Soundtrack to My Life 12.28

•December 29, 2008 • Leave a Comment

So, still working out the kinks in the system.  I reset my iTunes play counts to zero on all songs to keep track of what I’d discussed.  And upon advisement and a nice break in monotony (and predictability) I’ll just put it on shuffle and go that way.  Also, I’ve thought about adjusting the “Car Belting Factor” to accomodate instrumental songs, as well as the “Rock Band Factor” for those songs with no vocals or what not.  Anyway, they’re both completely arbitrary systems I use to frame my discussion, so it’s not a big deal in the long run anyway.  But all changes will be noted.

Without further ado…

The Cure – In Between Days

Where You’ve Heard It:  Well, originally an 80s hit from iconic band, The Cure, this song has been covered most notably by Ben Folds.  Also it was part of the awesome soundtrack to the British comedy film “Starter For Ten” starring James McAvoy.  One of the more popular songs by The Cure (or at least to me, more recognizable), it tells the brief story of loss and regret and the frustrated longing of pleading for forgiveness and return.  No wonder The Cure are among the biggest influences of Emo bands…

RBF:  A lot of songs by The Cure feature more piano than guitar, so it’s difficult to transfer them to Rock Band, this being a notable exception.  Vocally, it’s challenging and strange, but seems like it’d be a fun song to sing.  Drums are challenging but with a fun pattern that shouldn’t seem old.  It’s a fast-paced song, so that helps, but the intermittent cymbal crashes would be fun, and the intro drum roll kicks a lot of ass.  The guitar is a lot of chord strumming, and more for rhythm as the piano/synth carries most of the melody, but there’s enough variation that it’s not all just mindless strumming.  The bass is solid throughout in the background, with a fair amount of variation as well.  It’s definitely something that SHOULD be on Rock Band, and I kind of have a hunch it will, as there are other songs I wouldn’t have expected from the same era that don’t have the same fun factor. RBF = 9

CBF: There’s something to Robert Smith’s vocal style that makes this a fun song to just rip into when nobody’s looking. I wouldn’t say he wails, because he’s still singing, but it’s close.  And that’s fun.  CBF = 8

GPF: I’m pretty late to the dance on a number of bands, for various reasons.  I’m often ironically distracted and then focus on bands I already listen to, rather than brancing out into a lot of new music.  Or new old music, as it usually turns out.  I’m just getting more into The Who, Bob Dylan, The Cure and a few others.  I didn’t mean to neglect them, I just never came into hearing their work that often or dismissed it as not as interesting as it is.  In any event, The Cure is a band that now that I’m getting into them more and more, I’m glad.  They bring a lot of emotion, and while some of the melancholy isn’t everyone’s taste, I dig it.  I’ll give it a GPF of 6 on that, since it may not be everyone’s first choice.

Overall:  I really like this song.  Probably my favorite by the Cure (though I must admit being unfamiliar with the majority of their library).  I recommend it to anyone who likes some good all-around rock music.

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Soundtrack to my Life 12.27

•December 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

This post is brought to you by Boulevard Wheat and Miller Light on special ($2 bottles and still not worth it … )

Let’s get right to it.  We’ll go through these songs like 2-3 at a time, alphabetically by title until I hit the end of my current 2600 item, 12.37 GB itunes library.  Buckle in, suckers.

Green Day – 80

Where You’ve Heard It: Well most likely…you may not have heard it.  It’s off Green Day’s pre-Dookie album Kerplunk (their second full album).  I have this album because in 8th grade I hit a big music kick where I was engrossed in finding new stuff that was actually old stuff.  Things that not everyone would have.  So that lead to my coming upon The Rentals (spun off of Weezer) and early Green Day, on top of a fair amount of random anything else.

From a production standpoint, this really isn’t that sharp of a song.  And honestly, I can’t say I have much of an emotional attachment to it, other than the fact that when I was in 8th grade, my friend Zach and I wanted to form a band and be beatniks, and we listened to a LOT of Weezer, and a LOT of Green Day.  He tried to introduce me to the Offspring and the  Pixies, though, to my discredit, it didn’t take.  Mea culpa.

RBF:  Reminder, this is the Rock Band Factor.  Anything by Green Day is perfect Rock Band fodder.  Solid guitar, maybe iffy vocals but doable, and Tre on the drums is a manic fuckin’ monster.  I can imagine the drum rolls on these songs.  Simple, but still with a sense of accomplishment when you get them.

CBF:  I must admit, when I hear music, I hear the instruments and the beat over anything lyrical, so perhaps basing my judgments of songs on their singability is unfair.  But it’s my blog, so tough.

The chorus is exceedingly catchy, matches well with the rest of the song, and fits Green Day’s style.  They aren’t singers.  They’re musicians.  But it’s still perfectly fine.  Again, I don’t know the words.  But if it’s in the car…and you get the tune of the song…you’re gonna at least hum it out.  So that gives it an arbitrary CBF of …let’s say 4.

GPF: There’s no need to feel guilty over liking Green Day.  In fact, if you DON’T have a lot of Green Day, you should feel bad about yourself and the track your life has taken.  Period.  So that unfortunately gives this song a poor GPF of 1.

Overall:  Most anyone who’s 23 or older will recognize the songs off Dookie.  “Basket Case”, “Welcome to Paradise”, and “Longview” are pretty solid alt-rock offerings no matter the year.  But to know things off Kerplunk or even Green Day’s earlier full release 1001 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours earns kudos from me.  You are the pop-punk elite, sir.  Enjoy it.  Otherwise you’re a poseur, and poseurs get moshed (liner note reference!).

Smashing Pumpkins – 7 Shades of Black

Where You’ve Heard It:  SP’s return album Zeitgeist.  I should mention that this being the second post in this series, it’s pretty remarkable that two of the songs are by two of the more influential bands as far as my musical tastes.  My adolescence can be summed up by Weezer, Green Day, the Smashing Pumpkins, and to an extent a little of Red Hot Chili Peppers.  So you’re in for a treat.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of information on this song.  While part of the return of Billy Corgan and the Pumpkins, it’s hard to capture the same genius that brought the world Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.  It just isn’t the same.  There’s a lot more of a guitar influence, a little more frantic pace.  Not so much the same wispy elements of older Pumpkins’ stuff.

RBF:  The drums are pretty killer throughout.  They thump through every measure, and the guitar plays off that in a lot of driving chords and a brief breakout solo.  Nothing too out of control, just a solid rock song.  Vocally, it’s Billy Corgan, so it’s a little here and a little there.  It’s Rock Band-able, and brings in an  RBF of 9.

CBF:  I need to hear this more often.  Sucks that some songs I don’t hear a lot or are kind of less-heralded I skip a lot of the time to get to the rest of the really good stuff.  This isn’t the easiest song to latch onto and sing along with.  It’s more engaging from an instrumental standpoint, as the guitar gets into a driving rumble, while the drums clatter along.  So let’s give this a CBF of 3, but a SteeringWheelDrumFactor (SWDF) of 7.

GPF: Aint no shame in the SP.  It’s not the best stuff in the world, and it pales compared to older Pumpkins work, but it’s still a solid song, so there’s nothing quirky or out of line with this one.  I give it a GPF of 2.

Overall:  This song is a rock-solid 6.5.  Nothing wrong with it, necessarily, but carrying the Smashing Pumpkins label, you expect more.   Compared with other stuff on the album, it’s not too different either, so it’s not going to standout.  It’s listenable, downloadable, even buyable, but it’s not going to crack your top 50 songs.

The Who – 5:15

Where You’ve Heard It:  Okay…I just got this song two days ago so I don’t have a backstory.  Lo Siento (second foreign language reference!)

RBF: It’s the Who.  Do you have to ask?  The guitar rolls through, very chord-tastic, with a few moments of soulful rock solo.  Even a hint of Southern Rock swagger.  Mostly, “5:15” uses a lot of piano and brass with some typically awesome drum-work to complement the rock opera vocals.  It’s about frustration of youth and how to fit in to society.  And it’s the Who.  So it rocks.

CBF:  It’s another that lends itself to a lot of rocking out other than vocally, but it’s catchy in spots.  I get distracted by Keith Moon on the drums, so it’s probably not going to be something I get into other than rhythmically.  But the chorus is still singable.  “Inside Outside, out of my brain”

GPF: Oh this is plenty good.  Maybe I should come up with another measurement besides the guilty pleasure factor, but maybe not.  For this one, I like it because the guitar is all over, the drums are by The Who, so they’re all over with a controlled chaos that I find exhilarating.  Note: I mark out for awesome drums.  Bottom line.  Plus when you hit the bridge, it’s kind of a sweetly soft lead in to more rocking.  There’s even a touch of 80’s saxophone awesomeness that you just can’t find anymore.  And I love that.  I want to be reincarnated as the sound of a saxophone from a 1980’s hit song.

Overall:  As usual, the Who weave multiple musical elements into their music, and the result is what would, in the hands of less skillful artists, be a mess of unnecessary noise.  And those drums.  God.  Yeah.

Soundtrack to my Life

•December 26, 2008 • 1 Comment

A new feature here on “Unsquare Dance” as I was inspired by Christmas travel and jamming to my iPod down the highway…to go through my songs…and explain why I have them.

(No, it really doesn’t serve much importance, other than to be fun)

So I’m going to try to go through, a few at a time, and plow through my song library.  Should be interesting.

Now, I’ve also thought up a scale of certain factors to feature, as well as looking at lyrics now and then, maybe even videos.  I don’t know what order I want to go in – perhaps alphabetical by title so as to randomize? – but we’ll see…

Here’s the first one as an example though.  Sing along if you know the words…

Cake – The Distance

Where you’ve heard it:  Well 1996 for starters.  I vaguely remember it being somewhere in the summer when I first saw the video on MTV (yeah, even in 1996 they still had videos … )  Oddly, at first, I didn’t like the song.  I guess I didn’t get it?  But the more I saw the video and heard the song, the more it grew on me.  Maybe it’s the quirky delivery of John McCrea, maybe it’s the melodica…but I’m pretty sure it’s the distinctive guitar riff.  This is classic alternative rock, and Cake is one of those bands I never think about how much I like them until each time I hear a song by them.  Then I think “Oh man…Cake is like, one of my favorite bands now that I think about it”.

The Distance, lyrically, is about perserverance of sorts.  But also a bit about missed connections.  The lyrics tell a sort of story about a race that has been long over, yet one lone driver will not give in.  She’s moved on, but he “still burns”.  Yet no matter how fast he may go, the race is over.  He just doesn’t realize it, and thus, he’s going the distance.

Rock Band Factor (RBF): Out of the many many songs that need to be put onto Rock Band, this is my first choice.  All essential elements are there: a good guitar part, a good bass part, good drums, good vocals.  Plus it’s recent enough to still be popular and recognizable, but old enough to have that “retro” feel that always provides a nice reaction upon discovery (Hey…Cake on Rock Band!)  This NEEDS to be on Rock Band, so it gets an RBF of 10.

Car Belting Factor (CBF): I don’t sing…for the good of all humanity.  But if I’m in my car, driving alone on a long trip, or if I’ve had a few beers and feeling good, maybe I’ll belt something out.  The Distance isn’t anything too crazy, and it’s really half-sung, half-rapped, so it’s pretty easy to get into…because it’s still fairly accessible in any setting, though, it gets a CBF of only 6.

Guilty Pleasure Factor (GPF): There are just some songs I have that either started as a joke that turned terribly wrong, resulting in my liking the music (Journey), or just something fun and quirky.  This song rocks, and it rocks in a legitimate way, rather than a self-deprecating or ironically humorous way, so it only gets a GPF of 4.

Overall: I mean, this song rocks.  Just face it.  It’s instantly recognizable, and if you get it in your head, it’s not even that annoying.

Let’s try another one…

Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’

Where You’ve Heard It: A little movie called “Top Gun” perhaps?  Or have you been to a wedding recently?  Otherwise, any oldies station is probably obligated to play this song at least once a day.

Silly me, I didn’t even realize until checking the youtube video that these two were white…they have that Rick Astley “white guy with black voice” thing going on.  I like this song because it’s dynamic and energetic.  It builds, it rises.  There’s passion in it in a “kick the chair out of the way” fashion.  Also…I mean it was on Top Gun…

RBF: Really couldn’t adapt this to Rock Band.  Nor should you…let’s move on.

CBF: It’s like these guys knew about my rating system when they wrote this song because it is ideal for car singing.  Or bar singing.  Or karaoke.  Or, yes, weddings.  If you’re going 70mph on I-70, your car don’t care if you hit the high note.  Just keep singing.  Plus, as an added fun feature, you can stumble through the second verse because I defy you to find anyone who knows it.

GPF: The high CBF lends itself to a high GPF because it’s a song that should be sung badly in some situations.  In the bar in Top Gun, for one.  Or, yes, weddings, which is derived from the aforementioned Top Gun scene.  About four years ago, I was the best man in a wedding to a couple who are both musically skilled and appreciative of musical skill.  So what better way to honor that than to get groomsmen and usher alike gathered in the middle of the floor singing off-key and jumbling lyrics?  It’s perfect.

We were so good at being so bad, the flower girl was laying on the ground covering her ears.

Perfect.

Overall: All odd references aside, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ” really holds up well for an oldie.  No matter what, it’s going to be good and it’s going to be powerful.  Also, it’s one of those songs that can’t really be covered because nobody will try to top it, and it doesn’t translate to a cover anyway.  Those Righteous Brothers were mighty clever…

Pax

•May 19, 2007 • 2 Comments

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They gave us a choice that day. Books or guns. It was that simple.

That’s how it appeared, at least. A few of the students thought it was a trick. A small group, led by Marcus DeShay, swore up and down that they’d heard something about a similar choice laid out before Benson Academy in the 1940’s, and the students who had chosen books were immediately expelled without recommendation for entry into other schools. Those who’d chosen the guns were the same men posing the question today. Books or guns?

In the past, the question held more impact. Countries were at war with each other and men all around volunteered their strength and their lives to the cause of their viewpoints (or their leader’s viewpoints).

We’d been without war for twenty years. I had only vague memories of my third birthday and the pops and whistles of gunfire and explosives in the distance near my childhood home. More vivid were the reminders of the peace that spread through the world shortly after the conflict died down. Pax Pangea they’d dubbed it on mediacasts, the perfect combination of classical historical terms and allusions to a connectedness of the world’s nations into one global mass, if not in land, in mindset.

While the open fighting had stopped throughout the world, the visualizations of warfare hadn’t. Arms stockpiles and military equipment remained visible along the interstates at military bases. Tanks arranged in a parking lot of sorts, warehouses full of missiles, ammunition and multiple types of weaponry dotted the landscape. And yet, the world rested, peaceful.

The term they’d applied in the 80’s was mutually assured destruction, and I suppose that was the effect in play as I entered Benson Academy. The utter hugeness of military mobilization on all sides created hesitation from world leaders which, while beneficial from a pacifist standpoint, did little for the psyche of the citizenry. Tensions were always as high as a trapeze-wire, ready for negotiations to tip too far one way and send the world tumbling into a maelstrom of gunfire – and without a safety net to break the eventual fall.

Rational people hardly ever left home, unless they knew exactly where they were going and how long it would take. Traffic congestion led to the impossibility of travel. Air travel became nearly impossible as well, unless you enjoyed day-long security checks. Nobody took any chances. Buses stopped running more than two lines a day, for fears of suicide bombers climbing aboard and putting the spark to the proverbial powder keg of world affairs. So imagine the thrill of spending a week of my youthful life to make my way to Benson Academy in upstate Virginia and being presented on the first day with a choice.

Books or guns? Guns or books?

I chose books. And it has made all the difference.

Project #1

•May 13, 2007 • Leave a Comment

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Aaaaand GO! See this post for details.

My New Project

•May 12, 2007 • Leave a Comment

In an effort to put more time and …er, effort…into writing, and in part to stir up some creativity and what-not, I have begun to undertake a new project (as the title suggests).

Here’s the plan for those playing at home (and feel free to do so, it’ll be interesting to get more people involved in this – if there’s anyone even reading this much less playing at home):

-go to Found Photos

-select a photo from their bajillion available

-write a short story based upon that photo, conjure up the story behind what is going on in the photo

That’s one of the things that drives this whole idea…I stopped and looked at these pictures and thought about who the people were and how the picture was taken. What are they thinking? Are they family? Friends? Newly acquainted? Is one person more invested in the other, or does one of them really not want to be there?
I think that is based on my view of literature and fiction and how both are effective. To me, a good story is driven by character and not plot. It’s fairly basic. The most intricate and devised plot not only tries to capture specific characters and hold them within it’s boundaries, but it constrains an author’s ability to develop wrinkles, surprises, and the unexpected conflict and fun that we get out of writing.
However, when you create rich, defined characters — well they create their own plot, and, more importantly, it’s more reliable because it’s based on Jim the lonely undertaker, or Gladys, the chatty operator, or Floyd, the butcher who likes to sing along with the Andrews Sisters. And the action comes from the characters acting within their world, naturally reacting in accordance with their individual outlooks and biases and warts and all.

So that’s why a project like this interests me. While the pictures show real people, in my mind, as I write about them, I create new people and let them develop their own world.

El Listo del Read-o

•May 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Well I chipped away at a couple of books on my reading list – dwindling said list from 130 to 127 long, give or take.  So, with an already lengthy and overwhelming lineup of books to get through, this week I took the only logical course of action in such a situation…and bought more books.

Here’s the rundown (in no particular order):

1.  Past Time by Jules Tygiel

Past Time explores “Baseball as History” and the impact the national pasttime has had on society from the first professional leagues in the late 19th century after the Civil War and through two World Wars.  Seems pretty interesting.

2. A Model World by Michael Chabon

This is one of two short story collections from Chabon, and the last book that he has available that I had yet to acquire.  Everything else of his is fabulous, and I suspect this will be no different.

3. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I started reading this after a suggestion from a co-worker who is a big Murakami fan.  So far, it carries two parallel plots, one in the form of official statements and interviews in an investigation in 1940s Japan.  Murakami has a pleasantly smooth style that comes across as eloquent yet very natural, and the primary character (a 15 year old who looks 17 running away from home and dubbing himself “Kafka”) displays a voice both slightly precocious yet aware of his increasing maturity.

4.  The 2007 O.Henry Prize Stories

This short story collection combines the best stories of the year, encompassing all topics and styles.  As a proponent of the short story as a more clear and apparent method of displaying literary skill, this is almost a must-have.

5.  The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

All of her stories published including “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” which I remember from a high school english class my junior year.  We never read the last quarter of the story, but instead were supposed to speculate on the ending on the basis of our expectations of what authors typically do with their plots.  Then we wrote that speculation; mine came complete with flawless dialect.