Time signature error (see, “Review: ‘Once'”)

April 16, 2010

So, after re-thinking it, it turns out I was wrong about the time signature for, “When Your Mind’s Made Up, ” a song from Once mentioned in my previous blog post.  It’s actually 5/4, unless I’m mistaken.  Do correct me if I’m wrong!


Review: “Once”

April 16, 2010

Shot on a shoestring budget and starring two people who had barely acted before in their lives, 2007’s Once has gone on to develop an immense following thanks to its cinéma vérité style, honest storytelling and captivating soundtrack.  A simple story of an Irish street musician (Glen Hansard) who develops a musical relationship with a Czech flower seller (Markéta Irglová), the film is, without a doubt, one of the most honest films about the world of musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing.

Much like a standard musicial, the film allows the songs to further the story, delving into topics like break-ups (“Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy, ” and, “Lies”), a technique which not only showcases each song’s excellence in its entirety, but also provides great framework for show-stoppers like the Oscar-winning, “Falling Slowly, ” an emotional tune that truly gets me every time I hear it.  Even more skillful songwriting makes an appearance during a scene in a recording studio, where the two lay down several songs with the help of a backing band-it is here that we’re fortunate to witness the recording of, “When Your Mind’s Made Up, ” an unbelievable song in 6/8 that gives the soundtrack an additional boost.

As I obviously treasure these songs a great deal, I will not be posting links to videos or mp3s of any of the aforementioned tunes, instead recommending that anyone who reads this blog post take a few hours to watch Once.  I will, however, direct those same readers to the video below, in which Hansard does easily the most incredible cover of Van Morrison’s, “Astral Weeks, ” I’ve ever seen/heard.  Thanks to Tony Memmel for pointing this out!  🙂

At the risk of sounding like the host of Reading Rainbow, if you’re interested in more music from the talented duo that star in Once, do check out The Swell Season, who have released three LPs to date including last year’s Strict Joy.  Hansard has also enjoyed a successful career in his own right, as a member of Irish rock group The Frames and the mastermind behind a wealth of solo recordings.


The champ is here

April 13, 2010

COMPLETELY non-music related, but I just wanted to express my sincere congratulations to Phil Mickelson on his third Masters victory.  Despite excellent play by Lee Westwood, who seemed to hang in there up until the end, Mickelson clearly stood out on Sunday and clinched what was easily his most emotional win yet, what with wife Amy and mother Mary both suffering from breast cancer at the time.  The image of Mickelson and his wife embracing after his birdie on 18 is enough to warm even the coldest of hearts, and is surely a sign of more amazing things to come for him.


The Smashing Pumpkins and their two best songs

April 10, 2010

In October of 1995, the ambitious double disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness hit store shelves, and soon found as-yet unheard of success for The Smashing Pumpkins due in no small part to singles (and later classics) like, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings, ” and, “1979.  ”  However, it was the multi-layered rock epic, “Tonight, Tonight, “ that would end up converting many a non-fan and expanding their appeal to a much wider audience.  Opening with an orchestral, string-heavy intro, the song soon scales back to a minimum of guitars, drums and bass, with frontman Billy Corgan’s voice leading the way.  The strings are never far away, though, and soon return for the choruses, along with an unconventional drum groove courtesy of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.  Although the song does calm down once more following that first chorus, it never is quite as quiet as before, and only continues to expand and contract as Corgan sees fit.  It’s this unbelievable songwriting that has resulted in something magical-to this day, I haven’t heard a song quite like it, and I doubt I ever will.

Band With The Best Cover Version: The Felix Culpa (internet-only release)

Following the release of 1991’s Gish, The Smashing Pumpkins reunited one again with producer Butch Vig for 1993’s Siamese Dream, an album which would see the band truly enter the mainstream with songs like the crowd-pleaser, “Today.  “  For an opening track, we have, “Cherub Rock, “ a song Billy Corgan insisted be released as the official first single over, “Today, “ a decision executives as his record label strongly advised against.  One can instantly hear why Corgan made this choice-it’s gritty and grungy, but also incredibly exciting.  A series of rolls on the snare drum kick off the song, almost making the audience wonder what they’re in for, before a repeated guitar riff and drum/cymbal accents materialize, seemingly out of nowhere.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, the band breaks through that wall, and an explosion of sound follows that, thanks to an excellent drum fill on behalf of Jimmy Chamberlin.  There’s no turning back now, and as the band surges ahead, we’re pelted with great moments like the fine guitar solo-every piece of the puzzle that is this song come together and compliment each other extremely well.

Band With The Best Cover Version: Roses Are Red (The Killer in You: A Tribute to Smashing Pumpkins, Reignition, 2005)


Tom Sawyer, a song by Rush

April 9, 2010

What can I say?  To try and analyze any one part of this song would be impossible, and to try and review the song as a whole would be like trying to review greatness itself.  If I had to pick something to say, it’d be that this song, well, completely rocks-everything, from the synthesizer, to the guitar solo, to Geddy Lee’s bass and distinctive vocals, to Neil Peart’s innovative drumming…that, truly, is what makes the song.  Were it not for Peart, the song would lack essentials like the sporadic tempo changes that give the song life and the unbelievable drum break towards the end.  But that’s not to say the rest of the band don’t give it their all-Lee’s synthesizer is unparalleled, and a neccessary part of the arrangement.  Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo need not be missed either, showing how much his musicianship adds to Rush’s music.


GP: “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing”

April 7, 2010

Another song that, for me, screams guilty pleasure, “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing, ” ranks as one of Jack Johnson’s most creative endeavors-while overall similar in many ways to other songs of his, the island feel one gets from his music and easy-to-listen-to vocals/instrumentation make it very difficult to care.  A splash of piano in the bridge gives the song the right amount of zest, mixing together with the rest of Jack’s band in a way that only he can pull off.


Review: “Almost Famous”

April 6, 2010

Ever since his directorial debut, 1989’s Say Anything…, Cameron Crowe has established himself a solid filmmaker with a reputation for blending sincere humor, heartfelt dramatics and storylines that draw the audience in with every scene.  Movies like 1996’s Jerry Maguire weave an emotional web of compelling characters and complex themes, while others like 2005’s Elizabethtown tackle heavier elements like the death of a family member.  His consistency of delivering some of the best films one is likely to see will hopefully continue for many years to come, and it’s refreshing to know that these treasures will remain a part of our collective consciousness long after he throws in the proverbial towel.

Keeping with the theme of consistency, another common thread throughout Crowe’s films would easily have to be the unbelievable soundtrack that accompanies each and every moment, whether it’s the Seattle grunge of 1992’s Singles, or the atmospheric art rock of 2001’s Vanilla Sky.  Furthermore, it’d be hard to picture any other song erupting from John Cusack’s boombox during Say Anything… than Peter Gabriel’s, “In Your Eyes.  “

It is with these images that I invite you, if you haven’t already, to take in a film called Almost Famous.  Released in the fall of 2000, Crowe brings us into a semi-autobiographical journey alongside a fictional rock band, introducing us to a world of sex, drugs, music, and an ever-changing tapestry of relationships.

Set during the early 1970s, Patrick Fugit stars as William Miller, a fifteen-year old outcast who frequently diverts his attention from the accelerated classes his mother (Frances McDormand) has laid out for him towards music-specifically, music journalism, a path which has taken bands like The Who, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to William’s ears.  After an encouraging meeting with legendary rock writer Lester Bangs (played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman), William eventually finds himself backstage at an actual concert, expecting to interview Black Sabbath but instead rubbing shoulders with Stillwater, an up-and-coming opening band that features Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) on guitar and Jeff Beebe (Jason Lee) on vocals.  It is here that William also meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a, “Band-Aid, “ who considers herself less a groupie and more a admirer of the bands she looks up to, especially Stillwater, who’s guitarist Russell shares mutual feelings towards Penny.

From this point, Crowe takes the audience on a wild and, oftentimes, unexpected ride that thrusts William into the heart of Stillwater, where he discovers sides of himself he never knew existed all while witnessing the genesis of a great band.  All the while, Penny and Russell’s relationship experiences similar up-and-down moments, as William watches from the sidelines, harboring feelings of his own for Penny.  The movie picks up speed when William hits the road with Stillwater, charged by Rolling Stone magazine with writing a story about the band-a change that the band members tentatively accept due to their fears of how they’ll be portrayed and the sensitive, band-only information William will now be privy to.

Believe it or not, this is only the beginning.  What Cameron Crowe has created with Almost Famous is, quite simply, the finest movie one will ever see about the world of rock music.  Every little detail, every piece of fashion, every word that comes out of the character’s mouths-it’s all done to a, “T.  “  The characters themselves, from the off-beat humor of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs, to Jason Lee’s typical rock star Jeff Beebe, even to Noah Taylor’s band manager Dick, are all richly defined and drawn.  Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane, in particular, is nothing less than a sheer juggernaut of a performance, one of the most original characters one is likely to witness on film.  Watching her in Almost Famous, you can easily see her career beginning from the moment she appears onscreen.

But let’s be honest-putting aside all the characterizations and melodrama, this is a movie about music and the life of a touring musician, and were one to strip this film down to the music alone, it would still succeed admirably.  The numerous scenes of Stillwater onstage are convincingly filmed, thanks in no small part to Lee and Crudup’s performances.  Seeing Russell nearly electrocuted onstage, or the band argue over a shoddy t-shirt design, or the many endless drives in their rusty tour bus-all come together to create a vast palate from which the story draws its heart and energy.  And yes, the drug use, while not as rampant throughout the film as one might expect, still shows up, particularly during a scene at a house party in which Russell indulges in some acid, and utters the film’s most famous line.

And yes, the soundtrack, which features choice cuts from Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and even Stillwater themselves, is another home run for Crowe.

To call Almost Famous merely a film would be detrimental to all it has to offer.  It’s moviemaking at its finest, a film that somehow managed to elevate itself into a higher level previously reserved for works of art that encapsulate every emotion, every feeling, every sensation one gets from listening to their favorite song.  Without a doubt, this is unquestionably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.


Jay-Z, you’ve done it again

April 1, 2010

Scenario:

Right before heading off to work yesterday, I happened to turn on the ol’ idiot box and quickly came upon a new Jay-Z video for a song I’d never heard (surprisingly, I was watching this clip on MTV, a channel where I thought music videos were outlawed as of late).

Review:

Off his recent release The Blueprint 3, “Young Forever, ” features one of the coolest uses of a sample I may have ever heard, in this case taken from the classic 80s jam, “Forever Young, ” by Alphaville (think the school dance scene from Napoleon Dynamite).  British recording artist Mr.  Hudson sings the Alphaville vocals, while Jay-Z fills in the gaps with some of the best rhymes he’s put out in years.  Produced by Kanye, “Temper Tantrum, ” West, the sampled riffs from the original song perfectly fits the overall mood and feel Jay-Z’s trying to convey, bringing to mind similar hits like 2Pacs, “Changes, ” which utilized Bruce Hornsby’s, “The Way It Is.  ”  Hard to believe this is the same guy who, ten years ago, gave us one of the most ridiculous songs ever conceived (yes, I’m referring to, “Big Pimpin'”).


“My Dinosaur Life ” follow-up

March 31, 2010

Although I continue to stick by many of the comments I made in my first official blog post towards Motion City Soundtrack’s recently released My Dinosaur Life, I can’t deny how unbelievable the song, “Worker Bee, ” sounds in the following live videos:


Wow.  Talk about a song getting better when played live!

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of the new album, I must confess how much, “Pulp Fiction, ” has grown on me as of late.  It’s truly a superb song, with a welcome synthesizer part in the intro along with a bass sound that seems taken right from the Beastie Boys hit, “Sabotage, ” and Tony Thaxton’s usual dose of amazing drumming.  The chorus only improves on the greatness of the intro and verse, and helps to move things along.


GP: “You Found Me”

March 30, 2010

The piano-centric Coldplay overtones present in The Fray’s music have managed to find an audience over the past several years, thanks mainly to hits like, “Over My Head (Cable Car), ” “How to Save a Life, ” and their cover of Kanye West’s, “Heartless, ” which became an unexpected hit for the band in 2009.  “You Found Me, ” the lead single off their 2009 album The Fray, continues their brand of soft rock while also managing to become incredibly catchy in the process-the piano keeps the song interesting, while the drums and guitars work well together to round out the instrumental sections of the song, never getting too out of hand while still showing a bit of creativity, such as the tempo change in the second verse, and the guitar swells in the chorus.  The lyrics, which frontman Isaac Slade have described almost as a general question as to where God might be in the midst of all the tragedy this planet is going through, are heartfelt and emotional, and fit well with his distinctive voice.