. According to the article, the festival was being held at Union Park on the west side; again, I have never head of Union Park (I am suburban, after all). Finally, I looked at the lineup and, not surprisingly, had heard of exactly 5 of the 45 acts. I’m reaching the conclusion that no matter how much “research” and experimenting I do, there are a LOT of bands out there, most of which are apparently unknown to me.

I was not deterred, though. I had no intention of making my way to the festival, but I was curious to see whether a suburban mom had a place (theoretically) at Pitchfork. The Tribune’s Greg Kot had identified 17 “must see” acts, four of whom were amongst those I had actually heard of (Greg, no Modest Mouse?). I decided to try a song from each of the remaining 13 acts- I wanted to challenge myself by not including those I already knew. I eliminated four more bands after doing a 30 second preview of their most popular songs on iTunes and determining that they were too screamy for me (I am a middle-aged mom, after all). That left me with nine previously unfamiliar groups/artists to try. Fun fact: the majority of these songs were in the $0.99 category rather than the trendy new $1.29 category!

In the midst of this project, the Monday Tempo section showed pictures from aforementioned festival, and I probably could have waited to look at the picture of all those sweaty young people before deciding whether I would have fit in. The very surprising answer was: probably not. The second goal in my mission was more practical (and satisfying): determine whether any of these songs/bands were “good” (using my scientific standard of listening to them repeatedly and noticing whether I tended to sing any to myself even when I wasn’t listening to it). The answer to this was yes! I know I’m probably in the minority on this, but I become unnaturally excited when I find a new song or artist that I really like and wasn’t familiar with previously. Here are the results of my experiment; maybe you will also find a new song that strikes a certain emotion or lifts you up.

  • Spit on a Stranger (Pavement) - It turns out this song is pretty old (1999), and to be honest it did sound vaguely familiar when I started listening to it, but it apparently remains their most popular song (on iTunes, anyway). It's pretty mainstream and has kind of a twisted but sweet love song sentiment to it. It's a keeper in my book.
  • The Overly Dramatic Truth (El-P) – This is a rap song, so if you don’t like rap you can skip to the next song. One thing about rappers is that it doesn’t matter if they have good voices because they don’t actually sing. I kind of liked this song and the music itself stayed with me more than the words did (hard to sing along to a rap song). It wasn’t my favorite rap song of the group, though (keep reading to find out what was!). What does it mean when your teenager comes in the kitchen and comments that a song is inappropriate to listen to while getting dinner ready?
  • Paris is Burning (St. Vincent) – This might have been my favorite song of the entire group. It has pretty female vocals, memorable music and interesting lyrics (meaning debated from my online research, but it has a WWII sound to it). The end of the song is all about music and you can almost visualize a ballroom full of people moving to the sound of this song.
  • You Do Tell (Bear in Heaven) – This song didn’t have a huge impact on me. Not bad, just not super memorable.
  • Lust for Life (Girls) – This is kind of a breakup song about seeing an ex-girlfriend move on. I liked it okay, didn’t love it.
  • Keep It Goin’ Louder (Major Lazer, featuring Nina Sky and Ricky Blaze) – The genre for this is classified as “Electronic” on iTunes, but it has kind of that B.O.B. hip hop sound to it. One thing you can always count on with these types of songs is: 1) they always recruit other people to sing with them, and 2) at some point during the song they’ll mention their name. What did Major Lazer do at Pitchfork? Were here numerous singers in the wings of the stage to come in for the appropriate song? Okay, I did like this song, although the repeated lyrics of “Girl, I wanna party with you” didn’t necessarily resonate with me.
  • Catalina (Raekwon, feat. Lyfe Jennings) – If you are offended by profanity or derogatory nicknames, you’ll probably not enjoy this song. I always buy the explicit version of songs, partly because I don’t really get offended easily and partly because I find it annoying to hear dead air where there should clearly be a (profane) word. This is pretty hardline rap, so if that’s not your thing, skip it.
  • Be My Girl (Smith Westerns) – Kind of like the Bear in Heaven song, not too memorable to me.
  • Dancing on My Own (Robyn) – This is a great techno kind of dance song, but the fun thing is that it’s about being at a dance club! Although this suburban mom does not frequent (or even go to) dance clubs, I would imagine what they’d be like from the sound of this song. Poor Robyn has to watch her guy with another girl; hence, she is dancing on her own per the title. Good song!
My experiment resulted in 4 out of 9 hits and 5 that I found so-so; no outright misses, which I thought was pretty good. The ones I really liked were Pavement, St. Vincent, Major Lazer and Robyn. I guess the conclusion is that I’m not necessarily cool enough to actually GO to the Pitchfork festival, but not so uncool that I can’t listen to some Pitchfork songs in the privacy of my iPod. Not too bad, right?

Quite honestly, I didn't like any of the videos for the songs I liked, so I'm not including them- just listen and you'll probably like them better!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Perfect Summer Playlist

There are so many reasons to love summer and so many reasons to love a summer playlist (don’t even think about having a cookout without good music to set the tone!). There are some songs that become emblematic of a certain summer, but anyone could Google “summer songs” and make a playlist- that’s generic. One of the things that makes a playlist great is that it’s personal to the person who compiled it; everyone has songs are meaningful to just them.

A couple people have suggested that I compile “The Ultimate Summer Playlist”, and I have to admit that the first thing I did was search “summer” in my iTunes library. I did, in fact use some of those songs, but others that popped up had no real significance to me. On the other hand, there are some songs that I specifically associate with a particular summer that might not seem like they’re necessarily related to the season. I found that it was a fun exercise to think back to various summers and the songs that I remembered from them. What follows is my own personal summer song playlist, some of which would be applicable to any summer barbeque, others of which are meaningful mostly just to me, which is what makes it a great list! Bear with me on the explanations…

Summer Winds (Frank Sinatra) – 1965: Ironically, although this is the oldest song on the list (and I was not yet born in 1965), it’s the one that I heard most recently. Last weekend, my 14-year old son played in what might have been his last baseball game as his team battled to win 3rd place in their league. Between innings, on the very scratchy PA system, this song was being played. I’m sure you can imagine how much the 14-year old boys appreciated it.

Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty) – 1978: This is one that isn’t necessarily related to summer, but I can tell you for a fact that it was popular in the summer. When I hear this song I feel like I’m back at the pool when I was 10.

Somebody’s Baby (Jackson Brown) – 1982: I distinctly remember that this song was popular the summer after I was in 8th grade and I had my first boyfriend up at my family’s lake house (aww!). Somehow, the fact that the song is from the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack now makes the song and the situation seem inappropriate, but it didn’t feel that way then.

Cruel Summer (Bananarama) – 1983: This song finds my best friend and I shopping at Oakbrook mall and spending babysitting money on very preppy clothes.

Summertime (Kenny Chesney) – 2005: I am not a huge country fan, but I do love this song (not much more to it than that).

Crazy (Gnarls Barkley) – 2006: This was also not necessarily a “summer” song, although it was popular during the summer. We hosted a barbequed rib contest with four other couples. Being the music lover that I am, I also asked everyone to bring a 30 minute playlist so that we could vote on both the ribs and the music (I would highly recommend this combo, by the way). I believe four of the five couples had this song on their list.

All Summer Long (Kid Rock) – 2007: I have a special affinity for Michigan summers. My parents met on the small lake where both their families had summer cottages; my family, in turn, spent at least a week or two each summer up at that same lake (we still do!). To me, this song solidly nails the vibe up there- I can just picture a beach cookout. Leave it to Kid Rock to get the emotion just right.

I Gotta Feelin’ (Black Eyed Peas) – 2009: I spent the better part of last summer training to run the Chicago Marathon. As part of that training, I ran the Chicago Half Marathon at the beginning of September. This song was playing at the starting line, and it has such a great, upbeat sound that you couldn’t help but feel good about running 13.1 miles. Sadly, that feeling wore off shortly after the song was out of earshot.

California Gurls (Katy Perry) – 2010: I know, this song is new and we might all be completely sick of it in another month, but for now it still feels fun and summery!

My perfect summer playlist is not the same as yours or anyone else’s. Make your own- it’s like a happy, free therapy session because you are really only recalling good summer memories. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Eclipse Soundtrack

First, I would like to establish that I am really not all that familiar with the entire Twilight series. I have never read any of the books or seen the movies, so I approached this soundtrack very objectively. I have, however, seen the books around the house and feel connected to the movie because of the fact that I picked five girls up from the theatre at 2:30 a.m. the night it came out. A couple months back, I read in Rolling Stone that the Eclipse people wanted to have a really good soundtrack to go with the movie. If I had to guess what the soundtrack to one of the Twilight movies would sound like, I would think it would either be Goth (is that a genre?) or something appealing to teenage girls, who I think comprise a large portion or the audience. Wrong on both counts!

The Eclipse soundtrack contains songs by various artists who could best be described as alternative. Although it’s a little pricey at $14.99 on iTunes, it contains 19 songs (although two are remix versions of other songs on the album), some by artists you have read about on this very blog: The Black Keys, my friend Sia and Vampire Weekend (really how could they NOT include a song on the Eclipse soundtrack by a band called Vampire Weekend???). I was accurate in my prediction of the album on one count, though: it’s a bit gloomy, which I suppose is to be expected from a vampire themed soundtrack (note to self: don’t listen to dreary vampire music on long runs under humid conditions). Taken individually, the songs are good, but collectively they’re a bit of a downer. One thing that is irritating about the soundtrack is that only three songs on it are available for individual purchase, and the first single from it is NOT one of them. The good news is that I rather like the three songs that ARE available for purchase. The bad news is that a couple of the ones I liked quite a bit are only available if you buy the whole album, which I’m sure is the whole strategy. Here are the three you can buy individually:

Neutron Star Collision (Muse) – this song is okay, but with lyrics such as “Love would be forever, and if we die we die together” it’s not going to likely land on your party mix

Atlas (Fanfarlo) – another unfamiliar artist, but these guys have a bit of a twang and the beat is a little quicker than on some of the songs

What Part of Forever (Cee Lo Green) – Cee Lo is part of the group Gnarls Barkley (remember Crazy?), and this song is also a little more upbeat than some in the group

The second and third songs have remix versions, as well. There are two songs on the album that I liked that can’t be purchased individually: Jonathan Low (Vampire Weekend) and The Line (Battles). The Line is kind of neat because it gets progressively faster throughout, which is kind of cool for running purposes if you do more than run at a constant, slow pace (my runner daughters call this “speedwork”, a term and practice I have no use for).

Overall, the soundtrack definitely has its own personality. Not having seen the movie, I can’t really say if you’d like it more if you could associate certain songs with parts of the movie. However, not having seen it, I would say that I wouldn’t mind the songs individually, but all together they’re kind of dark. That being said, it is a good collection of songs from alternative artists and there are some good ones in the mix that can’t be bought on their own.

Here is the video from the first single released, cleverly entitled Eclipse (by Metric):

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dave Matthews Band

You could probably choose any week of any year and identify significant sports-related events that have occurred. This past week I was aggravated to have many Yahoo updates and Facebook statuses related to Lebron James, which really doesn’t interest me at all. As I write this, several members of my family are sprawled on the couch watching the World Cup finals, thus ending that annoying buzzing noise coming from the living room. However, the sports-related event of the past week or so that I find most interesting (okay, it was 9 days ago) is that the Dave Matthews Band is concluding their summer tour in September by playing two shows in Wrigley Field, home of our beloved and beleaguered Cubs. I’ll admit that this is a loose association to actual sports, although Dave was born and largely raised in South Africa, which makes the connection to sports just slightly stronger (today anyway). I also think enough years have passed that our fine city is ready to forgive Dave and his crew for dumping poop on an architectural boat on the Chicago River, although I’m sure memories of that will surface as the tour dates draw closer.

I’ve been a big fan of DMB since the late nineties, a few years after his first studio album came out, and some of their first few albums are still some of my favorites. The band was formed in 1991 and still has four of the five original members; sadly, one of the founding members died in ’08 after an ATV accident (careful, kids). DMB is known for their long summer tours (which I have been fortunate enough to have caught twice); however, they are reportedly not going to tour next summer in order to spend more time with their families. Interestingly, the band allows concertgoers to tape and share the live shows, crediting this sharing with some of their early success.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I have loved DMB so much over the years. Dave is roughly my age (a year older), supports a number of environmental causes (river poop dumping notwithstanding) and was a fairly active supporter of Obama during the 2008 presidential race. Some of his songs feel very personal in their description of the intensity and confusion surrounding certain relationships. The fact that the group has such a wide fan base and such broad appeal speaks not only to their ability to put out songs that are catchy and can attain wide radio play, but also to the fact (I think) that people feel something personal in the lyrics- that’s how I feel anyway. It’s really difficult to narrow down all of DMB’s songs to a single playlist, but here are some of my all-time favorite songs (and the corresponding albums), for various reasons.

The Best of What’s Around (Under the Table and Dreaming) – This song has kind of a carpe diem message. Dave’s dad died when he was about 10, and a lot of his earlier songs have a similar sort of message

Lover Lay Down (Under the Table and Dreaming) – This is a really quiet song and has such an intimate quality that you almost feel like you’re intruding. It’s a really pretty song, though.

Jimi Thing (Under the Table and Dreaming) – Okay, Dave has said you can interpret the lyrics to this song any way you want, but it is widely believed to be about smoking pot. He plays it in concert a lot and it’s got a cool, mellow feel to it, no matter what it’s about.

Two Step (Crash) – This is one of my favorite running songs because of the energetic beat, but I also love the lyrics: two people kind of being in step with each other. Sort of a great love song, though not in the traditional sense.

Crash Into Me (Crash) – This song had some radio success- still love it.

#41 (Crash) – The “title” of this song (and some others) refers to it being the 41st song written by the group. Listening to it is kind of a journey in various different sounds and lots of cool instrumentals.

Say Goodbye (Crash) – This is probably a really inappropriate song to like because it’s essentially about having a one night stand with a close friend and then “go back to being friends”. It’s actually kind of sad, but it’s a really pretty song.

Stay (Before These Crowded Streets) – This is one of the lighter songs from this album. It’s basically about just hanging out and not having to be doing something all the time. Neat message, great sound.

So Right (Everyday) – This wasn’t one of my favorite Dave albums, but I did love this song. It’s pretty energetic. This song is attempting to persuade someone that that you don’t know what will happen tomorrow, so take advantage of what you have now. I’m noticing that the same message comes out in a lot of his songs.

Stay or Leave (Some Devil) – Sometimes I wonder what Dave’s wife thinks about the lyrics to some of these songs, although maybe he writes them with her in mind. Another pretty one.

Up and Away (Some Devil) – I don’t know why I always think of a hot air balloon when I hear this song, but in addition to the title it has kind of an upbeat, sing-song sound to it.

Dreamgirl (Stand Up) – Not much to this one beyond what you would expect from the title, but good lyrics. A song like this makes me smile; it has such a happy, uncomplicated meaning to it.

American Baby (Stand Up) – I think this one got radio play, also. It’s a little political, actually, but it’s got a hopeful message to it.

Hunger For the Great Light (Stand Up) – This song is pretty overtly sexual, and the sound matches as it’s “harder” and edgier. Dave isn’t all poems and roses, it turns out.

You and Me (Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King) – This one has a great message: people can achieve more together than separately.

It turns out Julia Roberts is also a big DMB fan, and she appeared in the video for Dreamgirl (below). Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

MTV Top 10 Albums (so far this year)

Well, my darling sister who very smartly chose a career in something exciting and exotic (radio broadcasting!) rather than something boring (econ- yawn) sent me a list of MTV’s top albums of the year so far. I was extremely excited, as you can imagine, but I was also alarmed at the number of artists on the list who I have never heard of- how does this continue to happen? When will I finally be cool enough to have MY top 10 list match MTV’s? After sampling the most popular song from each of these albums, I arrived at the answer to that question: never. I am going to go out on a limb and say that Suburban Music Mom is not the demographic that MTV is targeting at this point. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware that MTV had anything to do with music anymore since all I ever see on that channel is Cribs or My Super Sweet 16 (both of which I enjoy, by the way).

There are actually 11 albums on MTV’s list as there was a tie for #10. Of those 11 albums, I have reviewed one (Vampire Weekend) and have reviewed singles by two others (Sleigh Bells and LCD Soundsystem). Off I embarked on what was sure to be an enlightening journey, ending with some very mixed results. Incidentally, I am writing this from the DMV while I wait for my 16-year old to take her road test for her license. It is difficult not to make this entire post about my observations here, but I will just note that there are approximately 150 empty seats here and if you’re waiting for a loved one you are allowed to sit in a group of about 10 of those seats- brilliant. One of my favorite activities here is to watch the inevitable arguments between the workers and the people who have not brought the proper paperwork (which is difficult, I might add); hence, the ever present security guard. Anyway, what better place to drown out the sounds around you than at the DMV, so off we go! (Sorry, one more thing- I did not initially listen to these songs at the DMV in case you are nervous that it colored my impressions of the songs. I’m merely writing my final thoughts here).

1. High Violet (The National) – song reviewed: Bloodbuzz Ohio. For some reason this group’s sound reminds me of The Cure, although I’m guessing they’re not British if they’re singing about Ohio. This song was okay, not super exciting, which is fine because sometimes a song grows on you and you appreciate it more over time, but it never really got to that point for me. I liked the lyrics okay.

2. Contra (Vampire Weekend) – see previous post in April. I love this album.

3. The Monitor (Titus Andronicus) – song reviewed: A More Perfect Union. This song is kind of a rant, preceded and followed by a proclamation. If I’m interpreting the lyrics correctly, he is fed up with the state of the country and just wants a more perfect New Jersey. I guess I’m just not that into political songs and the music itself wasn’t really appealing to me, so this is a pass.

4. The ArchAndroid (Janelle Monáe) – song reviewed: Tightrope. This song was hands down my standout favorite of the entire group. I liked it a lot from the first listen. This particular song features Big Boi from Outkast, but she sounds like she can handle a song all by herself. She has kind of a funky R&B sound, a bit faster than you would normally think of for that genre. Actually, maybe she’s really considered a rapper- I’ll have to investigate and will definitely be looking to check out additional songs from this album.

5. This Is Happening (LCD Soundsystem) – sound reviewed: I Can Change. I reviewed another song for this album for a previous post because every reviewer I glance at loves this album. Since I didn’t love the first song I reviewed, I started wondering if I was wrong about liking it, so I was interested to try a second song. I like it better, but I’m just not crazy about the techno sound, so I’ll bump this one up to “medium”, but I am not a convert.

6. Treats (Sleigh Bells) – song reviewed: A Crown on the Ground. I reviewed another song by this group (Rill Rill) on an earlier post and liked it but had read that it was the most “mainstream” of their songs. I am here to tell you that this song sounds nothing like Rill Rill, which I sort of liked. A Crown on the Ground has the backdrop of a loud horn played through a poorly tuned radio- you can barely even hear the singing. If this is what the youngsters are listening to these days, I’m not interested- it was like nails on a chalkboard for me.

7. White Crosses (Against Me!) – song reviewed: I Was a Teenage Anarchist. I did like this song more the more I listened to it, but I’m still putting it in the “medium” category. It’s not bad, but it just doesn’t seem like anything special to me. From the song’s title you can get a flavor of the lyrics, sort of a retrospective about the hopefulness of youth. Interesting but not enough to want to make me buy the whole album.

8. Odd Blood (Yeasayer) – song reviewed: Ambling Alp. This song has kind of a cool message (stick up for yourself, don’t worry about anyone else). This song is an “eh”- nothing special for me.

9. Maniac Meat (Tobacco) – song reviewed: Fresh Hex. Oh my, this entire playlist is making me feel old. This is another one that just sounds like poorly tuned noise and more talking than actual singing. I’m wondering if I don’t know what good music sounds like anymore.

10. (tie!) My Best Friend is You (Kate Nash) – song reviewed: Do-Wah-Doo. I’ve heard of Kate Nash but don’t know that I’ve really listened to her before. She has a really heavy British accent and this song has some unexpected twists and turns. I’d give this song a thumbs up, but I wouldn’t say I’m an instant fan. I’d be curious to hear what some of her other songs sound like.

10. (tie!) If You leave it Alone/Instant Coffee Baby (The Wave Pictures) – song reviewed: Leave the Scene Behind. This song also kind of reminds me of 80’s British rock. Okay, not great.

To sum it all up, the only song I would strongly recommend is the one by Janelle Monáe (video below), some others fell in the “medium” category and some I just plain didn’t like. You’ll be happy to know that my daughter passed her road test and got her license, but there were so many fascinating distractions at the DMV that I had to finish this at home. Alas!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sia: We Are Born

Sia and I got off to a little bit of a rough start on this one (if you have getting tired of reading about my running, skip to the paragraph 3- totally understandable). For about a week, people in the Chicago area might as well have lived in Florida during hurricane season for all the rain and horrible winds we had. Last Saturday I very smartly deferred my long weekend run to Sunday (which I usually find some reason to do) because of how wet the path I use was certain to be, not to mention the horrible humidity. Unfortunately, when I woke up on Sunday, not only was it MORE humid, but more thunderstorms were on the way. Because I cannot afford to miss a single long weekend run, I was left with no choice but to head to our community center and run on the indoor track there.

There are both pros and cons to running on this indoor track. The pros: 1). No humidity, which my body simply cannot tolerate; 2). The track is soft, which is easy on the feet; and 3). You can always look out the window and see your car in case you need to abort your run and rush home for an emergency (how I would be notified of said emergency I’m not sure). The cons: 1). You can always look out the window and see your car, which makes it very difficult not to make up some reason to stop running and go home; 2). 12 laps equal a mile, which means plenty of opportunities to be lapped (repeatedly); 3). The corners of this mini-track are banked, and I don’t really “do” inclines in any form; and 4). Extreme boredom. All this can amount to what is referred to in the running world as a “bad run”. Even though it was my first step-back week of marathon training (translation: shorter!), when you feel like a hamster in a wheel, it’s difficult to keep going.

This point about boredom is important because it means I unfairly expect my music to assume the dirty job of entertaining me, and that was a tall order for Sia last Sunday. I really like Sia from a previous album I have and was excited to listen to this album, which was recently released. Unfortunately, Sia’s voice can sound just a tinge whiny and that was not what I needed to keep me going. All this is to say that I didn’t really love the album the first time I listened to it. Still, I persisted this week, listening to it quite a few times through. The thing about Sia is that she can come across as a little laid back and her songs don’t punch you right away, but they definitely grow on you the more you listen.

This album in iTunes came with a 6-minute video where Sia talks about making this album. She’s kind of a cute little blond pixie from Australia and has her dogs and a kitten in the video, which is endearing. I always think it’s interesting to hear an artist discuss what inspired them for a particular song or album or what sound they were going for; unfortunately, that kind of information is sometimes hard to lock down without a personal interview (my dream!). However, in this video she did talk about what sound she was going for: “a really fun pub album with a bouncy dance-around vibe” (she’s lived in England for ten years) if you can imagine what that would sound like. I have to say it is definitely more energetic than the previous album of hers that I’m familiar with. It’s also kind of cool to get a little glimpse into the recording process and get a taste of her personality from the video. Fun fact about Sia: she’s bisexual and she’s a PETA spokesperson! (I read that on Wikipedia, she didn’t say either in the video)

After listening to the album for a couple days, I considered each song individually and realized that I really liked most of them, particularly the ones that have a more upbeat tempo. Particular faves:

· Clap Your Hands – supposed to be the first U.S. release
· You’ve Changed – has done really well in Australia and was played on the t.v. show The Vampire Diaries
· Bring Night – Sia is ready for a night on the town with this song
· Never Gonna Leave Me – this is a really catchy song. She sings fast and with a strong accent, so it’s hard to sing along, but I’m not sure we’re meant to. Just let her sing it.
· The Co-Dependent – lyrics are exactly what you would expect based on the title, but somehow Sia makes it fun
· Big Girl, Little Girl – I only put this one on because I discovered the beat is the exact pace of a brisk walk to the train, which always makes me feel very close the music.

Try some Sia today! She has two videos out from this album and trust me when I tell you that the one for You’ve Changed (below) is the less bizarre of the two.

Incidentally, I had what is referred to in the running world as a “good run” other day and I attribute it entirely to the awesome 4-minute playlist from my previous post!