Thursday, September 16, 2010

These Broken Bells need no repair

I have to admit that my dog has been getting a bit neglected on the walk front these days. Luckily, my wife takes him running now and again and my daughter chases him around the house all day long. Work has been hectic so instead of rocking out while walking the dog, I have been computer programming to the beat of my tunes. Check out what has been frequenting my playlist.

James Mercer from The Shins and producer Danger Mouse came together and formed Broken Bells and I certainly hope this is not one of those frequent one-and-done side projects. I have long been a fan of The Shins sparkly guitar indie-rock. But some of the tracks on their recent albums (Sea Legs on Wincing the Night Away) were starting to sound a bit more beat heavy than fans of Oh, Inverted World would have expected. I liked these songs but thought they interrupted the flow and tone of a Shins album. James Mercer lets this side of his music all the way out of the bag with this collaboration and it totally works. Instead of sparkly guitars and spare harmonies, we get beat heavy sampling and almost choir-like backing vocals. Check out the first single:

Another great song (with a strange video):

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Growing up

33 degrees and snowy. O Malley got soaked and is totally making the whole room smell like wet dog. And he is snoring loudly.

It's been fun to watch and listen as the bands I grew up with have grown up too. They've taken some unexpected turns indeed. Ok, not all of them have. The latest Pearl Jam albums still sound like the Pearl Jam of my youth. Same with Foo Fighters, Oasis, and Weezer.

My family had recently moved into a new neighborhood and I was just starting ninth grade. I decided that this was my chance to reinvent myself and become "cool."

My buddy Alan's older sister first introduced me to alternative music. She was giving us a ride and was totally shocked that I had never heard of the band Green Day, so she played Longview from their brand-new Dookie album. Though it took me a few months to warm up to that type of music, that was the seed that started my interest. I think it might have been their Insomniac album that became my first cassette tape purchase.

I picked up every album that came since. They started off snarcky and irreverent. Not taking anything or anyone too seriously. Simple, catchy pop-punk rock riffs. Then they started dabbling in surf rock and Kinks-like classic rock. But back when I was 14, it would have been hard to believe Green Day would ever start releasing rock opera albums with Queen-like layered guitars and ultra liberal political lyrics. Snarky to serious.

Another favorite band, Radiohead, went from radio friendly Brit-pop to experimental and now they seem to be somewhere in the middle. They continue to surprise and delight me. But that's a post in and of itself for another day. Should we call this friendly to serious?

How about a band that started serious? Silverchair came along during the grunge heyday and tried and pretty well succeeded in sounding as rough and weathered as musicians 10 years older. They were only 15 when the album with this song was released:

But unlike a lot of their peers, it seems like Silverchair decided to have fun while expanding their art. Throw off the chains of trying to be taken too seriously. I didn't really dig it at first but some of their latest album's weirdness has started to rub off on me. Check this one out:

It is kindof funny to think that those same friends I thought would be impressed by my listening to Green Day and the Smashing Pumpkins later told me they thought I was weird for listening to it. Apparently, I didn't get the memo that the "cool" music was Coolio and Bone Thugs n Harmony and the such.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Owl City's Ocean Eyes is a pretty disappointing record

71 degrees with ceiling tiles overhead and very little ambient light... ok, so I am not writing this after walking O Malley. Rather I'm on my lunch break at work. I had planned to walk the dog and then blog tonight but I'm not sure I want to listen to this album again right away.

After first hearing the single "Fireflies" on the radio months ago, I thought I had better check out the album Ocean Eyes. It was my type of song, a bit whimsical with a good melody and chorus. I reserved it from the library but was number 384 on the waiting list (no exaggeration)! So Lisa just barely picked it up on Tuesday, along with a bunch of children's dinosaur books for Sadie. We have to refresh them on a weekly basis or else we'd go insane reading her the same things over and over. By the end of the week, Lisa can read Sadie the books with her eyes closed (again, not an exaggeration).

Here's my beef with the album: The single got my expectations up and the rest of the album just doesn't compare. Sure, the whimsy reappears in a few other songs like "The Saltwater Room," but it all ends up sounding like it's been done before. "Dental Care" sounds like recent Fountains of Wayne, "Umbrella Beach" like Keane, and the rest of it like Postal Service. In fact "The Saltwater Room" seems to totally rip off Postal Service's "Nothing Better" except with less interesting lyrics.

The "Fireflies" single and the band on paper seem similar to bands I really like like Postal Service, Phoenix, and Imogen Heap. But where these bands have interesting singers (Ben Gibbard is one of family's favorites - even Sadie digs him), Owl City's singer seems electronic and emotionless. This works alright for the whimsical songs, but most of the song lyrics try to sound personal and that just doesn't come across. It sounds like Timbaland already remixed his voice. Then again, maybe that was the goal and I'm just comparing him to the wrong styles. In any case, it was disappointing.

Pick up "Fireflies" and "The Saltwater Room" if you do the iTunes thing, but if you are old school like me and judge a band based on their albums rather than singles, skip it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Imogen Heap - Ellipse

25 degrees and clear; cold but in my puffy jacket and brown stocking cap, I was doing fine

I am a bit of a choir boy. I started out at Cedar Heights Junior High, and then sang my way through another junior high and two high schools. I even did a zero hour jazz choir class my senior year. Maybe that's why I have found myself drawn to bands with singers that use their voices as instruments. Bands like the Beach Boys and mid to late career Beatles. Another contemporary favorite is Nada Surf. A lot of good bands seem to use their voice as a means to get a message accross and the accompinament as a way to make it sound good. Voice driven bands are different. The music may be great, the lyrics may be poetic or striking, but what sets them apart are that the singers really add to the melodies. I find myself humming to the singer's melody lines as much as the guitarist's.

My brother-in-law introduced Lisa and I to Imogen Heap a few years ago. But it wasn't until this walk that I really realized why I liked her music so much, the melodies she sings and her voice makes this music beautiful. Here's a song from her latest album, Ellipse:

Sorry if this post seems disjointed. Lost was on TV. I love this show. Claire has gone crazy!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

33 degrees with not a bit of snow anywhere on the sidewalks of our route

I guess my opinion is swayed by popularity. Case in point: Phoenix. A friend recommended them to me a few months ago and even let me borrow their latest CD. I gave it a quick listen while I was working away and promptly forgot about it. Even though I noticed it a couple of times in the following weeks sitting on my thumb drive and saw the album advertised in Best Buy, FYE, and Graywhale ads, it didn't get another spin until today. Apparently it won a Grammy for best alternative album this last weekend. I figured that earned it another listen during Malley's walk.

I liked it. Really liked it. It struck me as one of those albums that you pop in if you want to cheer up a bit. Check out the single:

Fun huh? Sometimes on our walks, I listen to a playlist of my favorite songs on shuffle. It is up to 173 songs so it is always a surprise what ends up playing. The other day, on the final stretch towards home, a song started up that made me actually smile. And I never do that on our walks (I try to look tough so I don't get mugged). Kicked It In The Sun by Built To Spill:

Ok, so I couldn't find that song anywhere that would let me embed so I picked a different Built To Spill song. Still good.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Healing Walk Number 1 (of many more to come)

28 degrees and clear - the stars were out tonight and the city lights reflected off of the mountains to the east.

I got home from work tonight just in time to see Lisa yelling at Malley and kicking him in the bum on his way out the back door. She was not pleased. She directed my attention down the stairs to the basement and there it was, one of Sadie's poopy diapers, chewed up and torn to shreds all over the carpeted hallway. Hence the need for one of O'Malley and my "healing walks."

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to go through my dad's sweet record collection. Two records in particular got a lot of spins from me: Billy Joel's The Nylon Curtain and Queen's A Night At The Opera. I sometimes wonder if my parents ever overheard me dramatically belting out the words to Goodnight Siagon and grinned to eachother. And my sister and I knew all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody even before it was made cool again by Wayne's World.

I think the 70's are emerging prominently as a influence to several big bands these days. Think Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown and also Muse's The Resistance. During tonight's walk, I was rocking out to my favorite Muse song yet: United States of Eurasia/ Collateral Damage. Listen at least to the 1:18 mark and you will totally hear the layered Queen-style guitars.

Lisa and I are way excited to see these guys in concert in April!

Later on in the walk, I rocked out to some Ben Folds. I like to think of him as my generation's Billy Joel. A story-teller singer songwriter. He's sometimes sarcastic and sometimes sincere. Sometimes snarky and sometimes sweet. I liked the first few Ben Fold's Five albums but, in my opinion, the best came with his solo record Rockin' The Suburbs. How cool is my wife, Lisa? She was down with having our first dance on our wedding day be to Ben Fold's The Luckiest.

Our wedding video also rocked some Blink-182 and Ben Lee!

Well, after a nice walk on a clear night thinking about the greatest dad and the greatest wife in world, O'Malley is forgiven. I think the healing walk was a success. We are buds... until the inevitable next incident.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cloud Cult - The Meaning of 8

37 degrees and sprinkling - reminds me of winter back home

I was almost all the way to the A&W before this album started up and I'm afraid I have to refuse admiting what was playing before then. After all, this is the very first post.

Cloud Cult is a pretty recent addition to my music collection thanks to Aric at work. I have gotten way into their Feel Good Ghosts album. So with a Christmas gift card from Doug, I downloaded this older album. The thing that is way cool about these guys is you really don't know what to expect as a new song starts up. Some are beat-heavy, some are acoustic, some distorted, and sometimes the whole mood changes several times within the same song. I made it through the first 5 and 1/2 songs before getting back home and I am already a fan with 13 songs left on the album! Please, please listen to Chemicals Collide:

Love it like me? Hate it? Perhaps I will report back later with my thoughts and feelings on the rest.