Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Desert Island Discs

Many people blog about what would be on their desert island list of albums to take. Making a limited supply of music is a challenge in and of itself but to think of what you would listen to alone, stranded and with nothing ever else to bring along is even harder. So here it is, a top ten if you will of Desert Island Discs, Cropulis style. No particular order....

1. The Who Live at Leeds - Why would I bring a live record over the various rock opera's and perfect albums The Who has had? Maybe for variety or maybe because Live at Leeds is the premiere live recording of all time. To me it's a combination of the two. One thing is for sure, listening to a live recording while you are alone might help you day-dream your lonely existence into soaking yourself into that crowd that you'll hear roar after songs like "Young Man Blues" or the insanely epic jam version of "My Generation." I know one thing for sure: I don't ever want to live without the live version of "A Quick One, While He's Away." It may be the pinnacle of their career in a way. It's an extensively long song and on original recording, it lacks a certain power. But this live rendition is anything but lacking in power. It seems strange but a band whose actual albums, from Sell Out to Quadrophenia at least, are so prolifically brilliant, but sometimes they aren't as good as their live counterparts. The Who was deemed the greatest live rock and roll band of all time at one point and I would be remiss to leave this at home.

Key Track - "Young Man Blues"

2. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford OST - Another strange choice, but when it comes to contemplative recordings, there are two coming along for the ride. This being the first, the Jesse James soundtrack is one of the greatest recordings I have ever heard. It's a strange melange of folk sounds, with Ellis' fiddle taking center stage and Cave's broodingly sad piano behind it all. The album works as it's own piece of music outside of the film brilliantly and may be one of the only soundtrack albums that gets constant rotation. A song like "Rather Lovely Thing" is something I just can never do without. It helps ease a wounded mind or assists a contemplative moment and it stirs with beauty. As much as it's not straight classical music, it has the same effect on me and even more so than taking a classical piece with me on this desert island.

Key Track: "Rather Lovely Thing"

3. Stan Getz - Captain Marvel - As much as my list of Jazz albums is very limited, Stan Getz' ultra salsa-ey groove album Captain Marvel is a fantastic work of fun and challenging jazz. The album also will forever be associated with cooking. When I wanted to get amped up for working in the kitchen be it for myself or for friends or loved ones, Captain Marvel was my assistant keeping the groove upbeat allowing for me to be more in the zone. "La Fiesta" and "Times Lie" are two excellent tracks. It's an album that keeps you moving, keeps you motivated and is just intensely excellent music. Such an album would help mix things up a tad.

Key Track: "La Fiesta"

4. The Zombies - Odyessey and Oracle - With its baroque arrangements and pop music sensibility, The Zombies proper studio album is easily one of those can't live without listening experiences. The songs are all lush and flourish with life. No matter how sad a song like "A Rose For Emily" or "Brief Candles" might be, they are gorgeous. Whenever someone tries to tell me Pet Sounds is the lushest album of the late 60's, I much rather turn to Odyessey and Oracle. With everything from the Gothic World War I tale "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)" to the fantastically harmonized minimalism of "Changes," this is the most fantastical album I could think to bring along.

Key Track: "Changes"

5. Beck - Midnite Vultures - I guess one would say that you probably don't want to bring a record that reminds you of better days if you were stranded on a desert island. But then again, won't you want to try to remember those times through the music that assisted them? In this case, the Beck album I mulled over bringing would have to go to Midnite Vultures. The nostalgia and tradition factor behind the intensely awesome grooves found on this record would be an excellent companion piece so one does not lose it completely. I'll just have to sing "Debra" by myself. Anyway, you'll need to dance and party and for my dime, Midnite Vultures is my favorite dance/party album of all time. Chock full of sexual hilarity and honest to goodness great musicianship, Vultures kills it from start to finish. I don't know how I'd feel living without songs like "Broken Train" or "Hollywood Freaks."

Key Track: "Hollywood Freaks"

6. Goldfrapp - Felt Mountain - Maybe it's because her music is on my mind now a lot or because I will be in need of a female voice, but Goldfrapp's Felt Mountain is a special record. After fully soaking it in, it's easily much higher on my favorite albums of the Aughts list where I believe it came in at #100 at the time of making the list. Anyway, the record is a space opera of sorts with Alison Goldfrapp's lonely and beautiful voice floating high above sparse electronic arrangements. A song like "Paper Bag" is an upliftingly strange tune. The notes seem to swirl in the air. "Pilots" is easily one of my new favorites of any song with it's fantastic vocal range and sweeping cinemascapes. I was between this and Charlotte Gainsbourg's 5:55, but Felt Mountain has a little more diversity. "Utopia" is a dancey track and "Felt Mountain" is a contemplative instrumental. A perfect disc to tag along with the others.

Key Track: "Pilots"

7. Van Morrison - Astral Weeks - There is no denying the sheer amazing nature of Astral Weeks. Van Morrison's epic tale of existence is nothing but a beautiful and unique experience. Musically it doesn't fit the mold with much else in Morrison's catalog. Not quite the jazzy pop of Moondance or the garage rock of Them, it's somewhere else high above in the stratosphere. "Astral Weeks" is a gorgeous song and one that I can't seem to ever forget since first hearing it. "Slim Slow Slider" and "Madame George" are great relaxation music and the album as a whole works as a way to forget what worries you and rises above it all to ease the mind.

Key Track: "Astral Weeks"

8. Pink Floyd - Meddle - I may think Dark Side of the Moon is the perfect Pink Floyd album, but something about Meddle makes me default to it to take it if I were to be stranded forever. The case being that Side A is a perfect blend of Floyd's best moments. "One of These Days" is a perfect stoner rock anthem, "A Pillow of Winds" is a contemplative and beautiful acoustic ballad and "Fearless" is a song I just can't live without. "San Tropez" will be for the fun times on the shore lines of my lonesome home. And then there's "Seamus." But Side B is "Echoes" and there isn't a better single side of a record in Floyd's catalog like "Echoes." Say I find some crazy frog in the forest that I can lick for hallucinogenic fun? You better believe I shouldn't be without Meddle.

Key Track: "Fearless"

9. The Beatles - Abbey Road - I had proposed this question to my girlfriend: if stuck with only one Beatles album to listen to for the rest of your life, what would you pick? It's a next to impossible question to ask. Most people would easily default to The Beatles (White Album) which is the most eclectic and offers the best array of songs and easily some of the bands best. But something about that answer just doesn't jive with me. To act like I could live without ever hearing Abbey Road again would be to fool myself. It's funny that this will be the only top 10 album from my favs list to make the desert island cut. It's just as eclectic as the White Album, but it has zero filler. It's like choosing your last meal to be at a buffet where not everything is to your liking. Abbey Road is like choosing one absolutely satisfying dish that is sure to never fail you.

10. Warren Zevon - Zevon's lyrics are some of the best ever. His songs are beautiful and his self titled album is beyond magnificent. Whether you go to it to wallow in cynicism along with Warren to songs like "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" or "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" or sing along to the stories of " Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded" or "Frank and Jesse James", this album has many options. The beauty of "Desperadoes Under the Eaves" to the brooding of "Join Me In L.A." this album has lasted with me for many years. As much as Excitable Boy has some amazing songs that I would dearly miss, Warren Zevon is next to irreplaceable. It's truly a magnificent masterpiece.

Key Track: "Mohammed's Radio"

As I look at this list I realize it probably can change from year to year, but for the most part this is a pretty solid smattering of great song collections. What are your desert island must haves?

Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach

I've been trying to figure out just how to approach the new Gorillaz album from a reviewing stand point. And after many many listens, it's clearly evident that Plastic Beach is the most intriguing record in their small catalog. It offers intense amounts of collaborations and many different sounds throughout while still holding onto themes of artifice, environmentalism and a false sense of utopia. And it's still damn catchy. I was asked recently by a friend, Adam McGrath, to write up something for his website, The Creation of Adam. Head on over there and check out my article on Plastic Beach.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Diversion: Drawn to the Places of the Dead

Okay so I have been kinda quiet for a few. Monday afternoon, while still recovering a hangover and an awful neck ache from too much thrashing with Noringo on Saturday, I watched this awesome History Channel show on Netflix about Egypt and the engineering feats of their culture. Insane stuff. Anyway, my diversion from my usual blog talk about music and movies, I want to talk to you about cool places in the world I'd love to see. Most of these will be ancient places or abandoned places as my attention has been drawn to them lately. What are some cool old places in the world you'd like to see?

The Necropolis of Dahshur, Egypt - Sure, I want to see Giza as well, but something about Dahshur has captured my attention. Mainly, the Bent Pyramid. It's pretty amazing to see the learning curve that the Egyptians went through in making these insanely dramatic dwellings for their deceased pharaohs. The Bent Pyramid was built for Sneferu around 2596 BC and shows how part way through the construction of the pyramid that they found it wouldn't work at the original angle they were building. So they changed the degree of the sides from 55 degrees to 43 degrees giving it the bent shape. Aside from this intriguing pyramid, The Red Pyramid also lies here, which was the first true smooth sided pyramid. Dahshur seems like a really intriguing place.

Uluru & Kata Tjuta, Australia - I have been obsessed with Uluru, more commonly known as Ayers Rock, for many years now. And after reading about it more and more, I would love to make a trip there. Australia is definitely high on my list of must see places in the world and I'm not talking Sydney and the other outlying major metropolii. I'm more interested in the Outback and the mystery behind it. Uluru is a spiritual place for the Anangu people who are indigenous to Australia. One thing I've constantly read is that people can climb Uluru, but to the Anangu it's against their laws to climb Uluru. It is in that case then that I will see this rock formation but respect their tribal laws and see it just from the ground. Also, I hear many people die on the walk up. Seems kinda scary. Kata Tjuta, the adjacent small range of mountains, also looks breathtaking and natural beauty is something I need to do more of in my travels around the globe.

Centralia, PA - Of all the places I will be talking about, Centralia is the only one I plan on doing this year. Back in the 60's, a giant mine fire was inadvertently started when nearby residents were burning trash near the entrance to many connecting coal mines that were abandoned underground. The result: massive amounts of fuel for a fire that has yet to stop burning. That's right.... it's still burning. And so is built the perfect precursor to what a post apocalyptic environment may look like. What makes this deserted burgh so enticing? Well it's just the fact that by human hands, a whole community has been slowly ravaged to it's end. It's the perfect place to see for anyone obsessed with apocalyptic scenarios and it's only a few hours away.

Machu Picchu & The Nazca Lines, Peru - Growing up their were a few things I was obsessed with. Australia, Dinosaurs, The Titanic, Mt. Vesuvius and the South America/Central American tribes of the Incas, the Mayans and the Aztecs. My favorite of these were the Incas. These Peruvian natives conquered land as far north as Ecuador and all the way down the spine of the Andes in Chile. Machu Picchu is their grandest site with an amazing complex of ruins. It was never found by the Spanish Conquistadors and it wasn't brought to international attention until 1911. It seems like a perfect place for a trek through the jungle. Amazing how people lived in ancient times. While Europe was beginning to flourish in the 1400's, the Inca's were coming near an end to their excellent empire. It's sad that these people were lost due to small pox and it may seem like sacrilege to walk on one of their most intensely famous landmarks, but I feel drawn to it.

Also nearby, The Nazca Lines. The Nazca's predate the Incas in their culture and their most insanely genius gift to the world comes in the form of geoglyphs that when seen from a plane create amazing portraits of animals and other great figures. It's incredible to see a picture of these lines, which were built well before anyone on Earth could ever see them. I can't even wrap my brain around these lines and just how amazing it is that they were constructed, if you want to call it that, between 200BC and 700 AD. Truly unbelievable.

Aokigahara Forest, Japan - Why would anyone want to visit the second most famous spot in the world where people go to commit suicide? Well, it's not because I feel as if this place is a fun place to visit as much as maybe it's a visit one should make to honor those who decided the ultimate fate. Aokigahara Forest is by Mount Fuji in Japan and has a strangeness to it. Aside from being second to the Golden Gate Bridge for suicides in the world, it's a forest that is devoid of wind due to it's density and mostly devoid of life. There is something captivating about this place. I'm no ghost hunter either, but apparently the amount of paranormal activity in the forest is unprecedented. It might just be worth the experience.

I guess I'm on a quest to discover some of the more eerie and almost spiritual places on earth. Am I obsessed with the dead and their tales? Do I enjoy the idea that all things move toward their end and the places on earth that outlast the lives that appreciate them? Maybe I am. But there is a beauty and tranquility to these places where people once tread and where death is a common thread to their very existence. And it's in abandoned places or remote locales that seem against the grain of humanity to exist regardless that maybe we can truly find the meaning of life. That's my diversion for the day.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Memorium: Alex Chilton

Sadly as many already know, Alex Chilton of Big Star has passed on today. His death is sad news as his band was to reunite at SXSW this weekend for the first time in some time. Big Star has become a large part of my life. It marked an important time when I was fully delving into their albums. I was living in West Philadelphia at the time in a hole in the wall apartment and the bright sounds of Big Star's pop infused sounds really resonated for me. In honor of this great man and his excellent run in Big Star, here is my tribute. As I only have Big Star's three major albums, I will stick to those. I know them very well and the recordings mean a lot to me. Enjoy.

#1 Record (1972) Big Star's debut record, #1 Record, is a fantastic start to the power pop genre. After The Beatles break-up, the end of the flower generation and the sharpening of the teeth of bands like The Rolling Stones or the grandiosity of The Who, it seemed strange that Big Star would embrace a sound more akin to the late 60's then to the early 70's. Where some bands expanded and got bigger and the sound became huge, Big Star stripped it back down to the basics. A guitar jangle rocker like "Feel" would sound bloated in the hands of anyone else. Instead it's a luscious song filled with amazing harmonies, dazzling yet simple guitars and a falsetto cry of a lustful angel. "In The Street" is a stripped down arena rock track built for singing along. On the other hand, #1 Record has a lot of heart. "Thirteen" which was part of the Rock of Ages songs list, is a beautiful and timid infatuation song that is sweet and honest. Songs like "The India Song" with it's intricate flute sound could find itself on a Wes Anderson movie soundtrack. Other rockers like "When My Baby's Beside Me" and the rollicking "Don't Lie To Me" are just stellar classics that would herald the power pop movement and influence bands from The Cars to Weezer and solo artists like Beck, Jeff Buckley and Elliot Smith. There is no denying the impact of this record.

Radio City (1974) Very little changed from Big Star's debut and Radio City. Maybe a little reverb was added, but for the most part it's consistently good songwriting and great driving power pop. The opening track "O My Soul" is one of the more intricate Big Star songs for this time. It's structure is constantly changing, the reverb laden guitar parts are complex and the overall song structure is unique to most else in the Big Star catalog. The most famous song, "September Gurls" is a fantastic pop track that is a direct predecessor of much of the 90's alt rock movement, such as The Lemonheads or Teenage Fanclub. Heartfelt lyrics and simple guitar melodies make it a memorable track. "Life is White" and "Back of a Car" are stellar tracks as well with the former being one of my favorite. It has loads of harmonica and a great driving chorus. It's not a bad album by any stretch, but compared to the debut and their finale record, it lacks anything new to the table.

Third: Sister Lovers (1978) After another founding member left, Big Star took a long time in between albums here and Third: Sister Lovers. The result is a drastic departure in sound. Gone for the most part are the happy melodies and soaring harmonies and in their place is a dark and gloomy atmosphere. It's a beautiful record throughout but one rife with melancholy and darkness. A song like "Holocaust" is a raw odes with poetically dark lyrics about death and insignificance. Although there is an air of darkness, some beacons of hope come pouring through. A love song like "For You" filled with fantastic string arrangements and some great lyrics, care of drummer Jody Stephens, we see a little different side of where the band was at. "Kizza Me" is one of the most covered Big Star songs and one of Alex Chilton's finest songs. "Take Care" is a beautiful finale to the album and now with Alex's passing is a perfect track to say farewell to. The albums is haunting from start to finish but it is a must own record. Start to finish it's one of the most beautiful albums I've ever have listened to.

Here are the lyrics to "Take Care" and a video in honor of Alex Chilton. You will be missed dearly, but your music will live on.

Take care not to hurt yourself
Beware of the need for help
You might need too much
And people are such
Take care, please, take care
Some people read idea books
And some people have pretty looks
But if your eyes are wide
And all words aside
Take care, please, take care
This sounds a bit like goodbye
In a way it is I guess
As I leave your side
I've taken the air
Take care, please, take care
Take care, please, take care

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's the deal with Lady Gaga?

I have posted this query before, but as someone who loves music, I really am intrigued by the Lady Gaga phenomenon. Her name appears everywhere, but every time I hear one of her songs, I immediately have a stomach churning experience akin to that of watching the projectile vomiting scene from The Exorcist and then promptly reenacting it much to the chagrin of my friends. Now most of all pop music is garbage. Whether it' Katy Perry or the Jonas Brothers, it has a purpose somewhere in the world and obviously I'm no longer in the age bracket that this music is geared to. However, with Lady Gaga, there is a large population of adults that are into her. And don't get me wrong, her out of control sense of style and fashion is pretty out there and I'm sure the stage show is something worth seeing but for me all of that is lost when an integral part of a musical artist is missing: good music

You see, Lady Gaga's bombastic persona is all smoke and mirrors. Although akin to David Bowie, one of my favorite artists, she has all the flash and bang of a Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane, but none of the musical ability or talented band to back her up. And I know taking a jab at a pop culture phenomenon makes me sound like an old man, but when someones music is just plain bad, the pomp and circumstance falls flat on it's face. At least it should.

The long and short of it is that this is nothing new. It's the same pop music that has been around since the dawn of time. I just really wanted to understand the phenomenon beyond the visual side of it. I figured maybe she was more than Britney Spears or Madonna. Maybe she was pop culture and somewhat cutting edge but that's just all false.

The real icing on the cake was being shown the full length video for her track "Telephone." It's.... bizarre. I mean, it makes little to no sense. It goes all over the place and blatantly rips off of Quentin Tarantino (although you could say he blatantly rips off from movies, but this is just ridiculous.) It's over-the-top for the sake of it. And if I'm missing the social commentary of it all, then please tell me. I know it can't be subtle because there is nothing subtle about that video. From the Virgin Mobile close-ups to the "Pussy Wagon". I don't think I've seen anything as strange as that video. The write up of the video premiere in the following link is proof that the music doesn't matter anymore. It's all superficial and it all has to be made into an event in order to make it a viable... I don't even know what to call it.

Maybe I was bred to only like old music and maybe I'm just not hip enough to get it or this is the true sign of my aging process, but Lady Gaga as music is just something I don't get. If I'm at a club or a wedding, sure I'll dance to her music. But outside of that setting, is there really anything special about it? Shouldn't dance music be more versatile? Probably not, but I do enjoy my fair share of dancey music. An artist like Goldfrapp for example is equally as poppy and a little toned down but still flamboyant, but her music is far and away better. A song like "Oh La La" or "Strict Machine" is just as danceable as "Poker Face" or "Bad Romance." But since she's less of a persona, her music doesn't resonate on this side of the Atlantic. The other question at hand: Should I even try to understand Lady Gaga? No I shouldn't. My best advice was "Don't try to understand it" and although I tried to not get it, I still can't enjoy it. It just comes down to it being bad music with a flashy distraction.

What it boils down to is that maybe I am a craggy old bastard who just wants to know what youth, and more importantly my peers, are all going.... well... you can finish the pun.