Monday, November 9, 2015

Artificial Light

Song: Artifical Light
Album: A Better Version of Me
Artist: Rainer Maria
Genre: Indie Rock, Emo Rock
Released: 2001
Youtubeable ?: Not really. When you check the YouTubes, you get a bunch of poor quality, live recordings. But, here's the official audio:

Karaoke Difficulty: Easy. Just sing loud.
Listenable ?: Depends on your mood and tolerance for harmonic dissonance
Popularity: Considering that the band broke up 9 years ago? Still not popular. But, they did release 5 studio albums.
Notable Song(s) by Artist: Ummm... this one.

This song came to me as a recommendation from a friend and it's one of those songs that comes out from the months or years of forgetting and fits again like welcome friend. It's frenetic and disjointed from beginning to end, while also being mellow. I know the relating of seemingly mutually exclusive attributes sounds like the hollow wordplay of a blogger with sparse readership, but I'll ask you to put that aside and read what comes because I hope to show you with this song always has a place in my playlist. And, my thanks to Mr. P. Teall for introducing me to this music, despite it happening so long ago.

Frenetic and Disjointed...

I think you'll notice, almost immediately that the performance of the song and the production value is loose and borders on sloppy. The musicians do keep the beat, but they don't all hit the beat at the same time - especially the singers. The effect comes across as rough hewn, unrefined and intentionally so, similar to the White Stripes in this manner.
Additionally, the singer's voices don't fix well together (0:34 when the two voices lay over each other). There is no smooth-as-molasses harmonizing. Their timbres get close to pouting. You can hear it at 2:34 when the lead sings "Always." The quality carries through the rest of the song. It's effect, while disjointed, works and I think that's because of the rhythm section, specifically the ride cymbal and guitar.


This is a slow song and somewhat lazy, despite the clear emotional outpouring. Listen to the transition in volume and mood from 0:45 to 1:20. Right around 01:00, it gets mellow and slow. Before this, the song was filled with a guitar repeating a chord progression strummed out over bars and bars of sixteenth notes. The important thing about the guitar, and one reason the song sounds mellow and lazy, is the quality of each note. These are not a series of staccato attacks. Nope. These notes bleed into each other almost slurring from one note to the next, with just enough differentiation to make separate notes semi-intelligible and enough mixing to make the guitar line float away on a cloud, like a smear of time where details gel together. That ride cymbal, supporting the mellow and enchanted feel of the guitar, just glues it all together for me.

A Warm Friend of Dissimilar Temperament...

When the song, and its parts, are all accounted for, this song just comes back to me like a warm friend, someone I'm always happy to reacquaint myself with. This song has such passion even though it feels lazy. The singer clearly has a point to make and a conviction. It's a unique song, with a very strong female lead. It would never occur to me to create this song but I'm so happy someone else has. It's a part of the world that I can appreciate without having to create.

Final Thought...

That drummer is the backbone of this song. You can see him, or her,  jam out in the live performances while keeping tempo and not playing a tired rhythm.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In My Defence, Who Wants to Live Forever in Barcelona

"I'm just a singer with a song. How can I try to right the wrong? For just a singer with a melody. I'm caught in between with a fading dream."


Song: "In My Defence," "Barcelona" and "Who Wants to Live Forever"
Albums: The Very Best of Freddie Mercury, A Kind of Magic
Artists: Freddie Mercury, Queen
Genre: Rock, Pop Rock, Opera
Released: 2006 & 1986
Recorded: 1973 - 1988
Youtubeable ?: Of course.
Karaoke Difficulty: Are you smoking the Crack Pipe?!?! Oh... you are? Well, have at it!... ... No, second thought. Don't. Just... don't. Even if you're as good as Jewel, singing Jewel songs, at karaoke... don't do it.
Listenable?: Absolutely! Repeatedly
Popularity: I don't know anyone else talking about, or recommending these songs, so as of 2015 I can't say they're popular. Of the three, the most popular is "Who Wants to Live Forever" because it came from the film of the name "Highlander"
Notable Songs: Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions, Who Wants to Live Forever, Under Pressure

Freddie Mercury proves, like few others ever could, that singing something makes words into something more than just speaking them aloud every could. It's not that the truthfulness of the statement is in anyway enhanced but instead it breaks through personal barriers and opens us up to empathy for others where perhaps we wouldn't have it before. Singing shows us that feeling. We can feel it by hearing it, the roiling heartache or love or pride. Simple language requires so many words to recreate the depths of feelings that a single, great singer infuses into a simple sentence. "I love you." This becomes so much more than the mere three words that deliver the power and emotion of a singer's true intent. This is art, being able to say so much in so little.
These three songs show how brilliant his voice and performances are.

In My Defence

When the song first starts, I keep having to remind myself that I like this song because it starts too slow and dainty for my tastes. It all changes at 38 seconds in when Freddie kicks in with his signature power vocals and is soon backed up by the rock power of Queen. This is definitely a love ballad, but perhaps a ballad about love and faith that's been lost or forgotten. Underlying the strength of Mr. Mercury's vocals, is an acceptance with sadness and without bitterness which creates a powerful contrast.
You know what? Just listen to a great song.


This is the real, hidden gem of the post and is easily a song that I can listen to, on repeat, for hours, or even a whole day of work - and I've done it more than once.The song begins with a power chord, made entirely of Freddie Mercury vocals, which is awesome. At about 50 seconds in, the song picks up its heavy orchestral theme, and it becomes clear that this song is unlike most you've heard... probably.
Just before the two minute mark, the duet begins between Freddie and Montserrat Caballé. From this point on, the duet of two extremely different voices takes the listener to rarely heard, musical moments. Freddie's power vocals and masculine bravado balanced against Ms. Caballé's florid, sweet and rqually strong vocals, creates a unique and wonderful performance.

Who Wants to Live Forever

This song was a last minute addition but it fits perfectly with the theme: Freddie Mercury had amazing vocals and created beautiful songs to showcase his talent.
You may recognize this from the movie Highlander.
It's a rare song that can be so sad and yet so beautiful that I want to listen to it again and again. So much emotion was sewn into the fiber of this performance, these words and orchestration that it will long be a song worth playing, discussing and sharing with friends.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Battling Go-Go Yubari in Downtown LA


Song: Battling Go-Go Yubari in Downtown LA
Album: Certified Air Raid Material
Artist: edIT
Genre: electronic
Released: 2007
Youtubeable ?: Definitely!

Karaoke Difficulty:Ummmmm...
  • are you entering a dance off?
  • Is it on?
  • Is it going down?
  • Hast thou been served?
If any of these scenarios are happening then you're not in Karaoke-Kansas anymore. You're about to lose your life, or take someone else's, in a no holds barred dance off. Prepare to get mime-shivved by a competing dancer. In other words... You can't sing to a song that has no lyrics. Just dance.
Listenable ?: Yup, when coding or dancing or speeding down the interstate, at night, in a dramatic reenactment of a 20 something coming of age story.
Popularity:Not very, unfortunately.
Tempo:mid 90's, allegretto
Notable Song(s) by Artist: this one

This song is all about dancing: good, old fashioned, down home, rump shakin'. If you're budonkadonk isn't moving, you're on the wrong song. There're no lyrics worth mentioning as they play a very minor role in the song. Most of the song is straight up dag-nasty grinding! I want to turn this song up and hit some dance clubs. It's fast, hard and will keep you moving. But, don't take my word for it. Check out the dance group Les Twins:

Monday, September 1, 2014

Punch In Punch Out

Great, short song with an uncommon arrangement: vocals and drums. There aren't too many songs that are just the vocals and drums. Usually, it's the drums that are the first thing dropped when a vocalist wants to get serious, moody, dramatic or soloist with a piece. But here, the strong, gruff male voice works very well with the dynamic rhythm section - of drums. 

Song: Punch In Punch Out
Album: American Standard
Artist: Seven Mary Three
Genre: Rock
Released: 1995 
Karaoke Difficulty: Easy and fun. It's a little repetitive so it may get boring for you and your audience.
YouTubeable ?:punch in punch out - 7m3 - with lyrics
Listenable ?: Highly
Popularity: unknown...
Tempo and Time Signature: 120 bpm, once it gets going at stage 2 (1:08), and a touch under 60 for the soft intro, stage 1. The whole song seems to be in 4/4.
Notable Song(s) by Artist:

  • Cumbersome - American Standard
  • Water's Edge - American Standard

It starts out...
Gentle male voice, clearly with more ferocity laden in the timbre of his vocals chords but not yet unleashed. 

What it's about...
A working man working hard; a blue collar anthem. 

Why it's awesome...
Lyrically - it's a great take on the blue collar anthem. Oddly, too many blue collar anthems become overly sappy or self agrandizing: "I'm a simple man who asks for nothing, but look how amazing I am because I can suffer through life and therefore am better than other people because I can really, really suffer."
This song however, in a few simple lines, gets across how hard a working life is without any of the self-referential aggrandizement or comparisons of amount of suffering to other people who have it better than they do (ie. it's not about them against 'the man' or 'yuppies' or any socioeconomic group that they want to be in but aren't). Example Lyrics:
"I wake up to beat the sun from her glory. I'm only one cigarette away from mobility."
"it's always punch in punch out, go to work and go back home."

Musically - Love this song because of the strength and control of the male vocalist and the drummer. The song breaks down into five sections:
1) Solo vocals. Soft and slow. 
2) 1:08... Powerful vocals and drums kick in with steady bass and snare. The drummer is rolling the snare and accenting constantly (so much fun to listen to because it's rhythmically complex, which is uncommon for most popular and it's similar to some drumline style riffs. 
3) 1:53... Same vocals... Drums shift to added toms
4) 2:07... Same vocals. Drums add greater tom rhythm and slowly drop snare
5) 2:25... Same vocals. Drums are all toms and base now, no snare for the finale. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Gregory Brothers

I love this group. They're extremely talented, happy and intelligent. They have a very comedic persona for most of their music; for instance, they've released a whole album about playing sad songs in happy styles, and vice versa... awesome. But I believe there's much more to the Gregory Brothers than their public, comedic personas (though by all means I love this aspect of their work and hope they continue to nurture it!!).
The group are very talented singers, songwriters and musicians. It's a pleasure listening to new takes on music. So... here's some good listening for you.

Song: Hello Again | Wrecking Ball - Country Version | DJ Play My Song | Good Morning Sarah | Always Summertime
Album: Hello Again - Single | Wrecking Ball - The Country Version | DJ PLay My Song (single) | The Lost Year | Always Summertime (single)
Artist: The Gregory Brothers

  • Andrew Gregory
  • Evan Gregory
  • Sarah Gregory
  • Michael Gregory

Genre: uncategorizable, but centered around: pop, country, blues
Youtubeable ?: Definitely! Perhaps the most Youtubable group so far reviewed.
Karaoke Difficulty: Extreme. While the songs aren't always difficult, nor the lyrics always complex in delivery, the quality of singing is always excellent. If you sing these songs well, at Karaoke, you'd win karaoke, but most people might not know the Gregory Brothers yet so while they would obviously sing your vocal praises they would wonder what you just sang.
Listenable ?: Highly Listenable.... The group is highly talented and the songs discussed are on my playlist of "Best Music Ever."
Popularity: Hmm... depends on which aspect of the Gregory Brothers you are referring to:

  • Autotune the News: some popularity
  • Singles of iTunes (like Double Rainbow song, Bed Intruder Song): Very popular
  • More serious recordings (The Lost Year, Meet the Gregory Brothers, etc): less popular.

Notable Song(s) by Artist:

How I First Learned About the Gregory Brothers (and Sister Brother): 
Autotune the News is one of the greatest things on the internet and I wish more were done. They are catchy and smart and hilarious and great to listen to on repeat (many days of work have passed listening to the Autotune the News tracks).
Other Tracks to Listen to:

  • West Coast Time
  • A Wonder
  • Do You Think

The Songs

You can find all of these songs on Spotify.

Hello Again:

The singer (Michael Gregory) has a great voice, able to get a clear sharpness from single notes that can cut through and get right to your inner listening. Also really appreciate the arrangement, from the strong bass line that plays a focal point in the song (and not just a subconscious supporting role). Lyrically, this song really hits home for me. The number of times I've felt this way kinda wrecks me sometimes, and in that, this song is able to produce a feeling in the still deep quiet of my emotions. We are all suckers for feeling something true or present in ourselves. The supporting voices are also well done. All in all... love this song, from start to finish.

Wrecking Ball - The Country Version

I'd classify this as a bluegrass version of "Wrecking Ball." The best part of this song are the layered vocals during the refrain.I'm always partial to bluegrass and so hearing this pop song turned bluegrass was a treat. In addition though, the Gregory Brothers really understood the genre and recreated the song faithfully inside a different genre. The instrumentation is a single snare, a bango and a guitar. This song is worth listening to, multiple times.

DJ Play My Song

Are you tired of mindless pop music? Do you wish someone would spoof by masterfully creating an earworm of a pop song, and then mocking it? Best part of this song is the conversational back and forth between the lead female (Sarah Gregory) and the DJ (Evan Gregory). Listen to the lyrics. They are hilarious. On top of the cerebral hilarity, the song is well crafted and sung. Kudos Gregory Brothers for your ability to diversify and still succeed.

Good Morning Sarah

I listen to this song non-stop, on repeat, for hours. This song speaks to ancient parts of me in ways that I can't explain, like the music that calms the lion, this song brings a wave of peace immediately and it delivers that peace the whole way through. The layered guitars and brush snare really define the whole song, and the vocals of Andrew Gregory take the song beyond. I cannot state how much I love listening to this song.

Always Summertime

This really shows off the strong vocals of Sarah Gregory (who's technically more of a sister brother, than a brother brother, because girl. Also, this is the Gregory Brother's own classification of Sarah Gregory... so I cannot claim that spot of comedy gold, though were I buoyed by scruples of a lesser quality then I'd totally steal that joke and ride that fame all the way to the Daily Show. le sigh).
The song is an amazing paradox in that it is very peppy and sunny but the lyrics are so opposite. I chalk this up to the playful and intellectual experimentation of the Gregory Brothers. And again... amazing talent.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Otis Redding is Much Better than "[Sitting on] The Dock of the Bay"

Otis Redding is still remembered by most as the artist who sang "[Sittin' on] The Dock of the Bay." I'm here to tell you that he's contributed so much more, and that the one song that he's usually identified by isn't half as good as the music he's recorded over the years.
The first thing to know about Otis is his voice. Otis pulls emotion from songs like Michelangelo pulls delicate human forms from solid marble (Hey David!).

Song: These Arms of Mine / I've Got Dreams to Remember / I've Been Loving You Too Long
Album: These songs appear in multiple live, best of, and studio albums
Artist: Otis Redding
Genre: Soul
Released:  1964 / 1968 / 1965 (original release dates)
Youtubeable ?: Extremely, but most videos will be of the audio with image stills and a text crawl of the lyrics
Karaoke Difficulty: Difficult. You probably can't sing soul or blues with the same tender, deep and strong voice that Otis Redding can. It won't help if you decide to start smoking either. If you do try to sing any Otis Redding songs, just put your own style on it, instead of trying to mimic or match Otis Redding. Conversely, if you can sing like Otis Redding... get thee to YouTube and start posting your voice!!!
Listenable ?: Immensely. These songs, by themselves or in groups, or absolute treats. There's nothing like this on the air right now. One listen - from a very short time acquaintance, to a recommended Otis Redding song - and I was hooked.
Popularity: Unknown but probably not well remembered outside of the following groups:

  • People whose parents raised them on Otis Redding and the early versions of the 'soul' genre
  • Die Hard fans of old school soul music (I mean 'soul' from the 60's and 70's with piano, brass arrangement, one to two guitars, and drummer).
  • Radio DJs for 'oldies' stations

Tempo: Each of these songs are slow. Y'know when you pour jam from the jar onto your waiting piece of peanut-butter smeared bread, and the jam oozes out, like time waits for the jam? Yeah... time seems to wait, in anticipation, for Otis Redding as it hangs on every soulful syllable. And no, I don't care that my jam metaphor didn't work for you.
Time Signature: 6/8 (I think the supporting guitar line is what makes me think this is 6/8 instead of 3/4) / 6/8 / 6/8 (probably, because though it breaks down into 3/4 just fine, the melody and phrasing divides itself into complete counts of 6.
Notable Song(s) by Artist: Sitting by the Dock of the Bay
Other Songs Worth Listening To:

  • That's How Strong My Love Is
  • Mary's Little Lamb (just listen to that controlled wailing / bleeting)
  • Respect
  • Try a Little Tenderness - worth listening to for a more complex intro arrangement, containing layered chords in multiple directions, and an Otis song with a touch more jazz (you can hear it especially in the jazz/rock beat from the drummer as well as the wandering piano and organ. It then builds into something approaching jazz /  funk.

The Songs

All songs are reviewed from "The King of Soul" multi-disc album.

These Arms of Mine

This is a simple song, with the low key guitar and drums providing a skeleton rhythm creating a perfect backdrop to showcase the power of his voice.
The brass line comes in just after the one minute mark, and come back at 1:45, for the build and key change, and then carry the song around 2:06. At 2:50, Otis starts belting out his dreams in a gust of blues passion.

I've Got Dreams to Remember

Very similar in style to "The Arms of Mine" except it doesn't build as much and creates its fabric of blues on voice and rhythm alone; the brass section is absent here.

I've Been Loving You Too Long - To Stop Now

This is another Otis Redding, crescendo song with power and emphasis provided by a brass section. The minimalist beginning, the slow,
At 1:10 a small build starts that cleanly transitions from building brass notes right into Otis' voice carrying the climax of the section. The transition from horn to Otis' voice is near seamless at first because of the contorl he has over the timbre of his voice; it's worth listening to for that moment (and the crescendo to come).
The great crescendo at starting at 2:13. The mood for this crescendo starts around 17 seconds prior. You can hear it in the slight shift in instrumentation (the added trumpets).
In the height of the crescendo the piano is louder, but still as simple; everything is louder, without falling apart. It's just more intense.
Why Is this Album Amazing?: Read up here: link to wiki page. Here are the highlights:

  • Did you love the "Blues Brothers" soundtrack? Many of those musicians also play on this album
  • The album was recorded over a 24 hour period, with a break to let the musicians play a gig.
  • Otis wrote some of the songs (like "I've Been Loving You" and "Respect"*)
  • The back half are covers of other great songs.


* Yup. According to the article, Otis Redding wrote "Respect" (though some dispute exists as to whether he did it himself). This is the same song that Aretha Franklin rocked out and recorded the most popular recording of that song. She also rocked it for the "Blues Brothers" soundtrack (that scene in the diner is classic).

Be My Girl

Let's be honest... sometimes in this world we just need a little love. This song = "When a gender and a gender really, really, love each other they make whoopee." Seriously, if you do listen to this song, please avoid the following items:

  • Strawberries
  • Wine
  • Chocolate
  • Oysters
  • Influential Imagery
  • Bananas
  • Cucumbers
  • Viagra (R)(TM)(C)(abc) (I have no permission to use the name of that medicine)
If you accidentally mix this song, and any of the above items... Congratulations! You and/or your partner are pregnant.

Song: Be My Girl
Album: Joy Ride (I really think the album name says what the song title doesn't)
Artist: The Dramatics
Genre: Soul
Released: 1976
Youtubeable ?: Highly!

  • A live recording from 2012. The quality is poor, but it's real video of the band.The woman (1 minute in) just got pregnant. This is a 12 min jam version though, so if haven't already given birth then you'll enjoy the whole video
  • Here's their official YouTube channel.

Karaoke Difficulty: You have two options here.

  1. Don't try. Failure to successfully sing this song will dry up the most passionate of mates. You will be friend zoned by your wife, or husband, SO, or ISO.
  2. Do it and Succeed. Congratulations! You've impregnated the entire bar / disco / class reunion / PTA meeting; this holds true regardless of the singer's gender.

Listenable ?: Yes, but make sure your mate is near by and ready to be ravaged by your super-charged sweet, sweet love, or you'll suffer a blueing of your gender appropriate organs.
Popularity: Not very. And this might be good. Were this song to get out, I believe the population would explode.
Tempo: Sex
Notable Song(s) by Artist: Just go have sex already
Why Is this Song So Potent?:
Imagine, if you will, a land before time, before the trappings of class, society, propriety and the stifling proliferation of grammar nazis and coffee shops (somehow, these last two things are probably related). Imagine a time when there was one word and that one word was whoopee.** This whoopee is in us all though we oft try to hide it from the eyes of those who would dare to judge. But, it's the whoopee that somehow, the Dramatics distilled into a song by mixing: honey, cuddles, innuendo, silk nighties, fine cognac and friction reduction emollients into a single track.

If you're listening to this song, you'll probably be making the sex soon.*

You're welcome.


* You're at it again... I can tell.
**  If I translate this aging word into jargon that is currently supplanting our lexicon for the act of making whoopee, the word that I'd have to use would be too direct, too vulgar and too common. This song, and style of songs, were powerful because of their ability to suggest and to do so with such calm confidence that no undergarment went undropped.