In my ultimate tribute to holiday-fueled nostalgia, I spun Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album today. While not on the level of horrors that is the Star Wars Holiday Special, the Christmas album has its own set of charms. The only actual Star Wars voice talent that appears on the record is Anthony Daniels as C3PO. R2-D2 and Chewbacca bleep and blip and garble their way through their respective bit parts. Poor Anthony Daniels. The songs, Star Wars fouls notwithstanding, are rather enjoyable revisionist Christmas ditties, the most memorable being “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)” and the title track “Christmas in the Stars.” There’s also the child-chorus atrocity “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas” featuring the first recorded appearance of Jon Bon Jovi (credited as John Bongiovi, his birth name) and the bizarre refashioning of Twas the Night Before Christmas. Everyone has their own favorites, I suppose.
Released in 1980 and produced by Meco Monardo (the genius behind the Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk), Christmas in the Stars was planned to be the first in a string of yearly Star Wars holiday records. Which if you’d heard the record is pretty inconceivable. Kinda seems like they tapped whatever creative potential there may have been with this first one… which, truth be told, is very, very little. The follow-ups never happened because a lawsuit shut down the RSO label before another could be released. What a shame.
I’m not even going to bother detailing the logistical nightmares created by the Star Wars universe celebrating Christmas. It’s more fun to just go along with it… unless of course you hate Star Wars and if you hate Star Wars you might as well hate Christmas too, ya grinch.
No recent Internet time suck has sucked more time than Turntable.fm. And by sucked I mean consumed my idle and active click time. The beauty of the website/community is that it can provide a constant soundtrack to your day in the micro-genre of your choosing. At work. At home. Really whenever you’re at a computer (or soon an iPhone and iPad). You can be a zombie and just absorb the tunes or participate by chatting about music or stepping up to the decks to spin your own favorite tracks. (more…)
As I browsed through a few hundred songs in a file of rare 80’s tracks I downloaded this week (courtesy of a guy on Pirate Bay that posts thousands of rare 80’s cuts) I came across the song “This is the Shirt.” Now, the name of the song itself begs a listen. This Is the Shirt.
“This is the shirt that she wore when it was good, good, good.” (more…)
I’m up early on this muggy Wednesday morning waiting for my daughter to decide she’s ready for the day. Since my new rumble on turntables isn’t quite finished I’ll share some of the new music that’s piqued and old music that’s re-piqued my interest. These are the songs that’ll become my soundtrack for the next few months. Since I’m in the right kind of mood, I’ll call them Summer “Jams” for Oh-11. If you don’t get why I find that amusing, you might be someone that says the word “jam” sincerely. Maybe you still listen to Jock Jams.
Delta Spirit – Ode to Sunshine
Some might consider the sound produced by this Long Beach band grunge played by Bob Dylan if Bob Dylan liked to dabble in garbage-can percussion. Okay, that might be my very own assessment. But a quicky search of the Interwebs supports this theory. It also supported the theory that people like to compare anyone to Bob Dylan. In fact, there are so many Bob Dylan comparisons out there that the entire analogy has become watered-down apple juice. And nobody wants to drink watered–down apple juice. Yuck. However you compare it, Delta Spirit plays the soundtrack of any summer. Grilling? Delta Spirit. Drinking? Delta Spirit. Jarts? Delta Spirit. Horse Balls (read: Ladder Ball)? Delta Spirit. If Delta Spirit could just move into a backyard tent for the entire summer, I’d be cool with that. “People C’mon” stirs up every great party memory you’ve ever had and releases that euphoria directly into your brain. 2010’s follow-up History From Below broadened the band’s range and provided hope for more great things to come, but it couldn’t match Sunshine. Get both, but keep History From Below on the shelf for those winter months.
Availability on Vinyl: Limited
We/Or/Me – Sleeping City
We/Or/Me is Bahhaj Taherzadeh, a Chicago-based singer/songwriter who not entirely unlike me (though much more talented) found himself, after the arrival of fatherhood, in need of a re-acquaintance with the world. From these sleep-deprived sessions Bahhaj creates soaring, orchestral (if one man with “some occasional help” can be orchestral) ballads that demand your attention, like being slapped with a two-ton feather. Purchase We/Or/Me HERE here on CD or in your choice of digital formats. If you want a sample, listen to the epic “Tell Sarah” from the 5-song EP Ghostwriter from 2008. If you’re not hooked, you might be a little dead inside. Sit down with these in the dark; Bahhaj pulls you into the sadness and beauty of a night spent with nothing more than your regrettable thoughts to keep you company. Even the riotest summer needs a slow jam.
Availability on Vinyl: N/A
My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Shedding the impenetrable cloak of curious genre shifts worn on Evil Urges, Jim James and My Morning Jacket return to something closer to home. And by home I mean Z. And by Z I mean somewhere in the general vicinity of what we might have expected the follow to Z might have been if Evil Urges didn’t exist. Stripped down and laid back, but with a driving purpose — Jacket doesn’t pen no slacker jams. James still can’t shake the tendency to slip into lovelorn weepies or curio interludes like “Holdin on to Black Metal” but when Circuital hits, it bruises on cuts like the title track, “Movin’ Away” and the acoustic “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” My Morning Jacket is still the “it” indie band (and yes, maybe they are a little over-hyped) but even their missteps make for good listening and everyone always wants to talk about the new Jacket record. And by everyone, I mean that buddy of yours that always wants to tell you about the hot new indie records like he’s delivering a message from the gods.
I’ll go from one “it” band to another. Fleet Foxes are omnipresent. Or maybe that’s just because I can’t stop playing the damn album. Happiness Blues makes a strong case for closing the album of the year competition early in 2011. We won’t, but for the sake of hyperbole, let’s leave that on the table. Helplessness is accessible when it should be pretentious, danceable when it should be morose. Fleet Foxes doesn’t radiate awesomeness or coolness and they won’t earn you any street cred when you walk down Penn Ave. with your boombox blasting some folk rock 60’s-era groove like “Sim Sala Bim.” And don’t be surprised if your parents request a copy of the CD. Pitchfork probably said it best when Larry Fitzmaurice in their review of the album said “it’s familiar in the most pleasing way, lacking conceit or affectation.” The best music isn’t purely innovative. Perhaps the best music is derivative in the most innovative and earnest ways.
Since releasing this album Paramore has gone on to achieve a small measure of success. You know… a feature in Rolling Stone, a Grammy nomination, a tour opening for No Doubt, a platinum record and a headlining single for the soundtrack for the Twlight movie. Locally the Pittsburgh Penguins skated out to “crushcrushcrush” for a good measure of their 2009 championship season, earning Paramore a permanent locker in my Jock Jams Hall of Fame right next to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” I should feel anywhere between benign dislike and outright distaste for this band. In reality, after checking that damning “most played” list on iTunes, I found that I spin Hayley Williams and Co. as much as bands I openly claim to love, even among mixed company. Damn you, digital footprint. The most recent album may be a bland(ish) pre-manufactured corporate hit machine (two band members left late in 2010 claiming similar sentiments), but this debut album hits all the right inconsistencies to maintain the “punk” in their “poppy punk” genre label, trolling happily in the shadow of Jimmy Eat World. That a red vinyl edition of this record was just released (but now, apparently, sold out on their website) doesn’t hurt its status. I can spin that closet pleasure on the safety of my turntable, a contraption that doesn’t feel the need to remind me how many times I’ve played “Misery Business.”
As the hazy, humid evening gives way to debaucherous night so too must the playlist adjust accordingly. Herbie Hancock can no more be played at noon than Ode to Sunshine be played after midnight. When the long day of fraternizing forces its worshippers to the living rooms or lax patios and the tiki torches burn overtime to keep mosquitoes at bay… thus rings in the Herbie Hancock hour. His biggest mainstream hit, “Rockit,” has been put in a precarious situation: a monument of experimental sound sacrificed to the 80’s and the rigors of mass consumption. I throw around the phrase “it’ll change your life” with a kind of flippant hedonism, but Herbie Hancock quite literally changed people’s lives. Hancock worshiped modern technology — the synthesizer — at the sacred alter of hard bop. So we will acknowledge “Rockit,” but we will consider it anything but jazz. Instead we will spin Hancock’s fusion masterpiece Head Hunters, an album that is still fresh and funky and changing lives. It is everything and jazz. I rediscovered this album for the first time after a Six-Degrees of jazz binge: Art Blakey to Freddie Hubbard to Herbie Hancock to Herbie Hancock (or specifically Ugetsu to Hub-Tones to Maiden Voyage to Head Hunters). Critics of Hancock’s later synth-fury still malign anything that came after Blue Note, but don’t let that stop you from sampling the future sounds of 1971.
My final summer jam comes from another band shamelessly playing music your parents would love. Like Fleet Foxes, they do it without the wink-wink nudge-nudge of most retro bands. With “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” the album kicks off with a mid-tempo Stax or Motown B-Side straight out of Smokey’s vault and carries that momentum right through the infectious “Moneygrabber,” a song you’ll be singing for days after only one listen. Unfortunately (fortunately?) for all of us, “Moneygrabber” has begun appearing in everything from This Week in Baseball to Criminal Minds, hell bent on earworm global domination. Is it Indie Pop music without guitars? Is it Neo Soul? Does it matter? Spin this record in June before your friends tell you they “discovered” Fitz and his Tantrums on Grey’s Anatomy.
Kids today wouldn’t understand why we’d willingly listen to music laced with imperfections. The pops, the crackles, the static hiss when needle meets vinyl. Digital music is brushed free of all imperfection. Nothing but perfectly reproduced digital audio downloaded right to your iTunes library. The digital music revolution has done great things for remastering and other technical wizardry of which I’m probably grateful, but not particularly aware. But therein lies the greatest flaw in all those perfectly aligned zeros and ones: benign and unholy imperfection. Consider your favorite writers, authors that reach a balance between logical progression and unpredictable improvisation. The greatest novels, like the greatest jazz compositions follow logical and regular musical patterns that frame illogical solo improvisation. Consider the music of Coleman Hawkins or the inimitable Thelonious Monk. Consider Colson Whitehead. His novel Sag Harbor was, at its heart, a standard coming-of-age story, but the details of his
Just play it loud!! Okay?
protagonist’s experience leapt off the page in vibrant three-dimensional color and shape because life, like the protagonist’s experience, doesn’t rise steadily until reaching an ultimate and resolving denouement. Life is chaos, a series of regular routines flanking wild seat-of-your-pants improvisation. Digital music, while it satisfies our innate (but very contemporary) desire to be better, faster, newer — it contradicts the imperfection that makes us human. Vinyl records, in all their humility, awkwardness and frailty echo our own wanting souls. They are our siblings from another mother (or in this analogy another Thomas Edison). The response to a phonograph is visceral, primal perhaps, whereas we recognize with a certain about of sonic intellectualism why digital media sounds “better.” It sounds better because it sounds cleaner. It sounds better because it is more convenient and travels in the brains of thumbnail-sized iPods and doesn’t consume rooms with milk crates. It sounds better because it can be played in Dolby Digital 7.2 surround systems at excessively loud volumes without much distortion. But when you get right down to comparing the sound of vinyl against the sound of a compact disc (forget compressed audio) which sounds more real? That more accurately recalls a time and a place at a subconscious level? Which medium reproduces the sound that echoes life, that sometimes gets interrupted by a hairline imperfection, that skips and repeats and needs regular maintenance and attention? Without that maintenance and attention we slip into sporadic bouts of anxiety, depression and first world
malaise. I do not mean to denigrate digital media entirely; I only aim to point out that progress isn’t always a full step forward. More often than not progress proves to be a lateral sashay. There’s a place in our collections for both because we carry out our first world modern lives in two worlds. In the so-called real world we are increasingly forced to be more timely, more exact, more beautiful than is our nature. We also need our media scrubbed clean and portable. People need alarm clocks loud enough to emit sonic boom (yes, this really exists because Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me told me so) just to get out of bed in the morning because our tendencies are toward sleeping in, being late, missing that 8:00am conference call. Our tendencies are toward imperfection. We float through this world projecting, feigning perfection; it is only at home, with our turntables and sweatpants that we can be honest with ourselves and embrace the chaos.