Good Grief

An indie band out of London, England, Bastille came into popularity here in the States with the release of their debut album Bad Blood which featured a number of singles, “Pompeii” being the one most people are familiar with. The album came out in 2013, though it became much more popular the following year. That song was everywhere for quite a while, you could hardly go somewhere without hearing it.

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“Pompeii” is a great song and is noteworthy in and of itself, but Bastille really got my attention when I heard “Good Grief” a couple years later. This track has a fun and infectious beat and includes a few key audio samples from the 80’s movie Weird Science. I am a bit ashamed to report that I didn’t actually pay attention to the lyrics until just recently. That said, they tell a very different story than the upbeat-major key-danceable instrumentation would lead you to believe. It’s about the grief felt from the death of a loved one, and the moments of happiness found in the midst. The pre-chorus lyrics are “what’s gonna be left of the world if you’re not in it?” Read through the lyrics some time, it’s an interesting juxtaposition between lightheartedness and the rather depressing business of going on living when someone you love is dead.

A band who can write a song that way definitely has my attention, so I went ahead and listened to the rest of their work on Spotify for this post. All of their lyrics are smart and fascinating, including the ever-popular “Pompeii”

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They also look like a group of guys who have fun together. I mean, just look at them! They seem like the kind of people I would like to just hang out with sometime.

Overall, I was impressed with all their stuff. They have a good sound and are great lyricists. They keep things fresh, and while his voice is very identifiable, they haven’t let themselves get pigeonholed in just one style or genre. They mix up their instrumentation and use a number of different effects at various times, as well as write their lyrics to be poignant and subtle. For Bastille, anything goes for their songwriting and I really like that.

So, do I recommend Bastille? Absolutely I do. They are a great addition to my music library and my ever expanding musical tastes. Here are my top tracks in no particular order:

“Pompeii”

“Good Grief”

“Power”

“Blame”

“Daniel In The Den”

“World Gone Mad” (Explicit language in this one, kids)

“Of The Night”

If you like these songs, for sure check out their albums.

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I want to close with a great quote from the band’s founder and lead singer, Dan Smith, who said “the whole labeling of music culture is so tired and kind of irrelevant now. Everyone’s music tastes are so broad, and everyone likes a bit of everything now.”

So true, and I won’t try to add anything to that.

Happy listening and I hope you find something new and fun to listen to!

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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!

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

For this post, I was delving into essential 1970’s rock. Seriously, Bachman-Turner Overdrive (hereafter referred to as BTO) is the epitome of classic rock.

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The one song I already had on my Spotify list before checkong out the rest of their library was “Takin’ Care Of Business”. It’s a great song, perfect for staying motivated and getting things done. It has an easy to find beat and it’s a fun song to sing along to. It even has a great breakdown halfway through the song with a rather distinct guitar solo and a great use of piano accenting everything throughout. A great song for the whole band to rock out to.

When I proceeded to dive further into BTO’s music, I realized I knew some of their other stuff already. Seriously, they have a bunch of classic songs people know really well, “Takin’ Care Of Business” being just one of many.

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I did a bit of reading about the band and it’s line-up changes and such, but I really wasn’t interested in that. What I was interested in was the sound they made. I already mentioned they have an iconic ’70’s rock sound, and while all of their work firmly belongs to that genre, they didn’t let anything box them in. They have songs that are pure rock with driving rhythms and guitar solos, but they also have fun playing with different tones for their guitars, use drums to be dynamic as well as driving, balance multiple guitars and tones into a beautifully cohesive way, and throw in some extra elements (such as extra piano or cowbell) to add more flavor to a song.

Thanks to SNL and Christopher Walken, anytime I hear a cowbell I immediately notice it and it becomes all I can focus on during the rest of a song. Luckily, that wasn’t the case for me while listening to BTO, though I wouldn’t necessarily want more of it.

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Altogether, I have been impressed by this band. Great songs that stand the test of time and smooth grooves for me to rock out to are an excellent way to make me a fan. If I were to make a BTO top ten tracks list it would be as follows:

“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” – This has a great rhythm guitar pulling it along and an excellent hook as well as a fun lead guitar tone that pops up after the first verse. I’d karaoke the heck out of this one.

“Blue Collar” – Very different in tone than I expected, it has a handful of different guitar tones that really compliment the song beautifully. Seriously, sometimes a wah pedal just pulls me out of the song if it’s too strong or not suited to the rest of the instrumentation, but this was just right. And to pair it with at least 2 other guitar tones vastly different and have it match, plus the very jazzy drums/guitars and tempo change combo at the end, really sell it.

“Takin’ Care Of Business” – As mentioned above.

“Hey You” – A prime example of their overall style. Check it out.

“Roll On Down The Highway” – Great road trip song.

“Lookin Out For #1” – Smooth and chill, comparable to “Blue Collar”

“Not Fragile” – Heavier rock sound, power chord driven.

“It’s Over” – The beginning chord structure made me think of “American Woman” but it’s actually quite different. And pretty awesome.

“Quick Change Artist” – This one is just really fun. Classic BTO style

“Hold Back The Water” – Also awesome. Great use of chorus style vocals.

I guess that’s ten, but if you like those, here’s a bonus: “Welcome Home”

I’ve really enjoyed listening to BTO, and am so glad I know more of their music. I am especially a fan of their guitar work, though the rest of the band are no slouches! This is another group I want to thank our northern neighbors for. Thanks, Canada!

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Go check out this great classic rock band, and happy listening!

 

P.S. If this isn’t the most 70’s picture, I’ll eat my hat*.

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*I won’t actually eat my hat. That would be weird. And indigestible.

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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Soundman

I am a sucker for blues guitar. Really, there’s nothing like it for me; that raw, heavy, and grinding sound of a funky blues solo being wrenched out of the amp. I am enthralled every time I hear a blues song that really drives it home. Anytime I listen to it, I just want to crank up the volume and let it wash over me.

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There are way too many sub-genres in the blues. Blues is more categorized by the type of scale and arrangement patterns used than anything else, which means it’s a little all-encompassing. For example, the following artists are all known for having songs categorized as blues: Albert King, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, The Black Keys, ZZ Top, John Mayer, Etta James, Jack White, Led Zeppelin, etc. That’s just a small sampling, and some of those are not anything like another.

Here is a link to a list of blues genres if you’re interested. The page also has a list of blues-like genres at the bottom.

For the sake of the rest of this post, I will be talking about what has been called Texas Blues, the gritty kind of blues-rock I would stereotypically picture being played in a bar on the edge of town frequented by a couple of biker gangs. It is characterized by jazz-influenced improv and single string electric guitar accompaniment. It’s been around since the early 1900’s but really began to flourish in the American south in the late 60’s and 70’s pulling influences from country as well as other blues-rock sounds.

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It is really hard to stand out in a genre that has so many masters. Stevie Ray Vaughn, B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, ZZ Top, Eric Clapton, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you can stand out in such a genre, more power to you. Most often when I’m listening to blues, I do so via internet radio stations and don’t actually know what artist I’m listening to at any given time. Occasionally, if I’m listening via Spotify, I’ll save a good song I like to my music library.

Which is exactly how I found the artist that inspired this post. Aynsley Lister is a good guitarist, and I enjoy his compositions. Despite how hard it is for contemporary artists to measure up to the famous blues artists of the past he does an admirable job. I had just one of his songs on my Spotify to start with, called “Soundman”. This song tickled my fancy since I have worked in the live performance industry and with various sound guys in my career; I found the lyrics relatable and humorous, and the guitar style enjoyable.

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Aynsley Lister hails from England and started playing guitar at the ripe old age of 8, performing his first concert at age 13. His guitar work is great, though I admit I find his voice a little annoying at times. Overall, kudos to him for finding something he loves so early on in life and continuing to work on it throughout his career. He’s been performing as a solo artist since 1995 and is still going strong. Well done, sir!

My top 5 tracks for Aynsley Lister are as follows:

“Soundman”

“Crazy” (a fantastic Gnarls Barkley cover)

“Inside Out”

“Upside Down”

“Always Tomorrow”

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Aynsley Lister is a good blues artist, and I’m glad he has inspired me to listen to so much Texas blues this past week or so, I have really enjoyed it! Makes me want to go find a blues bar to just hang out and listen to live music.

Check out some blues music this week! If you have any blues artists you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear it!

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And here’s a bonus: a clip from the movie Adventures In Babysitting which is where I derived the name of my blog from. Enjoy!

Doesn’t Remind Me

If you listen to Audioslave and think “this sounds like a band I know, but I can’t quite place it” you are not alone. The band (arguably a supergroup, depending on your tastes) was made up of 3 members from Rage Against the Machine: Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk; and Chris Cornell the frontman for the well-known grunge band, Soundgarden who also had a successful solo career. Thus, my first impression when I heard Audioslave for the first time was that I had heard them before but didn’t know when. I think this very reason is why a number of critics disliked the band at first, stating that they sounded uninspired and predictable.

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It took a long time for me to get into Audioslave. I’ll admit, I’m not much into Rage Against the Machine, mostly because I have a hard time deciphering the lyrics and don’t usually like politically charged music. Audioslave has a completely different style for both of those categories. Chris Cornell specifically did not want to become the new singer for Rage Against, nor did he want to be a part of a political band, though he had no problem with playing benefits or performing more politically charged songs at times. He also has a very distinct voice that greatly differs from the style of Zach de la Rocha who sang for Rage Against the Machine.

When members come together from such different and iconic bands, there will obviously be an adjustment period for them to settle into a new sound distinct from their previous projects. Chris Cornell always sounded like Chris Cornell, but he stretched his vocals to include more and varied influences when he could, as did the rest of the band. Tom Morello said that while he was never musically limited with Rage Against the Machine, he felt there was wider musical territory with Audioslave.

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Obviously, Audioslave has influences from the band member’s previous bands. However, they have some other specific influences that I feel colors their music very well, such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, James Brown, and Funkadelic. They pulled heavily from 70’s hard rock and heavy metal, as well as some funk, soul, and R&B here and there. I would personally classify it as hard rock or alt-rock, though it could also be described as alt-metal and post-grunge.

If you listen to alt-rock radio stations, you are probably familiar with “Like A Stone” which is their most well-known song (ironic, since it was from their first and least critically acclaimed album). It is also my favorite song of theirs. I found myself drawn to the songs which had a little more grunge and a little less metal, such as “Doesn’t Remind Me” and “Shadow On The Sun” but that’s just my taste.

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If you like Rage Against the Machine, you will probably like Audioslave. I say this because the instrumentation, entirely by Rage Against band members, is all solid and well-mixed music. It really is quality work. Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk create a cohesive powerhouse together in all of the songs, and Tom Morello is a ridiculously talented guitarist.

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I think I’ve rambled on long enough for one post by now. So here are my top 5 Audioslave songs :

“Like A Stone”

“Show Me How To Live”

“Shadow On The Sun”

“Doesn’t Remind Me”

“Shape Of Things To Come”

And with that, I bid you farewell for today. Here’s to future music discoveries!

Post script: Chris Cornell was found dead in his hotel room earlier this year, after a Soundgarden show. May he rest in peace.

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Do I Wanna Know?

I don’t exactly recall the first time I heard Arctic Monkeys, but they have such a recognizable sound I can always identify their music when I hear it. While they can be categorized as indie rock or garage rock, they have a very distinct British punk influence and a just altogether dark sound that is not often found in popular groups.

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Don’t they look like they could have opened a show for The Clash or Buzzcocks back in Britain’s punk rock heyday?

If you’ve been following my blog, you are probably aware I’m a big fan of music videos, and honestly, that’s what stuck out to me about this band in the first place. The main imagery of their music video for the track “Do I Wanna Know” is distinctively an animated sound wave pulsing to the beat of the song, only to transform into a hypnotic and very strange animation centering around a black and white sound wave. It… gets a little weird at the end. However, that returning image is also incorporated into the album cover for AM as seen here:

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I wouldn’t say that one is my favorite video by them, but it is memorable, and it is an amazing song as well as a surprising earworm. That guitar riff in infectious.

My favorite video is the one I will post under this paragraph, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” It has a minute and a half intro, playing a part of “Do I Wanna Know” before it gets into the actual song. It’s a slightly unusual video, and instead of trying to explain it I’ll just let you watch it. Note the Parental Advisory warning, please.

Those are two well-known hits by Arctic Monkeys, both of which are from their most recent album, AM. As far as I can tell, that is the album that really took off in the U.S. though they had been popular in their home country of England before then.

Arctic Monkeys have that iconic British punk sound influencing most of their stuff while still adding a flair all their own and pulling little influences from other contemporary artists. All together, they really make it work for them. While they haven’t produced another album since AM in 2013, they are reportedly back from a two-year hiatus and are working on another studio album in L.A. I certainly will keep an eye out for it, and I hope they make more music with their distinct style while also breathing some new life into it.

Other songs I recommend: “Arabella” “R U Mine” and “I Wanna Be Yours” all from their AM album (my favorite, obviously), and “Love Is A Laserquest” and “She’s Thunderstorms” from the album Suck It and See, and “Fluorescent Adolescent” from Favorite Worst Nightmare.

If you like classic punk rock or garage rock, you should definitely give Arctic Monkeys a try.

Thanks for reading!

Choice Kingdom

I cannot emphasize enough how much I love this band. I have been looking forward to this post for a while.

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alt-J released their first record in 2012 and I seriously regret that I didn’t become aware of them until about a year ago. The odd name comes from the band’s symbol, the greek letter for Delta: Δ, which can be typed with the keyboard shortcut of alt+J on a Mac computer. This symbol is an indicator of change or difference in scientific equations, which I think it is an apt description of the band.

It was once mentioned to me that no other band sounds like alt-J and I have to agree, they are very unique. This is most evident in the style of their vocals and the way they use common instrumentation that has been arranged in a different and strangely hypnotic way. The almost ethereal sounds on their tracks are really something else. The internet tells me their genres are Indie rock, Indie pop, Art rock, and Folktronica. All of that is accurate, and I had no idea how much I needed art rock and folktronica in my life until now.

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There are a few standout tracks on both of their albums, some of which you may have heard if you listen to alternative radio stations. The ones I can think of that you might know include “Breezeblocks” and “Left Hand Free” If you like intense and well-made music videos, you should check out this awesome video for “Breezeblocks”

I can be found listening to this music at any time, and while listening to individual tracks is fine and good, it really hits home when you listen to an entire album at once. Their albums as an entire piece are impressive and flow really well. I especially like their second album, This Is All Yours, which ends with a bonus track I consider to be my favorite, “Lovely Day.” It is just trippy enough that I tend to close my eyes to tune out of other sensory input to focus on the music just that little bit more.

On that note, I will say that some of their stuff that doesn’t get radio play is a bit more psychedelic than most popular music and many people will likely find it difficult to listen to. However, for me, it hits just right. The way they layer and build sounds together is truly brilliant. If you want a good example of that, check out the track “Intro” from This Is All Yours.

These guys are true artists. They know how and when to add, subtract, or intensify the textures they incorporate into their music. It’s subtle and almost seamless the way they weave together the many small strands of sound into a cohesive unit. Rarely do they include a sound that overpowers another without purpose. Similarly, the sounds they include in each track have a purpose and reason. There are many artists, good artists whom I love, who never quite achieve that level of cohesiveness whether it be due to long or loud solos or vocals that seem to command sole attention. Sometimes those things are exactly what you want, but I always find it fascinating when the instruments don’t immediately identify themselves to me and I have to think a little more about what exactly I am hearing.

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One thing that especially impressed me while I was perusing their music was the quality of their live tracks. I have heard many bands who sound fantastic on a recording but are less than stellar live. Based on the styles alt-J has, I would have expected them to have a difficult time recreating their music in a live setting. I must emphatically say this is not the case. Every song I heard from the live EP they released was fantastic; they stayed true to the songs as they are meant to be and still imbibed the feeling and necessary energy required for a live show. I would jump at the chance to go see them perform.

Overall I am so very pleased to have found alt-J, they are one of my absolute favorite bands to come out of this decade. They have a new album coming out in this summer, and I for one am looking forward to seeing what they come up with for it.

 

My Paper Heart

When The All-American Rejects debuted their self-titled album in 2002 it was right at the time when I became interested in current pop music. Prior to that, I mostly listened to the music of my older siblings ranging from bands such as Depeche Mode to Cyndi Lauper to R.E.M. to They Might Be Giants to Harry Connick Jr. and … you get the idea (in large families there can be a quite diverse collection). But with the turn of the century came a change in the methods I was exposed to music. I started listening more from mainstream sources than I ever had before, heard about songs and bands from my friends at school, and started to look for what I liked. Turns out I liked most things, but the point here is when this faction of alt-rock/pop punk music aimed directly at teenagers hit the radio waves, I was all for it.

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That album was a game changer for me, and I remember it was one of the ones I always kept a CD copy of in my car once I got my license. I still know all the words to every track, and I am not at all ashamed to admit that.

Of course even 3 years later in 2005 when The All-American Rejects sophomore album was released (ironically it coincided with my own sophomore year of high school) I had hit another one of those  “I don’t like what’s popular” phases I was so fond of as a teenager and I found the hits from that album annoying and maybe a little trite. Some part of me believed that as I grew and matured they stayed the same, making the same music aimed at the same demographic. In essence, I grew out of it.

Now, however, I can listen a little more objectively. I maintain that the first album was the best one; infectious and fun, tracks such as “Swing, Swing” “My Paper Heart” and “Time Stands Still” made it a stand out record and really sent The All-American Rejects to the front of the line. Creative instrumentation and dynamic arranging are key features for the sound on that album, and I will never tire of it. I am under the impression many of those songs used electronic drum tracks, but I can’t seem to find a source for that information. That’s what it sounds like at any rate.

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As for the rest of their albums. The hit singles such as “Gives You Hell” and “Dirty Little Secret” are good tracks, exactly the kind of radio hit I expect. They were overplayed on the radio so my reflex is to skip those songs, but on the rare occasion I do listen to them I like them. For some other tracks you might not know, they had a song on one fo the Transformers movie soundtracks called “Real World” that was pretty good, and I enjoyed “Drown Next To Me” and “Bleed Into Your Mind – Demo” from the Kids In The Street” album.

I think one of the reasons it doesn’t resonate as much with me now as it did at first is the lead singers voice. It’s just a little bit nasally, perhaps even whiny, and it grates on me after a while. But that is a personal preference of mine. I also feel like the dynamic arrangements I loved from the first album didn’t show up on subsequent albums nearly as much

All together, they are a pretty good band and have made some notable pop-rock/pop punk music over the last 15 years. And yes, it has been that long. Kudos to you, All-American Rejects, and may you inspire emoting teenagers everywhere for years to come.

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