Sabotage

Buckle up, I have a lot to say about the Beastie Boys.

And about Jazz music.

They’re related, just read the post. Or don’t, this is a long and wordy monologue full of many opinions and few facts, so I don’t blame anyone for wanting to skip it.

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To be totally honest, I hated the Beastie Boys for a long time. Most of the songs I had heard by them were not something I could appreciate, and I just couldn’t listen past the nasal voice of Ad-rock or what I considered stupid lyrics to get to the good musicianship and instrumentation which is remarkably quite excellent. Also, I wasn’t a fan of the repetitive phrase-shout-phrase-shout style of many of their songs (I’m looking at you, “Intergalactic Planetary”, even if it is a good song)

I specifically remember when I was very young and hearing the song “Girls” which, now that I’ve heard all their music, is likely the worst representation of them that I could possibly get. That one song, which I still hate today and will probably always hate, stained my opinion of them for nearly all my life. “Brass Monkey”, while not bad in general, also gets annoying really fast.

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Keep in mind I was a little girl growing up in Seattle at the time, and the a-tonal dissonant stylings of a white boy rap band from New York called the Beastie Boys was not going to impress me. Imagine tiny me, hearing her older cousins (boys) music which was by a group called the Beastie Boys? No thanks. I was predisposed to dislike it.

I remember as a child my first love in life was jazz music. I remember fourth grade me, allowed to join the elementary school orchestra for the first time (I’m sure we were awful, kudos to all parents of elementary-aged musicians for sticking around at those screechy concerts) and I knew then that I wanted to learn to play the big bass so I could one day be the bass player in a jazz band. For reasons I can’t quite remember, I picked up the violin instead and didn’t get onto the bass for 3 years after that.

But Jazz has many intricate syncopated rhythms and moving or jumping melodies. It’s a genre of music that fares just as well with singing as it does instrumental. And I loved it. No wonder I disliked the Beastie Boys with their quarter note rhythms and shouted lyrics that I didn’t really understand, right? They’re completely different. Right?

Wrong.

But back to jazz for a minute; what is it? In the words of something I heard on my favorite Jazz podcast, Riffin On Jazz, “Jazz music is sounds that are pleasing to the ears”. And in the words of Robert Glasper, noted pianist and producer,

“Jazz is the mother and father of Hip Hop. They’re both musics that were born out of oppression, they’re both kind of like protest music, you know, going against the grain. If you’re a hip-hop producer that wants a lot of melodic stuff happening, you’re probably going to go to jazz first.”

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In fact, Jazz as a quintessentially American art form was the progenitor of most popular music since it’s incorporation into our mainstream culture. Especially music such as R&B and hip-hop. If you listen to a lot of hip-hop there is a ton of Jazz sampled into it. You might hear it in such songs as “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West, which samples “Ode To Billie Joe” by Lou Donaldson, or Mary J. Blige’s “My Life” which sampled “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” by Roy Ayers.

It’s also in the Beastie Boys. As you might know, the Beastie Boys are master samplers. Their album “Paul’s Boutique” was critically acclaimed for its intense sampling. It really is masterful the way they assembled it all together.  It has some really interesting bits added from all sorts of other bands. The Eagles, The Beatles,  Curtis Mayfield, The Commodores, even the soundtracks for Jaws and (if my ears don’t deceive me) Psycho. The first track samples an amazing Jazz tune called “Loran’s Dance” by Idris Muhammad, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If you are interested in more detail about everything sampled in Paul’s Boutique, definitely check out this complete radio show by Seattle radio station KEXP. This is a seriously in-depth look at the history behind that album as well as most of the identifiable songs sampled into the entire album, track by track. They literally spent an hour on “Johnny Ryall” alone. I really recommend it, it’s got some amazing insight and great tracks played. Turns out the Beastie Boys have great taste.

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Aside from vocals, the album is almost entirely sampled. In fact, I heard someone counted up to anywhere between 100 and 300 individual samples. That’s absolutely crazy, especially at the time. In 1989, when the album came out, sampling was a far different beast than it is today when we have much simpler digital methods. Here’s a little article on the history of sampling if you’d like to know more.

Paul’s Boutique saved the Beastie Boys from being one-hit wonders or frat boy hip-hop. Most of the stuff on their first album, Licensed to Ill, is firmly in that camp with songs like “Fight For Your Right” “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” “Girls” and “Brass Monkey”. But like many things, The Beastie Boys got better with age. Paul’s Boutique was so different in its content it really cemented them as a quality group and changed the face of Hip-hop at the time. Impressive for three guys that were originally punk.

After Paul’s Boutique came Check Your Head which had a few tracks I especially liked such as “Pass The Mic” and “Lighten Up” as well as “So What’cha Want” which I knew before I started in on this. Thank you, RockBand

Next came my favorite* (more on that later) album by the Beastie Boys. Ill Communication has so many great tracks, I’ll just list my top picks from that album: “Sure Shot” along with the European B-Boy mix on disc 2 of the deluxe version, “Root Down” also with the Free Zone mix in the deluxe version, “Get It Together” again the Buck-Wild remix from the deluxe set, “Sabotage” which has always been amazing and is maybe the sole reason I ever gave them a chance, “Alright Hear This”, “Flute Loop”, and a bunch of instrumental tracks that are kind of transitionary, which I will be addressing later.

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Hello Nasty came out next with more innovation from the band. Seriously, I feel like these guys never let themselves get pinned down, I can’t believe I used to think they were one-dimensional musicians. Hello Nasty includes a song called “I Don’t Know” which is vastly different from the rest of their stuff; the main instrumentation is an acoustic guitar for crying out loud and it doesn’t have any rap in it, it’s much more melodic. The album also features some great instrumental tracks. Again, I’ll touch on those later.

To The 5 Boroughs called back to some of what made people love them in the first place. The only tracks that really stuck out to me were “Check It Out” and “Rhyme The Rhyme Well” which for me gets a little old after a couple listens.

Their final album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, was again full of fantastic music. They really knocked it out of the park right from track one, “Make Some Noise” and the rest of the album is pretty great as well. However, I consider it more of an album that you listen to all at once without paying too much attention. This album had a lot of publicity surrounding it I’m not gonna get into. Suffice to say there was originally a part 1 that never got released and the group disbanded with the death of MCA aka Adam Yauch, so it never will be released.

Here’s the video for “Make Some Noise” it’s pretty fun and has a lot of celebrity cameos.

And now we’ll start to get into those things I mentioned I’d come back to.

In 2007 the Beastie Boys released an all-instrumental album called The Mix-Up. This is what really caught my attention when I was listening through their music. It finally pulled my attention to the absolute mastery these guys have over music.

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I mentioned to someone how this album really helped me see their musicianship, and their response was to point out that much of it is likely sampled. I stand by my statement. These guys show just as much musicianship with their skill at playing music as with arranging all of those samples into amazing and intriguing songs. It’s just as good as any skilled jazz trio I’ve ever heard.

And on that note. The reason I brought up Jazz music earlier was this: I believe this music is the natural evolution of Jazz.

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Now, a lot of people who don’t know Jazz say they don’t like it. And that’s fair; everyone has different tastes, though I wish they’d give it a shot. A lot of people who love Jazz are purists, and those people need to open their minds. For me and many others, Jazz has always been about experimentation and creating music that makes you feel something. It doesn’t have just one definable shape as it’s ever-changing.

Is “Jazz” always the Big band style? Or always the smokey bar lounge singer? How about Bebop? No. Don’t work in absolutes if you can help it, especially in music. And what about sub-genres? There are too many Jazz sub-genres to count. From acid to electro swing to gypsy to straight-ahead to fusion, there’s just too much music in too many different styles.

One analogy I heard once was that music genres are like family reunions. You have a ton of different people/songs who are all related, but maybe they aren’t all that similar. One person has Great Uncle Stan’s wide nose and Aunt Crissy’s curly hair, but someone else might have grandma’s button nose and Uncle Vic’s receding hairline and so they look nothing alike. And some people go from one reunion right to another one on the other side of their family. Make sense? Maybe not, but I tried.

So did the Beastie Boys write jazz music for their album The Mix-Up? No. It’s instrumental hip-hop. But it’s one thing among many that Jazz has evolved into and been incorporated into, and I love it. It’s intricate and intriguing, and it makes me happy to listen to it. It inspires the same kind of feelings in me that listening to Jazz does.

And it’s not their only instrumental albums either. Many Beastie Boys albums contain a bunch of tracks that may be transitionary in nature, but I find them all to be fantastic on their own. And I must not be the only one, because there was a compilation album released comprising entirely of those tracks.

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The In Sound From Way Out! is my true favorite album by this group, but since it’s a compilation I included my love for Ill Communication earlier. It kind of sounds like the soundtrack to an Ocean’s 11 type movie.

So to conclude my rambles about the Beastie Boys and Jazz I want to leave you with this. I created a Spotify playlist of the Beastie Boys instrumental tracks (and a few select others). If you like “lo-fi hip-hop beats” you’ll probably like this. If you like the Beastie Boys for more than “Fight For Your Right” or “Sure Shot” then you might like this. If you like jazz and aren’t a purist, you’ll probably like this. If your main jam is top 40 you might want to stay away. I was told by one person it gets boring and repetitive. I don’t think so at all, but we all have different tastes.

Here’s my favorite track if you just want an example. Check out that funky bass line mixed with precision drums and killer guitar tones. Beautiful. I couldn’t find a good Youtube video, so here’s the Spotify song link.

I know this has been a bit of a weird post, I probably should have formatted it more like an essay with a thesis and conclusion and a nice linear thought process, but I’ve been out of school for years now and I’ve already spent so much time on this one. I’m ready for the next artist.

So give the Beastie Boys a shot if you haven’t yet. And if you have, try out their instrumental tracks. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I certainly was, and now I have 70 tracks by them in my music library.

Enjoy!

Rest in peace, Adam Yauch aka MCA 1964-2012

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The Attractions of Youth

Barns Courtney is a name I only became somewhat familiar with a year ago. His song “Fire” has had quite a bit of radio play here in the US and I liked it enough to add it to my music collection, but that’s as far as my knowledge went. Turns out he is fairly new as a solo musician, his first and only solo album having been released in 2015.

Barns was born in England, but spent his early years (from 4 to 15) in Seattle and I believe that influenced his overall sound enormously. He isn’t grunge at all, but there’s just something I can’t put my finger on that reminds me of it. Maybe it’s the weathered and heavy vocals? I don’t know, and if you have thoughts on this, let me know.

Wikipedia has Barns Courtney listed under blues rock and folk-pop, though I don’t really agree with that second one. His sound features a gritty, world-weary type of voice, reverb effects that make me feel like he recorded in a tunnel, and an overall gritty production style that is becoming increasingly common. I’m all for it, though I’ll be the first to admit it can get a little old after a short time. I wasn’t sure if I would find anything else he has released that I would like. I am happy to report that I did.

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Not every track on his only album caught my interest, but a few of them did. Honestly, since he is fairly new to the scene there isn’t a lot for me to try and digest so that’s all I really have to say. But I’m not stopping there; I’m taking advantage of the shorter post to get into detail on what I like and don’t like about individual tracks.

Shall we go through them one at a time? I’ll add a Youtube link to each one if you’d like to hear it.

First up, “Fire”

This song is well structured. The chorus has a nice build and energy that grows naturally and dramatically from the calmer verse. The instrumentation is simple as it needs to be, emphasizing the vocals and effects while remaining interesting. The bridge brings to mind images of old western movies with a whistled countermelody put to great effect along with vocal exclamations running underneath. It’s a great song, and I am completely unsurprised at its popularity.

“Golden Dandelions”

With a higher tempo and a more melodic vocal line, it’s set apart from “Fire” though this track still has his signature sound. The thing that stands out the most is the heavy reliance on drums throughout the song, but especially in the verse. He seems to continue his structure pattern of ABABCB that is so common throughout pop music, but that’s not a bad thing. Overall, I really like this track, and it has an interesting music video.

“Hellfire”

The first thing he did right with this song was having the intro set the tone before a dramatic pull back for the first verse. Like in “Fire”, he has a natural and dramatic build up from the verse to the chorus. The beat is infectious, not in a danceable way, but rather in a head-nodding way. His gritty sound is amplified with this one.

“Hobo Rocket”

This song starts with some random spoken words from a “hobo” that made it stick out a bit. There is a rhyme scheme in the verse that makes me think of 90’s rock pretty strongly, but all of the elements blend together very well. One example would be the background vocals with a chorus effect put to excellent use alongside the main guitar line. It transitions into the next track on the album titled “Hobo Outside Tesco, London – Interlude” This track is pretty much an extension of “Hobo Rocket” with spoken rhyme audio from what I expect was a hobo outside of a Tesco in London. It’s different and was a nice break in the middle of the album.

 

“Champion”

This is an anthem for conquering something. I imagine it being used in a car commercial or a movie montage about someone becoming stronger for whatever sport or fight they need to face. Really, it’s a little like this generations version of “Eye of the Tiger” Please note I am not comparing the two songs, just pointing out that’s the general feeling inspired by this song. I mean, the chorus lyrics are literally “champion, I can take a beating, I’ll rise again, burning through the jungle until the end” If that doesn’t spell out the storyline to every sports movie that came after the original Rocky, I don’t know what does. I quite like it, though for some reason I want that movie montage to take place in a corporate office featuring someone sweating over powerpoints, sales calls, and coffee breaks… Anyway, his voice and the effects they put on it are ideally suited to a song like this.

“Kicks”

Another great song for a movie montage, the chorus is something you can really rock out to, the pre-chorus is the perfect change in style leading to the chorus, and the verses are nicely short to make the whole thing move at a good pace. Now that I think about it, he seems to have mastered making his songs short enough to never get really old. If they were longer tracks I probably wouldn’t like them as much. There isn’t a single track that exceeds 4 minutes on this album.

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And that’s it. If you like his style, please check out the whole album. I was pretty glad to have an artist that didn’t have hours upon hours of music for me to listen to, this project is a little tough sometimes.

 

Get In Line

 

Barenaked Ladies are fairly universally liked. They are fun, energetic, clever, and their music is frequently uptempo and fun to sing along to. Add in excellent arrangements and instrumentation, and you have a pretty decent recipe for a band.

When someone mentions Barenaked Ladies the first thing to come into your head is likely their song “One Week” or possibly “Pinch Me” followed by “If I Had $1,000,000” or “It’s All Been Done”

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As a rock band, they are kind of in the novelty category, since many of their most popular songs are kind of random or silly with subjects that are humorous or sung about in a comedic way often showcasing rapped lyrics in a style nearly devoid of hip-hop or R&B. Personally, I love it, as I feel it’s always a good idea to mix things up and be unexpected in music.

They’re not entirely lighthearted though. Barenaked Ladies have many songs that deal with heavy topics in a poignant manner. I would especially point out “War On Drugs” which is about suicide and mental health issues. It’s a very powerful song centered around a bridge in Toronto where people would go to jump. Honestly it kind of stopped me in my tracks, and I think that coming from a group I viewed as fun and carefree made it strike home harder than it might have, had it come from a more typically somber group.

And that’s certainly not the only serious song they have. Before I began listening to their discography I was familiar with the song “Call and Answer” which is ultimately about the reconciliation of a difficult relationship. Which when you think about it, is not a common take on love songs, is it? More often you hear about love-at-first-sight, true love, breakups, cheaters, moving on, etc. It’s interesting to hear one that focuses on not just the difficulties of a relationship, but overcoming them as well.

Anyway, it is a beautiful song, the overlapping vocals and harmonies add a lot of power layered on top of the chiming guitar background. That is actually one of my all-time favorite songs by this band, and anytime it comes on I will absolutely sing along the entire time. There was a really nice version of this song on one of their live albums featuring Alanis Morissette that I found quite enjoyable.

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I wouldn’t neglect their upbeat and fun songs though, as that is arguably what makes them so well loved. They run a gamut of topics from the mundane to the serious to the outright ridiculous. Who else would write a song about getting unsigned postcards featuring chimpanzees? Weird, but a delightful and catchy song.

I’ll list all my favorite tracks at the end of this post, but if you want an album to check out I recommend either Grinning Streak or Stunt. They released an album this past year called Fake Nudes but I found it lacking their usual vim and vigor and wasn’t overly impressed by any of the songs.

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One thing about their discography, at least on Spotify, is the absolutely massive amount of live albums. They aren’t part of their official discography, but they are there nonetheless. From what I can figure, they released recordings of every live performance for their tour promoting the album Everything to Everyone, mixed and released as-is by the end of the show. I did not listen to all of these, as there were just too many and they were all essentially the same. If you don’t count those live recordings, since 1992 they have made twelve standard studio albums, one holiday album (which has some fun tracks), one kid’s album, a Shakespeare themed album (which is not on Spotify and I haven’t listened to yet), and a handful each of live albums, compilations, and E.P.’s. That’s a pretty solid career.

Based on the live albums I did listen to, I would definitely want to go see them live. They would be a fun show and great showmen, I’m sure of it.

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Well, I suppose it’s time for my “Top Tracks” list.

“One Week” “Another Postcard” “If I Had $1,000,000” “Get In Line” “Pinch Me” “Call and Answer” “Never Is Enough” and “It’s All Been Done” are the songs I knew well before this post, and they are all fantastic.

As for new discoveries:

“Bank Job” Probably my favorite find in this post. Absolutely hilarious.

“Odds Are”

“Easy”

“Testing 1, 2, 3”

“Did I Say That Out Loud?”

“Boomerang”

“Toe to Toe”

“Duct Tape Heart”

I added way more than just these to my Spotify, but they are the cream of the crop as far as I’m concerned. An overall good mix of fun and heartfelt, Barenaked Ladies is just a great band who puts out great music. If you haven’t given them a chance before, please do so now, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, here’s the video for “Odds Are” just for you:

I think I need to watch that one a couple times to absorb all the stuff going on.

Enjoy your listening, and if you have any new music you want to share with me, send me a message!

Casual Party

A few years ago I had a roommate who I bonded with over music. She has fantastic taste, and I was really excited when she burned a CD for me with a mix of recommended music. One of the tracks soon became a favorite, “The Funeral” by Band of Horses.

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It’s a great song and a great intro to the band. Band of horses has a number of fairly popular songs, depending on what kind of music you follow. I would categorize them as indie/folk rock, though an argument could be made for alt-rock as well. I have heard some of their songs on the radio when I’m listening to the community stations or the community alt-rock station. Since I’m living in Utah, I assume their song “Great Salt Lake” gets played here with more frequency than other areas.

There are a couple songs I want to highlight here before my usual top tracks list. Firstly, “Dumpster World” which when I first heard it made me think heavily of the band America, specifically the song “Horse With No Name” because that’s probably the song by them I’m most familiar with (I’ll need to do a separate post about America somewhere down the line). The resemblance is pronounced at the beginning of “Dumpster World” and I haven’t been able to find out if the similarity is intentional or not. I can’t imagine it isn’t, though. The vocal harmonies and instrumentation style is ridiculously similar. In fact, I’ll add a couple links so you can compare the two songs.

What do you think? Purposeful?

Secondly, I want to point out “No One’s Gonna Love You” which is definitely one of their most popular songs. It’s a fantastic song, one that I think anyone can enjoy, but even more interesting to me is the Cee Lo Green cover version. I know a lot of people have strong opinions about cover songs. Some people claim only the original version of any song is best, though I disagree. For example, Hendrix’s version of “All Along The Watchtower” is much more well known at the very least, if not arguably better than the original by Bob Dylan. Or another example, “Hallelujah” originally by Leanord Cohen. My own personal opinion is that if a cover version adds something or changes the song in some way then more power to them.

That’s pretty much how I feel about the Cee Lo cover. It’s a great version of the song, and his voice is so unique it lends itself to new interpretations easily. Here are two more links for you to compare them:

Wrapping up, here’s my top tracks list for Band of Horses:

“No One’s Gonna Love You”

“The Funeral”

“Casual Party”

“Dull Times/The Moon”

“Dumpster World”

“Compliments”

“A Little Biblical”

“The General Specific”

So that’s pretty much all I have to say about Band of Horses. They are a great band, and if you like groups like The Shins, Fleetfoxes, The National, The Decemberists etc. you will probably love Band of Horses too. They are right up that alley, and a band I would be excited to see live if I ever got the chance.

Here’s To Never Growing Up

Switching from the Blues last week to the pop skater punk style of Avril Lavigne for this week was a weird transition for me. I had to listen to Avril Lavigne’s music twice to get in the groove of it.

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This is one of those things that I felt I had outgrown. Music like that of Avril Lavigne’s is something I listened to as a teenager and haven’t really looked back on as an adult until now, associating it with other aspects of that time period that I’ve moved on from.

The early 2000’s found me as a young teen branching out my musical tastes and looking for something I could attach myself to. While I never adopted the skate punk style of musicians like Avril Lavigne, I did enjoy her music. I remember having a copy of her first album Let Go and keeping it near my CD player in my room. This type of music is, in my opinion, geared specifically towards teenagers though that could be becauae I was a teenager when I listened to it. It could also be because when Let Go came out Avril was only 17 years old.

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Avril Lavigne has been pursuing music since a young age. She was lucky enough to be supported by her parents in this endeavor throughout her childhood. She signed a record deal in late 2000 at age 15 shortly before her career really took off. Her first album, Let Go, was released in 2002 and threw her right into the spotlight. The album reached pretty high on the Billboard charts in the US, but she also became the youngest female artist to have an album reach number one on the UK Albums Chart at the time. That album had multiple hits on it such as “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi” which still play on the radio occasionally. Pretty impressive for a 17-year-old.

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I ate up the angsty, emotion-fueled, self-empowering, suburban teen girl rock as a teenager, and listening to it again makes me realize I have a lot of good memories attached to those songs. I didn’t listen to her next album that came out in 2004, though I liked the single “My Happy Ending” that played on the radio.

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The 2007 album, The Best Damn Thing, came out when I had gotten more into music videos. I distinctly remember watching the music video for the single “Girlfriend” on VH1 or MTV (whichever one had actual music videos on at any given point was usually my TV channel of choice). That song became a bit of a guilty pleasure for me as I moved on to other things musically. I think I eventually bought that CD on a whim as well, though I never listened to it much and the only other song on it that stuck out to me at all was “Keep Holding On”

Avril Lavigne fell off my radar almost completely after that, and I haven’t heard anything off of her last two albums until this past week.

Avril’s sound has mostly stayed the same, though overall she has grown a bit as a musician. Not much, but a bit. I’ll never really get into her music again like I did as a teen, though I did quite enjoy the track “Give You What You Like” off her eponymous album, and I’m glad to include it in my library.

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I’m not going to post a top tracks list, but I will say that her first album will always be my favorite; I have good memories of that album. Have I grown out of Avril Lavigne’s music? Yes, but I will always enjoy listening to it and remembering how I felt at that point in my life. To me, this is an important part of my musical history and I would never want to forget it.

That’s all I have for you today, but watch put for my next post featuring Bachman-Turner Overdrive!

 

P.S. Has anyone noticed how she seems to wear more and more eyeliner as time goes on? Check this out:

2002:

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2004:

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2007:

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2011:

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2013:

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That last one. I know it’s specifically a photo shoot for the album, but still. Ridiculous.

I also found some pictures of here without the eyeliner, and she looks completely different. It’s super weird.

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Also, this. This is my favorite:

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