Thursday, July 24, 2008

No Sex for Ben

Song: No Sex for Ben
Artist: The Rapture
Album: The Music of Grand Theft Auto IV

I haven’t bought a video game console since… gosh, I think it was high school. And it was the Super Nintendo. I have since played a game here and there, love the new Nintendo Wii (though my experience is only really with bowling) and really dug Guitar Hero, which lets me play out my rock star fantasies in the comfort of a living room. What has escaped me though it the “Grand Theft Auto” phenomenon. I had heard about the game when it was released due to its controversial violence and themes, but didn’t really realize just how involved the whole thing is.

I still haven’t played “Grand Theft Auto” and understand that I sound WAY old when I marvel at how far gaming has come. I read, since I was interested, a couple reviews of “GTAIV” which were pretty unanimously glowing. Many said it was the best movie of the summer, yet in a game. I can’t speak on that, but a read of the Wikipedia page devoted for the game proves one thing… Donkey Kong this ain’t!

What does interest me is the amount of time they’ve spent incorporating music into the game, and they have also gone as far as to create a soundtrack for the game with a bunch of top notch artists. Included is “No Sex for Ben” a Timbaland produced bouncy little ditty from the NYC dance-rock hipsters. I was a huge fan of the bands last record, ‘06’s “Pieces of People We Love,” and while “No Sex for Ben” doesn’t quite sound like that record I really dig it.

Apparently the game features several different radio stations that you can listen to including a couple talk stations and all. You’d expect some cheesy background music but no… they paid the price and got some really great and diverse artist to include music for the game. Kanye West, Jill Scott, R.Kelly, Bob Marley, The Black Keys, !!!, Shaggy, R.E.M., Genesis, Stevie Nicks… the list goes on and on. Totally impressive.

Frankly, I don’t need another thing to waste any of my time so I don’t see myself becoming any kind of game addict. But if they’re a conduit for odds and sods songs getting released I’m all for it. Especially if their as fun as this Rapture track.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don’t Call Me Baby

Song: Don’t Call Me Baby
Artist: Kreesha Turner
Album: Passion

Last week I spent an entire glorious week on vacation in Provincetown, MA. I pretty much go every year and one of my favorite things to do is hear new music and see what is grabbing the DJ’s and audiences. While not as fruitful on a discovery front as a trip to Europe, what I do get from a summer weekend in PTown is usually a handle on what the hot songs are for the summer. Provincetown, if you didn’t know, is big homo vacation destination and not for nothing… fags tend to be a step ahead on the pop front. It was four years ago that I realized just how big Kelly Clarkson was going to be, and last year it was “Umbrella” all the time. So what was it going to be this year?

In Provincetown there is what is known as “tea dance” every day at the Boatslip resort from 4 – 7 PM. It’s basically a happy hour (minus any kind of drink special) where you can meet up with friends, make plans for the evening, watch the sun set over the bay, get a little drunk, and dance to hot remixes of today’s hottest pop hits. Now don’t get me wrong, tea dance isn’t the absolute barometer of what IS the song of the summer. When discussing this topic with my very good friend John and he threw out Madonna’s “Give it 2 Me” as his guess, though I needed to remind him that she’s the biggest homo icon still working it today… so despite hearing it at EVERY party (matched up with “4 Minutes” for good measure) both day and night all week, I didn’t really think it could count. It was sort of expected. Like running into dudes on ecstasy.

By the end of the week I had two contenders that I think have a good chance or seriously blowing up by the rapidly approaching end of Summer. First, there was Jennifer Hudson’s “Spotlight,” her first official single from her album that has taken forever to get done. (I mean… haven’t there been like four seasons of American Idol since she was on?) But to be fair she was busy getting a (wildly undeserved) Oscar for her role in “Dreamgirls” as well as the “Sex and the City” movie. And while I think she is a mediocre to poor actress that happens to have the biggest luck I’ve ever seen, the girl certainly can sing. I heard “Spotlight’ wanting to dislike it and was happily bored to tears. But I must be honest… the DJ played it towards the end one tea dance and I don’t know if it was the pina coladas that I had enjoyed by the pool all day, or just the energy of being surrounded by people happily dancing and singing along but the tune got to me. I really dug the dance version, and found myself LOVING the “woo-hoo’s” in it.

Take a listen to the album version:

In the end, I decided the song of the week was a pleasant surprise… and one hat I think is STILL gaining momentum. “Don’t Call Me Baby” by Canadian singer-songwriter Kreesha Turner was indeed a surprise for me. I heard it at tea dance every time I went, but was most shocked when I heard it at the Blowoff party Tuesday night. Ironically, I had been first introduced to Kreesha just two weeks before as she performed three songs live at a corporate event I attended. I hadn’t heard of her before, and while I thought she was good, sweet, and had a great voice I wasn’t BLOWN away. Her songs have been gaining a bit of play on shows like “Lipstick Jungle” but her album “Passion” doesn’t hit stores until mid-August. But the more I heard “Don’t Call Me Baby” I knew it had hit summer jam written all over it. It’s a “you done me wrong” anthem that speaks to women and gay men alike. I can’t seem to track down Rich Morel’s “Pink Noise Remix” which was played at tea as well as at the Blowoff party, but the original is actually pretty great. It’s not my usual thing but I’ve been listening to it a lot.

So what’s your song of the summer?


Don’t Call Me Baby

Bounce With Me

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Gamma Ray

Song: Gamma Ray
Artist: Beck
Album: Modern Guilt

If I am totally honest with you, I should mention that I approach every new Beck record in really one way… absolute excitement. Despite his shifts in style and tone from album to album I can officially say that not one of his records has disappointed me. I can usually find something to like in every one of his records and for many of them, they just are some of my favorite records of all time. I think he is, and has always been, equal parts innovator, fun, goofy, introspective, and mysterious.

Today marks the release of his new album “Modern Guilt” which on the surface seems to be his attempt at 60’s style psychedelia. A mix of Nuggets-era rock and well… Beck. It’s important to note that while Beck has changes styles from album to album they all in effect sound like non-other than just Beck. I think, given another decade or two, that Beck will be considered one of the most import singer-songwriters in rock history. But hey, I’m a fan.

Depending on how you count, “Modern Guilt” is either Beck’s 8th, 10th, or 12th album. (If you count his indie records, and if you count the ones that are still in print, etc.) I think that officially it should be considered his 10th and because of this, and my outrageous fandom… I thought I’d write up a little bit about all of his records thus far…

Stereopathetic Soulmanure
His first release on an indie, a wild mix of acoustic jams, hip-hop, crazy noises, and samples from all over the place. It’s sort of like Beck’s idea of a mix-tape… except he wrote all the songs. My guess is that he was trying to create a record to get high to and nothing more. Except there are some cool songs on there, including the sweet acoustic “Rowboat” (which was later covered by Johnny Cash) and jokey but fun tracks “Satan Gave me a Taco” and “Puttin It Down.”

Mellow Gold
The record that introduced Beck to the world, including blow-up single “Loser” and less successful (but totally great) “Beercan.” The album comes across as a more serious take on “Stereopathetic’s” out-there mix-match style. But really, there is nothing serious about it. I remember listening to this pretty much non-stop for a good two years. Though aside from” Loser,” I rarely play it anymore.

One Foot in the Grave
For his third (yes… THIRD!) album of 1994 Beck went indie again for this “anti-folk” record. This was the first hint that Beck was more than a stoner “slacker” who specialized in off-the-wall sound collages. While lyrically it maintained some of his goofy and sometimes free-association words, there were hints at darker things on the horizon. “I Get Lonesome” is a dirge-like favorite, as well as “Cyanide Breath Mint” and “Asshole,” which was covered by Tom Petty for his soundtrack to “She’s the One.” In a way, while these albums didn’t come close to the sales of “Mellow Gold,” it helped create a buzz around the guy, more so than just the stellar major-label debut.

Maybe it was because people thought of him as a one hit wonder, or the fact that it built upon what he had done before to create a modern classic, but his major-label follow up to “Mellow Gold,” “Odelay” pretty much sent Beck into the stratosphere. Not only did it have a string of actual hit songs, “Where it’s At,” “Devil’s Haircut,” and “New Pollution,” but in a way it re-defined pop music in the 90’s. Almost every musical genre is touched upon and it began the start of Beck finding smart producers (The Dust Brothers of “Paul’s Boutique” fame) that help him lift his musical ambitions. I wore this out at the time, and many consider it his best… I frankly haven’t listened to it in a while.

Beck’s first curve ball (if you didn’t pay attention to his indie releases, or the onslaught of b-sides released on singles) a folk-blues record that sounded nothing like “Gold” or “Odelay” yet remained completely Beck. I remembered feeling so-so about this record at the time of release but it soon grabbed me, solidifying my love for the man. He can do anything!

Midnight Vultures
This album was an audience divider. Some raved about the Prince 80’s inspired set of jams and others thought he’d just gone too far. I was with the latter at first, but then slowly understood its brilliance. It’s a big dumb party record, a pitch-perfect recreation of a lot of 80’s R & B, or a one-joke record… all in one. I can see why people hate it, and I know why I love it.

Sea Change
Like “Mutations” before it, Beck slowed things down and went more folk based with this record. In my mind it solidified any questions about his songwriting ability, and acted as a response to any negative feedback from “Midnight Vultures.” Despite “Mutations,” whos songs were still a bit jokey, “Sea Change” debuted Beck as the serious artist. It’s a heartbreaking break-up record, and probably his most critically adored. (Well… along with “Odelay.”)

I think it’s his best. Many argued that he was just re-doing all things Beck over again, which is easy to say about someone whom has basically re-invented themselves with ever record. Yes he returned to the stylings of “Odelay” (along with its producers the Dust Brothers) but listening to that record and “Guero” side to side show where he’s come as a songwriter. There is bubbling mystery and dread that started for “Sea Change” but they’re married with sunny Beck jams. While you might bop along to “Girl” because it’s one of his sunniest fun pop songs, it’s about a guy killing a girl. And Beck sings as the guy. It’s such a killer record and one that I have not stopped listening to since its release. If you only own one Beck record, this should be it.

The Information
After going gaga for “Guero,” I suppose I couldn’t help but be let down by “The Information,” Beck’s speedy follow up. I recently re-listened to the full album and realized I liked it better than I remembered. It’s too long, and all over the place, but what it lacks in focus it gains in tunes. “Think I’m in Love” is a straight up classic… and SO Beck, “Strange Apparition,” “Nausea,” “We Dance Alone,” and the title track are highlights. What it sounds like is a great B-Sides collection, it just doesn’t say one thing… which Beck hadn’t really done since… well his first two records.

Modern Guilt
I’ve been listening to Beck’s latest pretty much on repeat since I got it late Sunday. Initially, right off the bat, I loved it. Beck gets with Producer of the moment Danger Mouse to craft a swirling 60’s Psychedelic rock record that fits in our times of mass fear, confusion, and uncertainty. At just over thirty minutes he clears the problems he had with the overloaded “The Information,” and mixes his (and DM’s) ear for a killer groove and new lyrical weight. “Gamma Ray” is a groovy Bond-ish number that go-go’s on about seriously bad weather. The title track is as well a highlight.

If “Guero” and “the Information” were a return to the sound collage style that made him a house-hold name, “Guilt” is his return making a single concept record… yet it’s obtuse, strange, a bit scary, and surprisingly upbeat. Thus far the only misstep I find is the drum and bass rerun “Replica” that is more annoying than… well anything else. If we learn anything from “Modern Guilt” it’s that Beck is going to continue surprising us and making some of the best modern music around. At this point he’s carved out a place in rock history for himself being nothing but himself.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Find the River

Song: Find the River
Artist: R.E.M.
Album: Automatic for the People

There have been times in my life where music and the current circumstances I was dealing with strangely collided. Times where I felt life’s answers were hidden in a song, despite the knowledge that the songwriter no doubt knew nothing about me, nor the state at which my life was currently at. Once again, it’s moments like these that prove the case for the power of music, and the artistry of songwriting.

I discovered R.E.M. after “Out of Time” and had just about gotten their entire back catalog by the time “Automatic” came out. I was a full-fledged new fan and “Automatic” solidified them as one of the most popular bands of the early 90’s. I loved the album at first listen pretty much, but over time it grew on me in a way very few albums have. And at one point in my life I felt like the record had literally been written FOR ME. “Find the River” specifically caught my ear as it vaguely seems to be about the struggle of finding your true path in life. This song spelled a few things out to me many moons ago and when I hear it I am forced to think about my current life, the choices I’ve made, and where I was when this song so impacted me. Pretty powerful.

The river to the ocean goes,
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of ginger, lemon, indigo,
Coriander stem and rows of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way

As I was thinking about not only some of my favorite songs of all time, but albums I think “Automatic” might take the lead spot. I have not since had a work of music that has changed meaning for me over time. And there have been times (specifically when listening to a new, wildly disappointing, R.E.M. album) where I absolutely marvel at this record. Song for song it’s one of R.E.M.’s best, but beyond that it holds together like a true album with a common theme of loss, re-birth, and personal discovery.

I acknowledge that I could be totally alone in how much this albums means to me, and that’s the great thing about music. Sure I have, at times, had a friend or two that RAVED up and down on a beautiful song to have me think it’s over-produced garbage… but that’s why the song got to THEM and not ME. It found them because it needed to speak to them. In essence I believe that like finding the river for ourselves, music can find us to direct us.


Find the River

Man on the Moon


Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Song: Hyper-Ballad
Artist: Björk
Album: Post

Sometimes I feel that when you are introduced to an artist, it’s usually that first initial impression that formulates your opinion and usually that first album, of movie, or book is your favorite. My good friend Lizzy and I had a conversation about this regarding filmmaker Wes Anderson. I believe it was at the time of the release of “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” which we both hadn’t seen, she was interested, and I was on the fence. See I was a HUGE fan of “Rushmore,” thought it was one of the smartest comedies I had seen in a long while and thought his follow up; “The Royal Tenenbaums” was good but not great. But Lizzy LOVED “Tenenbaums” and thought that “Rushmore,” which she saw after, was good but was missing something that she saw in the previous picture. Her hypothesis, given that Anderson has a very particular style and approach to his films, was that the first of his films you see is the one you’ll love and subsequent movies will leave you feeling like you wanted more. I went along with this though after seeing “Aquatic” which I though was actually bad, I haven’t seen another of his films. Oh well.

Despite going on and on about this artistic theory, I actually do NOT think this applies to Icelandic singer Björk. Actually… I’m not sure what applies to Björk because I am still not convinced the woman is 100% human. But today while I let her catalog play on my iPod I remember being a touch disappointed with her debut album when it came out. “Debut,” (haha) was released in 1993 amid the Alternative music boom in which totally avant-garde artist got record deals AND had alt. radio hits. While I really dug like half of the tracks others I did not, oh well. Despite this, when the follow up, “Post” came in 1995 I got it anyhow and was literally blown away by it. She not only seemed to re-invent herself, but she seemed to be reinventing a different genre with each song. It is my favorite of her records and still stands as one of the best records of the 90’s.

If I had to pick one song off “Post” I would certainly without hesitation pick “Hyper-Ballad,” a strange, moving track that slowly builds over the course of its five and a half minutes. It’s a love ballad, in which Björk pictures herself falling off a mountain and crashing on rocks below. She sings with such passion that while you might not connect all the dots you just FEEL what she is saying. And when the song does finally kick in, it’s nothing short of miraculous. It’s an odd comforting song to me; I find it mysterious, joyous, and just killer. And it hasn’t aged at all, despite being as electronic as it is.

I wasn’t a big fan of Björk’s last two records but REALLY love her 2001 release “Vespertine.” It’s a quiet beautiful record, nothing like “Post” but just as exhilarating in another way.


Videos from “Post”


Army of Me

It’s Oh So Quiet

Possibly my favorite music video of all time.