Summer song

Isn’t this always the way? I don’t write an entry for weeks. Then I write one and the ideas start coming in a torrent.

So we recently got a new laptop after living off of a tiny slow netbook for over a year and a half. You can imagine how thrilled I am to have access to iTunes again. I have music at my beck and call and I’ve been ripping all the CDs I’ve picked up the last several months as fast as I can. Computers being what they are and the vagaries of technology, a bunch of the music we thought was stored on an external hard drive appears to have up and disappeared. Some files were downloaded to our dead laptop. Some files got corrupted. Either way, I’m spending a lot of my Saturday re-copying songs to our new computer. Not a horrible way to spend my weekend… but not a particularly stimulating one either.

That is not until I slip on my headphones and put on shuffle mode. And what should pop up? One of my favorite songs for summer. It’s been hot and humid here in Charm City the last week or so and summer feels like it is just around the corner (if not here already). Summer here is nothing compared to the ones I endured growing up in the desert. It is probably the one thing I do not miss about my hometown. I still get that sinking feeling when it starts to get warm here, despite the fact that I know that summer is very different here.

So what is my top pick for a summer song? Rill Rill by Sleigh Bells. Now this is one of those polarizing bands, if ever there was one. If you’ve heard them, you’ve probably already made up your mind about them. You either love them or you hate them. And there is really no room for in between. They combine the soft breathy voice of Alexis Krauss with the discordant, heavy, and oft-times industrial sounds of Derek E. Miller, who writes and produces their songs. Most of their songs are loud, sound-effect laden, full of samples and distortion, and they aren’t always easy to listen to. But they are different, I will give them that much. I can’t think of another band out there that sounds like them and has reached their level of penetration into the music industry. I personally think they are great. Thankfully, so does my husband.

Last summer, we picked up their album Treats. Afterwards, we drove around some of the prettier, woodsier areas of the city. I remember riding in the sunlight, windows down, talking and laughing with my husband. It was a good day. And since then, Rill Rill is associated with sunny summer days. And it makes sense to me. Unlike the other songs on the album, this song has a laid back quality to it. There is this lovely guitar sample (taken from Can You Get to That by Funkadelic) that sets the pace and is ever-present in the background. Krauss’s voice, layers over layers, whispers, croons, and breathes. The beat is slow and measured and the occasional distorted bass note sounds like thunder before an approaching monsoon storm.  It is a great song for summer. I especially love the lines:

“you are the river flow

and we can never know

we’re just the weathermen

you make the wind blow”

Makes me want to go for a drive with my husband…

Here’s a link to the video. I’ll warn you that it is nothing like what I’ve been talking about here. Apparently they took this slow, sweeter song and put in some slightly unsettling images. Nothing bad. Just be aware.

Do you have a favorite summer song?

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Selachophobia, coping mechanisms, and the Beatles

So I told you I’d be talking more about the Beatles on this blog. But before you go and groan about it, the context is probably going to surprise you. Because I’m going to start off by talking about sharks. Yes, you read that right. Sharks. I have a very distinct and perhaps acute phobia of them. Just writing the word is kinda creeping me out. But I’m going with this anyway.

Since I was probably around 10 years old or so, I’ve been having a problem. When I was little, I was fine. I loved to swim. I watched shark documentaries on tv with my younger sister. A lot of documentaries. She was like 4 and you know how little kids tend to find something they really like and run with it? Well, she ran with it. We had books, we had posters, we had t-shirts for goodness sake! And over time, it started to bother me. Mostly in the pool. I’m not really sure how it started or when it really became a problem. But I think I can trace my fear to two seemingly innocuous events in my childhood that took on grave significance later on. The first took place when I was probably about 4, my parents took me and my mother’s parents to Sea World in San Diego. All I remember of this experience is riding on my grandmother’s lap in her wheelchair for a little bit and walking through a long dark hallway that was covered in paintings of various shark faces. I remember looking at the faces and thinking how different they all were. I wasn’t afraid, I was curious. Then my grandfather pointed to a particularly toothy one and said something along the lines of , “I’d hate to meet him on a dark night.”

The second event is linked to the movie Flipper when I was probably about 8 years old. *sighs* Yes, the kiddie movie from the 1960s about that lovable dolphin. I know, I know. But it’s got a scene with some person in the water and sharks on their way to attack them. These were probably only moderately scary sharks. But I remember asking my mother if they could really hurt anyone and her response was, “They could probably take your foot off.” Hence why it took me years to be able to sleep with my feet uncovered. A big portion of my phobia deals with my feet, although I now know that they don’t usually go for the feet but rather the torso. But these two innocent comments turned out to have very long-ranging consequences in my life. It is probably one of the reasons I’m unsure about having children. They are so easy to mess up. (If you see this Mom, I love you.)

Now at days a quick walk down the blu ray aisle at the video store can give me enough fodder for an uncomfortable night of sleep. And watching anything on the Discovery channel in the summer becomes pretty hard. I don’t go swimming alone and generally avoid the deep end. Swimming in the ocean? Not even an option. And yes, I realize how silly this phobia is. Images can’t hurt you. And I grew up in the fricking desert! Nowhere near a shark or even a substantial aquarium. I know that the odds of me being attacked by a shark are less likely than me being hit on the head and killed with a falling coconut! It still freaks me out. I still have dreams where even a hint of water or the mere thought that a shark might come by will have me crying out in my sleep and violently trying to throw the blankets off.  It is a problem that I manage with varying degrees of success.

By now you’re probably scratching your head and thinking what the hell does this have to do with the Beatles? Well, I’m glad you asked.

About 3-4 years back, after I had moved to New England for grad school, my husband (probably tired of being rudely awakened by a freaked out wife) came up with a solution (well, a temporary one at least). He advised me that when images of sharks paraded before my closed eyes at night like a Powerpoint slide show at an aquatics convention, I should think of something completely opposite that doesn’t scare me and then focus on it. At the time he was playing some video game that involved flying a small airplane and this inspired me. If water and swimming were bad, then maybe flying was good? Well, being the weird music freak that I am, I immediately thought of Flying by the Beatles. Released in 1967 on their Magical Mystery Tour album, it was their only instrumental piece. It is quite short and rather cute. And I conveniently had already memorized the song (can’t think how that could have happened…). I had even seen the version on their movie of the same name as the album, complete with all these lovely psychedelic images of floating through clouds and over glaciers.  It was the perfect choice.

And so my thought experiment began. When I laid down at night and the usual slide show began, I quickly started playing that song in my head. Over time I had the whole thing planned out, just like a music video. It pivoted around the song, but also included images of a silly cartoon plane rolling down the runway (based on an old black and white Mickey Mouse cartoon). At a certain part in the song, the plane took off and then it was off into the friendly skies for me. This generally distracted me so much that I would drop off to sleep before I got back to sharks. It was wonderful and very effective. I even got to the point where I could go to bed without thinking of sharks at all.

Sadly, nothing lasts. Phobias are adaptable because the human brain is wily . I kinda doubt that people ever really get over them. The best most probably do is manage them. Over time I started to actually associate my thought experiment with sharks, thus neutralizing its soothing effects. But it was great while it lasted. It has been the most effective tool I’ve ever had. And it makes sense to me that my coping mechanism would involve music.

And now for your viewing enjoyment, a movie clip. Enjoy!

The award for creative music video, Part 1

There are a ton of music videos floating out there in the media. And most of them follow pretty basic lines. Band plays, someone sings or raps, pretty girls dance, and so on and so forth. There are entire genres and experimentation is not dead by any means. But sometimes it seems like if you’ve seen one video, you’ve seen them all.

This is not the case with a band like the Black Keys. Really liking these guys lately. Great voice, high production values, and bending genres while playing on the nostalgia of the 1960s and rhythm and blues. Also, they have really amusing videos! Their video for Howlin’ For You is one of the most creative videos I’ve seen in a while. The entire video is presented as a movie trailer, with famous actors popping up left and right–Shaun White, Tricia Helfer, Corbin Bernsen, Sean Patrick Flanery, among others. The whole presentation smacks of Quentin Tarantino and the Kill Bill movies, although he isn’t actually involved. There’s sex, violence, explosions, and a healthy dose of cheese. The song is mainly background for dialogue and fight scenes and is constantly being interrupted. The band doesn’t even show up until near the end and never plays a note. It wins my award for most creative video.

If you haven’t seen this yet, here’s your chance!

Eating Crow: Or How I Learned to Love the Cover Song

Okay, I have a confession to make… when I was a teenager, I hated cover songs. Truly and passionately. On principle. In my view, cover songs were simple counterfeits that could never compare to the original intent, feeling, or talent of the artist who created them. End of story. I was young and idealistic, I know. This was probably some of that music-snobbery i was accused of around the age of 16 or so. I persisted in this notion for several years and the good intentions of several well-meant gifts went unappreciated (although to be honest that elevator Muzak album of Beatles covers truly was horrid).

But I finally did come around… eventually. Although in truth it was not because I became older and wiser and finally gave cover songs a chance. No, it was the realization that several songs I adored were actually *gasp* covers themselves. The examples started to pile up and soon I could no longer stand by my fervent ideology. I embraced the cover song and discovered a whole new world of musical delights.

Which brings me to today’s little presentation. A case study (if you will) of Lovesong by The Cure. Originally released in 1989 on their album entitled Disintegration, this is a perfect example of British New Wave at it’s finest. Dark and melancholy, with just the right amount of pop sensibility to make it palatable to a main-stream audience. There is a bit of epic about it as well, bringing to mind images of star-crossed lovers vowing to love each other despite that world war or deadly plague or angry father. The video, however,  has the band moping around in the depths of some cave. Somehow doesn’t do the song justice. But for reference’s sake, here you go:

This is the original and by my 16 year-old ideology, it should be my favorite version, right?

Wrong. My favorite cover of Lovesong was performed by 311 for the 50 First Dates soundtrack in 2004. Taking the song in a different direction, they infuse it with a bouncy, almost reggae quality and add a slight echo to the vocals. It is slower than the original version and sweeter. It becomes a song of devotion, conjuring up images of crowded dance-floors that are suddenly empty when the eyes of two people meant to be together meet across a room. This even happens in the video!

I love this version, not just because it is beautifully performed and masterfully produced. Not just because Nick Sexton is hot as hell in the video. But because it was the first song I danced to with my husband at our wedding. (I’m biased. So shoot me.)

There are many, many, many covers of this song. And I’m sure they are all valid and vastly different. But I recently came across another version worthy of mention. Covered by British songstress Adele earlier this year, she brings a sultry and intimate feel to the song. With understated accompaniment and an amazing voice that ranges from softly crooning to belting out at the top of her lungs, she takes a familiar song and transforms it. It has a seriousness that the other two versions lack.

Songs like Lovesong ( and its many incarnations) show that a song can morph and come to possess a range far beyond their creator’s original intent. They can certainly  sway the certainty of a serious teenager standing by a silly conviction. Or they would have if they’d been around when I was 16…

Do you have a favorite cover song?

Geek Music

Lately I’ve been thinking about the nexus between music and geeks. Geek culture has become so pervasive the last several years that it was inevitable that the two would meet at some point. One of the best examples of music meets geek is 8-bit video game music. Here in Charm City we have the band Rare Candy. Taking their name from an item in the Pokemon video games, these four grown men rock out with some amazing electronic arrangements of old school games like Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Castlevania. One member even dresses up as Ash from Pokemon. I’ve seen them twice and they put on a great show. Here’s one of my favorites from them.

Another great 8-bit band is Anamanaguchi. Known as a “chiptune” punk band, they hail from New York and use a hacked NES and Game Boy as synthesizers to play their original scores. I found these guys through Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast and have since created a Pandora station for them. They are definitely worth checking out if you have a soft spot for video games from the 1980s.

But the pinnacle of geek music in my opinion is Daft Punk’s musical score for Tron: Legacy. It’s a beautiful soundtrack that ranges from sweeping symphonic soundscapes to the more traditional house music that Daft Punk is known for. Whether you liked the movie or not (and I know opinions are varied on this), the soundtrack is a must listen. Here is the song “End of Line”.

And to take it up a notch, there is Tron: Legacy Reconfigured. An entire album of remixes from the soundtrack by such famous techno artists as the Crystal Method, Moby, and Paul Oakenfold. It is the absolute height of geek and an amazing techno album. I honestly haven’t been able to stop listening to it this whole week.  Here’s the remixed version of “End of Line”.

What music do you geek out on?