Thursday, October 30, 2008

Politics isn't the only thing that makes for strange bedfellows

Back in seventh grade, one of my friends loved eating Cheese Whiz on Oreos. I knew she was being sincere because I saw her eat this bastardization of an Oreo on multiple occasions. Eventually I gave in to her persuasions, tried it, and it tasted like… cheese whiz on an Oreo, gross. Lately I’ve been seeing unusual pairings like this, and not only in the political arena. Some of them work and some of them don’t, but hey, you have to try to see if they work for you.

Norah Jones and Wilco’s "Jesus, Etc."
Maybe I am biased toward Jones because her soulful voice and authentic lady-like demeanor. She seems to tell crass women like Pink to shut up about being a strong woman without actually saying so, rather, showing them how it is done. I am probably biased because her father is Ravi Shankar, the famed sitar player. I am definitely biased because she bowled a few games a few years back at Landmark Lanes, my favorite dive bar and bowling establishment in Milwaukee. Anyway, I don't usually like artists that have 13 Grammy wins, but Jones is special. She handles “Jesus, Etc.” very well in Mountain View, California, singing more sweetly than Jeff Tweedy.

This is all well and good, but Wilco also played this same concert, and already played this song in their set. So going back to my previous post about covers, I don’t know what she was trying to accomplish with the song. An instance of good idea - even good execution - but poor timing.

Built to Spill and M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”

Now this combination works, even though BTS and M.I.A. are much further apart on the musical spectrum than Jones and Wilco. However, by aggregating many musical factors and then averaging them out, both artists rate about the same on a cool scale. M.I.A. is cool for her originality and world music influences, and BTS for their immeasurable contribution to indie rock- being actually musical around all the Pavements of the time. Plus, all the while in the video, BTS looks like they are having fun, a key component of doing covers. They know they will never be a neon-clad pregnant woman, and they aren’t pretending to be- they are more like a cool uncle.

Or for a less quality version with a transition from my (probably, this week) favorite song ever “Car

Jaguar Love
(One part Pretty Girls Make Graves and two parts The Blood Brothers)
Photo via Blush Photo

The former guitarist for PGMG, J Clark, is now Jaguar Love’s drummer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. His influence comes through in that the guitars still sound dance-y, often hitting on the offbeats. However, this isn't enough, as it sounds like he recorded separately from ex-Blood Brothers Johnny Whitney (singer) and Cody Votolato (guitarist). The result sounds more like a mash-up of the two bands than a collaboration. Votolato describes "Jaguar Pirates" as "Almost Beefheart-ish [as in Cap’n] inspired.” That he describes the previous track, “Georgia” as “Baby Huey” inspired - and I’m not sure if he is referring to the ginormous duck or the soul singer- shows how scattered their sound is.
Vagabond Ballroom - Jaguar Love

Extra trivia: Rocky Votolato, folk singer, is Cody’s older brother, and he subscribes to a completely different sound from his brother. I saw Rocky perform at Mad Planet about two years back with Lucero and the very awesomely old-school William E. Whitmore, and Rocky’s performance was incredibly sedate, almost too much so. It seems like both Votolato’s could learn about a happy medium from each other. Sonny Votolato, also of some relation, is in Slender Means, another indie-rock outfit and, of course, also from Seattle.

Guys and skirts

Photo via wardrobe_remix

To pull off the man-skirt, it has to be simple, which the denim accomplishes. His monochromatic stylings also don't confuse, and make him look so well put-together that i didn't even notice the skirt at first. Also, he looks like he could kick your ass in this skirt; I think that is why I like him in it. I also appreciate that he doesn't try to compensate with 'manly' elements in this outfit either. A female could easily wear this outfit, playing with a few different fittings/proportions and look as equally fashionable.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Project Runway predictions and critique from best to worst- starting with Korto

said she wanted to show some of her ethnicity in her final collection, and she not only did that, but she gave it a Japanese flair with an American sensibility. Her fantastic, very spring-like color choice highlights her heritage as well as her large (but not clunky) bead work. Her collection left me wanting to see more from her, whereas with Leann's I feel like she exhausted the thread of her idea. She is my pick to win, with Leann a close second. Kenley can go home at the beginning of the episode and save us all some drama.

Korto's collection @ Bryant Park

Leann was reportedly the crowd favorite of the show, I think because there would be little translation needed from the runway to retail, making it easy to picture yourself in each piece. Every piece is well-executed and fits in with her collection seamlessly, especially since her color palette is so limited. It really seems like she got everything she could have from her inspiration- waves and the water- and if she made one more piece the look would have been overdone. However, do her clothes give enough of a show? Are they imaginative enough and not simply commercial? The judges usually look for a different look, which she nails here, but is it high-fashion enough? I don't know, but I think Korto has a better chance of winning. Leann works great with cotton in her Etsy store, and a lot of these dresses seem like they could be made with some cotton and interfacing (minus the blue flowing one). We shall find out tonight.

Leann's collection @ Bryant Park.

Kenley's collection @ Bryant Park


As of two weeks ago, I had Jarell pegged to win. He does his own thing, which is more than Kenley can say, was more consistent than Korto, and was less arts and crafts than Leann. Based on the wedding dress challenge last week he should have gone on to compete for the money at fashion week. But the judges must have seen his and Korto's final collections, and decided that Korto's was better. I think they made the right decision- he has a few beautiful pieces, but he attempts too much. He still has a lot of promise, as soon as he learns not to throw all of your ideas into one dress.
Jarell's collection @ Bryant Park

As with Suede's collection, you can tell that a man designed these clothes. And in Joe's case, a straight man. His idea of what women would wear includes lots of midriff showing, zippers going too near to nipples, and very obvious ideas of American fashion. He does have one pretty dress though, earning him billing above Suede. However, he starts the show with denim and a rustic brown leather and ends up with organza and what looks to be pleather, causing his models (one being the very pretty Naima from America's Next Top Model) to look like they are hardly at Fashion Week in the same geographical areas, let alone the same time.

Joe's collection @ Bryant Park

Remember the episode where Suede said: "Suede doesn't do pants?" Apparently Suede doesn't do taste, sleeves, or colors not found at an amusement park either. I hope he didn't get as large of a budget as the other designers, because that is the only excuse. His wedding dress 'finale' piece is just the tacky cherry on a tasteless sundae.

Suede's collection @ Bryant Park

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wtf Wednesday- songs butchered on kids' shows

After being out of school for a year, I am still working on unlearning things I was taught. Pluto isn't a planet anymore, the "rocket's red glare" in the anthem wasn't from fireworks but from canons, Christopher Columbus wasn't really a hero but a slave trader, and I never did need to use some of that math later in life.

And no wonder I was filled with all this false information- look at this crap we have kids watch.

Tim Finn of Split Endz wrote "Six Months in a Leaky Boat," a song cool enough for Ted Leo to cover- probably because of its references to a mental breakdown. But when Finn performed it on the Australian kids' show, The Wiggles, the producers threw in some pirate stuff (not even cool pirate stuff) and some Irish dancing at the end and hoped the kiddies didn't ask too many questions.

Finn performing "Six Months..." amidst a foreground of pirate vomit.

Feist's altered performance of "1,2,3,4," on Sesame Street is little better. The single-take is nice and reflects the style of her music videos, but again, dumbing her song down gives it an empty feeling. She also went wrong with her high-waisted pant. They almost fall into Sesame-street style mom-jean territory, until the inseam somehow enhances her, well, camel toe. Not a muppet we need to see on the 'Street. See the video in high quality here. (For the right way on how to do Sesame street- see Ray Charles, Ellen, Patrick Stewart, and others sing the alphabet song. The key is they all stay true to form)

Finn and Leo also share another connection: Leo named his album The Tyranny of Distance after a lyric in Finn's song. However, Leo's choices in educational programming are better attuned to what is actually entertaining and not just sickeningly saccharine. In this clip from the Washington D.C. cable access show Pancake Mountain, he shows Finn and Feist how to play a kids' show - exactly like you would for some adults.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sex-fueled dance rock mix

Like the fortune cookie game where each prophecy is easily appended with "in bed," it isn't hard to find sexual subtext in rock music. For some of these songs the references are glaringly obvious while others are open to interpretation, as always. But most have an undeniably danceable backbone- the first step to having fun whether you are "dancing with yourself,*" dancing with a partner, or simply need some party music.

Between the brothers of The Jesus and Mary Chain playing and singing about a blow job from a girl's perspective and Le Tigre asking for "more, more, more" (while still keeping their feminist lenses firmly on their faces), there is a little something for everybody on this mix.

Download the first 10 tracks here.
And the last 10 tracks here.

Track listing and notes:
  1. MGMT- "Electric Feel"
  2. !!!- "Must Be the Moon" Live, these guys and girl exude sexual energy. I learned some new pelvic thrust dance moves from Nic at his Pitchfork performance this year.
  3. Fischerspooner- "Just Let Go"
  4. Enon- "Disposable Parts" Sung from the voice of a girl who will take what she wants from you but won't give you a piece of her never sounded so dance-y. Toko Yasuda sings like she knows you don't need a partner in order to be lasciviously awesome.
  5. Oxford Collapse- "For the Winter Coats" All the verses speed up just to slow down for the pleading chorus. Favorite verse lyric: "You got so excited for the coming of cold/that you blew your load on your winter coat."
  6. Violent Femmes- "36-24-36" Discovered outside the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee by The Pretenders, the Femmes' Gordon Gano sings about ideally proportioned woman over a suggestive upright bass line.
  7. Spank Rock- "Bump" Rhymes as dirty as blunt weed are layered over a beat and cowbell reminiscent of War's "Lowrider."
  8. The Jesus and Mary Chain- "Just Like Honey" JMC slow it down here with airy vocals and fuzzy guitars that hardly sound like they were produced in 1984.
  9. Interpol- "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down" Is Stella a prostitute? A beautiful woman who can detach sex from emotion, causing much pain to the narrator? Just a pretty name to put in a song?
  10. Daft Punk- "Digital Love" If Johnny 5 and R2D2 ever got down to business, this is what it would sound like.
  11. Le Tigre- "Eau D'Bedroom Dancing" The softer side of Le Tigre.
  12. TV on the Radio- "Wolf like Me" Unabashed and animalistic. Two consenting, one with a powerful lustiness.
  13. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah- "Satan Said Dance" As with the Bloc Party's "Halo,"this is also the only song I could stand on CYHSY's latest.
  14. Charlotte Gainsbourg- "The Operation" The musical menage a trois of Gainsbourg, Air and Jarvis Cocker produces a hauntingly beautiful result.
  15. VHS or Beta- "Night on Fire"
  16. Bloc Party- "Halo"
  17. Pretty Girls Make Graves - "This is Our Emergency" Creation and inspiration can be sexy as something outside of yourself, but especially when shared and felt with others.
  18. CSS- "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above" For super-duper scene points, look up Spank Rock's remix of this song.
  19. Death From Above 1979- "Sexy Results" Sebastian Grainger's solo project and MSTRKRFT sound nothing like DFA 1979, suggesting the lightning in a bottle that was the chemistry of DFA 1979.
  20. MGMT- "Electric Feel (JUSTICE Remix)"
* Billy Idol is either a complete liar or has a good sense of humor for denying that "Dancing With Myself" isn't about what everybody knows it is.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wtf Wednesday- ShowBros: Not just for Lollapalooza anymore

Photo of Sunset Rubdown by my dear friend Andy P.

Usually at indie-rock shows, the attendees are a smattering of different - but not disparate - arty types: music nerds, hipsters, coat hanger girlfriends and boyfriends, and other musicians. However, this show-attendee paradigm was shattered at the later Sunset Rubdown show at the Empty Bottle last weekend. Enter a new sub-genre of concert-attending males: the ShowBro.

The ShowBro differs from Hipster Runoff's classifications of an AltBro or an AltBag in that the ShowBro has not incorporated anything alternative into his lifestyle. He does not try to acclimate his bro-ness with his surroundings, at all. Allow me to illustrate through my experience.

Sunset Rubdown lived in relative musical obscurity, I thought. To get into them you would probably like the more popular Wolf Parade first, and then research its multiple side projects. Eventually you would stumble upon the more experimental SR. So when a group of clean-cut boys who looked like they missed their El stop back in Wrigleyville appeared in front of me at the show, I was a little perplexed.

Even with their Old Styles in hand and blond girls in tow, I still managed to withhold my judgment. Until the show started. And it wasn't just me who was befuddled by ShowBros presence.

Lead singer and keyboardist Spencer Krug was giving ShowBros weird looks when they were jumping up and down and high-fiving one another like teenage girls at a Plain White T's show. With Krug being a Canadian, this suggests that the emergence of ShowBros is of international concern. (Usage note: It is always ShowBros, never ShowBro- they are a pack species). Krug also had to take time out of the show to admonish ShowBros for leering at the so not-their-type Camilla Wynne Ingr, multi-instrumentalist. Like she would sleep with them and their syphilgonnaherpes crusty penises anyway.

It is great if you are not a usual show-goer; really, more people should expand their musical horizons. But please, don't act like a jackass when you are there. You wouldn't go to Italy and tell the Italians how to make wine, would you? Then don't go to a show and tackle football your way up to the front only to ogle girls, high-five one another, and act like you are in a cheesy nightclub.

Most of the show was really good though. I thought the music would be more tangential, but it sounded mostly like it does on the albums. It was a typical straightforward bar show, replete with Krug citing intoxication as a reason for the lack of an encore.

The crowd became most exuberant when Sunset Rubdown played "I'll Believe in Anything," originally a SR song but more commonly known as a WP song. ShowBros shared in this exuberance, further proving my Wolf Parade as a gateway to SR point. The ShowBros could have benefited from listening to themselves sing-scream the closing lyrics: "No body knows you and nobody gives a damn either way."

Finally, this is a video from the same night but the earlier show. They played "The Mending of the Gown" again at the later show, but they seem looser with this crowd than they did with our crowd. It looks good on hi-res.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Deconstructing Radiohead: Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore (in rainbows)

Radiohead - Reckoner - by Clement Picon

Radiohead offering up its material for free, and then encouraging interpretations of it is nothing new (see:

Clement Picon, a French Radiohead fan, made the video for "Reckoner" in his free evenings. After his video was voted on by fans worldwide, Picon was one of four grand prize winners penultimately chosen by Radiohead and, and, ultimately to be the "official" video by because "it goes with the song so well." Yes, yes it does Thom. It perhaps even speaks for the song.

After reading about Derrida's hermetic view of language recently, I've come to agree with him that words, like the lyrics in this song, can only refer to other words. The lyrics aren't really an expression of some thought in Thom's mind, since no one can grasp the full meaning of their words alone. Words stand only in relation to other words- In Rainbows is not Out Rainbows, as much as it isn't any other word. So words can't point to any greater Truth or essence, even though they are sometimes our greatest tools in which to ascribe meaning. But, as in many instances, what we don't say is often as important as what we do say. If all of the cuts for the album made it on In Rainbows, it would frankly suck. Because Radiohead chose not to include these, it enhanced what they did say and play.

However, what we know empirically: The sounds of the guitars traveling through amplifiers into recording equipment, lyrics sung at an audible wavelength, and a video created out of an inspiration to and then eventually blending with the song lend themselves to the fullness of a moment. And that moment may feel differently to everybody, since it is then not only open to, but expectant of, the inevitable interpretation.

Does this seem like a vapid existentialist conclusion? Can meaning never be tacked down because of an endless chain of signifiers and symbols? Perhaps, but if many moments could look, sound and feel like you are in a song, the resulting peaceful -not staid- placidity would not be such a terrible existence.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

WTF? Wednesday

Katy Perry kissed a girl and liked it, which is great for her. But then she defied gender norms again and butt-raped this MGMT song. The result isn't good for anybody.

Please, musicians, don't attempt to cover a song unless:

  • You really like the original and can unmistakably have fun with a cover.
  • You are pretentious and think you can do the song better.
  • You can add a new sound or musical interpretation to the song. Or,
  • You are Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, or the Detroit Cobras. (Note: Do not go see the Cobras live, it is really disappointing.)

And please, don't just sing over the existing song blatantly coming out of one speaker and post it on youtube.