Your Civic Duty: Record Store Day

I think this might my longest radio silence since I began this blog almost 2 years ago. (Holy crap! Has it been so long?) Suffice it to say that spring has sprung and the day job is positively humming away like a steam locomotive heading straight for a bridge that is no longer there (read: no end in sight and picking up speed). Add to this the bitter reality that my brain has simply not been cooperating enough lately to even contemplate putting my fingers to a keyboard outside of work and you have the complete recipe for a silent blog. (I know, excuses, excuses! Whine, whine, bitch, bitch, etc.) But what, you may ask, could possibly be so important that I would attempt to overcome my stifling writer’s block on a sunny spring day after a long day at work. Only one thing my friends: your civic responsibility.

Yes, just like it is the duty of every American citizen to vote, to help wayward turtles across the street to safety, and to wave at your friendly neighborhood crossing guard, you have the duty to support your local, independent small business owners in mid-April. And not that creepy hole in the wall storefront that sells crabs. No, no, I mean the ones who will sell you that new Vampire Weekend album you’ve been jonesing for. That’s right, folks! Saturday, April 20th is Record Store Day (my very favorite secular holiday!)

If the next question bursting from your lips is, “What the heck is Record Store Day?” then obviously you’ve had your head stuck in the clouds. Well never fear, my dear deprived readers, for all will be explained with my handy-dandy Record Store Day fact sheet:

What: Record Store Day
When: Saturday, April 20th (all 4/20 jokes unspoken)
Time: All day
Where: Participating venues in every state and most cities. Click here to check your local listing.

But the most important question is why? In the modern world, music is available everywhere, sometimes even for free. All you have to do is grab a computer or IOS device, punch a few keys, and music is practically thrown at you. No muss, no fuss, no dragging your butt down the street, no shirt or shoes required. But also… no soul, no joy, no heart. Some of my happiest memories are roaming the miles of aisles in record stores; walls crammed with posters; teenagers running loose in the stacks; brushing elbows with both young and old, black and white, hipster and redneck. And there is no substitute for riffling through piles of albums, finding that one that you absolutely HAVE to have, plunking your money down on the counter, and rushing home to listen to it before your heart rate returns to normal. It is an experience that fewer and fewer people are having these days and–in my opinion–that is just downright tragic.

Heed my warning! Don’t wait! Make the pilgrimage to your local record store before it is too late. Grab that album you’ve been meaning to pick up, peal back the plastic, pop the disc into the nearest player, and savor your musical good fortune while you still can. As a bonus, you’ll also be helping support a local small business owner. Your local chamber of commerce will thank you for doing your part to keep the economy alive. It is your duty as a citizen of [insert country name here]. Oh come on, you know you want to! All the cool kids are doing it!

And to help you get your brains in gear (and mine), here’s just a few of the bands that I intend to search for this weekend. Enjoy!

TRAILS AND WAYS

Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
[Technically this one is a remix, but it is brilliant, so listen to it anyway!]

Tinted Windows

The Flaming Lips

Tegan and Sara

2012 Closeout

It has been a very crazy, stressful, happy, sentimental, geeky, tear-filled, music-crammed year. For many reasons, 2012 really put me through the ringer and for much of the year I was more distracted from this blog than I care to admit. A lot of good and bad things happened this year. Looking back now on the last twelve months, all I can say is that I’m one year older, my joints are a little stiffer, perhaps I am a tiny bit wiser, and I am definitely a tad more cynical. But I’m still here. I’m lucky enough to have a day job that pays the bills, a loving husband who puts up with my moods, dear friends, faithful family, and snuggly cats. And I try to appreciate all of it, and give them their much-deserved credit for keeping me sane.

But enough introspection. The year is coming to an end and I’ve got a backlog a mile long! So let’s cut to the chase and fill you in on a few of the amazing albums I’ve been obsessed with this year, but have been just too darn busy to write about until now. Put on your thinking caps and open up your ears, my dear readers, because we’re going to hit them fast and hard and it is definitely going to get loud.

First on my list is an intriguing little synthpop trio from Brooklyn called Class Actress. This group was brand new to me, but turned out to be oh-so-appealing. Elizabeth Harper’s voice and lyrics bring to mind classic pop princesses like Tiffany and Blümchen (two of the artists on my list of guilty pleasures), but she manages to ditch the teeny bopper innocence and bubblegum in favor of sexy lyrics and a jaded world view. And when paired with Mark Richardson and Scott Rosenthal’s synthpop production, it is not surprising that their 2011 album, Rapproacher, is nothing short of top-notch. The bouncy beats, techno flourishes, and New Wave influences actually mask a lyrical content that is much heavier than is apparent at first. Much of the album is spent dealing with the problems of an almost obsessive love affair that is obviously coming to an end. Starting out strong with the upbeat and endearing Keep You, by the end of the track list all you are left with is the sad, echoing, and introspective plea of Let Me In. There is definitely more than meets the eye here, and the result is an album that is hard to put down for long.

Weekend by Class Actress

Next up is the emo-tinged pop-punk outfit known as Motion City Soundtrack. I loved 2005’s Commit This to Memory, but I kinda lost track of these guys until 2012’s release, Go. (Oops!) However, I was downright thrilled when I heard they were releasing a new album this year. Their first single, True Romance, is positively stellar and perfectly evokes all the things I loved about them years ago, yet somehow manages to feel amazingly fresh at the same time. The most likely culprit in this is Justin Pierre’s lyrics, which have changed a lot over the years. What happens to the neurotic emo singer that grows up? They start talking about the mid-life crisis that 30-year-olds across the country seem to be experiencing these days, that’s what. This is probably why I keep coming back to this album. Nostalgia pulled me in, but the way it speaks to my own experiences as an unwilling adult is what keeps me listening. As a whole, the album is a little unbalanced, starting strong but getting darker and more depressing as the track list progresses. The opening songs of Circles and Wires and True Romance start the album out on a high note. But when you hit the contemplative Everyone Will Die at track 5, you start to realize that this is a different kind of album than they would have released eight years ago. And it only gets darker from there, with the second to last song, Happy Anniversary, which is a rather chilling account of a man who believes he is dying. Pretty heavy stuff, I must say, and the mood only partially recovers in the closing track entitled Floating Down the River. Surprisingly, this all feels even more introspective than their previous work and throughout the album there is a keen awareness of the passage of time and the changes caused by it. However, despite the slightly depressing finish, there is some major potential here, which renews my faith in the viability of the post-punk rock alternative genre.

Timelines by Motion City Soundtrack

Moving away from the heavier (read: soul-crushing) stuff, we now come to the amazing riot girl rock of Wild Flag. This indie rock supergroup (if there really is such a thing) is made up of former members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, and The Minders. The list of members would be familiar to many a hipster, I’m sure, but I found this straight up rock ‘n’ roll band through NPR’s All Songs Considered–confirming that I still like new music, while simultaneously publicizing my advanced age (listening to cassette tapes when dinosaurs roamed the Earth). Rejecting all traces of bubblegum, Wild Flag’s 2011 eponymous album is nothing short of indie rock bliss with a hard-rocking edge that avoids sounding overly heavy or dirty. Devoid of all the usual synthpop and electronica influences I so often gravitate towards, they feel like a real successor to Siouxie Sioux and the Banshees. Tough and intelligent, empowered and full of bravado, with just a touch of vulnerability, the result is downright brilliant. The album is filled with strong guitars, pounding drums, good bass lines, and the clever use of a Hammond organ that completely sidesteps being cheesy. And on some of the songs you can hear that they are just itching to be a jam band, which I’m willing to bet must be the case with their live performances. Clocking in at only 41 minutes, my only real complaint about this album is that it is always over too soon.

Black Tiles by Wild Flag

And last but not least, my absolute top album of 2012 is Master of My Make-Believe by the fantastic Santigold. This is a juggernaut of an album from start to finish. Well-balanced in both genre and mood, she ranges from boastful, arrogant, and tough as nails, to quiet, introspective, and understated. Throughout the track list there are touches of punk rock, synthpop, industrial, electronica, rock, rap, R&B, reggae, and a whole lot more. Hailing from Philadelphia with the title of A&R representative for the likes of Epic Records on her curriculum vitae, the unsinkable Santi White embraces all genres and bends them to her will. Everything, and I mean everything, is fair game. This is evident in every aspect of the album, from the music, to the lyrics, to the album cover, which features her in some of her many and varied guises, including an oily looking man in a suit lounging in a leather chair, two bikini-clad amazon gatekeepers flanking him, and a grinning country noblewoman posing in a massive portrait painting hanging in the background. She is everything and all. Not afraid to genre bend, she moves around and through them freely, both throughout the album and within each song. Displaying a talented voice, she is not afraid to push to the far reaches of her range, and her use of overdubbed vocals in the background is clever. And I have got to say that her collaboration with Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the opening track,Go!, is one of the more brilliant match-ups I’ve seen in a while. I truly adored her first album, and (if you couldn’t already tell) I can’t say enough good things about this second album. I love that she pushes the boundaries of my musical tastes and encourages me to get out of my rut, as all truly worth while artists should. I am anxiously waiting for her next project and just about ready to kick myself because I have not seen her live yet. So what are you waiting for? Hit play now!

The Keepers by Santigold

The Award for the Best Song in a TV Show…

Ok, I admit it. I’m taking things a bit easy this week with the blog. Last week’s post was massive compared to my usual inane chatterings on music. Between research, writing, and revision (lots of revision), I lost the lion’s share of a weekend. I shut myself away with my ear phones blaring 60’s music on repeat for hours. It was literally like I was back in grad school working on a major paper! This isn’t meant to sound whiny or anything. I worked really hard on my little treatise and I’m very proud of it. But I must say that it’s been a bit of a crazy week around here, what with major spring cleaning (long overdue, I can assure you), dead mice (and panic!), and today a freaking earthquake! So instead of another editorial on developing music trends or a casual walk down my musical memory lane, I thought I’d give you a little treat.

Placement of music in film is very important and a song can easily make or break a scene. I know I could write a term paper on the subject (and let’s face it folks, someday I probably will), but tonight I’m just going to give you one good example of a well placed song. Fans of the Cartoon Network show Symbionic Titan may already be familiar with this one, but how can you go wrong with a huge robot locked in battle with a towering alien monster set to Space Age Love Song by A Flock of Seagulls? Well in my opinion, you simply can’t. So enjoy!

And because I love this song and just can’t resist, here’s the original music video from 1982! The hair is classic!

What is your favorite epic music scene from a movie or tv show? Is there a song that absolutely ruined a scene?

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?