Tuesday, June 30

That's My Jam: Stop Standing Still

One of the things that I think that largely sets hip/hop and pop music apart from other genres these days is the way label owners and producers work to build "stables" of similar artists. For years if an group showed up on Def Jam, Grand Royal, or Bad Boy you sorta knew what you were getting into with them, and that association many times was enough to launch an artist further towards success than just being tied to whoever would sign them first.

Although certainly not a new idea (the Beach Boys, Beatles, and Led Zeppelin had them), the Vanity Label craze that sort of reappeared in the late 90's helped solidify (even if it was ultimately for a short while) clique genres -- enabling artists like Fred Durst to use his Flawless imprint to surround himself with artists like Staind and Puddle of Mudd -- ultimately stretching the lifespan of that whole awful strain of crap-rock through package tours and group promotions.

More frequently though, Vanity Labels withered and died on the vine as the "artist" in charge lost interest, and passed day-to-day operations on to underlings or the very same sort of record industry bottom-feeders that they had initially created the Vanity Labels to avoid being under the thumb of. As a result, many of the artists who thought they'd gotten a golden ticket to the Wonka Factory found themselves lost in a shuffle of under-promoted, over-produced albums on labels like Madonna's Maverick, Prince's Paisley Park, or 50 Cent's G-Unit.
There are obvious exceptions out there (Jay-Z, Dr. Dre), but it's almost like the circle has turned
again and being a "stable artist" is in many ways more of a albatross than a blessing these days.
Which is why I feel exceptionally lucky to have struck gold many times over with the artists who work with independent Florida label Bieler Bros. records. It's funny, because during the late dying days of the Hair/Pop Metal movement one of the bands I always felt was a bright spot was Miami's Saigon Kick -- so when I found out that a number of bands I really liked (Skindred, Nonpoint, Ankla) were currently being produced and managed by that groups former guitarist Jason Bieler it all sort of clicked into place.
All of which led me to take a flyer on an Australian Band called Karnivool, who I
had not heard of before until I got a message on the Bieler Bros. mailing list.
Sitting somewhere between melodic rock and prog, Karnivool immediately grabbed my attention. The playing was intricate, built on twisting, constantly shifting rhythms -- and yet the tunes were catchy as hell. The disc was sorta glued to my player for a while from overplaying -- which made me even more excited to find out that they were going to be the opening act for an all-Bieler Bros. artist package tour last year called The Great American Rampage.

But somewhere between the full-on thrash of Ankla, the aggression of Nonpoint, and the sheer fun that you get anytime Skindred takes over a stage anywhere, the band from Australia that I had been the most curious about somehow got lost in the shuffle.
Why?
Probably because although they recreated their songs faithfully and brought passion to the playing, they just sorta stood there.
Look -- It sucks to be the band on a big tour that no one really came
to hear, but it's an opportunity that you have to take advantage of.
You can't just go out there and treat it like a chore.
And in a lot of ways, Karnivool (at least on the night that I saw them) just went through the paces.

I'm no lover of forced jumping around, choreographed guitar antics, or showoff stick twirling -- but you've gotta look like you want to be there. You've got to get the energy that made the song worth writing and playing from the stage into the audience. And for whatever reason, that night in Orlando -- Karnivool didn't really deliver.

I can't even begin to tell you the number shows I've been to where the opening acts stole the spotlight from the headliners, and how being able to do that helped spark my interest in checking out their albums.

That's not to say that Karnivool doesn't rock -- but that in a lot of ways they have become an album band for me. They create great songs in the studio, but they're not so much fun live. Which when I think about it is a category I could put a lot of groups into.

Performing live to me is a premium ability. It's many times what makes good bands into personal favorites, because I love being on the floor when things get intense -- even when it's not in a rock setting. Erykah Badu live is, in my opinion -- so much more fun than her albums (and I love those discs), but even with the promise of wild visuals and performance surprises -- I'm not in a real hurry to see groups like The Gorillaz or Tool -- who I tend to appreciate more on disc.

Anyways, if you're looking for something a little deeper than the normal scream and growl, you could do a lot worse than checking out what Karnivool has to offer.
But like I said, try to do it with headphones instead of general admission tickets.

[Listening to:  Bloodsimple - "Death From Above" ]


Monday, June 29

The Holy Hand Grenade

At this point, my vote goes to Joe Jackson.

(Men's Room Wall, The Eclipse - 6/29/09)
So, who gets your nomination?

[Listening to: Erykah Badu - "Back in The Day (Puff)" ]


Monday, June 22

That's My Jam: Sure Thing, Gordo

One of the most hauntingly somber songs I know is Thelonious Monk's 'Round Midnight. But the strange thing is, whenever you hear performances Monk himself did of the song you'll notice that he tends to approach it with a slight bounce. I wouldn't say he makes it a happy tune by any means, but there's something in the rhythm he puts into it that makes it more like a brisk memory-filled walk down a moonlit road rather than a heartsad lament of a lover far away and the quarrels that separate you.

So as much as it's recognized as Monk's signature song and perhaps masterpiece, it's been the renditions of this song by others that have touched me the most. Consider the flavors that Miles Davis, Joe Pass, and Wes Montgomery added to it as an instrumental, or the unique character and emotion that Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dakota Staton, and a host of others brought to the lyrical version.
You know who really kills with this song? Mel Torme -- the Velvet Fog himself.
Perhaps it's because Monk was able in the original to make the melody so natural. To my way of thinking, 'Round Midnight isn't so much a musical line as it a conversation you have with yourself, or to a half interested bartender right before (or perhaps severely after) closing time -- something more naturally suited I think to singers than it is to many saxophone players.

And yet to sing or play it, you have to think so much outside of what you'd normally do, even in the open contexts of jazz. As such, it's become a study piece for students, a standard that groups and singers include to show their range. It happens to standards over the years -- they get so retreaded and played to death that players lose their love for them, or their connection with the emotions behind it.
Perhaps that's why even though it was written and originally envisioned as an
instrumental, I've always personally been more fond of the vocalized versions.
That's not to say that people don't mess it up left and right. That they try to make it more formal and organized than it was ever meant to be. It's a strange thing about Jazz songs where singers take melodies intended for other instruments and make them their own, they all too often try to sing them as if they were just a different kind of saxophone, guitar, or piano. They forget that they have the gift that all other players seek to find when they play, which is personality and emotion that's naturally built in to the tones they create.

Which is probably why, even with so many immortal names and admittedly greater versions associated with this song -- I still find myself drawn to this interpretation; recorded for an tribute album, yet rarely played anywhere as far as I can tell.

Sting himself can be a pain to deal with, and his late period albums have gotten increasingly lamer -- but the guy has a wonderful voice, and for my money seems to always get more mileage out of collaboration than he ever did coming up with new ways to stroke his own ego.
Which is a good thing -- because despite the grace he brings
to the melody, this one is (and should be) all about Andy.

[Listening to:  Wes Montgomery - "Four on Six" ]


Wednesday, June 17

Trou

Bra straps dig into shoulder blades, underwear rides up, shirts creep and bunch when you sit down for long periods of time. Body parts itch, earrings beg to be twirled, cell phones shift in your pockets. Adjusting our coverings has become as natural an instinct as wagging a tail to brush off insects or cleaning your own paws.

All that being said, coworker -- if you insist upon having to re-tuck in your business shirt, perhaps consider going somewhere slightly more private than your cubicle before undoing your pants and jamming your hands down in there during business hours!?
..Did not need to see that.

[Listening to:  Down - "Nothing in Return (Walk Away)" ]


Tuesday, June 16

Bullet With a Name

Talk to me, don't talk to me. Take from me. Put upon me. Give to Me. Covet. Measure me with numbers. Limit me with insecurity and doubt. Test me with distance. Put the food at the other end of the table, and then tie me to the chair. Put me in a place where no one lives, then connect me to the entire world 140 characters at a time. Lead me to international outrages, meaningless sports-related indignities, and video clips of flash mobs in MC Hammer pants. Lash me to the ground with debt and responsibility when I wash up on the shore. Expect me to conquer Blefuscu for you just because everyone hasn't seen the light of Little-Endianism yet.
I'll complain. I'll compartmentalize. I'll burn.
..But I will find a way.

[Listening to:  Motograter - "New Design" ]


Monday, June 15

That's My Jam: The Criss Quandary

There's a fairly memorable moment from Woodstock '94 where the Red Hot Chili Peppers came out on stage wearing silver-colored bodysuits with huge lightbulbs attached to their heads. The Chili Peppers were fairly well-known for wearing crazy outfits over the years (a big part of their early touring notoriety came from the fact that they would play shows wearing nothing but gym socks on their crotches), but this lightbulb suit show just also happened to be guitarist Dave Navarro's first public performance with the group. Navarro was noticeably annoyed by the outfits to the point where singer Anthony Kiedis actually began sort of taunt him by telling the crowd how much Navarro hated the suit.
Less than a year later, Navarro left the band.
The irony is that a huge part of Navarro's appeal is his image. He's a talented player -- but his larger fame has been built mostly around his looks. His whole shirtless/tattooed/white guitar thing is certainly nothing original, but it's become kind of his calling card over the years.

In other words, it's hard not to wonder if Navarro's main objection to wearing the lightbulb suits at Woodstock was more about him not being able to wear his own "costume" than any sort of specific discomfort or difficulty that the suit added to playing his instrument.
And yet, I'm not sure had I been in his place I wouldn't have reacted much differently.
As much as I love bands like Kiss and Slipknot and Parliament Funkadelic -- and as much fun as it is to step out of yourself and put on costumes, masks, and makeup (whether it be Halloween, a theater stage, or as part of a band's image), I don't really think I could last all that long in a costume band.
It looks fun and it certainly draws attention -- but in the end what does it really get you?
Shouldn't the music be able to speak for itself?
It's one of the weird things about music. If you're going to survive in the industry for any length of time you really can't take yourself too seriously -- but when you go the complete other way and make your look part of the joke, a part that has to be repeated over and over and over again you kinda open yourself up to being little more than a novelty act.
Everybody loves the Humpty Dance, but nobody really remembers Shock G.
Groups get away with it, especially when the music speaks louder than the antics. Kiss was always about the image, but they wouldn't have been anything more than a footnote in wacky musical history if people hadn't loved all those albums in the 70's.

The challenge then is to use the outlandish look to get peoples attention, but then rise above the novelty by giving them songs worth remembering, regardless if your costume is greasepaint and platform shoes or a giant clock hanging off a chain on your chest.
In other words, Slash doesn't really have to wear that top hat anymore.
He still does it from time to time -- but I'm actually more happy to see him without it, because the guy is a hell of a player and I think sometimes that gets lost because of the way that image has gotten co-opted.
All that being said -- how can you not love this?
Whether it be Alice Cooper's eye makeup, Devo's pyramid hats, Elton John's Donald Duck suit, or the way Lady Gaga continues to blatantly rip off Dale Bozzio -- it's always in some way been a part of the show.
So the question is to you -- who are some of your favorite/least
favorite costumed acts, and what is it that you like about them?

[Listening to:  Corrosion of Conformity - "Clean My Wounds" ]


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