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.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Have a Cigar, Jimmy Iovine": Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and Pink Floyd

Songs: Have a Cigar / Jimmy Iovine
Albums: Wish You Were Here / The Heist
Artists: Pink Floyd / Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Genres: Rock, Classic Rock / Hip-Hop, Rap
Karaoke Difficulty: 
    • Have a Cigar - Not difficult. You can do this drunk and still sound like you fit with the original recording (mostly). Unfortunately, you won't get much applause from a room of strangers because this song packs its punch right in your third eye (cerebrally) and is not a stadium anthem that would punch you in the gut and leave you asking for more (ie. anything from Boston's first album, "Boston"). Scratch everything I said if you're at a Pink Floyd theme'd karaoke, then you might be a king, or something close to that, like a Duke, or influential Magistrate... definitely higher than city water council ombudsman. 
    • Jimmy Iovine - Slightly difficult. Just sound aggressive and angry, but then you have to transition to resignedly introspective - which is not easy. Also, you'll need two male backup singers (you're drunk friends with shades in a bar at night), in the baritone range, to bark on the beat at certain points in the song. When not barking, they should stand and jump like your hype men.

In Depth Analysis


Doing anything to get a record deal and then getting chewed up by the record industry. Which thematically, breaks down further into these categories: disillusion, abuse, ambition, unfulfilled expectations, thwarted intentions


It's hard to draw a line of commonality between these two songs, which is why I decided to write this post when I did find one. On their own, their both good songs. One of these similarities exists in their approach to lyrics. Both Pink Floyd's, 'The Wall," and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' songs are self referential. Pink Floyd sings about their fallen band mate, Syd Barret, and M&RL sing, ostensibly, about themselves, but even in this line of thought the similarities seem to end because


The dissimilarities are greater than their counterparts. I'm enjoying writing this article because there is one central idea that bridges these two songs (described above), but a deeper listen and deeper thoughts expand the numerable differences so that it becomes difficult to even classify these two songs, or groups, together; and that's one of the powers of creativity: two groups, two distinct backgrounds, two styles and two generations, with almost nothing in common, can find common ground in some central themes. 

Thematically, the biggest difference is that, in "Have a Cigar," the character of Pink is swallowed up by 'The Machine.' Whereas the ambiguous narrator-character in "Jimmy Iovine" decides in the end to rebuke the dismal offer and make his own way in the music industry.

Additionally, the two groups had different styles of self-referential lyrics. Pink Floyd chose a distilled dramatization to represent pieces of they story where Macklemore and Lewis left behind self-immolation and martyrdom while singing about their stories (and yes, I know that Macklemore sings the tracks and Lewis lays the beats, but it is still appropriate to credit both artists when referencing the album because they both put their names on it). The most immediate example of this is how Pink Floyd sings of The Machine, an omni-present grindhouse separating souls from meat.
I'd say the biggest difference between these two songs (and a difference that continues throughout the albums) is one of point of view. In both albums, the subject matter is heavy stuff: drug addiction, depression, falling short of dreams. But, there is a major point of divergence between how both bands see, or deal with, these heavy issues in their lyrics (please note: I have no idea how these bands have dealt with heavy life issues outside of their lyrics so any analysis present applies only to their lyrics. I've not met any members of Pink Floyd nor M&RL), and perhaps no two songs illustrate this divergence better than "Have a Cigar" and "Jimmy Iovine."

"Jimmy Iovine"
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have made it clear that though they bought into 'the game' of the record industry, by the song's end they were out. is almost entirely from songwriter, completely absent of victimization. M&RL even state: "They ain't given it, I'm takin it..." and closing with "...I'd rather be a starving artist then succeed in getting fucked."
Musically speaking, I can't say that I really enjoy this aspect of the song. In fact, I sometimes skip this song when listening to the album. For me, the lyrics and intent make this a powerful song and worth recommending.

Interesting fact: M&RL break down a sample contract with terms and actual payout to artist, and it is abysmal and a little depressing.

"Have a Cigar"
Pink Floyd create an elaborate realm in which the setting takes place; each song is crafted in this universe and the effect is one of a brilliant moment in music. This was created at a time in music history when albums were created, not just collections of singles. The entire album slides together, thematically, lyrically and in story. As per the song, the point of view is entirely from the the corporate record executive screwing over the character of Pink. In this sense there's a level of victimization present in the storytelling - which is absent from M&RL's song.
Musically, the song is a great piece for the whole album, it sets you up for "Wish You Were Here" and this is where the album really lands. It's heard often on classic rock stations, so you know a lot of other people like it. By itself though, I tend to skip this song on the album and prefer "Wish You Were Here" and "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" (both parts).

Interesting Facts: There's such a long jazz/rock opening that the lyrics don't start until almost a minute and 30 seconds in. Also, this song (and album) are about one of the original members of the band: Syd Barrett, and his fall from the band and success.

Final Thoughts:

The relationship that each band has to the recording industry is very interesting considering the lyrics of these two songs. M&RL wrote lyrics that eschewed the recording industry and the unfair treatment. These lyrics are supported by the indie release of their own album. By contrast, Pink Floyd, have relied heavily on the record industry to generate revenue. In fact, the brand 'Pink Floyd' is one that generates revenue and name recognition on its own. So, I guess the question is: "Could Pink Floyd have enjoyed the same degree of success, back then, by relying entirely on independent distribution and sales? Further, was the band forced under the same type of pitiful contract that M&RL sing about in "Jimmy Iovine?"
 The internet has provided new artists a way to publish their music and to do it cheap, no more: publishing costs, distribution costs, just send it to YouTube. The internet doesn't guarantee success, but then neither did having a record contract. The internet however does allow for a greater diversification in published music which allows for a globally crowdsourced census of what the population wants to listen to; it evens the playing field so every artist has a chance at success.*  If the album 'The Wall' is about the rise and decline of Syd Barret, and if (as the music claims) that Syd Barret was a crazy diamond that was chewed up by the machine, how different would the album 'The Wall,' have been were the internet present in the 70's?


* This allowance for anyone to self publish and possibly make it big is one of the MOST important aspects of an open internet. The open internet allows for every electronic storefront to have the same access, regardless of the size of the company; indie productions can took root in the same public that the hit machine (backed by corporate sized finances) vies for. Please, support a truly open internet. It's the greatest engine for free commerce and rapid innovation that the world has ever seen.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ding Dong Song

"Ohhh, you touched my tra-la-la."
This last recommendation is A MUST, because it's so wonderfully silly. There's so much about this song and performer that give me reason to question if he takes this seriously while simultaneously giving me reason to doubt my doubt.

Style: Euphemistically Silly, Overtly Sexual, Eurotrash
Artist: Günther and the Sunshine Girls
Album: Pleasure Man
Song: Ding Dong Song
Youtubable?: Definitely!!
Karaoke Difficulty: Literally Harder to Steal Candy From a Baby. The physical effort to steal candy from a baby is pretty low, and in that light then singing this song is harder. But! The emotional barrier to literally stealing candy from a baby makes singing this song, to a room full of friends and drunk stranger, much easier.
Overall Rating: Hilarious, and good to hilarious at your friends with
Ability to Cross the Line: Imminent Line Crossing Even with Close Friends
Follow Up Tracks: "Teeny Weeny String bikini" & "Touch Me"
Does Günther's Pencil Mustache make a difference?: Undoubtedly. Tell me you can't unsee that. 

This song will get stuck in your head, trust me. This stickiness is achieved through a few features: the breathy speaking in Sister Christian 80's style, backup singers incessantly singing a 4 bar refrain of induced super happy funtime la-la-las, and the ultra repetitiveness of simple musical passages. 
Look up Brett Domino, on YouTube, for instructions on how to make a pop song. This song follows that pattern. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Crazy Cause I Believe

"You know what, sometime you get so damn tired, and things really ain't that cool. But it's normal man. 
You can't let it slow up your pattern. 
Some days the pressure can really be on you and you might not know what to do about it, you might get a little claustrophobic, problems closing in on ya. 
Sometimes you need to just give thanks when you're walkin' slanted. Ya can't take your blessings for granted.
So keep a good focus, stay cool, stay true,
And just let the sun shine right on through"
- Len, Crazy 'Cause I Believe

Song: Crazy 'Cause I Believe
Artist: Len
Album: You can't Stop the Bumrush
Notable song by artist: Steal My Sunshine
Year: 1999
Popularity: scant
Genre: rock, gospel, R&B
YouTubeable: No
Karaoke Rating - You could do it, but it's mostly spoken word and the only sung part is a heavily repeated 2 sentence refrain. So, not great. 
Tempo - around 80 bpm 
Mood: awesome
Lyrical intent: reminder to relax and not sweat the small stuff, and lighten your mood. 
Could you use this song to say "I love you, in that biblical sense?": Meh, not really. Don't put it in a mix tape for that purpose either. 
Listenable ?: Immensely. Tune in and zone out while this song just washes away your angst and sadness. 
If I had $10 for every time I played this song then: I'd have well over a thousand dollars, probably $3K-$5K. 

I love this song. It's a split between gospel and R&B. The first half is the mellow-smooth tempo of an easy and light organ played like someone picking up good memories from a wander in the past. Everything about this song is peaceful and happy - not that 'over the top I can't wait to convert you to my flavor of Kool-Aid happy' but relaxed and centered happy. The song leads with a spoken word lead male talking us out of a bad day, and does so without dwelling in negativity, then turns it into the coolest reminder that everything's going to be alright.  it doesn't even matter if you believe it because he believes it and that's enough to carry the song; and then the song kicks into gospel, by the introduction of beaming gospel voices and a chill rhythm beat, and the sun just shines right on in. A drum kit, bass guitar (probably) and an organ are all that Len uses to play this track, everything else is vocals: spoken word to start, and gospel choir to bring home that sunshine right to your heart. 

This has made every bad day a little, or a lot, better. 

Thanks Len. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Crossover Kings - Pop to Orchestra

Pop to Orchestra - v 1

Tonight's recommendations come in the form of crossover excellence, where excellence is found in the craft and music. The following songs aren't popular but they are beautiful and are from female pop musicians: Bjork and Imogen Heap. I wanted to focus on extra-talented artists and think that these two artists are great examples because of their mastery of their original genres (both adhering to a nebulous form of indie - alt - synth - rock - other) but also their ability to cross over into a vastly more complex genre: orchestrated.

The songs:

Song: Overture

Artist: Bjork

Album: 39 Steps (Soundtrack)

Genre: soundtracks, orchestra

Orchestrated: tympany, brass section (euphoniums, trumpets, French horns, tuba, most likely many trombones as well)

Karaoke Difficulty: What? Haven't you been reading? No words here.

Tempo: slow, about 60bpm

Song: Cumulus

Artist: Imogen Heap

Album: Cumulus (Single)

Orchestrated: reeds, strings, synths

Genre: unknown
Tempo: 90 - 95

~ Overture - Bjork ~

The song is orchestrated with tympany and brass, an excellent mix to create a very soulful sound, one with immense depth, whose resonance unfolds until the final crescendo where a majesty of sounds shines from the orchestra. The layering of so many brass lines to create a piece so gentle and powerful is what draws me to this song, time and time again. It's like listening to a sunrise.

0:00 - So calm, peaceful, clear from intent, like the slow migration of a field of geese, just waking up with the rising pink light, taking to the sky, one by one as the sun rises around 2m 00s. There is so much depth in this the slow beauty of the first two minutes to this song as the piece slowly builds, layer by layer, with overlapping horns and chords.

2:00 - The gentle layering of similar voices begins

2:17 - The bass brass start in and an immensity to the music arrives

2:25 - The sun rises as the crescendo arches and the full awe of the music unfolds

~ Cumulus - Imogen Heap ~

First, though you may not know who Imogen Heap is, you'v'e probably heard her music. She is most known for her song (and how I first came to her music) "Hide and Seek." Please listen to this song; I know I"ll write about it in a later post. Second, you've probably heard Jason Derulo's song "Watcha Say" which samples heavily from Imogen's song, and even Derulo's title comes from Imogen's song. after you get lost in the awesome vocalizings of "Hide and Seek," listen to "Just for Now" (preferably the iTunes version from the album "Live Session (iTunes Exclusive) - EP", though the original version is also great) the intro is fantastic... as it the whole song of course.

The orchestration here starts with reed instruments and some background piano, quickly moving to supporting synth layers. At 39s, the first independent voice begins, like a colored orchid presents against a sea of deep green grass. By 2m in the various tracks are layering together again to set the theme and cadence for the whole piece; while other sections may divert from this theme and cadence, they are all departing from and arriving back at this theme. At 2:30, the solo voice hints at returning and by 2:40 it returns completely to drive the song. At 3:20, a different leading voice starts in the form of a lone violin. From here on out, the lone reed and violin voices gracefully dance through and around each other, like a Chinese love tragedy: stoic, longing, beautiful, demure.

Both of these songs are moments of beauty in the world of music. They are not well known but were merit the measure of popularity they'd be as heralded any song of acclaim and renown.

I hope you enjoy them or appreciate something of these two pieces now.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Glenn Gould's "Bach's Goldberg Variations"

Tonight's music recommendation comes in the form of a complete album.

Glenn Gould playing Bach's "Goldberg Variations." it is best to think of this as one song, approximately 55min long, with 32 tracks. Also, please make sure you listen to the 1981 recording. Glenn recorded this piece twice (btw, he was a master pianist): once at the beginning of his career in 1955 (this recording helped launch him), and again in 1981 a year before his death. His second recording of this piece is one of the most beautiful moments in all music, by my estimation. He plays with a depth and breadth of emotion without making the experience a cloying affair.  
The first track sets you up for the sweet gentleness and romantic wistfulness of the piece to come; it is a one half of a pair of bookends that frame the joy and loss in mature grace. This leaves the second track to explode with vibrance, life and joy which continues through most of the music. Track 15 is a highlight of technical pianist proficiency where fingers defy the trappings and mechanics of sinew and bone and seem to play the keys with such lightness and speed that it is constantly exhilarating to hear. I should not be surprised were I to learn that 2 play that part and still I'd be impressed; but to know that one man, with but 10 fingers, played so deftly as to blur the staccato punctuation of the hammered strings into a river of music is truly awe inspiring. 
Yes, there is a sweet sadness to the music, but the listener isn't left alone to fend of this sadness as most of the music is alive and vibrant. 
I cannot recommend this piece enough to you. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bone Tired

The song: "Bone Tired"
Artist: "Gomez"
Tonight's recommendation is smooth, mellow and manages to find the quick in my nerves and release the fibers of tension. This is a simple and melodic piece; get ready to replay it though because it's so short. What most fascinates me about this song are the layers of harmonies that create a distinct track. This is a rare piece because even the lead vocal is sung so soothingly that is becomes an instrument more than a message carrier. In fact, after having listened to this song over 700 times, I still can't tell you what the song is about because the words lose themselves in the singing, an effect only strengthened by the mixing that blends the vocals as a supporting or subordinate track to the instrumentation. The effect is altogether amazing as the song transports me immediately to a very quiet place, and I am peaceful.
Genre: Rock, but very, very mellow rock.
Karaoke Difficulty: Lyrically easy, vocally difficult but doable. Good luck finding it for karaoke though.
Playlist: this is in the "Greatest Tracks/Recordings" playlist. Y'know, the playlist where every song is perfect.

Angry White Boy Polka

Tonight's recommendation is a B-side from a less popular Weird Al album...
Album: Poodle Hat
Song: Angry White Boy Polka
Required listening before appreciating this song:
Late 90's to early 00's pop music.
This song is ridiculously catching and also ridiculously well performed. Once you get past the standard polka instrumentation, you'll hear a band that performs tight and fast without missing a beat. You'll also hear complex chords and well mixed vocals, listen especially for the bass voice around 1:40 and how it syncs and harmonizes perfectly with Weird Al (i now believe this to be a vocal track laid down in post mixing. Please weigh in with your opinion!). It also spans a variety of genres in five minutes while being both entertaining and humorous. One favorite thing is how the song demonstrates that some lyrics fall completely apart with a less dramatic presentation and musical arrangement. As silly as this song is, the musicians and production is top notch.

Waiting for the Beat to Kick In

"'Ah Mr. Pip' he said out loud, 'We've been awaiting you.' ... 'You'll meet a few people before this day is through who will administer advice and guidelines to you. Now what each of them says I'll tell you now is true, but whether or  not you take their advice is for you to choose.'" - Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip

Song: Waiting for the Beat to Kick In
Album: Angles
Artist: Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip
Genre: Spoken word, hip-hop, house
Karaoke Difficulty: Hmmm... If you have to memorize it, then you should just go punch yourself in the face. If however, you have the lyrics with you, then... consider a punch in the face or man up and run this crazy train through the microphone and out the ear holes of everyone in the room.
This song is a great listen. It has a steady rhythm (thanks to Dan Le Sac) which carries the lyrics, and therein the real power of this song.

The song is a journey of emotional revelations told through the chill, selfless and open perspective of Scroobius Pip. The best of this song is told through it's own lyrics. I'll avoid rewriting all of them here, but since I've quoted whole passages here they've been placed at the end of the article. For a complete list of lyrics, with crowd sourced analysis, please find the song on
The music, groove and flow of the song is the work of Dan Le Sac, who manages to float a complete spoken word essay and keep it interesting throughout. Even more respect to Dan because the lyrics here (and why I have such admiration for the them) are deep, weighty and over flowing. It's not often that a spoken word song can carry words in the guise of life lessons and still be a good song. The last song that comes to mind now is: "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" by Baz Luhrman, aka "The Sunscreen Song." Dan Le Sac keeps a modern and vibrant beat, pulsing with the intensity of the lyrics and building a slow crescendo throughout. The song would stand alone without the lyrics and would be some manner of trip-hop/house mix.

Does this Song Reference Cinema?!?:
Yes it does! (source:
- Elwood P. Dowd, from the movie "Harvey" with Jimmy Stewart
- Lloyd Dobler, from "Say Anything" with John Cusack
- Billy Brown, from "Buffalo 66" with Vincent Gallo and Christina Ricci
- Walter Neff, from "Double Indemnity" with Fred McMurray

As stated earlier, the greatest part of this song is the lyrics. It's dense with thick meanings and surreal interactions. "Always had the feeling I could never be the villain because the villains in the movie is always backlit." I take this to mean, which is reflected in later lyrics (listed below), "I'm not a bad guy! I'm interesting and have depth and am living the struggle of life. It's 'complex and messy and I'm trying hard to make this happen." Villains in movies are often portrayed as 'one-dimensional' or void of humanity, as if they're simply defined by a single characteristic, being assholes *1. People are so quick to believe, and defend, how good they are, that they take great offense at any presentation of contrary evidence. I'll keep the lyrical analysis to a minimum because I think the words land easily on their own.
When listening to this song, make sure you have some time to listen to what's being said.

Great lyrics from the song:
- "A lot of my poems and writings seem to start with me waking up, or being in a dream, or dream like state. Now, this implies a certain level of abstraction in my work. You might say I'm keeping it surreal but I'd rather you didn't. Fact is, I sleep a lot. It's as simple as that. I like sleeping, man. It's a nice place to be."
     + I enjoy this lyric because it shows someone sloughing off accidental accolades, when it would have been easy to just accept the praise for a level of unindented forethought, going so far as to state an often ill-regarded joy to sleep. He reduces idolatrous tendencies and states simply a preference for sleep. I dig it.
- "Listen here, in this life you can be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. For years I was smart, I recommend pleasant. Being smart can make you rich and bring respect and reverence, but the rewards of being pleasant are far more incandescent."
-  "Now I'm sure you've had times when you've felt down or angry, wanted to lash out, punch a wall and be manly. But the question I pose now will offer you a plan B, and maybe some peace and quiet for your friends and family. How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood, and then just be in a good mood... That's all I have to say because it's a simple straight up fact. You control your emotions; it's as simple as that." The analysis of this lyric, at, I believe is off the mark.
- "See you can live your life in control and be nice, but even that will not promise you a happy life. You may think yourself in general to be a nice guy, but I'm telling you now - that right there is a lie. Even the nicest of guys has some nasty within them. You don't have to be backlit to be the villain. Whether it be greed, lust, or just plain vindictiveness, there's a level of malevolence inside all of us. You can paint yourself an image and live in your own little dream but this ain't a dream, it's one big silver screen. So when you think you've got your happy ending don't ever forget it. It ain't over till you hear the sound of your end credits."

*1 for great movie roles showing how someone could go from human to villain check out Jouquin Phoenix in "Gladiator" and Viggo Mortenson in "Eastern Promises."

Ievan Polkka

It's been a while, but music ain't gone anywhere.
Tonight, prepare to rock out to your Finnish polka roots, seriously... this is a catchy song, great harmonics and vocals, and great background music. I listen to this song on repeat. Also, it's fun trying to learn the song and sing along (bet you can't pronounce some of those vocalizations).
  • Artist: Loituma
  • Song: Ievan Polkka

Why I Love this Song:
Every once in a while there's an a cappella song that somehow hits mainstream - or in this case has hit the world stream of whimsically bizarre internet memes - and is melodically and harmonically interesting. This track has multiple layers of vocals whereas as many mainstream a cappella songs have each voice singing something that is a minor theme and variation away from the melody; while I laud the song for it's complex arrangement, the song does (and does it well) have all voices sing the same words in unison in their respective ranges (starting at around 2m 34s). Also interesting in this song, as happens regularly in the arrangements of songs for a cappella groups, the singers are able to use their voices to create textures of sound (around 0m 54s). Also, the group is very tight in their timing; The final refrain has everyone vocalizing stoccato syllables in the same points in time - very great.
Finally, the female lead has an amazing voice and it's impressive just listening to the punctuated, machine gun rapidity of the Nordic rolled 'r.'

What you should not expect from this song:
Sense. Even for those fluent in Finnish, this song is seemingly a list of random words. (source: A Finnish relative)
However, there's competing evidence saying that the song does make sense, once translated into your language:

Cold Hard Facts Section:

  • Artist: Loituma
  • Song: Ievan Polkka
  • Album: Things of Beauty
  • Is it in a Playlist?: Yes. I have it in a playlist (on called "Nordic Folk and Chant Music"
  • Language: Finnish
  • Release Date: 1995 (Finland), 1998 (US), click for source info. (This blog will reference the US release date since this is when the named album was also released. In 1995, the song appeared on the album: "Loituma" but not in the US).
  • Karaoke Difficulty: Just go punch yourself in the face.
  • YouTubeable?: Yes, but expect a dearth search results. For a flood, instead of a drought, of search results try this: "leek girl"
  • Most Notable Youtube Video: Leek Girl. This may be how the song initially infected America, because internet loves the joint venture of leeks, anime girls, 5 frame animated gifs and nonsense and catchy Finnish polka a cappella music, obviously.
  • Is There a Website that Counts How Long You've Listened to A Small Portion of This Song?: YES! You're in luck! Try this site for serious "gu-daka-daka" endurance: I'm currently on 5m 30s.
    • NOTE: This is NOT the full version of the song.
  • Can I Like the on Facebook?: Yes! Search for Loituma
  • Overall Rating: highly repeatable listen.