Archive for the ‘Pop Music’ Category

Boy, Stupid Boy

March 5, 2009

It’s a lifetime’s decision, recovering the satellites.

Counting Crows

Recovering the Satellites

Dave and I have been playing this fun game where we rank all of a group’s albums based on our satisfaction with them.  You can check out ongoing results on his blog.  It is really part of our on going debate about the future of music and the role of the album going forward.  While ranking the various albums of bands that I like (and you will probably see more of those in the near future)  I started thinking about the “why” of my choices.  Why was August and Everything After a 95, and Boy a 75?    It is probably impossible to compare those two albums to one another, given stylistic differences and the passage of time, but I’m going to use these two debuts as the basis of my discussion.  First the basic stats:

Album  Year   Tracks  Billboard    Singles     Sales

AEA 1993    11             4              4                7x Platinum
Boy 1980    11            63             1                 Platinum

It’s apparent that one of these albums was a highly successful, break out debut, while the other was well received but didn’t set the world on fire.  I think it’s interesting that after 15 years (the point the Counting Crows have reached) the Crows have not reached the same height that U2 had by 1995 (their 15th year from Boy).  Now given that the two albums came out 13 years apart you wouldn’t exect them to be musically similar, but I can draw some comparisons that help my analysis.

First the number of singles is telling.  There are at least two more stand out tracks on August and Everything After that didn’t become singles.  I don’t think there are any other songs that would be particularly popular, though I do believe that The Electric Co. is a better song than the more well known I Will FollowOut of Control found some life when it was played as part of their big Dublin show that became a DVD.

Second, I think one of the main differences between the albums is refinement.  The Counting Crows seem much more cohesive and mature than U2.  After these albums U2 certainly grew and evolved a lot more than the Crows, which is evident in their later works.  But at these points one was certainly further along than the other.

Although I do enjoy Boy there are a number of tracks that I either skip when listening or just get through. On August and Everything After I love eveyr track, and never skip one to get to the next.  A “95” album has to be one I would never dream of skipping through.  Having seen both bands live on multiple occasions, I know I am way more excited to hear a lesser known song from the Counting Crows, like Ghost Train, than I am to hear A Day Without Me.

The last point I would like to make deals with something that is less about music and more about circumstance. It is a fact that I heard each of these albums for the first time at different points in my life. I wasn’t alive in 1980, and wasn’t aware of popular rock music in 1993, so I reached each album later on.  The Counting Crows were one of the bands that dominated my high school years, and carried that dominance on to the present.  My interest in U2 peaked during my undergraduate career and has waned in recent years.  I imagine I put more weight on my CC albums because they are a bigger part of my musical identity.

This has been my attempt to explain the thought process I use to determine an albums satisfaction rating.  Don’t forget to keep an eye on Dave’s blog for more of these, and feel free to join in the conversation.

Advertisements

Number 1 With A Bullet

February 25, 2009

You can’t rely on time, to change the way you feel, ’cause time it often loses track of who it’s go to heal.

Jill Barber

In Perfect Time

I’m tempted to print the entire lyrics to that Jill Barber song because I think it is a wonderfully written song.  Speaking of songs a little while ago I pointed out my friend Dave’s new blog, The Song Review, and challenged him to write a post about Bruce Cockburn. So he did.  He raised an interesting point in the first post the that blog when he mentioned that this is the “iTunes age.”  His point is that people can buy as many individual songs as they like without being forced to endure the “filler songs,” namely those that are there to make the album long and to justify the price.  People willingly pay $0.99 for Radiohead’s Paranoid Android but probably not their less rocking (though oddly interesting) Fitter Happier. Maybe tracks from Ok Computer aren’t the best examples, but you get the point. Actually if I was pressed I would say that Ok Computer is an example of why the album shouldn’t disappear as an art form. From time to time a grou puts out a record that is great from start to finish.  Some of the quality would be lost if you cherry picked the most popular songs while ignoring the less known tracks.

I’m sure it’s been debated elsewhere, but perhaps we are moving towards the true death of the album.  Although there is a lot of excitement in the coming of a new album, perhaps the music buyer of the future will only be interested in having the very best tracks from many artists, rather than an up and down album from their favourite band.  I really doubt that musicians will give up writing and recording entire albums of songs becuase it’s such a fun process. If the proliferation of independent music labels continues, along with the availability of quality recording equipment, I think we will in fact see more albums, with even more filler songs. The good news is, we can ignore them if we want.

Either way I love the concept behind Dave’s site, so get over there and read!

Here Comes The Helicopter

February 18, 2009

You’ve got to kick at the darkness’til it bleeds daylight.

Bruce Cockburn

Lovers In A Dangerous Time

Suns up, mhmm, looks ok, the world survives into another day, and I’m thinking ’bout eternity, some kind of ecstasy’s got a hold on me. This is one of those nights when a good song fills the air, and I rock back and forth on my couch.  Is there anything else quite like a musical compostion?  Sound can influence emotion in rich and significant ways.  Although at various points of history larger compositions have been very popular, symphonies and concept albums being ready examples, the song as a unit has generally been the preferred form of music for people through the generations.  I mention all this because my good friend Dave, who has often been mentioned on the blgo and podcast has launched a new site he calls, The Song Review. Basically he takes a song that he enjoys and dissects its musical and thematic content.  He has a great passion for music, and his site is the perfect outlet for that.

I have quoted so many Bruce Cockburn songs as a way of encouraging Dave to take some time and pick one of his songs to write about. I’d also recommend some Simon & Garfunkel, The Band, and of course The Alder Fork.

I’m Not The Only One

February 16, 2009

They are turning my head out.

Coldplay

Lovers In Japan

New podcast up tonight, this one is not the promised album review but an interesting use of the iTunes smart playlist function.  It also features music by The Mass Romantics because I love their stuff.The excitement of the mass influx of readers is over and things are pack to normal over here at The Alder Fork. It was a wild ride while it lasted.

Just to give you a quick rundown of the 5×7 playlist here it is:

Ebow the Letter – REM

Lovers In Japan – Coldplay

Captain – Dave Matthews Band

Please Stand Up – British Sea Power

Only Us – Peter Gabriel

Staring at the Sun – U2

Invisible Hands – Joseph Arthur

That is all for today on account of the podcast, give it a listen I guarantee you’ll like it!

Growing Up, Looking For A Place To Live

February 15, 2009

In your eyes, the light, the heat, in your eyes, I am complete.

Peter Gabriel

In Your Eyes

Before I break into today’s post I wanted to mention that I was watching some NBA All-Star action tonight and they had a band performing at one point.  The group had an MC along with their singer and all he really did was tell the crowd to put their hands up. It really seemed like a waste of time having him there since he didn’t really add anything to the performance.  He was pretty much there for the sake of being there.

So more great tape finds when I was out shopping in Guelph this weekend. I now have Peter Gabriel’s So and Dire Straits Brothers in Arms. The latter was apparently one of the first albums that was digitally recorded, because it was intended for the CD market. It’s a bit ironic that I own it on tape.

Peter Gabriel is one of my favourite songwriters.  He knows how to capture a feeling, an idea. a story, or a cause and manufacture that into an entertaining song.  In his early days with Genesis he was known for creating elaborate theatrical performances as part of the band’s stage show. This included a number of costume changes.  If you’ve caught any of his solo career tours then you know this hasn’t changed one bit. From the phone booth in Secret World to the giant bouncing orb in Up he continues to blur the line between theatre and rock concert.  I would recommend checking out either of his concert films (corresponding to the two toures lited above) or any of his albums. My personal favourites are So, Up, and the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ. In fact, this last album provides the listener with an ethereal sonic journey.

Unrealistic Comparisons

February 8, 2009

Love, love me do, you know I love you.

The Beatles

Love Me Do

I am a fan of history both old and new.  I have been rereading Peter Brown’s insider account of The Beatles, The Love You Make. For 400 or so pages Brown treats the reader to the fascinating story of the world’s biggest band.  It was published in 1983, so many of the events depicted were relatively fresh in his mind.  Although I would never compare any of my own accomplishments to those of The Beatles, especially in regards to song writing or popularity, I find the conception of Apple Corps to be somewhat similar to The Alder Fork.  Besides the obvious natural imagery in the name, the vision that Paul Mcartney expressed in at a press conference in New York City sounds a lot like my ideas about The Alder Fork.  He said, “It’s a controlled weirdness, a kind of Western communism. We want to help people but without doing it like a charity.”  While for the band this ended up being a way to avoid paying taxes on their fortune, and to spend money on wild schemes, it was a dream that still has merit. I lack the financial resources to give away money and tell people to “Go away and do it,” as Paul wanted.  I do hope, however, that The Alder Fork can contribute to helping people realize their dreams.

Before I start to sound like a pie-in-the-sky dreamer, my point is the one advantage of my “business” model has been low cost for realitively high output.  To some degree the impetus of success for The Alder Fork is the work of a community of people that is slowly growing around it. This will hopefully lead to something much bigger in a few months but I’m keeping that a secret. For now I am happy with how things are progressing on the new EP, the blog, the podcast, and a few other fun little projects I’m currently working on. I highly recommend checking out the book I mentioned above if you are at all interested in the back story of the most influential band of all time.

Life In Technicolor and Puppets, Also Jim Henson

February 6, 2009

Just because I’m losing, doesn’t mean I’m lost.

Coldplay

Lost!

I’m certain that there have been thousands of internet posts about Coldplay, including some on this very blog. I just wanted to say that their video for Life In Technicolor is pure genius.  I have some puppet related plans for the future, but nothing that will rival that. Although such a big band hardly needs any publicity from me, I am still going to embed the video here.  I love anything to do with puppets.

Puppetry has long been a part of human entertainment, and perhaps no one has ever been more famous for using puppets than Jim Henson and his muppet creations.  From Sesame Street to Fraggle Rock his imaginative creatures expanded the way we say our world. For a young boy with a big imagination he was a hero.  Short post today because all this talk of Jim Henson has made me sad. Enjoy the video!

They Say That Richard Cory Owns One Half of This Whole Town

February 3, 2009

I can hear the soft breathing of the girl that I love, as she lies here beside me, asleep with the night, her hair in a fine mist, floats on my pillow, reflecting the glow of the winter’s moonlight,

I’ve got to creep down the alleyway, fly down the highway, before they come to get me I’ll be gone, somewhere, they can’t find me.

Simon & Garfunkel

Somewhere They Can’t Find Me

Regular followers of The Alder Fork know that I tend to look backwards a lot, in the hopes of embracing the feeling of nostalgia, and resurrecting creative ideas that remain relevant.  In today’s post I am tackling one of my all time favourite albums (as mentioned on a recent podcast episode) Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 classic Sounds of Silence.  This was the group’s second album under that name, having previously released music as Tom and Jerry, and as solo artists.  It was the first album to feature tracks that were virtually all written by Paul Simon, as their previous LP featured a number of covers and traditional tunes.  At the time of the album’s release, the title track was already extremely popular as an overdubbed version of the acoustic original.  It later appeared in the film The Graduate several times.

I first listened to this album from front to back when I picked up a CD copy at a used music store in high school.  I took it along with me on a trip to Europe because I loved it so much.  To me the most interesting thing about Simon & Garfunkel in general is that in a time where rock & roll, psychedelic rock, and rebellious folk rock were popular, they were receiving widespread acclaim for songs that, while folky, touched on a wide variety of themes.  Sounds of Silence was certainly in the Bob Dylan tradition, but April Come She Will, I am a Rock, and Blessed were a little off kilter from a lot of other mid-sixties popular music.  Yet they fit in beautifully and found themselves playing to appreciative audiences across America, and at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival.

Musically, the album ventures in directions that had recently been pioneered by Bob Dylan in the folk genre. For their first effort, and the solo Paul Simon Songbook of 1965, the music arrangements were simple and centred on the acoustic guitar.  This album contains multiple instruments and sounds supporting the trademark vocal harmonies of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

The one track I will expand on is quoted at the start of this entry. Somewhere They Can’t Find Me began life as Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. the title track of the groups debut album.  I actually don’t enjoy that version very much, it is far too slow for my liking.  The reworked version on Sounds of Silence moves along at the speed you’d expect from a song about running away after committing a crime.  The story of a young man abandoning his love after robbing a liquor store is the type of vignette that Paul Simon excels at writing (see A Most Peculiar Man and Richard Cory for other examples on this album).  The opening riff, which seems isolated from the rest of song, reappears later on the album in Anji, an instrumental cover. Unlike other Simon and Garfunkel tracks this one relies less on vocal harmonies than rock & roll power. Again this is fitting given the theme of the song.  The contrast of this song with most of the others on the album is very noticeable.

Sounds of Silence is a classic album that has been critically acclaimed and widely loved.  Paul Simon’s songwriting had come into it’s own with his earlier work and would only get better over time.  The group was still climbing towards its musical peak, and would play some fantastic live shows in the next few years.  A couple of those are available on CD, and I’d recommend checking them out.

Not Near Enough

January 26, 2009

Praise the Lord above and sell, sell, sell

David Gray

Sell, Sell, Sell

New podcast is finally up!

In this episode I reveal 3 albums that I think people should listen to, because they probably haven’t.  I am also aware that people are having a hard time keeping up with my podcast schedule, so I am contemplating a change. I haven’t made a firm decision yet, but I will.

This week’s show features music by two artists.

First up is another Shameless Records act, Leisure Co.  They are mainly a side project for several West Coast musicians, and their tunes are infectious. You can find out more about them and get more of their music here.

The other group on this week’s show is Mujaji. A Canadian-American-British grou that seems to have specialized in creating licensed music for film and tv. Their electronic music is well crafted, catchy, and highly entertaining. Although they don’t really function as a group anymore they are stil worth checking out here.  There will be more music from the members of Mujaji in the future, stay tuned to The Alder Fork for that.

Short post today because of the podcast, back tomorrow with some usual content.

Tom Get Your Plane Ride On Time

January 13, 2009

You came to take us
all things go, all things go
to recreate us
all things grow, all things grow
we had our mindset
all things know, all things know
you had to find it
all things go, all things go

Sufjan Stevens

Chicago

Sometimes I find the most intriguing things when I’m out and about in this city. For example, today I picked up U2’s The Joshua Tree and Peter Gabriel’s Us on tape for $1 at a thrift store. It was such an unusual find, but since  my 1995 Camaro only has a tape deck I’m pretty excited.  In some ways I feel sorry for the poor cassette tape. It has been surpassed in quality and utility by the CD, and doesn’t have the vintage cache of vinyl.  No one is clamouring to bring back the tape.  Who wants to struggle with rewinding and fast forwarding for mediocre sound quality, even if you do get the fun of having  “A” and “B” sides? Apparently, tapes have been around since the 1960’s (something I just discovered today). Too bad they are almost obsolete.

I was in my mid-late teens when the ability to burn CDs became available to the average person. So I can remember when making mix tapes was a regular activity among my friends.  Once I was in university we were passing around homemade CDs.  On the surface the two concepts are identical, it’s really just putting random songs on a recording medium so they can be shared. The tape, however, presents one problem that you don’t have with CDs, the aforementioned two side phenomenon. A tape requires that you pick two songs to run into the end of the tape, which may or may not be finished when the recording stops.  The standard length of mixtapes created by me was 90 minutes, or 45 per side.  You can fit roughly 8-10 songs on each side, depending on the length of song.

Some people are keeping the mixtape alive. For example, the S.C.E.N.E. music festival in St. Catherines, Ontario has a mixtape/CD exchange as one of their events. I think it’s a very neat idea, and one that could find its way into The Mid-Summer Festival of Peace and Tranquility.

The point of all this is to create an Alder Fork Mixtape for your listening pleasure. I can’t physically give all my readers a tape, but I can make a list here and encourage you to make one yourself. You can get cassettes for $1 or less at a lot of stores.  I am limiting myself to 8 songs per side for a grand total of 16. I think it should have a theme, so I can leave the door open to make more in the future on other themes.  I am going to call the first one The Where in the World is…Mix.  All of the songs will involve geography in the title or in the theme of the song.

El Salvador – Athlete -great song about material success and Latin American adventures
Stand – REM – I dare you not to dance around for this one
Pacific Theme – Broken Social Scene – just like being in Polynesia, but with more guitar
Washington Square (live iTunes exclusive) – Counting Crows – picking one CC song with geography in it is almost impossible but I did it
Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young – obvious choice but I couldn’t say no
Grey Street – Dave Matthews Band – few songs speak to me like this one, almost like Grey Street is Bixby Cres.
405 – Death Cab for Cutie – North Americans spend a lot of time on the highway
Geographic Centre of Canada – The Wheat Pool – not only is it Canadian, it’s kind of about geography, perfect!
At the Hundredth Meridian – The Tragically Hip – arguably one of the best Canadian rock songs of all time
Africa – Toto – I’m allowed one wild, out-of-left-field pick
Chicago (To String Remix By Jongalloway) – Sufjan Stevens – a man who is trying to write albums about as many U.S. states as possible
Amsterdam – Coldplay – it’s not even about the things most people want from that city
The Only Living Boy in New York – Simon and Garfunkel – lovely song from a group that wrote a few about traveling around
Buffalo – Kathleen Edwards – no mixtape is complete without a newer song that I listen to 5 times a day
Mercy Street – Peter Gabriel – he uses a boat when he plays this live, that seems appropriate
Babylon II – David Gray – I wouldn’t know about him without this song, so I’ve included the reprise version from the album, the ideal song to wrap things up