Am I Pretty Yet?

Cage the Elephant is one of my all time favorite bands. I got their track Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked a while ago, back when iTunes was still big and gave out free, weekly tracks. I’ve been hooked ever since. Their newest album, Tell Me I’m Pretty came out in December of 2015 and won the award for Best Rock Album.

The album itself starts off strong, slows down, then picks back up again for a strong finish. It has a slightly different sound than their prior albums, because Cage brough Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys on board to help them with their record. “Mess Around” and “Trouble” were both tracks released as singles. Both upbeat in nature, there’s still no one song that sums up the entire album. One thing for sure, though, is that when listening to this album, it’s hard not to remember all the late night joy rides I’ve taken listen to this album.

cage 3Tell Me I’m Pretty is a cup of coffee at the local shop. It’s the 20 something with circle lense sunglasses riding their long-board. Those late night drives or walks as the sun sets. Calming, free and just a sprinkle of pretentious.

On the album title, Matt Shultz, the lead vocalist, says, “There’s always this huge need to be loved, so it’s like ‘please tell me I’m pretty.’ It’s nice that it’s a phrase that has a surface, but it has kind of a dark undercurrent as well,” (iheart). The album has depth – it begs for validation (but deserves it too).

Throughout the album as a whole a women seems to be followed. In “Mess Around”, “she don’t mess around” yet she causes things to get hot – causes tension – while also driving people crazy (assumably with her looks). This follows the “Tell Me I’m Pretty” type of validation the title goes after, with the concepts of womanhood and beauty and the power it holds.

In “Cry Baby”, Cage talks of Capitalism, people “crawling all over one another”, trying to get ahead. “We all got something important to say/ But talking’s a waste of time.” This track really sets up the world for the rest of the album, this dog-eat-dog reality they live in.

cage the 1Guitarist Matthan Minister expresses the feelings put into “Cold Cold Cold”, “That one hits really close to home. It’s a song that’s about that feeling of imminent doom that’s always looming overhead. I used hospital characters like a doctor, and a nurse, and a counselor to tell a story that’s about just feeling like you need to be checked into a hospital,” (iheart). An overall theme of this album is the connection to depression, to dark and heavy feelings weighing people down. In Cold, Cage is speaking to a Doctor, talking about he’s “breathing air” but that there isn’t “sign of life”. How he’s cold inside, using words like dead and dark. He pleading with the doctor for help, saying  “something don’t feel right”. He later asks a counselor for help, feeling like he’s living a “double life”. “Cold Cold Cold” shows the results of the reality set up in “Cry Baby” while still allowing a personal connection to be felt about the dark elements of the song.

“How True You Are” starts with Shultz singing about saying a prayer. Self reflection is a reoccurring theme within the album; depression and trying to find the cause of it and get help. “Take a look at myself…stop and stare…I wonder who is standing there.” And at the end, there is the illusion to suicide, “Told me all your secrets, oh I never saw it coming/I thought that you were joking/You were actually quite serious.” When people kill themselves, sometimes they tell people their secrets – a circle back to the prayer, the releasing of sins and back to being validated and resolved of them.

Shultz opens up about their song “Punchin’ Bag”, “Funny story about Punchin’ Bag. There was a day in the studio my brother Brad [Shultz, Cage the Elephant’s guitarist] was being overly heavy-handed about the decisions that were being made, and it was driving me insane! So I wrote the song Punchin’ Bag about being the punching bag, you know? (laughs) I went on to change the story to it being about a battered woman, which I thought was a more interesting concept than being just about having a fight in the studio,”(digitaltrends). Even so, Cage continues with the idea of a strong women pushed to the edge. She been beaten and abused, snapped and won’t take any more. “She’s a stone cold straight-faced killer and a lover/And she won’t put up with another brood who only wants to bruise her/Take her love and then abuse her,”. “Heaven help ya she’s coming for you/Heaven help ya the girl likes to fight/Afraid of nothing and she carries a knife,”. She then declares that she “ain’t no punching bag,”.  This is the second time a women is said to be coming for you. Once as a femme fatale figure and one as a women scorned.

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Overall, not only is the music of Tell Me I’m Pretty quality, but their lyrics offer a deeper meaning to a desolate reality they create. Their world speaks to those who feel similar, who feel separate. The music behind it is catchy (some songs difficult with 13 chords) and the words ring true, especially to those just trying to find their way.

 

Works Cited:

https://www.iheart.com/news/interview-cage-the-elephant-on-tell-14208738/

http://www.digitaltrends.com/music/matt-schultz-of-cage-the-elephant-on-tell-me-im-pretty/

 

They Are the Bulls On Parade

In just the name, you know this band has to be political. Rage – fight. Machine – government, society, culture, oppressors. Rage Against the Machine, their name itself, is the spark to a bigger political flame.

rage 2Rage is a prime and obvious example of a band, very much like the Riot Grrrls movement of the 90s from my previous post, that uses music as a vehicle to spread a larger and political message. Music is a way to speak to people, to get people to listen. It surpasses creativity, surpasses art and morphs into a bigger picture.

Signed to Epic Records (a tier of Sony), many critics have called the band out for being hypocrites. But don’t you have to be part of the machine to fight it? Those listening and buying every record, they already know. They see it, they hear it, and they already relate. But what about the person reading the newspaper at Starbucks? What might he know? So by going through the capitalist channels of our Capitalist society – you reach the people who aren’t the choir.rage three

On an incident with Saturday Night Live, Rage was supposed to perform two songs. The host was Steve Forbes – an ex-Republican presidential candidate and billionaire. A blinding opposite to the rich political man, Rage wanted to hang American flags upside down on their amps. This was shut down every time. During their set, SNL wanted to censor some of Rage’s lyrics. Their inkling to do this was also motivated by the political connections of their host – more professional and  tighter show. When flags had to be removed after their first performance, Rage was asked to leave the building immediately. Rage’s bassist Commerford then stormed Forbes and threw sheard of the flag.

The band also shot their music video for “Sleep Now in the Fire” and caused the doors of the New York Stock Exchange to be closed. This resulted in one of the film maker, Michael Moore, getting arrested; “Our protest stopped trading at the stock exchange for the last two hours of the day. I guess we stopped downsizing for at least a couple of hours.” The band has also protested at both Democratic and Republican National Conventions (2000 and 2008, (dis)respectfully). In 2009, Rage, along with other bands, fought against the use of their music as torture. Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and The Roots (along with others) called to close Guantanamo Prison. (To read more: https://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/musicians-protest-tunes-used-in-interrogations/?_r=0)

The list of their activism and acts continues beyond anything I could ever write here. Rage has dedicated their band and their lives to the cause, no matter how aggressive it might end up being. They took music and used it to create an open dialogue. There’s no escapism here – listening to Rage will put you in the thick of it.

rage

 

Works Cited:

http://www.musicfanclubs.org/rage/articles/socwork00.htm

https://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/musicians-protest-tunes-used-in-interrogations/?_r=0

 

The Way of Danger Days

 

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A very comic book like poster for Danger Days Era My Chemical Romance – a more colorful representation then their earlier ideology 

 

A spider with a lighting bolt down it’s back, ripping it in half. When the lights roll over the stage, a bunch of adults and colored-haired teenage girls go equally as crazy. Fog covers the floor as five men run out on stage. One is currently pink-haired and smiling. 

Gerard Way. Singer and frontman of legendary band My Chemical Romance. They performed from 2001 to 2013 with albums infamously angsty; the beloved emo ballad I Brought You Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love in 2002, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge in 2004, the notoriously recognizable The Black Parade in 2006 (I don’t think there’s a 90s baby that doesn’t sing along to at least one track on that album), and the beautiful, more colorful, end of Danger Days in 2010 (as well as Greatest Hits albums and released singles).    

From emo to arguable pop-punk, Gerard Way has been all over the board. From a emo-gothic, ‘rawr’ing 20 something to an educated pink haired hero (and now onto bigger, better, salt-n-pepper dad-like things). Scrolling through his instagram – ok, stalking or creeping I guess – it’s littered with his avid collection and

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The earlier, Gothic era – Gerard Way on the far right 

consumption of comic books and other superhero related media. It is easy to see the transition from the melancholy melodramatics of the Gothic Days to the neon, energetic dramatics of Danger Days. Looking forward to his passion for comics, it’s more surprising how the last concept album was not more influenced by that creative world. After My Chemical Romance broke up, Way released a solo album, Hesitant Alien,  in 2014 as well as a mini series The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (a continuation of his Danger Days concept) and an award-winning comic book The Umbrella Academy.

 

Like a lot of other artists, Way struggled with drinking and prescription addiction in the past. He is currently sober – light, recreational drinking only.  In 2007, he married Lyn-Z, a fellow performer and musician, the bassist of Mindless Self Indulgence. Their daughter, Bandit Lee Way (fitting the whimsical comic-book theme) was born in 2009.

 

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The transition of The Black Parade – maturing from the emo Three Cheers to the conceptual and detailed Danger Days 

In a more personal shift, Way’s description of gender and gender identity is more fluid. “I have always been extremely sensitive to those that have gender identity issues as I feel like I have gone through it as well…I have always identified a fair amount with the female gender, and began at a certain point in MCR to express this through my look and performance style….Masculinity to me has always made me feel like it wasn’t right for me,” (Fuse). The gender-identity fits into the creative ideology of his Gothic past – the Romantic era of men wearing makeup and frilly blouses – as well as the line-bending fantasy control created through the comic world.

 

Gerard Way is a beautiful example of an artist. A creator. He is not My Chemical Romance; rather he wears MCR like a pin on his breast pocket next to being a writer, a solo artist – art for the sake of creating. Creating for money, sure, but creating because at the end of the day that’s what needs to be done, an outlet and a lifestyle. Thorough literature or music and sounds, with others or his own accord. He is an example of how music and art are a product, a tool, of the bigger picture of the force of creativity.

Works Cited:

http://www.fuse.tv/2014/10/my-chemical-romance-gerard-way-gender-identity

Smells Ironically Dank

Sitting there, Hidden Grounds. What a place to meet a musician. Fits the aesthetic, so to speak, with the special brews and overpriced food. Dark wood and minimalist seating.

He was late, but with the combination of creativity and friendship I guess excuses this. Expected, even. I don’t know if I would be more offended if I found him waiting for me with cold coffee. I stop looking at the door each time it swings open.

“Hey, sorry I’m a bit late,” he chuckles and neither one of us glances at the clock. He gets a coffee and we talk. I’m glad we’re friends already or my anxiety would have gotten the better of me. Cooper is pretty unknown and honestly, sounds like he wants to stay that way. We met at a basement show and really hit it off. He was in one of my classes last semester so we were able to become friends.

More people order their coffee and walk out. An older man sits and eagts a bagel next to us.  

“It’s rough. Can be, I guess. When you start up. Friends really do it, connections and all that. You make a band with your friends and it’s just hanging out. I’ve been in so many unnamed bands and even more that have a name but lasted a day. Someone gets tired. Who has anything else to do? It’s mostly in a friend’s basement – or a friend of a friend’s anyway – some ‘a guy who knows a guy’ bullshit,” his hands form and follow his words. Takes a sip of coffee. I finished mine a bit ago.

“I guess I really still don’t know how to play,” he laughs, “but who admits they think they’re good? That’s not very humble if they do. I guess I started when I was seven and have just gone from there. Grew up alone and moved a lot, a lot of time with nothing to do. Needed something light to carry easy. I guess I’m just happy I was handed a guitar and not something else. Does that make me passionate?” Another chuckle.

“I really don’t focus much on school, which, honestly is pretty bad. I used to pay for it, now I’m taking time off. Some people do things with that time – I guess I’m sitting around hanging out and making music. Working on my own things – right now mostly covers are what I actually play. I don’t have a band, like, a band. More like a circle of friends who play together and sometimes not. Sometimes we like to call ourselves things, but let’s be real, we’re all just like this pit of sound. Moving from band to supposed band, were just squirming in it and making music. Maybe a few of us will make it,” he’s looking off now, laughing more, “but what’s making it? Existing – that’s what I’m doing now – I’m making it if you look at it that way. But getting famous, I guess that’s a better way to put it, yeah, who even wants that to happen? For what? I’m just here playing guitar. It’s all been done before but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy myself. I’m making music to keep swimming, because it’s something – better than nothing.”

“It sounds like you don’t enjoy it,” I say.

“Oh, no,” his eyes widen, “I enjoy it more than almost anything. I just don’t enjoy much,” so much laughter. “I guess that’s pessimistic.”

“A bit.”

“I mean, I have no illusions. I’m making music because I want to, because it doesn’t matter. Hey, maybe one day it will. But today? Not a fucking shot. I’m not sitting here trying to become something that isn’t going to happen. We play in dirty basements and its a great fucking time – but it’s about the time not the money. Not the quality of the chord progressions but the ‘hey man, this basement is dank!’ – spoken ironically, of course.”

“Experience over sound?”

“Experience over everything else.”

This is an example clip off YouTube to show how basement shows can be – This isn’t Rutgers nor Cooper – sorry folks 😦

A Space in the Mosh Pit

 “‘You suck!’ and I’m like, “Yeah. And I swallow.” – Peaches

    Music has a history of being political. Art in general does, but through actual singing people can more easily express their voice.  Punk music was brought to life in the 70s and in the first two decades, it embodied its intended motto of acceptance of the strange, unusual and unwanted. Up until the late 80s, women were readily included and accepted in the alternative music scenes.  “The shift of punk during the 80s forced women out of the scene. Punk moved to ‘hardcore’; something that was both ‘violent and testosterone-fueled’.  Because of this, women were excluded,” (Turner, “The Riot Grrrl Movement”).  A product of the idea that women were somehow more delicate, unable to stand their ground and that it was unsafe because of groping and sexual assault, women got shoved to the side, even pushed to the back of the venue and unable to be a part of or even see the show they came to enjoy.

p_graham757“Riot Grrrl is a grass-roots movement that began in the summer of 1991 around Olympia…. The term Riot Grrrl was coined by a small group of female musicians in an attempt to define a more confidence, less passive attitude about being a young woman” (Ann Japenga, “Riot Acts”). Kathleen Hanna, lead vocalist of the band Bikini Kill, best explains the Riot Grrrl movement in an interview on the show, Totally Biased. “Riot Grrrl was a movement of feminist punk rock girls in the 90s who challenged all boys club punk had become. We helped each other start bands, ‘zines, promote shows, and there was even conscious raising meetings.”

Riot Grrrl was a backlash in response to the abuse and harassment of women in the scene. In an article by Dylan Sielger in Ms, Magazine: “[A]t a Rock for Choice benefit show that Bikini Kill played, some female fans were assaulted in the audience – one in particular by a guy who was rubbing his penis on her…. And so a bunch of girls grabbed him and dragged him outside. They didn’t beat him up or anything, but they were stopped by security and told that if they didn’t want these things to happen to they should just stay home and rent videos.”

The man at the show was sexually assaulting this woman by rubbing his genitals on her, but then the security guard goes further by not reprimanding the perpetrator, which gave the message to these women that they deserved this type of treatment, they should expect it and let it happen without question or a fight, and if they do have an issue with it then they should stay home, where it’s safer because they are not worthy of having a influential voice in how they are treated. When these girls do band together and decide to do something about it, they themselves are punished and objectified for it.

bk2The extent of the sexual assault did not stop there; “[Courtney] Love watched from the wings as [Nirvana] played “Rape Me,” and noticed a female fan up front who had been engulfed by a group of men, who were ‘staring straight ahead…as they ripped her shirt, bra, panties…as they started mangling her breasts…hands on either side – her face was all screwed up in a scream – and the men were all glazed – and staring straight ahead… [T]he girl was bloody and hysterical – her breasts and stomach looked as though they had been clawed by jackals’” (Cinderella’s Big Score, 157).

The formation of Riot Grrrl was a response to these assaults and all those that mirrored them.  There were certain instance where groups girls have reclaimed mosh pits by “…joining hands and walking up to the front of the stage, where [girls] protected each other and themselves and actually got to see the show” (Spencer, “Grrrls Only”). Additionally, in order to spread awareness about the chauvinism women faced daily, people who were a part of the movement wrote negative terms on their body like ‘rape’, ‘slut’, ‘insect’, ‘cunt’,  and ‘whore’. One of the leader-heads of the movement, Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer of Bikini Kill, “Often flashed the audience, sometimes pointing out her cellulite, scrawled the words “Bitch” and “Slut” on her stomach, and sang of  sexual attraction to both girls and boys, allowing women, particularly feminists, to be at once angry and sexual” (Cinderella’s Big Score, 207).

The spread of any movement is normally aided by media coverage. But in this case, the media created such a false portrayal of the Riot Grrrl movement that it had no benefit. Instead of focusing on the political stances and extreme lengths that women were willing to go to prove their points, the media chose to criticize how scandalously they were dressed and how poorly they sounded.

In a TV interview on the show Totally Biased, Kathleen Hanna commented on the media, looking back on the miscommunication between the two entities. “The media was focusing on outfits and ‘who wears what’…[that Riot Grrrls’] must have been sexually abused because they hate men and that’s what feminism is…We spent so much time being misrepresented that we couldn’t make our art. It was like; ‘Let’s just not,’ (Kathleen Hanna, Totally Biased, 5:03).  Because the media was misrepresenting the Riot Grrrl movement, many of the participants decided that they were better off without the distraction of false information and repeatedly attempting to get their message across, so they ignored the media all together.

rgz2The songs these women sang articulated situations that they encountered and endured due to sexism and strict gender roles that still imitated those from the 50s. The lyrics by Bikini Kill from the song White Boy are as follows: It’s hard to talk with your dick in my mouth/ I will try to scream in pain a little nicer next time/ White boy, don’t laugh, don’t cry, just die!/ I’m so sorry if I’m alienating some of you/Your whole fucking culture alienates me/I cannot scream from pain down here on my knees/I’m so sorry that I think!”   In Bikini Kill’s songs Hanna talks about sexism, issues, stereotypes and the sexual pressures that women faced daily in different aspects of life in addition to the troubles of the music scenes.

On alienation, women were not only excluded and objectified in society, they were now shunned from the punk scene where they had previously been able to find elation and use the music as an unexploited outlet. “In the pit, men violently collided into each other and women were groped, injured, or simply shoved to the side” (Turner, “The Riot Grrrl Movement”). Since it was assumed women were unable to handle the new type and culture of the music, they were often times both literally and physically pushed out of the scene.

To get their messages across easier, lyrics weren’t that symbolic. In the song Suck My Left One, Hanna screeches, “Daddy comes in her room at night/ He’s got more than talking on his mind/My sister pulls the covers down/She reaches over, flicks on the light/ She says to him:/ Suck my left one! Suck my left one!” In this section of the song, Hanna is talking about a father that molests his children. These sets of lyrics are straight to the point and easy to interpret at any level of intelligence as well as speak out against and about issues that concern women and girls. They, as well as other instances, illustrate the simple language and blunt, antagonistic examples that Riot Grrrls used to cast light on women’s issues and feminism.

rgzAs a replacement for flyers or traditional pamphlets, Riot Grrrl used ‘zines, which are handmade magazines created by the girls and women of the movement. These low-cost, self-published works became a natural venue for punk rock fans to express themselves creatively, politically, and personally while they critiqued and supported punk musicians.

The Riot Grrrl movement strived to amend this issue and change the disgrace of words like ‘slut’, ‘whore’, and ‘cunt’ – three words that were, and still are, frequently used as negative term when referring to women. “[Riot Grrrls] marked their bodies with blunt, five-inch letters reading RAPE or SLUT – an MTV-era way of saying, ‘That’s what you think of me; confront your own bigotry.’”(“Revolution, Girl Style.”) With this, they also tried to add fluidity to the concept of sex and gender. In their song, Sugar, Hanna sings, “I’m a self-fulfilling porno queen…yeah/ I mimic out your every fucking fantasy yeah! Yeah!” These lines articulate that by giving out and performing these abstract sexual favors, it is expected that the woman is also pleasured without a deeper stimulation. The lyrics moreover verbalizes that a woman is expected to do what she is told by her partner; fulfilling his fantasy that was inspired by some unique position he witnessed in a video, solidifying that she is only seen as a sexual object. The next few lines in Sugar, “…Oh, baby…why can’t I ever get my! sugar?/…I won’t play girl to your boy no more, sugar/ I want mine right here right now, baby sugar/ I can almost reach it now, now, now,” also express that women, contrary to popular belief, are able to enjoy sex and have their own fantasies and a libido (while this is more obvious now, the 90s was still a time where women couldn’t fully articulate this). In total, Riot Grrrl stirred up the roles that men and women were expected to play during and outside of intercourse, in hopes to offer a more fluid idea of sex and sexual activity.

peachesA more extreme example of gender fluidity and open sexuality is the musical artist Peaches. “Onstage, she’d been known to eat an entire loaf of bread, vomit fake blood, feign tampon removal and dominate a sex slave…Peaches represents much of what is left out of pop music – all things flawed, home-grown, spontaneous, raunchy” (Cinderella’s PeachessBig Score, 249). She was not only as zealous onstage either. Peaches has said, “…If we’re going to use motherfucker, why don’t we use fatherfucker? I’m just trying to be even” (Cinderella’s Big Score, 248). Quick witted and head-strong, Peaches is a female who, on the cover-art of her album Fatherfucker, messes with society’s gender roles for females by supporting a full grown beard.

Overall, the Riot Grrrl movement was one that pushed punk music and equal rights thrashing forward. After being pushed to the side, women in the scene stayed true to aggressive punk ideology and pushed their way back into the most pit.

 

Works Cited:

Turner, Chérie. Everything You Need to Know about the Riot Grrrl Movement: The Feminism of a New Generation. New York: Rosen, 2001. Print.

Japenga, Ann. "Riot Acts." New York Times 15 Nov. 1992: n. pag. Rpt. in Twelve Little Grrrls. N.p.: n.p.,n.d. N. pag. Print. http://www.cs.xu.edu/~tankgirl/twelvelittlegrrrls/articles/newyorktimes.html

Totally Biased. Interview by W. Kamau Bell. Youtube. Youtube, 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WozprgZeCmo&gt

Sielger, Dylan, ed. Ms. Magazine. N.p., Aug. 2000. Web. http://www.msmagazine.com/aug00/shesays.html

Chideya, Farai, Melissa Rossi, and Hannah Dogen. "Revolution, Girl Style." Newsweek 23 Nov. 1992: n. pag. Rpt. in Twelve Little Grrrls. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print. http://www.cs.xu.edu/~tankgirl/twelvelittlegrrrls/articles/newsweek.html

Raha, Maria. Cinderella's Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground. Emeryville, CA: Seal, 2005. Print.

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No Nuts Here

 

Funnel of Love itself was originally performed by Wanda Jackson. Since then, SQÜRL has put a psychedelic and wavy spin on the ‘61 classic. Country twangs and a faster pace is traded in for the extended and drawn out sample of the original.

funnel of love
The original track by Wanda Jackson

To put this song into an image, picture being laid down and smothered in deep red velvet and slowly spun, large and lazy  – all with your eyes closed.

The song is like an ode to repetition and circles. The timbre can only be described as wavy and foggy – distorted and messy in the best possible way. Taffy being pulled apart by its two ends.  The recording is haunting and hypnotic, the music seeming to swing in circles around you, like it’s on a loop.

Funnel of Love, the remodeled version, of the Only Lovers Left Alive soundtrack, a music portfolio put together by the director of the film, Jim Jarmusch (who also happens to be a member of SQÜRL).

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Tilda Swinton in her role as a vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive

SQÜRL shows how easy it is to dynamically change how a song sounds – and is furthermore perceived – simply by stretching it out and distorting the original. Not only this, but the group also added elements on top of the extended sample, creating something even more diverse and different. A prime example of taking something already in existence, mixing it up, then building on top of it and making it your own. .

It is interesting how music varies per decade. How the same music, the same song varies, more directly. How a revolutionary combination of country twang and hypnotic swirls can turn into drawn out stoner melodies. When the tempo and rpm (revolutions per minute) changes, the lyrics take on a deeper meaning, the sound shifting into something seemingly darker. The newer version seeps in, slowly boiling; easily making your vision blurry and your mind hazy.

squrlIt’s so insightful to see how a song can not only change but create a feeling. Using Funnel of Love as an example, the modified song was part of a bigger picture. A soundtrack. How this sound was set the pace for the movie; it morphed and moved this track to fit the feelings of the film. How this song sounds is tied into more than just the past, more than just the music and lyric connection, but to imagery on a screen. Music is something, sounds, that connect to your moods and emotions, influences you and can even manipulate you into feeling some particular way. Scenes would be changed without the right track underneath – comedies and children’s movies changed into horror films by the switching of a few notes and melodies. 

All in all, this song is one of my favorites. It never disappoints – always putting me in the mood to wrap myself up in something luxurious and spend the way hazily wandering around in my mind and contemplating love.

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Tuesday was the national day of love (or, if you’re life me, the day that celebrates rose-colored Capitalism). I decided to lean more on being sentimental than actual physical gifts. One of those gifts included a 19 song playlist. At first, I added songs I liked, but, after much consideration, I decided that today was not about me, but about the person close to me. Below are five of the songs on the playlist; some of the better and more highlighted ones.

  1. Portuguese Knife Fight – Cage The Elephant

cage_the_elephant_-_tell_me_im_prettyWe were at her beach house. I was watching them play Overwatch as I hooked up my phone to the speaker. Cage the Elephant, arguable one of the most underrated bands, had released their album “Tell Me I’m Pretty” and all of last year I had been listening to it nonstop. Between the constant flick and tapping of the buttons, I heard a mumbled “Hey, they’re pretty good. I like them.” And there’s nearly nothing more that I get off on than showing people new music, especially when we can listen to it together and swoon.

This song itself is about someone who is entering a relationship (serious or not) and is trying to figure out if the partner is as well. “I wanna waste my life with you, (oh yeah)/Well the look in your eyes says you’re feeling the same way too, (oh yeah)/Give me a sign, tell me what should I do/I’m just trying to catch a f-f-f-f-f-feel.” I feel like a lot of people relate to scoping people out, trying to get what you want without getting hurt and making a fool of yourself and your emotions. I put this track on, as well, because the instrumental opening is catchy, following the sweetness and fresh sound of the main beat.

  1. The Lovecats – The Cure

the-lovecatsThe Cure, yet again, is a band I love. (I guess I still made it a little about me? I want to show them songs and groups I like to have more in common? Narcissistic romance, maybe?) “The Lovecats” is a classic, not only because of it’s lyrics but also because of its instrumentation – the beat is old and clearly influenced by later funk and blues, especially with the heavy, obvious bass.

The song is about a positive, healthy relationship with metaphors to…well…cats. Smith, the lead singer, croons; “We should have each other to dinner/We should have each other with cream/ Then curl up in the fire/Get up for awhile/It’s the grooviest thing/It’s the perfect dream…/Not broken in pieces.” What more could you ask for? Talking about a nice meal (and a little desert) then a nice relaxation together. A lot of love songs are depressing and negative, but on a Valentine’s Day playlist like this, I really wanted to add an element of optimism.

  1. We’re Gonna Groove – Led Zeppelin

were-gunna-groovePage and Plant are musical geniuses. There’s a reason Led Zep sells so much and so well – why thousands of hipster girls and boys unknowingly wear their brand. I couldn’t not add them in somewhere. Especially because my partner in crime loves classic rock as well. “Coda”, in my opinion, is a fantastic album and one that is frequently overlooked.

The entire song states Plants wishes. He is telling his woman that he wants her – now and in the future. Saying he wants a family one day. He also lets her know about his intentions by singing, “Sweet as sweet as sweet can be/You do not know what you do to me/Let me say you are my one desire/You just set my soul on fire”. His love goes beyond the shallow – this women is his soul’s desire, what he craves. Not all of Zeppelin’s songs are positive, but this one surely is a sweet tune.

  1. Think About Me – 2015 Remastered – Fleetwood Mac

fleetwood_mac_-_think_about_meWhen we first met, I had completely blonde hair. We actually first interacted at a party, one I had come to late after a long night in the hospital. My busted Doc Martins on my feet and a velvet dress; an amber stone dangled from a long silver chain. My circle-rimmed glasses must have given me a prior-decade look. Maybe it was just my vibe. She actually first called me Misty Day, a beloved hippie-like character from American Horror Story. Soon, a few other drunk party-goers followed.

When we first hung out, she wore necklace with crystals and stones because she said it (and that I) reminded her of Stevie Nicks and being mystical. Every chance she gets, she’s talking about Fleetwood Mac and Nicks, so I absolutely had to add something by them in the playlist.

Turns out, Stevie Nicks doesn’t have very happy love songs. Fleetwood Mac doesn’t have very many either. If I’m being honest, I don’t like this song. It’s simple, it’s alright. It’s done well (I guess). It’s short and sweet. But, beyond myself and my opinions, I did this as a little nod for her (Stevie’s looks are wonderful and I took no offence to being related to her in any way). She mentioned her love for them, for Nicks, and I had to add them in, regardless of my feelings.

  1. Heroes – 1999 Remastered Version – David Bowie

david_bowie_-_heroesDavid Bowie is wonderful in the most whimsical way. The song “Heroes” is possibly the most frequently used song in those films that actually have a budget but are of an indie vibe and plot line. One of those songs used in every “alternative” movie in the mainstream. See – “Horns” (a great movie, by the way). The song is catchy, the beat original for the first couple listens. I actually have the original vinyl of this album (passed down – i.e. stolen – from my mother’s collection). The song is actually about members of the band – one of them being married – which illuminates the ‘doomed’ elements of the song. Bowie sings about how something doesn’t have to be long term to be serious and have extreme value. “I, I will be king/And you, you will be queen/Though nothing, will drive them away/We can beat them, just for one day/…Though nothing, will keep us together/We could steal time, just for one day/We can be heroes, forever and ever.” The love they share is real. The love they share is intense. The love they share will have to end, but that doesn’t mean it’s ending now. The love you share for another person can end. It probably will end. But that doesn’t mean the memories and experiences that you have in your time together weren’t fun or good or worth it. The present is real, the present is what should be enjoyed, the love there should be relished – because, yeah, it might end – but why fight it and have it be tarnished and doomed while there’s still good times to be had?

I choose these songs because I liked their message and I wanted to add another connections between my playlist, myself and someone else. I wanted to add elements of both our personalities and interests and expand both our music tastes. Because isn’t that what it’s about? Expanding and growing together, finding and creating common interests, and sharing what is closest to you. We both listen to this playlist on and off – when we drove to our plans for the day – I think she listened to the playlist as she worked out this morning. And, oddly enough, she made me a physical CD for Valentine’s day – so I guess smart minds do think alike.

Live in Paris

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The show starts off with Ozzy nearly assaulting the microphone, gripping onto it for dear life, hair flying everywhere. His shirt’s opened and head thrashing every possible moment, jumping around like a madman. Where by his own energy and oddness or a product of the metal 70s time, only he knows.

I imagine the venue as a bigger basement. On one hand, the scene looks simple and a little dingy. A wooden stage, people clustered around. Something is left to be desired – and right now what’s filling that void is Black Sabbath. The band themselves, this could be another casual Monday night practice. Dressed like average rock-metal dudes of the time, the most gaudy thing is large silver cross necklace that guitarist Tony Ioomi is still seen wearing a version of in recent shows. There’s nothing draped behind them, no Kiss-like makeup and costumes. Just the speakers, the musicians and the music. What more do you really need, when it boils down to that?

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From left to right: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward 

Osbourne’s voice is gravelly and, at parts, forced deeper than it should be. But then he belts “You push the needle in,” and his voice goes soaring. Iommi’s hair almost touching the fretboard as he bobs his head in time with the beat. His fingers and hands gliding with the same ease that Osbourne’s voice seems to fly. Geezer Butler, the bassist, his hair even longer than Iommi’s and his ‘stash more full, seems to lose himself in the tunes, smoothly playing alongside his bandmates, moving with a steady energy.  

Eventually, the stage is bathed in blue lights and Ozzy starts by suggesting everyone clap. He then later screams into his mic, “If someone’s not clapping I can see it,” taking on a much more aggressive tone. Drummer Bill Ward’s hair is sticking to his skin, his face dripping and glossy with sweat. But still he bends with the rhythm, setting the time and beating the drums like they stole his girl (or, knowing Black Sabbath, probably his drugs).

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And that’s when it starts. The first repeated two notes of one of their arguably most popular song, “Iron Man”.  Closing his eyes, Ozzy opens his mouth wide and belts out the opening lines, “As he lost his mind/Can he see or is he blind?”. Photographers kneel and sit, rapidly firing shots of Ozzy and the band as the instrumentals rage on, fingers seeming to fly all over the instruments and Ozzy trashing his head in the beat like nobody else was watching.

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Sabbath’s first album – Black Sabbath

They sing the classics, then some other more interesting B-sides. Iommi seems to reach nirvana as his fingers roll up and down the frets like he owned them, like they were his. Like it was an extension of himself, seeming to make up for the digits he’s missing on two of his fingers. The intro on the record is a rainstorm but here Iommi shows off his talents instead. A not unwelcome change. Ozzy’s presences grows as he states “What is this that stands before me?” A revolution of a line off the first track of their first actual album. He becomes the dark figure standing there, a demonic energy, the vibes of something more than meets the eye. His face is one of pain. The lights on stage have all but fled. When Ozzy belts the desperate scream of “Oh, no!” his voice cracks and his face contorts in a way that makes you believe he is actually about to cry.

It’s not until about halfway through the performance that Ozzy seems to lose his shit on stage. What once was an awkward head bob is now a full fledged seizure.  

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Black Sabbath ends with the song “Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots”, all of them sweat-drenched and jamming, the show one long casual performance – the music speaking for itself without flashy add-ons like a made-for-TV deal.

An Assault on the Ears

 

Someone once told me that the reason Doritos taste so objectively good – and that you can eat so many – is that there are so many powerful flavors that your taste buds never get used to the chips.tune-yards-real-thing-video-tour-dates-feat-200x150

I’m not completely sure this is true, but if it is, then Nikki Nack is the Doritos of albums.

Right off the bat, a complete generalization, this album is an assault on the ears. The best assault possible. Each song has elements of instrumentation that ties them together as recognizable, but are each different and unique on their own. So many little touches and details – the barely noticeable yet deep backing on the vocals in “Stop That Man”, for example, that make each track that much better. Better as in deeper, as in more fulfilling and satisfying – the difference between McDonalds and a homecooked meal. There are little additions, completely uncalled for and extra, that push this album over the edge. Each track is another step towards that jump off a fifty story building. Dangerous, risk-taking, and exhnikki_nack_artworkexhilarating.

tUnE-yArDs third full-length album, Nikki Nack, is a force to be reckoned with. Instrumentation alone includes vocals (shouting and singing and back of the throat rolling/gargling and something scat-like in between), clapping and maracas and strings and guitar and synth and  bass – the list goes on and on and further on the closer you listen. Almost each track has conflicting chords, certain notes seeming to fight with their own musical brethren, tension building attacks between instruments. The skillful start-and-stop use of sound, and silence, creates what I can only describe as the perfect amount of dissonance – not used only in a way to mix things up but as a complementary way to transcend what normal, wash-cut-dry produced pop music is. There’s an element of darkness, toughness, grittiness that deepens the flavor of the sounds.

Released in May of 2014, the album was iindexnfluenced by the lead creator, Merrill Garbus’s, trip to Haiti, studying Haitian percussion. In college, she studied abroad in Kenya, planting the seed of African percussion, rhythms and beats. This is apparent throughout, the song “Rocking Chair”, a seeming love ballad to the timbre and ways of African music – minimal instruments (some coming in for only seconds), clapping and stomping, layered voices of different pitches and volumes (some simply noises) – all of these stacked and played together. Seamlessly, Garbus blends elements of tradition music with current electronic undertones. The pure energy of the songs takes you on a wavy trip up and down, messing with your senses just enough to keep you absorbed.

Not only does the music blow away expectations of most pop songs (a dirty word for most ‘alternative’ music minded individuals), the lyrics are deep and expansive – as flavorful and settling as that home cooked meal mentioned earlier. The album takes you on a journey, pointing out issues with race and America, with government and their control, what they do (or don’t do) with their power.

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“Water Fountain” speaks about both poverty, the lack of government aid and the current corruption. The opening lines of the song are; “No water in the water fountain/No side on the sidewalk,”. The first thing sung speaks of how things are decaying – the place where you walk is literally no there, there’s no water, and also the fact that the government’s job is to give us these things – take our money, make promises – and yet they are currently useless – who can use a fountain without water? – or nonexistent. We put our most basic needs, like water and a safe space to walk, into their hands, and this is the results.   “We’re gonna get water from your house (your house).” When resources are low, people are going to get what they need, regardless of if it’s welcomed or not. There are lines about neocolonization, there are lines referring to enslavement and other violence. There’s a line in Haitian Creole tied in and a call for action; all while littered with an old, nursery rhyme folk tale song. There are so many layers packed into just one song, just one example that holds true for the rest of the album.

In “Real Thing”, she calls forth the effort to speak truly about America’s history with slavery and oppression, pointing out every-day issues by singing, “I come from the land of slaves/Let’s go Redskins/ Let’s go Braves” . On lack of protection, in “Stop That Man”, Garbus sings, “He wanted what is mine/But I’ve paid too much/…We’ll have to be our own policeman.” The fact that the government isn’t concerned about it’s citizens, about safety, how they’ve fallen off and worried about some other (probably selfish) thing, and hold people are left to defend themselves in a world where even neighbors steal and are violent.tune-yards-credit-sachyn-mital-village-voice

The album’s ‘Interlude’, if you can even call it that, is titled “Why Must We Dine on the Tots?” and is based of A Modest Proposal, a satirical solution to poverty and hunger where the poor would sell their children to the rich so the rich could have food and the poor could have money. This four paragraph song, honestly a very short story, has people sitting around eating ‘tots’ which the listener eventually learns are children, most likely toddlers from the shortened ‘tots’; “Of course we must dine on the tots/ What good were those kids before they were our food, outrageously smelly, impulsive and rude/Thus you know very well that the fresh produce rots.” While the possible meanings are many, this could easily be looked to as the rich feeding off the work and innocence of the poor for their own gain.

The lyrics of this album are so littered with fantastic wordplay, timing and depth. You can look at some of the lines and find four different meanings, easy. Paired with the off-putting yet still, in it’s own way, wonderful instrumentation, Nikki Nack (and tUnE-yArDs in general)  is not an experience you want to miss.

Song Exploder Podcast about “Water Fountain” : http://songexploder.net/tune-yards

 

Work Cited:

http://www.spin.com/2014/05/tune-yards-interview-nikki-nack/ (for brief info about Haiti influences)

Out By the Sea

CocoRosie – Beautiful Boyz

Beautiful Boyz is a love letter to melodrama that goes unopened and unanswered.

CocoRosie’s main power comes from the two head members, sisters Bianca “Coco” Casady and Sierra “Rosie” Casady. Their music includes a broad range of instrumentation, sometimes including various children’s toys – one of the main reasons they are often described as ‘freak folk’. They have a habit of playing with stereotypical norms – donning facial hair and contouring their face to illustrate masculine feature – sometimes all in rainbow colored hues. Summed up in one word, CocoRosie is weird.

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“Coco” wears a blonde wig and “Rosie” dons feathered facial hair

Aesthetics either repel or attract an audience, but faced with only the music, it’s arguable they can add anything if not seen.
Released first as an EP,
Beautiful Boyz was accompanied by two other songs. It next appears a year later on the album Noah’s Ark in 2005. Different accompaniment was used as well as the lack of refrain sung by Antony Hegarty, now known as Anohni, of Antony and the Johnsons, on the first recording.

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Anohni of Anthony and the Johnsons 

The song Beautiful Boyz is a possible nod towards the gay French writer Jean Genet. The sisters of CocoRosie were influenced by French culture; the band itself was formed in Paris.

The lyrics, though, paint a story of a lost, orphan boy, who singularly showcases a type of “beautiful boy”; a boy with a dark part that grows up mischievous then turns sinister. “Born illegitimately to a whore most likely/He became an orphan”. Yet, likely because of this rough past, he is seen as doing wicked things since he was young – stealing from a nun and probably much worse – “Oh, he went to prison/In every country he set foot in”. This boy’s heartbreaking past offers an excuse for his current misgivings. CocoRosie certainly takes it. It poses the question, can there ever really be an excuse for bad deeds? CocoRosie certainly thinks so. “A devil’s child with dove wings” – he is ‘evil’ but has this redeeming feature known for angelic purity.

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Noah’s Ark 

         His character is expanded; “Tattoos of ships and tattoos of tears”- tear tattoos, a prison tattoo argued to mean you have killed someone, and ship tattoos bring to mind pictures of pirates or of sailors, both rough and ragged, and freedom of the ever-moving open sea. CocoRosie is commenting on a type of bad-boy archetype that they further romanticizing, calling them beautiful, those poor, tortured souls. They flip between the singular boy’s story and the troupe of boy they elude too. They expand this ‘type’ outside of this one boy in particular by referencing “Pimps and queens and criminal queers” in the chorus. These are the three kinds of beautiful boyz – each wrong in their own regard but still romanticized and valued by CocoRosie.

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Bianca expressively singing the emotionally charged lyrics of their songs 

     The idealized lyrics match this song’s sound. It’s cloudy and grey, but simple and beautiful. Agree or disagree with the pompous lyrics story, they grey morals of the beautiful boys is represented by the grey cloud the sounds create, blanketing the ears in  a grey mist. The indirect timbre of the vocals, their shaky and less-than-technically sounds reflect the shaky morals and add to the air of mystery and somber attitudes. The lyrics don’t tell a direct story word for word and the sounds reflect this by the light, spread out chords and singular notes of the loudest instrument, the piano, standing in as the thin barebone foundation to the melancholy song. The same four chords are played, the piano, as stated, highlighting this with the simplistic following of the tune. The sound could easily be played besides a Tim Burton type scene of a worn house overlooking an angry sea, stormy weather above, wind whipping the leafless trees, the screen door, creaking, opening and slamming itself shut.

coco5Love them or hate them, CocoRosie can spin a world through sound. Though their attitudes and attire might reflected individuals ironically so social-rule-bending that they become selective and niche; the weird girls sitting alone at lunch because students take their silence for haughtiness; the pure sound they are able to create is worth all the bedazzled pink bullshit surrounding it.

CocoRosie 

Work Cited:

http://www.cocorosiemusic.com/

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