Sunday, October 31, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
There is a good lesson in this, however: sometimes when you listen to music you don’t want to listen to, you find out you actually like it. I’m not saying I’ll go to work tomorrow with a plaid shirt and cowboy boots on, but I was surprised that there were a number of tracks on Sugarland’s new album (“The Incredible Machine”) that I really liked.
If you’re not familiar with Sugarland, they are a male/female country duo and should not be confused with Sugar Loaf, where my family skied in Michigan last year, or Candy Land, the popular children’s board game. My observation about Sugarland based on this album is that they are a very positive thinking people. There are no bad relationships or bad days or even bad hair days in Sugarland. Most of the vocals are from the female half of the duo and she must be the most chipper person around. This was somewhat of a refreshing change of pace from some of the music I’ve been listening to lately (I’m talking to you, Mumford & Sons).
Not surprisingly, the songs I tended to like most were the ones where the twang wasn’t over exaggerated and the lyrics weren’t too cutesy (I’m hard to please); there were definitely a few that violated both of those criteria. I really liked the title track (“Incredible Machine”), which I think is about airplanes but am worried that’s too obvious and I’m missing the real meaning, and “Find the Beat Again”, which is such a pick-yourself-up song that you’ll either feel cheered right away or find so annoyingly upbeat that you’ll want to smash your iPod- I am choosing to like it. I also really enjoyed a very quick (90 second) song that is the only one exclusively sung by Mr. Sugarland, here upgraded from his role as only a backup on a few other tracks. The song, “Incredible Machine (Interlude)” is really pretty and I would love to hear more of his voice on other songs. The first single from the album, “Stuck Like Glue”, wasn’t my favorite, but I actually liked it a lot more after I watched the video- sort of a cute twist on a stalker (what’s not to love?).
Sugarland is obviously a country group, but I don’t think they’re so over the top countrified that they can’t cross over to mainstream popularity- I call it Country Lite. If you’re like me and don’t usually fancy yourself a country fan, I still think you will like some of the tracks here. Enjoy!
Monday, October 25, 2010
A few weeks ago, my daughter told me she wanted to visit one of the finalists a second time; we initially looked at this particular school over the summer and there weren’t many students there. Without really questioning the logic of driving 3 ½ hours to simply walk around a campus we had already toured, I agreed to the trip. This school is secretly my top pick of the two finalists, but I need to play it cool. My finely tuned parenting instincts have revealed that 17-year olds do not always value the opinions of their parents as much as their parents think they should, so I’m been employing something called reverse psychology. If I push too hard for the school I like, I’ll push her toward the other one. This reverse psychology is a little risky, partly because she’s not a toddler and partly because she’s actually taking psychology in school right now. Not only have we been the recipients of some free (and unsolicited) analysis, but she also seems to have become more adept at identifying such trickery.
Due to my daughter’s schedule, we were pretty much stuck visiting the school on a Sunday. This threw me a little since Sunday is typically my official day to get ready for the following week: I do laundry, plan dinners, head to Jewel, conduct some high level schedule conflict resolution and other equally fun weekend activities. Determined to make this visit happen, however, I did the week’s laundry on Saturday (which created more family confusion than it seemed like it should have) and off we went Sunday morning.
I was excited to drive north on a fall day, anticipating a beautiful drive. I didn’t factor continuous rain into that vision. The deer carcass count reached five before we had even arrived, and the only living wildlife we saw was a flock (???) of wild turkeys along the road. If you don’t know what a wild turkey looks like, I’ll just say that from a distance I thought it was a group of black garbage bags blowing from some sticks. You will definitely not find a rendering of a wild turkey on any of the holiday tableware in the Pottery Barn catalogue because who would want to serve Thanksgiving dinner on plates depicting vultures? However, about 30 minutes before we arrived, the skies cleared, the seas parted and the fall colors were indeed magnificent. My daughter did not appreciate the beauty as she had basically folded herself in half and gone to sleep with her head on a pillow on her lap about halfway through the drive; her ability to fall asleep on command in any awkward position will serve her well in college. It’s almost certainly the result of superior parenting skills!
We had a lovely walk around campus and tried not to dwell on the fact that perhaps we should have come on a weekday when we could meet with someone from the program she’s interested in (a third visit, apparently). The only black mark on the day was the fact that the campus bookstore is not open on Sundays, which threatened to overshadow everything else. We rectified it with a quick online order when we got home, although she still grumbled about not being able to wear her new sweatshirt to school on Monday. Alas…
I once lectured my kids that they were lucky to have a mother who exposed them to good music, to which I was met with some exaggerated eye rolling, so I have since downplayed that particular benefit of their lineage. The drive to visit Sunday’s school got me thinking about what the youngsters are listening to these days. The back page of Rolling Stone has always featured multiple lists, such as top albums, top pop songs, top ten songs from 1982, etc. The number of lists has grown so voluminous that it now takes up two pages in every issue. They always include a list of the top college albums, so in honor of our college visit I took a peek at that list and am sharing it here. I have the Arcade Fire album and have heard of Jenny and Johnny, but that’s about it. I guess the take-away is that college students indeed speak a foreign language. They don’t even listen to our music! Where are Sheryl Crow and Eric Clapton?
Wish me luck- there is no rest for the weary. As soon as we complete this process with my daughter, there is another daughter on her heels and we get to do it all over again. I have to admit, I like the college visits and the one-on-one time. Ask me how much I like my kids going to college in the fall when I’m crying about them leaving the nest and I’ll tell a different tale. My freshman son consoles me by telling me he’s not going college and is going to live at home forever. Isn’t that every parent’s dream? For now, enjoy the music!
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
2. Of Montreal – False Priest
3. No Age – Everything in Between
4. The Walkmen – Lisbon
5. The Black Angels – Phosphene Dream
6. Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard
7. Grinderman – Grinderman 2
8. The Thermals – Personal Life
9. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
10. Jenny and Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now
If you enjoy this blog, please join me on Facebook.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
After having several big hits and really becoming widely known from their last album, Kings of Leon was the recipient of some negativity prior to the release of “Come Around Sundown”. One of the band members noted in Rolling Stone that if anyone had to listen to anything as much as the general public had to listen to the songs from their last album they would certainly end up hating it (I’m paraphrasing but not much), so there is some self recognition about the overexposure. The band also got some bad press a few months back when they aborted a concert after playing only three songs. Apparently the rafters of whatever venue they were playing were populated with pigeons relieving themselves on the audience (and band) members, and they were thereafter characterized as divas for bailing on the concert.
Because of this, they’re a little jumpy about how well this latest album will be received. The band is comprised of three brothers and their cousin. The brothers’ father and all four band members’ grandfather were both named Leon; hence the band’s name. They’re from the south: the brothers are from Tennessee and the cousin from Mississippi, and all four currently reside in Nashville. As a result, some of their songs have a hint of a country twang to them. The sound on some of the songs also walk just this side of whiny, so I think they need to be a little careful about that.
I did enjoy listening to this album. When I started thinking about what I wanted to write, I decided to look at the lyrics for the songs; because of the sometimes twang and the almost whininess, not all of the lyrics are easy to decipher while listening casually. When considering the lyrics, I realized with dismay that I couldn’t necessarily understand what they were getting at in a lot of their songs. What’s up with that, Kings? I don’t like to think that the Kings of Leon are too smart for me as I pride myself on having solidly mediocre intelligence. I concluded that I should just leave the lyrics alone and enjoy the songs.
Many others must agree: this album is actually both #1 and #3 on iTunes right now, once for the extended version (a.k.a. the $14.99 version) and once for the regular version ($10.99). Of course, because I didn’t notice that there were two versions when I downloaded this at 5:30 a.m. last Tuesday morning, I bought the extended version, which has five more tracks than the regular version. I should note, however, that three of those five tracks are related to the same song (remix of the song “Radioactive”, video for that song and video for the making of the video). Therefore, if you don’t like “Radioactive” it’s probably not worth the extra $4.00 for the extended version.
Luckily for me, I do like “Radioactive” and especially like the remix version as it features a gospel choir, also highlighted in the video for the song. The other tracks I liked were “Back Down South”, which has a definite country feel to it (as you might guess from the title), and “Birthday”, which is easy to sing along to. I know “Radioactive” is supposed to be their first radio single, although I’ve only heard it once on the radio so far. If you’re interested in learning more about the band, there is a 14 part interview with them on both their website and YouTube (yes, 14 parts). They’ll be (or or possibly were by the time you read this) on Saturday Night Live on October 23rd, which will be big for them. Here is the video for "Radioactive"- enjoy!
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Last weekend, I asked in what I thought was a very enthusiastic voice whether any of my kids were interested in putting our Halloween decorations out (which really just consist of a few candles). I might have overdone the enthusiasm because all I got was some confused stares until one finally responded slowly, “Nooo?” as if she was uncertain of her answer because it was a trick question. Suffice it to say the decorations are still not out.
To be fair, this apathy extends to other holidays also, and while I would like to blame it on something genetic, I’ve concluded that the root cause is good old fashioned laziness- it all just seems like too much work. When one of my sisters gave birth to my niece a few days before Halloween almost nine years ago, I remember wondering with sympathy if she would be obligated to have Halloween themed birthday parties forever after.
A couple weeks ago, I was looking online at pictures my cousin had posted of the birthday party for her 3-year old son at which everyone was dressed as superheroes, even the adults (horrified emphasis on this last point). Honestly, I found it stressful just looking at the pictures. Whereas an appropriate response might have been, “Wow, that looks like a lot of fun for the toddler,” mine was more along the lines of, “Thank goodness that party was in Colorado and I didn’t have to come up with a superhero costume.”
It is with this background that you will understand why I was less than thrilled when my other sister suggested that I create a Halloween playlist. I tried to explain that I thought a playlist with only two songs would be fairly boring. I have to say, she got a little defensive about my reaction to the Halloween playlist idea, which surprised me and made me feel a bit guilty that I was so dismissive, especially when she reported regretfully that she is only “allowed” to play Monster Mash on the air (she’s a DJ) once a year, although that seems like plenty to me.
However, my guilt pang prompted me to conduct a tiny bit of research (meaning that I Googled “Halloween songs”), and when I realized that I didn’t have to come up with literal Halloween songs but could focus more on the devil and other themes commonly found in rock and pop music, I warmed up to the idea. I came up with the following songs in my iTunes library that could possibly be interpreted as having a loose association to something vaguely related to Halloween. There you go- me celebrating the “holiday” after all!
• “Devil’s in the Jukebox” – Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs
• “If You’re Goin’ Through Hell” – Rodney Atkins
• “Spooky” – Joan Osborne
• “Halloween” – Dave Matthews Band
• “See You in My Nightmares” – Kanye West, feat. Lil Wayne
• “Voodoo” – The Neville Brothers
• “Electric Child of Witchcraft Rising” – New Pornographers
• “Candy Everybody Wants” – 10,000 Maniacs
• “The Long Black Veil” – Johnny Cash
• “Psycho Killer” – Talking Heads
• “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” – MGMT
By the way, the picture is courtesy of my more spirited sister, Maggie. If you enjoy this blog, join me on Facebook.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
If you’re not familiar with Mavis Staples, and I have to admit that I wasn’t all that familiar with her, she was part of a family gospel group called the Staple Singers many, many decades ago. Although her list of accomplishments is long (she’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award) and her age is on the older side (71), she has had somewhat of a resurrection in the past decade, even playing at Lollapalooza this past summer.
One of my favorite parts about reviewing albums is not just being exposed to new music that wouldn’t likely be heard on the radio, but also in learning how the albums were inspired. Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples are both Chicagoans (Mavis being a lifelong South Sider), and Tweedy heard her perform a couple years ago, having been a fan for quite some time. He approached her about doing an album, and the time was right for her as she was uncertain what direction to take her music.
Tweedy ended up choosing 11 songs from the past, many of which Mavis performed with the Staple Singers and/or were written by her father, and writing two new songs for her. There is also a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover (“Wrote a Song for Everyone”) and one from Randy Newman (“Losing You”). They recorded the songs in Wilco’s studio in Chicago, and in the bio they provided for Amazon, Staples says that she loved going to the studio each day and having the Wilco band members stop by with their babies. I love that image!
The result of it all is that we get her beautiful rich voice combined with some arrangements that are a bit more contemporary. In the New Yorker interview, she expressed how pleased she is that “Mr. Tweedy” (adorable!) has helped her attract some younger listeners. The two of them have been doing the talk show circuit, performing on The Colbert Report and Letterman. She truly has a beautiful voice, although when I sing along I am confident I sound just as good- she’s that talented that she can trick us into believing that about ourselves!
Many of the songs are heavily gospel, but don’t be dissuaded if you’re not really into that- I’m normally not either. There is not a bad song on the album, but the ones I particularly love are the title track (“You Are Not Alone”), which is one of the two songs on the album that Tweedy wrote, “In Christ There is No East or West”, and “Don’t Knock”. That being said, I have found myself singing just about all of the songs to myself at some point this past week. I also had the album on in the kitchen the other night while my 16-year old daughter and I were both cooking, and she didn’t complain. There you go: an album for all ages.
Below is an acoustic version of "We Are Not Alone" performed by Staples and Tweedy. Enjoy!
Monday, October 11, 2010
While I was apparently in some state of intoxication (running or otherwise), I decided to sign up to run the marathon again in 2010. I was a veteran, so I knew I could do it, but this year I wanted to do it better than I did the first time. Last year the training essentially took over my life; this year, not so much, which may have been part of the problem. Last year I obsessed about my runs; this year I missed one here and there, was a mile or so short of my targets on long runs and wasn’t diligent about my day of cross training each week. When I started to have pain in my left leg that got worse with each run, I rested but panicked about the training I was missing. When I tried to jump back in, the pain would get worse again until I finally saw a doctor. The prescription: rest. That was it for me; I simply could not miss that much training and have a chance of successfully getting back in. While I was disappointed, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also a little relieved to regain some free time. But I was still dreading Marathon Sunday and the fact that I wouldn’t be participating.
Sunday morning, I woke up at 7 a.m., turned on the t.v. to start watching the coverage, and set up my computer to track my friends and coworkers who were running. No runner was happy about the predicted high temperatures. As the morning wore on and the checkpoint times popped up, I could tell that this would not have been a successful day for me, which brought me a bit of peace.
I think the only people who weren’t celebrating the weather this weekend were probably runners. For everyone else, Chicago experienced the most amazing fall weather. With the colors starting to pop out and the warm weather putting everyone in a good mood, I was inspired to compile some songs about the season.
The most challenging part of this post has not been collecting the songs but getting the darn picture, which I thought would be easy. Sunday afternoon, I walked out into the front yard, assuming I could easily snap a picture of a yellow or red tree, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with my results. I decided to head to the park on my bike and was joined by my 14-year old son. The park also didn’t do it for me, so I suggested a path that I knew would feel like riding through what I hoped would be a colorful tree tunnel. I forgot that 14-year old boys are like little ninjas on their bikes, and they also do not have a fully developed sense of fear, so the “shortcut” we took probably could have ended up getting me arrested for trespassing. A mother should know better than to be led around closed gates to get somewhere- twice. We also roamed the grounds surrounding the nearby convent, which my son refers to as the Nunnery. He is dying to catch a glimpse of a nun and is fascinated by the basketball court and swimming pool- I guess he’s hoping to spot a game of nun pick-up ball or a nun pool party. No such luck, nor with the trees, and he finally ditched me, declaring me “too picky”. I headed for the Prairie Path, snapping a couple more pictures. What did I end up using? The tree in my front yard. Oh well, without running the marathon it was basically my only exercise of the day.
Here is my list of songs for the season, inspired by sun, color, months and the season itself (admittedly, some are a bit of a stretch- there aren't that many songs about fall, turns out). Enjoy!
• “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” – Bruce Springsteen
• “Fall in Boston” – Chris Bentliff
• “Yellow” – Coldplay
• “Autumn Leaves” – Eric Clapton
• “Pale September” – Fiona Apple
• “Colors” – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
• “Wake Me Up When September Ends” – Green Day
• “Waiting for the Sun” – The Jayhawks
• “Yellow Sun” – Raconteurs
• “In the Sun” – She & Him
If you enjoy this blog, please join me on Facebook.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Wikipedia characterizes Mumford & Sons as a folk band and iTunes classifies their songs as “alternative.” Based solely on “Little Lion Man”, I would call the genre “Lively English Pub”. After listening to the entire album for a few days, however, I am changing that to “Gloomy English Pub.” “Little Lion Man” brings to mind an image of a pub full of happy, drunk, knee slapping Brits getting caught up in the energy of the music. Most of the rest of the songs bring to mind a rainy English day with those same drunk patrons sadly drowning their misery in endless pints of stout. Taken individually, the songs are quirky and some start slowly and pick up the pace midway through, but many are slow and depressing throughout- and that’s before you listen to the lyrics.
This is the debut album from Mumford & Sons, and it was actually released last year. “Little Lion Man” saw a lot of success overseas much earlier than we Americans picked up on it. It was voted the number one song on an Australian music poll in 2009 (by a large margin, supposedly), and they also performed the song on David Letterman earlier this year. A couple songs have been on Grey’s Anatomy, I’m guessing either during death or breakup scenes.
If you do not already have “Little Lion Man” on your iPod, fork over the $0.99 to buy it (really, it’s like a couple sips of a Starbucks latte). I can attest that it is the perfect song to belt out in the car to pick up your mood a little, especially if you bravely use the entire “F” word (Not with the kids in the car, of course. My 14-year old son actually uses the word “bleep” instead, which is almost more annoying than if he actually sang the swear word itself). As for the rest of the album, I’ll take a pass for now and save it for a bad day on my next trip to England.
I've posted this video before, but I'm putting it up again in case you don't know the song. If you like this blog, join me on Facebook. Enjoy!
Monday, October 4, 2010
- "Made You Look" – Nas
- "Empire State of Mind" – Jay-Z, feat. Alicia Keys
- "Nothing But the Whole Wide World" – Jakob Dylan
- "Work That" – Mary J. Blige
- "Killing Me Softly With His Song" – Fugees
- "Air Force Ones" – Nelly
- "Impossible Germany" – Wilco
- "Wake Up Everybody" - John Legend & The Roots, feat. Common & Melanie Fiona
- "Yes I Will" – Michael Franti & Spearhead
- "Never Give You Up" – Raphael Saadiq, feat. Stevie Wonder and CJ
- "Save Some Time to Dream" – John Mellencamp
- "We Shall Overcome" – Bruce Springsteen with The Sessions Band (live in Dublin)