• Category Archives Music
  • How (not) to form a charity supergroup.

    As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I was exposed to many charity supergroups and the songs they produced. Yes, such classics as “We are the World,” “That’s What Friends are For,” and “Do They Know its Christmas” are all part of my childhood – not to mention a few Christian charity supergroups. But Christian or “Secular,” charity soupergroup songs were cheesy, at times unlistenable, but still fond memories. And they laid the groundwork for modern charity supergroups. Two in particular have caught my attention, but for different reasons. In 2005, The North American Hallowe’en Prevention Initiative (NAHPI) recorded “Do They Know its Halloween?” A few months ago the song “Beds are Burning” was re-recorded by a group of international celebrities put together by the organization Tck tck tck. Like I said, the two songs have caught my attention for two different reasons: While NAHPIs song was probably my favorite charity supergroup song of all time, Tck tck tck’s attempt was an exercise in charity supergroup failure.

    NAHPI did almost everything right. They never took themselves too seriously, knowing that previous charity supergroups have been parodied beyond measure. In fact, “Do They Know its Halloween” is a direct parody of “Do They know its Christmas.” While the song’s proceeds go to benefit UNICEF, the song “stems from a frustration with other benefit songs’ misguided, somewhat patronizing attitude, and Western-centric worldview.”  For their celebrity roster, they kept it pretty low key – mostly indie rockers. The most notable people involved in the song are Beck, Feist, Win and Régine (The Arcade Fire), David Cross, and Elvira (it is a Halloween song after all).  The song itself was extremely humorous, and the video even more so. Ghosts with zipper mouths, David Cross yelling about cute Kitten calendars, and even a giant pumpkin moving down the streets, eager to destroy anyone fool enough not to take cover. Do They Know its Halloween is indeed a great song. In fact, its become a cherished tradition of mine to listen to this song over and over on Halloween.

    While the NAHPI song was creative, intelligence, and humorous, the Tck tck tck song was – well, not. I found this “gem” on Itunes for free a while back. As I said, I grew up in the 1980’s, so I was very excited to see a cover of the classic Midnight Oil song. Having said this, I must wonder WHAT THE HECK WERE THEY THINKING!?!?!?!?! Yes, Climate change is a pressing issue, and while I will not debate the arguments for or against climate change,  but I will say I wish I could undownload this song! And its not just because its a bad song, its because downloading this song off Itunes and other services is an automatic signature to a petition that will be presented at the conference demanding “climate justice now.” This was not stated anywhere when I hit “download.” In a sense, they tricked me into signing their petition. Like I said, I am not going to debate for or against climate change, but I am against anyone who is so desperate for names on thier petition that they are not up front what you are “signing.” It makes me question the organization as a whole, and I have to wonder what they’re trying to sneak into their initiatives.

    But I digress. Even if they were honest about why they want people to download their song, one has to wonder still, what the heck were they thinking? Firstly, they were too lazy to write a new song. This is a group of so called artists from around the world, and all they can do is remake a 20 year old song? Can they not use all their alleged musical talent to write a new song? The only good excuse I can think of for using an old song is that its “recycling.” But even if they used Beds are Burning to present an “eco-friendly” model, they could have at LEAST been creative with the lyrics they changed. Instead, you get a song that’s preachy, stuffy, and bland. As far as the “artists,” there’s a few A listers: Fergie (who has the talent and brains of a peanut), and Lily Allen(yawn). They use several international artists (probably the only thing that makes sense about this song, considering its a worldwide conference), a bunch of has beens (Scorpions, Duran Duran, and Midnight Oil), and several top 40 soon to be has been pre-teen rock bands. There’s also an intro statement by Kofi Annan and an ending statement by Desmond Tutu.  All in all, Beds are Burning is about the most boring charity supergroup song since Dionne Warwick and friends did “That’s what Friends are For.”

    Charity supergroups are often times composed of hypocrites. After Band-Aid, most of the artists walked away and did  nothing else (one notable exception is Bono, who stayed in Africa for two weeks afterwards). Most of the celebrities involved in Beds are Burning probably really support the initiatives put out by Tck tck tck, but are they willing to do their part? I would love to see a list of their carbon footprints. Both Fergie and Lily Allen tour on a regular basis. Are their tour buses and jets fueled by bio-diesel? Or do they put out a smog cloud the size of LA every time they tour?  Its easy to get in front of a mic and say they support something, but one cannot expect others to change if one does not first change themselves. Perhaps that’s another factor that made NAHPI such a great charity supergroup. They saw something that bugged them, ie the fact that most charity supergroups were patronizing and Western-centric, and they used their creative talents to do something about it! The money they raised for UNICEF was just the icing on the cake.

  • Why I (don’t) hate Radiohead

    It is fairly common for me to make snide remarks about Radiohead. In a conversation with a friend, I once said they were only a step above Matchbox 20. While I was using hyperbole on my friend (who is a pretty loyal Radiohead fan), I do not like the way Radiohead has gone in the last few years – but I don’t actually hate Radiohead, I just think and know they can do better.

    Hail to the thief and Thom Yorke’s solo album were, in all honesty, some of the worst albums I’ve heard this decade. In Rainbows had its moments, but I still think they could have done a lot better. And, like I said, that is the point; Radiohead can do better. Ok, I won’t go so far as saying Thom Yorke is a musical genius, but the man has talent. Ok Computer was not a stroke of good luck, but an extremely well done album – and, in my opinion, one of the best albums of the 1990s. Pablo Honey and The Bends were amazing albums! Even Kid A and Amnesic had their moments, though honestly, I think they both start to show Radiohead’s decline.

    So what happened? How did Radiohead go from making one of the best albums of the 90s, to making one of the worst albums in the 2000’s? Maybe its laziness, maybe its lack of inspiration, or maybe its the fact that, in terms of thier fans, they can do no wrong (so again, maybe its laziness). Seriously, Radiohead is the band that you cannot insult. Everytime I post a negative comment about Radiohead on Digg, I get burried so deeply that my comments get deleted! Everytime I mention Radiohead’s decline to my friends, or even complete strangers, I get an earful. Why do people insist on standing so vehemently for Radiohead? I think I would get a warmer response if I were to show up at the Democratic National Convention and declare that Geroge W Bush was the best president we ever had! This is not normal behavior people, and quite frankly, this kind of behavior does not provide the band to do better!

    I mentioned earlier that In Rainbows “had its moments.” Honestly, I might rate In Rainbows right in between Kid A and Amnesic. They are on an upswing I believe. Musically, and in other areas too. I have a lot of respect for them saying download In Rainbows and pay whatever you feel like paying. Bravo! Bravo! They could have done a better job with the whole Miley Cyrus incident, though in all honesty, I probably would have added insult to injury, so I suppose I should give them some credit for that. Radiohead might very well be on an upswing, however, it might be the fans that make the difference. I challenge all the Radiohead fans out there to do this: Do not automaticlytreat everything Radiohead puts out as gold. Listen to it, get to know the music, analyze the lyrics, and scrutinize the albums and songs against what they’ve done. Does it hold true to their level of talent? Are they taking chances? Are they utilizing thier creative talents? Does the music still hold the edge that Radiohead is famous for? Or does it sound like the leftovers from previous albums? Ask yourselves these questions, and if you find the answer to these questions is no, then be vocal about it! Don’t just pass it off as just a bad album, get online and blog about it! Tell your friends the new Radiohead album sucks! Let your voice be heard! Perhaps this is exactly what Radiohead needs! And perhaps thier next album will be one of the best albums of the next decade.

  • The Top 5 albums of 2008 that aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

    One of my favorite things about this time of year is sifting through everybody’s top 5, 10, 25, and etcetera lists. A particular favorite category is that of the years top albums. This year has produced an excessive amount of great music -so much that I’ve been having a hard time making a list of my own. But while sifting through everyone else’s lists, I’ve found several albums missing that deserve a lot more credit then what they got this year. Most of my picks are mentioned on some lists, if you dig enough, but their merit is somehow forgotten. So, without any further wait, here is my top 5 albums that aren’t getting the attention they deserve in other people’s best of 2008 lists:

    #5 REM – Accelerate. When this one was released, I held my breathe. Would it be another “Up?” Or would REM return to being the musical geniuses they were in the 80s and 90s? Well, I am quite happy to say that this is the best album they’ve released since “Monster.” Here’s hoping they either stay on this track, or retire. Well, maybe that’s a little too harsh.

    #4 Ladytron – Velocifero. Ok, let’s be honest about two things: a) Ladytron is one of my favorite bands (so I might be bias with their inclusion on this list), and b) Velocifero was not their best work – in fact, I might even say it was their worst album to date. But still, this album has had its moments. The song “verses” alone, with its clever phrase turns and the fact that its the first Ladytron song to date with a male vocalist! “Kletva,” is quite a catchy tune as well – one is tempted to learn Bulgarian just so they can sing along.

    #3 Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping. To be fair, I did see this mentioned in several of the KEXP staff top ten lists, but hardly anywhere else. This album is not family friendly, far from it! So if you’re easily offended, veer away from this album. However, the sensual nature of the lyrics with the trademark “all over the place” feel of the music that really make this album worth more than a few listens. And bonus points for being an actual album with a natural flow and intertwining pieces, as opposed to a playlist of ten random songs.

    #2 Black Kids – Partie Traumatic. This album is just pure fun. It feels almost like a guilty pleasure, but then one hears the lyrics and realizes the depth of the music. How many people had “I’m not gonna teach your Boyfriend how to dance with you” orbiting their head for the better part of the summer? I’m actually surprised the song is not blasting from the speakers of every American Eagle store in the country (give it a year).

    #1 The 1900s – Cold & Kind. I stumbled upon this band at Musicfest NW, and was severely disappointed to find out they’re not from Portland, but rather Chicago. I have not found an album this listenable in a couple years, and while I can’t pick a list of ten albums this year, I can say without a doubt this was indeed my favorite album of 2008.

    Honorable Mention: The B52s – Funplex. About half of you just decided I don’t know a damned thing about music, didn’t you? I was indeed skeptical of this album, I mean the B52s haven’t done anything worthwhile since “Cosmic Thing!” Well, maybe there’s something in the Athens, GA water supply (which would also explain REM and Of Montreal), but Funplex is perhaps the best B52s album ever. From the insightful “Juliet of Spirits,” and even the erotic “Ultraviolet,” perhaps “the ultimate party band” has finally grown up.

  • A quick word about Albums, Audio Files, and Itunes

    Tonight I am listening to the new Iron and Wine album, “The Shepard’s Dog” for the very first time. Its absolutely incredible (would I be writing about it if it wasn’t?). I could go on and on about it, but I’m only four tracks into it.
    But I do want to talk about something; about a folly of music files, and the possible death of a standard album practice.
    Track 3 “The Shepard’s dog” fades into track 4 – so its impossible to know where track 3 ends and track 4 begins. Nothing new mind you, its been done for decades. In fact, its pretty much a standard on album rock albums that at least once during said album, they’re going to do it.
    So what separates this specific fade? Nothing really, except for the fact that there was a huge gap  in between songs breaking the continuity of the album when iTunes changed from track 3 to track 4! Now, I know I can switch the settings to eliminate this gap, and I have already done so to eliminate future instances. But why is this set as the default? Does iTunes and Apple care so little about entire albums, since most people only download a song or two nowadays? Seriously, I know how to change it, and any one with half a brain can find the option to do so, but what about those who are scared of computers? And there are a lot of them out there – many of them happen to be extremely brilliant people in other areas.
    Ok, so this is turning int a rant session, isn’t it? Still, this is one of the follies of albums as a group of files, rather than a greater body of work.
    Sigh, the album really is dying. May it rest in peace. May it rise again.

  • In Rainbows does not blow…

    There’s good news and bad news about the new Radiohead album, “In Rainbows.” The bad news is its not as good as “Ok Computer;” The good news is its not as bad as “Hail To the Thief” or Thom’s solo album. If it had been as bad as the two latter mentioned albums, I might have to refer to it as “In Rainblows.” In all seriousness, I like it -which is saying a lot considering the expectations I put on a band like Radiohead. They seem to be the type of band that is full of potential, but sometimes sinks to the lowest and/or laziest common  denominator. So when they put out a new album, I approach with caution. Its nice to know that “In Rainbows,” while certainly not their best work, lives up to the bar I’ve set for them.

    In other news, I just saw the video for “Challengers” by The New Pornographers. It was kind of creepy at first, but  worth watching.  The use of color vs black and white alone….while not the most original concept, makes it a worthwhile use of three minutes.  Though the scene with Neko, Katherine, and Carl just standing there singing still freaks me out. And it looks like Neko’s drinking something radioactive too.

  • Portable Music: Quality vs Convenience

    Its interesting how the trends in music mediums go back and forth between quality and convenience. Vinyl, for instance, was (is) a great format – especially if you have the right equipment (12+ band equalizers, decent speakers, et al). Pretty nice quality, but totally inconvenient, especially if you wanted to take your music with you. After vinyl’s hay day, we had 8 tracks, and then cassette tapes. Both formats were convenience, but left much to be desired when it came to sound quality. Then came CDs. CDs were / are wonderful quality, and even a bit convenient, though they do tend to skip and they like to develop nasty scratches.
    So now we have audio files (mp3, mp4 / AAC, WMP, OGG, et al). So far these are the most convenient format. They don’t skip, the players are a lot more durable, one can bring a lot more music with them (in many cases one can carry their entire music collection in one little box). So have we reached the apex of the format wars? No! At this point in time the files are compressed still. While some formats are better than others, none of the file formats can really match the sound quality of a CD or Vinyl. And while the average consumer (pity that most people are consumers of music, and not actual listeners btw!!!) don’t really care, audiophiles and serious music fans still crave better quality coupled with the convenience of a portable media file player.
    So, what is next? My prediction is in the next ten years, a file will be introduced that will have superior quality to anything we’ve seen (or rather heard) thus far. This format will be coupled with a media player that will probably have around 1 terrabyte of storage (at the very least!), so one can carry as much music as they so desire, especially since the hypothetical file type will be a pretty large. It would be nice if this player played any format by the way, so one with several protected mp3s or mp4s would not have to rip the inferior quality files, but rather leave the be.
    But the real question, will corporate America allow this? Apple has a pretty big holding in the portable music world, and they don’t like to share. They have, at this time, showed no interest in migrating to a better file type. Still, they do keep pushing for bigger and bigger Ipods, and while I would much rather have a flash memory media player than a hard drive memory media player, one can defiantly say that Ipods might be a step in the right direction at least. There’s also one other thing to consider: hard drives on computers must be bigger, and faster. Most laptops come standard with a very slow 5400 RPM hard drive. Try to access a folder with hundreds of files on one of those; Its terribly slow! There’s also the fact that hard drives are still not that big. How many people have a free terrabyte on their hard drive to dedicate to music? Heck, how many people have a terrabyte on their hard drive to begin with?
    Well, like I said, it will take ten years, maybe five if we’re lucky, but history says we’ll get there. And then that format will give way to another format that will most likely be lower quality, but more convenience. And those of us who are audiophiles will write a string of articles like this one once more.

  • An open letter to Bono…

    Dear Bono,
    Before I go on with this letter, I want to tell you how much I respect you. You have deep convictions on what you feel is right – and you don’t back down from those convictions. Once more, you use your position as someone in the limelight to further your positions on social justice. You don’t even take political sides. Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal…it doesn’t seem to matter to you. You just want to get things done. Again, I respect you – immensely.
    Having said all that – I’m a bit frustrated as a fan. I have been listening to U2 for seventeen years now – longer than I’ve been listening to any other band. I started when I was in the seventh grade with “The Joshua Tree” and have bought everything u2 has released since – as well as many albums before that. I have only seen you perform once – but my 97 dollar ticket was more than I’ve ever paid to see any other band. I still carry the ticket stub in my wallet – and that was four years ago. So needless to say, I am a fan.
    This is where it gets a little hairy. As a fan I feel a loyalty to you – to like everything that U2 ever puts out. It’s been almost a year since “How to dismantle an atomic bomb” was released. I tried to like it – even convinced myself that I liked it for a while – but the truth is – I believe that it’s one of u2’s weakest albums. There are a few songs on HTDAAB that I love – a few riffs that are classic u2, but overall, well – let’s just say I think you can do a lot better.
    A band that has been around for as long as U2 is entitled to one or two sub-standard albums, but I fear that this is becoming almost a pattern. Like U2 has lost their musical fire. It all started when Zooropa was released. Honestly, I have listened to that album less than any other U2 albums. It just didn’t do it for me. Granted, it followed up arguably the best U2 albums (Achtung Baby), but still…you could have done better.
    After Zooropa, U2 released Pop. The concepts in that album were great! Using the Playboy mansion as a metaphor for heaven! Pure genius! But the album on a whole was, well, boring. That was two less than average albums in a row!
    Over the next few years, something wonderful happened. U2 not only released a couple best of / B sides albums, but also one hell of a great album – All that you can’t leave behind (I am listening to that album right now). I rejoiced when ATYCLB was released. It showed that U2 had not lost it’s fire – that you were just as good as ever! So, when HTDAAB was released, I rushed out to buy it.
    Seriously, while U2 had one great album in the last ten years, the majority of the albums have been pretty dull. So, I guess this is where I ask you – is it time that U2 retires? You’ve made a lot of money, so you don’t need to make any more albums in a fiscal sense. And if you stop making albums and touring, that will leave more time to your social justice causes. If you do decide to make more albums, I will still buy them. I’m a loyal fan and also an optimist. Maybe this letter (if you actually see this letter) will inspire you to do better on the next album, I don’t know. I just know that – as it stands now – I believe you’ve lost your fire.

  • Berbatti’s Pan – then and now

    My first experience with Berbatti’s Pan was maybe five years ago. I won tickets to a show (featuring the now late Eliot Smith), and couldn’t find anyone to go with me. It creaped me out that I would have to go by myself – I had never been to a 21 and over venue. I chickened out at the door, and walked away – thus blowing my chance to see probably one great show.
    A year or two later, my now favorite band, Over the Rhine, was playing at Berbatti’s. I decided to throw caution to the wind, and went for it. It was everything I expected it to be, smoky and dirty and full of drunkards. But the music made up for all of that.
    Over the past four years, I’ve visited Berbatti’s for several different shows. Some of them rocked, some of them did not – but the venue itself has become my favorite in the city. It’s not as dirty as it first appeared, and they recently changed to non-smoking. As for the drunkenness, well, I’m less critical about it – and most people are there to hear the music anyways.
    So, the other night I went to Berbatti’s for the first time in over a year. I had heard they remodeled, and I was kind of unsure of what to expect. Rumor was that it went all ages – would I still be able to get a rum and coke? Would they take away the artwork on the walls? And what about that huge and beautiful main bar of theirs? Would they go for something more conventional and modern? Well, Berbatti’s has not changed a bit. OK, ok, they have changed a few things. I think they knocked out a wall in back, and moved the sound board back. They replaced all the booths with movie theater style chairs – and they moved the second bar where the bands used to stash their equipment. They changed the schedule – concerts start earlier, and they have a DJ spin afterwards. I don’t like this edition – it rushes the musicians off the stage too quickly. All in all, no major changes. In fact, one change they should have made was to redo that floor. It’s all ripped up – showing it’s age with less than a passing grace. And the men’s room is still filthy.
    But, what can you expect? It’s a bar (only some shows are all ages). People go there to listen to music, maybe dance, and maybe have a drink. As long as the music is good, I really don’t care.