Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Four Seasons in One Day" / Crowded House / The Very Best of Crowded House

A short, but really, really sweet little tune from Australia's Crowded House. You might remember them from such 80's songs as "Don't Dream It's Over" and "Something So Strong". I must say, in my case, that I'm not really a huge fan. Here I have to give credit to a couple of regular readers of this blog, d-rail and eric, who were on the Crowded House tip way back in high school. They are old-school, deep-cut "Woodface" type fans, and more power to 'em.

I have a great memory of this song, and it's the sole reason I purchased it on itunes. If there's any friend of mine who likes Crowded House more than Darrell or Eric, it's my buddy Stephen. In 2002, the mysterious Merk! and I went up to Chicago in the summer to visit the town with Stephen, a Chicago native. Being the fan he is, he wanted us to go see Neil Finn play at a small club in town. Of course, we tagged along.

Have you ever gone to see a show of a band or artist with whom you're not that familiar? It's a little stange sometimes, isn't it? I had fun there, drinking beer in the really great atmosphere of this intimate club, just digging some good mellow pop music, but not going crazy or anything like the diehards around me. Then, he played this song.

I distinctly remember the crowd going quiet in an instant, and this really beautiful white light pattern from a lit disco ball lazily twirling around the dark club (I really was only drinking beer, y'all). It's not often a song really resonates with you the first time you hear it, especially live, but I was really struck by the moment here. The best part of it all? At the instrumental break at 1:46, the entire audience began to sing it in perfect pitch and harmony, and for goodness sakes they divided up the parts! One group sang the instumental melody and the other sang the rhythm! That particular moment was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had at a show.

Some other fun parts of this song - right after the aforementioned instrumental break, Finn comes back in suddenly, almost as if he's too early (2:01). I also love how he establishes that classic melody right from the get go. Seventeen seconds in, you've got it all. I like the "Smiling as the shit comes down" line at :46, because it's so jarring and unexpected in the midst of a beautiful song like this. Always gets a smile from me. The harmonies in the chorus are great too, and of couse the English geek in me loves the "seasons / weather" metaphor which is carried throughout. And to top it off, the ending of the song's a little eerie, how it just trails off with only the vocals the last couple of seconds.

I found a more recent live version too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Sick Boys" / Social Distortion / Social Distortion

I'm guessing most everyone who may be reading this is familiar with Social Distortion. For a while there among a certain group of friends, they were, indeed, the greatest, coolest band in the world. I was never too crazy about them, but I've come to enjoy them more over the years. There's something to be appreciated about good, honest, no frills roots rock & roll.

Here's a good Social D story for you: In 1992, when they were on the "Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell" tour (their best album, in my novice opinion), a few of us went to see them at the Georgia Theatre. Did you know that not only tattooed rockabilly fans follow this band, but also large, violent, frightening skinheads? I didn't.

Anyway, there was a pit (the good kind, the kind that actually went in a circle and had guys standing in the center) and my buddy Trey started pushing and shoving with a HUGE skinhead. Seeing trouble ahead, I grabbed Trey from behind to stop him from fighting. Trouble was, I also pinned his arms against his sides. The skinhead measured his reach, set his feet and popped Trey with two quick punches which, thanks to me, he took fully undefended.

Cut to Trey leaning over the sink in the bathroom of the Theatre, me beside him apologizing profusely while he spits blood into the sink yelling, "THANKS A FUCKING LOT!".

Things smoothed over with more beer and a trip to The Grill, where we saw Mike Ness who was paying for his food at the same time we were. I told him, "Nice show", cause I'm cool like that, and he gave me the old head nod. He sure looks rad with all his tattoos and Dickies and his Les Paul, but he's really short. That was disappointing.

Oh, the song, you say? I believe "Sick Boys" is an overall nickname for the rockabilly dudes and their ilk. The Sick Boys apparently carry knives, get in fights, ride big motorbikes, have tattoos (really?), do their hair just right, drink with...other Sick Boys, and "Oh-way-Ohhh". Shit, what do you want from me? It's a Social Distortion song. We're not talking about virtuosity or complexity here. In fact, the chord progression you get in the first four seconds is literally what you get the whole...damn...song. No real chorus, no bridge, just 1-4-5. It is what it is, and sometimes that's just fine.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Galang" / M.I.A. / Arular

Yeah, I know, I'm the millionth lame white boy to get down with M.I.A.

So, sue me. I love this CD, and her new one's great too. I bought the frekkin' hype - all of it.

This is one of those CDs that I heard / read about everywhere back in 2005. Every now and then that will happen. I'll hear so much about a new artist or album that I'll finally say "Enough!" and just buy the damned thing to see what the fuss is. More often than not, I'm glad I did.

M.I.A, in my opinion, is the consummate artist of the late '00s. Her amalgam of hip-hop, house, drum & bass, Baile, electronica, and damn near anything else is a reflection of our increasingly globalized / ipod shuffled world. Not to mention she's a mashup herself : Born in London, raised in Sri Lanka and L.A. , she's got it all (not to mention....smokin' hot. That helps too).

This song was the first single off of her debut album, and it's a great one. There's much better stuff on the CD, though, if you're into this kind of thing.

Some of my favorite parts: overall, I like how the song starts with a simple beat, then as it goes on builds with layer upon layer of bloops, blips, backbeats and squeaks until it's as dense as an old Bomb Squad production. I especially love those electric squawks that come in right on the beat about :50 into the song which last more or less for its duration. It's cool how I can't tell what she's saying, either (I catch "London calling, speak the slang", but that's about it. Oh, and "Too late you dooown"). It's almost as if the vocal is really not intended to be heard, but is just another instrument in the whole cacophany. And my favorite part - when the song cuts for the briefest of moments at 2:29, then she comes back with that loud "Ya-Ya-Heeey" chant to finish the song. Awesome.

I'm sure that haters are gonna have a field day in the comments section here, so go for it. At least you can enjoy the video on a visceral level, though:

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"3rd of July" / The Jody Grind / Lefty's Deceiver

The Jody Grind was a local band from Athens that became popular in the late 80's / early 90's. They were really a showcase for the incredible talent of their lead singer, Kelly Hogan. Incidentally, Hogan put out a couple of solo records (also great) and eventually moved to Chicago. I found a pleasant surprise when I bought Neko Case's solo record last year and found Ms. Hogan contributing vocals on that record. Neko Case and Kelly Hogan singing together is an absolute embarrassment of riches for any CD. Here's a bonus for you - Case and Hogan performing "Star Witness", the best song off Neko Case's last CD. It's a crappy video done by a fan, but sure enough, that's Kelly Hogan there on stage left. (Damn, if you don't get chills when they harmonize on the chorus of this song @1:30ish, you suck at life.)

The Jody Grind was really my first foray into local music, I guess. As a senior in high school, I was aware that REM / B-52s / Pylon / Guadalcanal Diary were from my town (hell, if you grow up here, it's practically implanted into your DNA at some point), but never noticed much beyond that. One day, my buddy Jake and I went to an old club in downtown Athens called "The Downstairs" (where DT's Down Under is now) to see his guitar teacher play a set with his band (we went primarily because the Downstairs let in underage folks, actually).

Opening for his jazz group was The Jody Grind, in one of their first Athens performaces. When Kelly Hogan opened her mouth and filled up that small space, I had never heard anything like that in person. This song doesn't really do her justice. I became hooked after that and showed up to see them play whenever I could. The group specialized in barebones jazz, swing, period, country stuff, and seemed destined for big things.

Then, in 1993 (I might have the year wrong), their touring van had a wreck and killed the bassist and drummer. The Jody Grind was no more, but as mentioned earlier, at least Kelly Hogan carried on her career.

This song is from "Lefty's Deceiver", their second (and final) CD. As you can tell, it has that mellow shuffle / swing thing going, with the nice little fills from thier guitarist....ah, I can't remember his name. There are some nice images in here, one I ofen think about is at 1:25 (the start of the second verse) "Hand in hand we would have sat on the hood of my car / underneath the flash of flames, the rockets and the stars". That's good stuff, especially how she delivers it.

Speaking of delivery, you get a hint of her range when she goes to a higher key around 2:05 ("Needed you for all time"). I also like, as an English teacher, how the lyrics are in the future conditional ("We would have..."), 'cause if you didn't notice at the beginning, her man went back to his old lover. Sigh.

Check this song out and look up some Kelly Hogan solo stuff too. You won't be disappointed.