31 January 2009

A Long Weekend in the Desert? Maybe?

Check out the Coachella Festival 2009 Line-Up.

This year's Coachella Festival may be in order.

Check out the official website for all the information.
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"The Annie Lennox Collection"

The Scottish Diva to release her first compilation on 17 February 2009.

Other than her 1999 outing with the Eurythmics for "Peace" and a few appearances for "Ultimate Collection" (2005), Annie Lennox (25 Dec 1954) has concentrated on her solo career for the past eighteen years. Largely considered the greatest white soul singer, she is perhaps the most successful British female in the music industry. To the diehard Eurythmics fans, you may be disappointed to know that none of the songs on this collection come from those years. The songs on the collection will be drawn from “Diva” (1992), “Medusa” (1995 - one of the greatest cover albums of all times), “Bare" (2003), and “Song of Mass Destruction" (2007). She will include two new songs. The first is “Pattern of My Life” written by Tom Chaplin of Keane. The second “Shining Light,” originally recorded by Ash.

The album will be a first for her - it will be released by Sony. Did anyone really think that her shady ending with BMG/Arista was going to keep her from releasing new music?

Track Listing
1. Little Bird
2. Walking on Broken Glass
3. Why
4. No More I Love You’s
5. Precious
6. A Whiter Shade of Pale
7. A Thousand Beautiful Things
8. Sing
9. Pavement Cracks
10. Love Song for a Vampire
11. Cold
12. Dark Road
13. Pattern of My Life
14. Shining Light

Limited Edition DVD
1. Little Bird
2. Walking on Broken Glass
3. Why
4. No More I Love You’s
5. Precious
6. White Shade of Pale
7. A Thousand Beautiful Things
8. Sing
9. Pavement Cracks
10. Cold
11. Dark Road
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27 January 2009

Just Like Heaven - A Tribute to the Cure

Another tribute to the Cure, but this one has the promise of being worth the excitement.

With a release date of 27 January 2009 (Label: American Laundromat), the tracklisting includes (not in order):

Brunettes: "Love Song"
Cassettes Won't Listen: "Lets Go to Bed"
Dean and Britta: "Friday I'm in Love"
Devics: "Catch"
Elizabeth Harper and the Matinee: "Pictures of You"
Elk City: "Close to Me"
Grand Duchy (Violet Clark and Black Francis): "A Strange Day"
Kitty Karyle: "In Between Days"
Luff: "Jumping Someone Else's Train"
Julie Peel: "A Night Like This"
The Poems: "10:15 Saturday Night"
The Rosebuds: "The Walk"
The Submarines: "Boys Don't Cry"
Tonya Donelly and Dylan in the Movies: "The Love Cats"
The Wedding Present: "High"
Joy Zipper: "Just LIke Heaven"
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Franz Ferdinand: "Tonight: Franz Ferdinand"

Was the three-year wait for a new Franz album worth it? Hell yeah. Will the purists be mad? Hell yeah.

With cover art depicting a crime scene, Franz Ferdinand releases what I consider to be their best effort yet, “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand.” These boys from Glasgow infused their third album with electronic elements, giving them a “dance-rock” feel. Included on the album is “Lucid Dream,” previously an iTunes release (19 August 2008), though the band said that it was not a single. In the US and Canada, the iTunes download of “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” has both a new album and the previous released versions. Originally, the track was a bit shy of four minutes, concentrating on typical Franz guitar arrangements. The album version, however, is a bit shy of eight minutes, with similar guitar playing, infused with electronic elements. Actually, the last three minutes of the song could easily be confused for Depeche Mode circa “Music for the Masses.”

The album opens with the lead single, “Ulysses” (2 December 2008 in digital format, 19 January 2009 in physical disc), a parody of the literary figure. Ulysses, the Roman name of the Greek Odysseus, must travel home after the Trojan War and is confronted with one obstacle after another, including the lotus plant, which makes you high. Ulysses resists the temptation of getting high and forces his crew to continue their journey home. But not Franz’s Ulysses: “Come on Lexxo, what you got next - oh, walking twenty five miles – oh? Well I’m bored, I’m bored, come on let’s get high… I’ve found a new way.” Their genre bending of infusing electronic elements is paralleled with their “bending” the original Ulysses.

In the new wave sounding “Live Alone,” they sing, “I want to live alone because the greatest love is always ruined by the bickering.” It is not that Franz is only incorporating the sonic elements of post-punk synthpop bands, like Depeche Mode or Bronski Beat, but also the lyrical themes. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics reminiscent of these bands permeate the album, with topics about the futility of love, addiction to pain (in “Can’t Stop Feeling,” again much like Depeche Mode, remember pain in “Strange Love?”), and the indifference in love affairs (in “Turn It On”).

For the purists, the album closes with “Katherine Kiss Me” – an acoustic song, lacking any techno element. “Katherine kiss me, slippy little lips will split me, split me where your eye won’t hit me.” Opening with cute alliteration, the song drags the listener in with subtlety. And though sonically it is the antithesis to the rest of the album, lyrically it continues the same kinds of threads – “Yes, I love you, I mean… I…. I mean I need to love…”

This album is a step in a different direction for Franz Ferdinand, away from a sound that they made popular, but who likes repetition other than in Chinese fire drills or the comfort zones of purists? Franz Ferdinand’s expansion of musical elements, themes, and production techniques are a welcomed evolution, that avoids another static, run of the mill third album that is a mere rehash of what came before it.

This is solid music, and Franz Ferdinand puts out an album that should vie for the best album of the year.

Track Listing
1. Ulysses
2. Turn It On
3. No You Girls
4. Send Him Away
5. Twilight Omens
6. Bite Hard
7. What She Came For
8. Live Alone
9. Can’t Stop Feeling
10. Lucid Dreams
11. Dream Again
12. Katehrine Kiss Me

iTunes bonus Tracks (North America)
13. Lucid Dreams (pre-album version)
14. Ulysses (The Disco Bloodbath Effect)
15. “Feeling Kind of Anxious”
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25 January 2009

Five Shoegazing Albums

In recent months, I have become more and more specific with the genre listing on my iTunes. A few days ago, a friend of mine was scrolling through my iTunes and came across “Shoegazing.” He was a bit confused, and asked me, “Staring at your shoes is a genre?”

I smiled and said, “Of course, even white ones after Labor Day.”

Showgazing is a subgenre of rock, usually associate with alternative British bands. The early musicians of this genre were apparently a bit shy or had no idea how to play their instruments without staring at them. So, there they stood, pretty much motionless, looking downward, giving the appearance that they were gazing at their shoes; hence the term “shoegazing” was born. For the most part, the bands that are considered the forefathers of this genre are Chapterhouse, Lush, Ride, and Slowdive (no, the name of this blog did not come from them, actually we were inspired by the same source); however, the Cocteau Twins, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valetine predates them all and in many ways set the blueprint for shoegazing. In America, shoegazing never manifested itself in any serious way, though the band Bowery Elecrtic were from New York City. Shoegazers never had a chance in America competing with grunge, which dominated the airwaves with such acts as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. (Though many current indie bands are noting shoegazing as an influence.)

So what does it sound like? Well, there is more diversity in the range of shoegazing than most subgenres of rock. From the Cranes to Catherine Wheels, it is hard to pin down exactly what showgazers sounds like; from my experience, I have come to think of shoegazing bands more in terms of their common fans, who were not into guitar-smashing, lead singers diving into the audience, and unconventional visage antics of prior rock acts. However, the typical sonic definition is ethereal, flanger drowned guitars, even tempos, and when keyboards were present, they were for effect more than melody. Unlike their grunge counterparts, shoegazers placed serious emphasis on vocal styles. From Lush’s higher range singing to the harmonies of Ride, there was more than just carrying a tune or screaming. Also, by comparison to grunge, more women were present in the shoegazing bands.

There seems to be a resurgence of shoegazing, or as they call it, nu-shoegazing. But before immersing yourself in the stuff, here are five shoegazing albums that I recommend. Collectively, they explore the range of what shoegazing had to offer – from the ethereal and abstract to the rocking and in your face.

Catherine Wheel: “Chrome” (1993)

Definitely more rocking and in your face than the average shoegazing band, Catherine Wheel was led by Rob Dickinson (vocalist and guitarist) who continues to perform and write new music. Layered guitars, not as compressed as others in the genre, this band had a more traditional rock appeal than most shoegazers. Though lyrically a bit confusing at time, even while verging on screaming, the vocal arrangements are lush and intricate.

Why is it a must? This head on, concrete, wall of sound approach to their sophomore effort helped lay down the foundation for future Brit rock acts, in a way that is digestible from the first listen. With such raw talent and plain approach to music, I have always wondered why Catherine Wheel never broke into the mainstream. Perhaps with the new shoegazing movement, they will be elevated from obscurity to pioneers.

Track Listing
1. Kill Rhythm
2. I Confess
3. Crank
4. Broken Head
5. Pain
6. Strange Fruit
7. Chrome
8. The Nude
9. URSA Major Space Station
10. Fripp
11. Half Life
12. Show Me Mary

Cranes: “Wings of Joy” (1991)

Perhaps soncially the most inaccessible shoegazing band, the Cranes early on combined elements of art rock, goth, and dream pop, with a tinge of classical. Though in later years the classical elements would give way to more of the rock and electronic elements in their music, Alison Shaw (lead vocalist) continues to have one of the most distinct voices in music. Singing in a higher range than most vocalists, her vocals often seem to emulate the role of the first seat violinist in an orchestra. Due to the high range and vocal style, you may find yourself reading liner notes or goggling for the lyrics.

Why is it a must? The Cranes are doing something right, for they have outlived most of their contemporaries. Though they were never rewarded with popular or critical reception, they have done more for the expanding of “genre” than most bands do. Their experimental arrangements, the mismatched genre bending, their unique vocal style, and their existence in the fringes where anything is possible combine to create music that may not be traditional, but is solid.

Track listing
1. Water Song
2. Thursday
3. Living and Breathing
4. Leaves of Summer
5. Starblood
6. Sixth of May
7. Wish
8. Tomorrow’s Tears
9. Beautiful Sadness
10. Hopes and Fears
11. Adoration

Curve: “Doppelganger” (1992)

Don’t be disturbed by the cover art (an assortment of mangled dolls), this album delivers. Toni Halliday (vocals) and Dean Garcia (bass, guitar, programming) led Curve from obscurity to the British top 40, with compressed guitars, danceable almost techno rhythms, and raw lyrics sung in an angelic voice. The musical arrangements seem to follow the stream of consciousness of the lyrics, as they loop around and around again, in a constant circle like the thoughts in the lyrics. Though they have been compared to Garbage, these comparisons belie a specific truth: Butch Vig formed Garbage after Curve established themselves in England. And when you listen to Curve songs that predate Garbage, such as “Horror Head,” you realize that Garbage is a water downed, pop version of the real thing.

Why is it a must? This album is sheer catharsis. I have yet to meet a Curve fan who has not intimated as much. The album has a way of getting you to let go, to tap your feet, to bob your head, to make you scream. The genius of Curve is the power they were able to pack into each and every song in their repertoire and “Doppelganger,” their debut album, demonstrates this ability right from the beginning.

Track Listing
1. Already Yours
2. Horror Head
3. Wish You Dead
4. Doppelganger
5. Lillies Dying
6. Ice That Melts the Tips
7. Split into Fractions
8. Think & Act
9. Fait Accompli
10. Sandpit
11. Clipped

Lush: “Spooky” (1992)

Lush hit the scene in the late 80s (their first official release is the “Scar EP,” October 1989). Their earlier music was categorized by ethereal guitars and harmonized vocals between Miki Berenyi (lead vocalist and rhythm guitar) and Emma Anderson (lead guitar and backing vocalist). Though they may have lacked some of the “rock” power of their shoegazer brethren, the power of their music came from creating a soundscape that was luxuriant and captivating. Unfortunately, Chris Acland (drummer) committed suicide in 1996, leading to the rest of the band disbanding.

Why is it a must? If you are a fan of subtlety, then Lush is for you. Their volatility was masked behind calm sounding guitar arrangements and chorus-esque vocals. However, they were able to shift moods and express anger with more maturity than the rest of the shoegazers. Furthermore, if you are a fan of sarcasm, then Lush is also for you – “Talk and insult me ‘til you’re blue in the face, you were right, I as wrong, now does that make you happy?”

Track listing:
1. Stray
2. Nothing Natural
3. Tiny Smiles
4. Covert
5. Ocean
6. For Love
7. Superblast!
8. Untogether
9. Fantasy
10. Take
11. Laura
12. Monochrome

Ride: “No Where”

“No Where” is considered by many the greatest and apex of all shoegazing albums. The funny thing is that from experience, most of the people I know who listen to Ride became fans after they broke up. At the height of their career, Nirvana and Pearl Jam were dominating the American airwaves, and audiences cast aside Ride’s sophisticated vocals, intricate guitar arrangements, and demur lyrics (From “Decay”: “Now this feeling’s so alive, but, as you or anything we die. We die.”) Arguably, they led the shoegazing genre till 1995, when they broke up. With a nu-shoegazing movement in the making and current indie, post punk revival artists stating shoegazing as an influence, the rumors of the members of Ride working together again have started to proliferate.

Why is it a must? If music could be beautiful, “No Where” would be the measuring rod. From the more rocking tracks (“Kaleidoscope” and “Taste”) to the symphonic tracks (“Paralyzed” and “Vapour Trail”), the music is well arranged, intricate where the lyrics demand it, harmonized with incredible vocals (rare in male vocals in rock these days), and energetic, even in the slowest tempo tracks. “No Where” demonstrated the potential for shoegazing as a genre.

Track listing
1. Seagull
2. Kaleidoscope
3. In a Different Place
4. Polar Bear
5. Dreams Burn Down
6. Decay
7. Paralysed
8. Vapour Trail
9. Taste
10. Here and Now
11. Nowhere
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24 January 2009

Gonzo on YouTube

Two Gonzo videos and an interview on YouTube and the link to their homepage.

Gonzo on YouTube


"Peeping Tom"

"Super Ego"

And an interview at the MTV EMA 2008.

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White Lies: "To Lose My Life"

No white lie here, this could be one of, perhaps the best album of 2009…

White Lies is another one of those bands obsessed with 80s revival, post-punk influenced indie rock. Out of London, this trio (consisting of Charles Cave on bass and backing vocals, Jack Lawrence-Brown on drums, and lead vocalist Harry McVeigh on guitar) are already garnishing the attention of the hype-machine. “To Lose My Life” was released on the 19th of January in the UK, and from NME naming them as one of the bands to look out for in 2009 to all the scathing reviews of their debut album, the band has hit the British music scene in a hard way. To boot, they will be playing at the Shockwave NME Awards Big Gig (26 February 2009) at the O2 Arena honoring the Cure.

Consistently compared to some veterans (Joy Division, Depeche Mode, etc…) and contemporaries (Interpol, Killers, Editors, etc…), what many British critics have failed to acknowledge is that this band is not about moping about, but rather introspection. It is not about wanting to be arena/stadium music, but rather the power of simplicity. Though young, they lack the immaturity and whining of current emo bands. They do not pine away at the impossible, but rather candidly confronting feelings of heartbreak, not frivolous romantic notions. The opening track, “Death,” is lyrically more reminiscent of Bjork’s “Hyper Ballad” than any goth number I can call to mind – “Floating neither up or down, I wonder when I’ll hit the ground, will the earth beneath my body shake and cast your sleeping heart away.” However, don’t mistake that they can out gloom the gloomiest – “He said to lose my life or lose my love, that’s the nightmare I’ve been running from… Let’s grow old together and dies at the same time” (“To Lose My Life”).

Though not lyrically cohesive in a single theme, the album flutters like sunrays through a window at dawn from one mood and emotion to another, sometimes changing in midstream. For example, “From the Stars” starts as a narrative of seeing a friend at a funeral and quickly morphs into twisted tale of internal indifference towards the world outside and the implied turmoil within. However, though the thematic content may vary, what is always consistent is the simplicity and maximum impact of the arrangements. Hooks and syrupy sweet layers of perfectly produced music, this is the most addictive album I have heard in years. Give it a try; I do not think you will be regretting it.

To Lose My Life (19 January 2009)

Track Listing:
1. Death
2. To Lose My Life
3. A Place to Hide
4. Fifty on Our Foreheads
5. Unfinished Business
6. E.S.T.
7. From the Stars
8. Farewell to That Fairground
9. Nothing to Give
10. The Price of Love
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23 January 2009

Seven Wishes List for 2009

My fingers are crossed...

Wish #1

The All Points West Festival, held at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ, starts the trek of becoming as large as the Coachella Festival (www.coachella.com), America needs to take the example of the European music festivals (Reading, Rock Werchter, Roskilde, Sziget, Rock AM Ring, Lowlands, Benicassim, Heineken Jammin’, and Independent Days to name a few). Though I applaud Projekt Revolution for the traveling festival format, it is time that audiences get a guaranteed yearly festival that allows them to sample a wide range of bands (for an economic price).

Wish #2

More musicians, like Trent Reznor, challenge the music industry. These veterans need to do it not just for themselves, but also for the band that are coming up. Younger artists are no longer being nourished the way they were in the days prior to the mid-90s; instead, they are being commoditized and pre-packaged. And those that are lucky to avoid these kinds of contracts often lack the support of record labels and usually fail to sell a set number of units and loose their contracts. Therefore, it is time for established artist to remind the record companies that it is musicians who generate the interest and hype of the music industry and not executives.

Wish #3

Unlike what many in the audience at Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution 2007 thought, Placebo is not a small, unknown band. They have been around for years, and internationally have garnished a lot of acclaim, hits, and a rabid following. I hope that 2009 see critics and reviewers putting aside any preconceived notions about the band or bigoted hang-ups and give them the critical reception they deserve. You do not survive the music industry for thirteen years by being lacking talent. You survive and remain relevant because you have talent, because you a great performers, because you are great songwriters, and it is time the Placebo gets that recognition in the States.

Wish #4

Speaking about Linkin Park, I hope that Chester Bennington releases his solo album and that it sounds so different from the rest of the work he has done with Linkin Park or Dead by Sunrise that fans are scratching their heads. Musicians should be free to explore different genres, styles, elements, and influences, and perhaps the experience of recording this solo album will bring something new and unexpected to the table for Linkin Park.

Wish #5

Muse releases their fifth album. Between all of the rumors of orchestrated music and electronic elements, I know that I am ready for the new album five minutes ago. I think that Matt Bellamy is a genius, Chris Wolstenholme is one of the best bass players of all times, and Dominic Howard has the most interesting timing and jazz-style fusion drumming in rock. I hope the tour sees them returning to using a sequencer / backing tracks on stage without reservations (I always thought they had a great sound when they toured to “Absolution.") Perhaps Muse will win NME’s Godlike Genius award in 2010.

Wish #6

Fans stop bitching about members who not in bands anymore or parted ways. Alan Wilder is not returning to Depeche Mode; the Cure that recorded “Disintegration” will never come back together; Wolfmother is going to have all new members other than Andrew Stockdale; the Smiths might be encouraged to do a reunion tour, but they are not getting back together; Stuart Price is not going to work with Madonna (at least I hope he has enough pride not to); Elvis is not coming back; and it may be a blessing in disguise that there is no N’Sync reunion anytime in the future.

Wish #7

Audiences start listening to albums again. I am all for iTunes and downloading; at the rate I am going, I am going to need another external hard drive soon to store music. But in all this brouhaha about digital music, most people I talk to admit to no longer listening to entire albums. They only listen to a few tracks (sometimes not even downloading an entire album, settling for a few tracks only). And though sometimes I go through the archaic process of actually buying a CD (love to unwrap it, flip through the booklet, and give my first listen while driving), I know that we are never going back to the days of Tower Records. But if artists work hard to make a cohesive album, the least we can do as an audience is listen to the intended collection and appreciate it for what it is.
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22 January 2009

Top Picks of 2008

I wasn’t impressed with much in 2008 – between veterans releasing lackluster efforts to the American and British pop and rock scenes being depleted of excitement, most of the music released lacked originality, vitality, or the promise of longevity. For example, "Red Carpet Massacre" (Duran Duran, released 13 Nov. 2007) failed to make significant waves at the end of last year and all but disappeared in the first weeks of 2008. Madonna’s "Hard Candy" (29 April 2008) has sold less than half the units than "Confessions on a Dance Floor" (2005) (and the tour concept was infantile and trite compared to Confessions). Even the god-fathers of gloomy-pop, The Cure, have suffered from floundering record sales with "4:13 Dream" (28 Oct. 2008). It is easy to blame the veterans’ (and all other musicians’) floundering figures on downloading music illegally, but there is much more to it than that.

When musicians become established and household names, the misconception that their name alone will carry them becomes prevalent. Musicians have no choice but to be whores if they want to sustain a career of descent record sales and relevance to the music scene. This includes playing festivals, doing appearances on talk shows, and radio interviews. This includes humility and remembering that the music scene is fickle (at best) and constantly changing. Last years hot track is a fading memory, and depending on past monuments as a model for future albums is a mistake. Music needs to continue to be new and fresh. And what happens when you do not do the circuit, you do not act with humility, when you think your name will carry you, and forget the hard work that you went through to become established? People tend to not even realize that you have a new album, are on tour, or just don’t care anymore. It is not that younger audiences are not into the music of the veterans (every time someone young I know listens to such icons and institutions as Depeche Mode, they like it), it is that artist must continue to make the effort to tour extensively, reach their old and new audiences, and continue to work diligently as they did in their earlier days. (Robert Smith, of the Cure, said that the band did not make “real” videos for their last four singles because they would not be played anyway. But I ask, when was the last great Cure video made? Perhaps the problem is that their videos have just not been competitive in this market.)

When established artists do as Duran Duran did with Red Carpet Massacre – turn to a currently hot producer in order to inject a new sound and feel to their music – it often turns out to be a disaster. Perhaps the problem with more recent efforts was not with production, but rather its substandard song writing and holding tight to an old 80’s mentality of arranging music. Many younger artists may be obsessed with the 80s (the Bravery, Interpol, Boy Kill Boy), but no one wants a carbon copy of what was already done. When musicians, like Madonna, return to an old format – like the R&B sound of Bedtime Stories – the album does not sound fresh or genuine. It is an obvious attempt to recapture past record sales and glories. (Did she not realize that Duran Duran failed with the same producer?) What established her career was always pushing the envelope, always doing something new and unexpected; when artists forget this, they are punished with poor reception and less than glorious reviews. And when your music had a sense of urgency, like the first fifteen years of The Cure, deciding to take months, years to record an album, instead of creating the pressures of deadlines that help to create urgency and experimentation, albums are recorded that are belabored and almost paper cutter in structure. "4:13 Dream" lacks the passion of "Disintegration," the urgency of "Pornography," or the experimental arrangements of "Head on the Door." At its height, there are great individual songs, but as an album it was flat compared to what the Cure is capable of. (What really happened to the double album? What really happened to the urgency that Porl Thompson was suppose to bring back to the studio? What happened with not having any keyboards on the album?)

Perhaps all of the veterans that have survived the music industry should start to remember why they did: creativity, unique sounds, and a sense of urgency, as well as no misguided notion that their name/logo would continue to carry them into the future. Perhaps it is time for them to get back into the circuit of television talk shows (the Cure are doing it now) and radio interviews and playing more festivals, even if they are not the headliners of the show. Perhaps it is time to show these youngsters who the real musical institutions are and why it is that these youngsters have been influences by them, some way or other.

The silver lining to this cloud was that many indie, continental, and Aussie bands hit the scene – some having the promise of longevity. My top songs of 2008 are not the eclectic collection of songs that I would like them to be, and though I said there was not much to be excited about in 2008, these songs do not shy away from greatness. At the end of it all, what I did a lot of were incredible debuts, excellent sophomore efforts, Swedes proving that they are amazing song writers, and a small Hungarian band that has wrapped me around its fingers.

The B-52’s “Funplex”

Not a big sound changer for the B-52’s, but definitely a great single (and fun video). This is one catchy number, but yet if you dare to scratch the surface it is disturbing. This is one of the few bands that can make a serious social statement and yet sound silly and frivolous. (This is also one of the few bands that their sexuality is never an issue.) Summing up American pop culture in one simple phrase, “I’m at the mall on a diet pill,” they point out the American obsession with shopping and body image. Unfortunately, young, supposedly beautiful artists dominate MTV (and the radio waves), and yet this jewel is as close to a perfect pop song as it can get. This was a single that the record company failed to support to the fullest.

The Cure’s “This. Here and Now. With You”

I was driving a friend to the train station one day, when we got into a conversation about the concept of a vocalist selling lyrics. It got me thinking and really listening to a lot of songs again in a new light, including “This. Here and Now. With You.” I do wish it were a single, though it is not the most pop-standard sounding song (but neither was “Fascination Street”). Where most of the songs on the "4:13 Dream" album lack the urgency of the Cure at their height, this song has it all. Robert Smith sells these poetic lyrics like he has not sold lyrics in years. Even though he has been married for years (to his high school sweetheart), I believe the pain and anxiety in his singing of these lyrics: “Every time I ever thought regret is here, too caught before I never let tonight be all I dream. There isn’t any yesterday; tomorrow is a day away. This. Here and now. With you is how always should always be.” A typical Cure song musically (moody, melodic, synthesizers for ambience, and swirling guitars), it works and shows that the Cure can still write the expected jewel thirty-years into their career.

Cut Copy’s “Out There on the Ice”

Viva Australia! And before anyone becomes confused, Dan Withford (vocalist) is singing, “There’s a guy you know, who will be there for you.” These Melbourne boys are often labeled as electropop, though I heard dance punk a few times; however, like Depeche Mode (an obvious influence), I think they are hard to pin down. "In Ghost Colours" (22 March 2008) was definitely no sophomore slump, and though “Out There on the Ice” was not a single, it really displays the talent and depth of this band as crafters of solid music. Cut Copy pave the way for any critic of “electronic” music to be converted into fans – they are anything but formulaic or unoriginal. And though you may not be encouraged to tap your feet (though driving faster is an option), listening to this song (and the album) will definitely transport you into a soundscape that is hard to resist.

Esser’s “I Love You”

An unexpected treat out of Essex, Ben Esser (front man and brainchild) combines enticing electronics, a funky trip-hop style beat, indie rock, and spechgesang (vocals that fall neither as singing or speaking), Esser may very well be the next musical genius. From a family of musicians, Esser demonstrates the sophistication of a veteran in his arrangements. The song is layered in a plethora of sounds and vocals, creating a soundscape that is lush, but never overbearing. A study in contradiction, “I Love You” is sonically a foot-tapping pop song accompanied by lyrics that give you cause to pause (“Love can be draining, like internal bleeding”). Definitely a musician to keep your eyes open for in 2009.

Estelle’s “American Boy” (featuring Kanye West)

My friends were surprised that I loved this song. But what is there not to love about Estelle? She is not the typical R&B singer – first off, she is British; second, she has no hesitation of playing European rock festivals, like V-Festival and Glastonbury in the UK. This is the perfect summer song (reaching top five in eleven countries). What makes this a great song? Perfect bass line, great percussion – can you really listen to this song and not want to dance? As a vocalist, she can sell her lyrics without over emotionalizing her voice. And Kanye West is on the money. When both are singing together (even if it is just her emphatic “woo”), their voices meld well with the soundscape that the keyboards and rhythm sections are creating. If you haven’t danced to this song yet, download it from I-Tunes, dim the lights in your house, and boogie in your chair in the least. (Anything more may require you to shut your windows first.)

Gonzo’s “Peeping Tom”

I know very little about Gonzo. This band, obscure and unavailable to an American audience (other than streamlining music on their website), captured best Hungarian Act at the European MTV Awards ceremony in 2008. As they pointed out in an interview, their lead single is based on a folktale, mixed with tinges of modern cybersex. But, as they also point out, coming from a small European country, they have less possibility to break into the music scene compared to bands from England, Germany, or France. That is why I encourage everyone to hit them up on YouTube, MySpace, and their own website (www.gonzomusic.hu) – the more hits, the more possibilities, and trust me, you will not be disappointed.

Heloise and the Savoir Faire’s “Memorial Day”

Sex, booze, references to 80’s song titles, partying, a Muslim roommate, a Chevy Celebrity, and a flirtatious lesbian – this song has it all. This Brooklyn outfit is all about having fun; this is the best party music in years. And yet, all of the songs on the debut album ("Trash, Rats, and Microphones," 11 April 2008) are similar to “Memorial Day” in the sense that they are complete narratives. The lyrics are fluid; there is no bad attempt at poetry. The music is pumping, you want to dance, bob your head, and put your hands up in the air. Unfortunately, like many other New York City bands (Scissor Sisters, Interpol, etc…), it seems that the mainstream American music scene has relegated them to obscurity. Yet one listen to this song, I am sure that most people would be hooked. (By the way, I caught them live at the Bowery Ballroom – simply amazing live band, and this was the encore song.)

Kamera’s “Fragile”

If you are obsessed with 80’s synthpop and the early days of MTV Postmodern Videos, then Kamera is for you. A sophomore effort for the band out of Stockholm, "Resurrection" was released on the 2nd of February (though available digitally in 2007). Following the lead of great pop music from Sweden (ABBA, the Cardigans, Moonbabies, Robyn, Roxette, etc…), Kamera is a pop hodgepodge that works. Driving bass and drums, ambient keyboards and sequencing, simple lyrics that are easy to remember, and urgency, I am baffled that promoters and record labels did not support this song straight to number one. But the record industry will get another chance soon, as Kamera is in the studio finishing up a third album. Hopefully an American tour will follow.

Keane’s “Perfect Symmetry”

I have to admit that I like Keane’s latest album, "Perfect Symmetry" (10 October 2008), a little more every time I listen to it. Though the titular single is by far the best song on the album, it an interesting album that displays the range of this trios talent. I think that Tom Chaplin (lead vocalist) is what is sorely lacking in rock music – male vocalists. Though we could probably name a few singers with greater range, the control and passion in his voice when he sings really makes a Keane song a Keane song. This is not to discount what the other members of Keane bring to the table. Albeit, I am not amazed by any of the new production gimmicks or the 80-esque moments – I thought that Keane would avoid the 80’s fad. Nevertheless, Keane proves that music is not just about technical talent (which they have) and being great performers (which they are), but rather about being great songwriters. “Perfect Symmetry” is a great representation of the album – solid piano / indie rock (typically Keane forsakes guitars), which is well arranged, textured and layered, captivating, warm, and another great effort at expanding their repertoire of music.

The Kooks’ “Do You Wanna”

Now this should have been a single! I got to see the Kooks at the Stone Pony (Asbury Park, NJ), with a minimal light show, up-close, and personal. They were amazing. It was no surprise to find out that they had opened for the Rolling Stones; the Kooks are obviously influenced heavily by them, along with the Beatles and Thin Lizzy. What I love about this song is that it taps into something universal: every guy – and gal – just wants to go up to someone and say, “I know you want to make love to me.” (I thought I would get smacked, but we caught a taxicab to the Upper West Side instead.) The song is catchy, bubbly, and primal, avoiding the trappings of headiness or worn out clichés. I am listening along and I start missing the days of keg parties – and yes, it would have been a hit single.

Neimo’s “Hot Girl”

Parlez vous francais? No worry, these French boys are singing in English; and if you thought that the only band to listen to from France was Air, you are way out of touch with the French indie rock scene. This song is sexy, in a foreplay sort of way. Very little build up till the beat drops, you are almost instantly transported to catchy, hooky guitars and a Billy Idol-esque voice (in a thick French accent): “You touch me…” Again, it’s all foreplay. As you keep listening to the song, you can just imagine yourself strutting to this song, showing off the goods – it should definitely be used on a runway. And though you can accuse it of sounding a bit derivative, what makes the song is the attitude that is all theirs.

Nine Inch Nails’ “1,000,000”

Trent Reznor has been busy these past few years. Unlike in the earlier days of his career, he is constantly putting new music out there. I got to see NIN at the IZOD Arena and was blown away with the sophistication and dramatics of the show (especially during “Only You”). “1,000,000” is from "The Slip" (5 May 2008), and like its predecessor "Ghosts I-IV" (2 March 2008), Reznor attracted some interesting critical responses. After severing ties with Interscope Records, Reznor has experimented with different formats of releasing music. "The Slip" was made available to fans free of cost on the NIN website. Just imagine the reaction from royalties-mongers all over the world when a major band does this; it is just another reason to like this guy. As for “1,000,000,” it really shows that Trent Reznor is still able to run circles around younger industrial and nu-metal bands.

Robyn’s “Crash and Burn Girl”

Robyn came back strong in 2008. She has come a long way since her days of churning out songs such as “Do You Know (What It Takes)” and “Show Me Love.” In all honestly, I was not completely fond of her first two full-length efforts, the third peaked my curiosity, but her fourth self-titled album (released in 2005 in Sweden, later internationally – 29 April 2008 in the US) is her strongest effort yet. 2008 saw Robyn making headway internationally. This song is a perfect example of the album: lyrically direct, with ingenious arrangements and beats that keep you dancing. This song, “Crash and Burn Girl” should have been a 2008 release, though I am sure she is more intent in getting new material out there.

Scouting for Girls’ “Heartbeat”

From their self-titled 2007 album, this single (7 April 2008) showed that the music scene in London continues to thrive underneath all the pop glitz. Combining the best elements of indie and acoustic rock, Scouting for Girls is a breath of fresh air in a scene drowned with guitar feedback. The name of the band is a play on words on the book "Scouting for Boys," a manifesto for good manners and citizenship. However, they failed miserably in the good manners department when Roy Strides sings, “Always up for a laugh, she’s a pain in the ass…” This is a great song, from a great album, sung with a sexy accent that comes through the vocals. This is the kind of band that you sort of know will not have a sophomore slump.

Scott Simon’s “Start of Something”

Catchy rock pop, the song opens with “I let myself get sentimental again…” Almost a tinge of regret in doing so, something that most of us can relate to. Simon sells his lyrics with emotional vocals, and the song is as good as “piano pop” gets. Previously the primary songwriter of the Argument, Simon’s ability to write catchy hooks and infectious melodies has surpassed anything he has done in the past. Word has it that he is currently recording his first solo album – something I am definitely looking forward to. (By the way, yes he covered “Umbrella” by Rihanna.)

Temposhark’s “Blame”

My favorite video of the year! Robert Diament has the pop sensibilities to rival anyone’s on the market. Combining a unique ear for melody and savvy electronics, Temposhark expands the tradition of electronic pop. After many collaborations, the debut album, "The Invisible Line," was released on the 25th of March. “Blame” is a perfect exemplar of the album – catchy and poppy, almost bubbly, and yet introspective and deeply personal. The video, an animation with “Satan” as the main character, really depicts the depth of anxiety that we all long to feel – to know that love is all we got.

The Ting Tings’ “Great DJ”

I fell in love with this frivolity the first time I heard it. Things are happening for the Ting Tings. And though I hated myself for sitting through an episode of "90210" when I heard this song would be on it, I understand that in today’s market artists have to do anything to get their music out there when radio programmers are not playing their singles. What really surprised me was that they kicked ass live! I got to see them at Webster Hall, and I was grooving the entire night. “Great DJ” is simple, even its sequencing; it is the kind of simple that established bands such as Erasure. Depending on simplicity and melody, rather than complex musical movements, the Ting Tings’ are a pleasant antithesis to Guitar Hero: nothing bombast, no one instrument blaring out over the others, and no tricky, intricate arrangements. Just solid pop that makes you want to strut your stuff on a catwalk.

The Veronicas’ “Untouched”

The Veronicas, an Aussie-Italian twin-sister duo, really captured my attention. Living and recording their sophomore effort in Los Angeles, "Hook Me Up" was released in late November 2007. That being said, “Untouched” was released in 2007 (December 8th) but caught momentum in 2008. Even though lyrically the song is the stereotypical pop jingle of whining unrequited love, the music is infectious. With techno elements in the strings, a driving beat the drops and fades continuously, great harmonies, and repetitions (always fun for memorizing and sing-along’s), the song keeps you on your toes waiting for the beat to drop over and over again. Most Americans do not realize that Australia has a lush musical scene of its own (Wolfmother, the Butterfly Effect, and Jet to name a few). But the advantage that Australians have over Americans and Brits is that aside from their own musical scene, they have gotten full exposure to both the American and British scenes. This is evident in the Veronicas (in an interview with Teenspot, they said that in their iPods you would find the Wahas, Muse, and Shiny Toy Guns.) I think it is all this exposure, all this diversity that really infused “Untouched” with this ecstatic energy that is, well, infectious.
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I can't remember when music was not part of my life.

From a young age, I was attracted to musicians who stood out sonically and/or lyrically. Musicians who were willing to take a risk and disregard complacency have always entranced me.  I have never been one who sits at the radio or looks at MTV with passivity and accept that that is what I am supposed to listen to.  Actually, quite the opposite, I have always been disturbed by pre-packaged, derivative musicians who are only capitalizing on the coat tails of pioneers before them.  I am not saying other musicians do not influence current musicians because I hear the past, like David Bowie and Queen, everywhere; however, there is a difference between wearing your influences on your sleeve and actively trying to sound like another musician.  But what I have realized is that musicians who are not mere entertainers, but reflective of their craft, their consciousness and the world they live in, and not peddling meaningless gibberish, are often relegated to the fringes of the musical world.

Not that everything I listen to is reflective; I love much of electronic house, electro punk, and even some old school standard pop.  Sometimes it is not about listening to poetic lyrics, but rather dancing my ass off in my apartment (pretending my windows are closed).  Sometimes it is about listening to a driving bass line and guitars and pushing the pedal to the metal and driving really fast.  Sometimes it is about the right ambience so that I can write.

My closest friends have always pushed me to start my own blog about music.  Some have even told me to out and out quit my job in education and get a job as a music critic; but my love of music goes beyond any desire for a paycheck.  It is a passion, something that I enjoy for the sake of enjoying, in a world that is always moving faster than you can think.  So, finally, my friends convinced me to start this blog, and I thought about it for hours... days... weeks - what the hell do I have to offer?

Let's get the basics out of the way: I was born and raised in New Jersey (keep the "Joisey" jokes to yourself).  I grew up in an urban setting, in the heydays of early rap, the hullabaloo of new wave, and people just faffing around as if there was nothing else to do.  My parents exposed me to classic rock, classical music, and Spanish guitars, while allowing me to blast the Cure as loud as I wanted.  I have gone from punk rock to goth rock to house to Brit pop to indie rock and everywhere in between.  I don't pretend to know it all, always enjoy discovering a song or band that I missed along the way, and never listen to something new with prejudice - I don't even draw the lines with Country Music: have you heard Kate Melua's cover of "Just Like Heaven"?

What to expect?  Some music reviews, gig reviews, some retrospectives on older albums, rants about the music industry, singing the unsung heroes, links to interesting videos, and hopefully sharing something new with anyone who is reading.  If you have anything you'd like to share, I would love for you to send it my way.  (And with your presmission, even post it.) 

And on a personal note, to a friend, "Get over it, the 90s are over."
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