Category Archives: Music
Hey, 2016. Can we talk? I’m not gonna lie to you (ding!), you’re starting to piss me off. First Bowie, then Phife, now bloody Prince? Really? Enough already. As others have already said:
Anyway, you probably don’t need me to tell you that Prince was great. He was arguably the greatest solo artist in the history of music. Not only was he a phenomenal songwriter, performer, guitar player, multi-instrumentalist and producer, you could make a reasonable argument that he was the best of his generation at all of those things.
For proof of the talent that seemingly oozed from every pore, you can make a better than average playlist of songs that he wrote (or, in the case of Stevie Nicks, inspired and elevated to another level) and gave away to other artists. Well, I did in fact make said playlist. Most artists would kill to have 10 songs this good, soulful and funky as their career top 10.
Maybe a few decades down the road, you’ll meet some youngster that doubts what a great musician Prince was. In you find yourself in this situation, show them these videos, especially the first one.
In typical Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame fashion, a bunch of older white guys have achieved the near impossible, turning a Beatles song into a complete bore. That is until Prince digs in around the 3:30 mark and absolutely blows the doors off the room with his solo. AND WHERE DOES HIS GUITAR GO AT THE END? Waiting for him in heaven is what I have to assume.
If that wasn’t amazing enough, he also managed to turn one of the most boring events of the years, The Super Bowl halftime show, into one of the most thrilling live performances anyone has ever seen. And he did it in howling wind and pouring rain, with live mics and guitars. Unbelievable.
And there’s this. Prince was so famously protective of his music and image that few if any of his songs or performance have made their way up on the YouTubes. He even tried to have this divine cover of Radiohead’s Creep removed, until Radiohead gently reminded everyone involved that this was, in fact, their song, and Prince didn’t have the power to have it removed. Watch the guitar playing in the last couple of minutes. We overuse the word amazing, I know, but I think it’s quite applicable here.
RIP to another one of the greats. I look forward to the new album from you (featuring Bowie, Lemmy, Phife and a slew of others) that will inevitably follow telling how funky and groovy the afterlife is.
Instead of a playlist, I actually have something better for you. Take a second to read that again. I said I have something better for you than one of my playlists. Mark this day on your calendar, because that’s a sentence that I won’t often write or say.
Today’s post is all about my newest musical obsession, Radiooooo. Consider it a music time machine. To put it in terms my hobbit co-host would understand, it makes you a musical Time Lord, giving you the ability to travel to just about any country, in any decade since the 1900s, and hear the music that people in that country were listening to at that time. It even lets you filter your selection by three categories: Slow, Fast, and Weird.
Quite frankly, I could spend days chasing down the rabbit hole. It’s crowd supported, so users can upload music to help expand the project database. The more obscure the country and time, the more enjoyable and addicting it is. So dive in. You can pick and choose, or use the site as a streaming radio service, whatever suits your needs.
You can thank me later.
Ok, so remember when I promised a new playlist every Friday, complete with insightful analysis of 10 or so of the better or more interesting tracks? Maybe that was a bit ambitious, but never let it be said that I completely welch on a promise, as I give to you a playlist from one of the greatest bands of the past 20 years, Sleater-Kinney. It’s 25 tracks of pure, 100% fried gold, rocking goodness.
Frankly, these awesome ladies deserve a few thousand worlds of thoughtful analysis and praise (seriously, have you heard how awesome Little Babies is? And You’re No Rock n’ Roll Fun? And basically every song on this list?), but it’s pushing midnight and I’ve got an early class to teach tomorrow. A man needs his beauty sleep, you know.
If you follow us on Facebook, you may be saying to yourself that this playlist looks familiar, and you would be absolutely correct. I shared this playlist a few weeks ago in the wake of David Bowie’s passing, so technically speaking this entry is a bit of a cheat, but quite frankly I like this collection of songs so much that I couldn’t resist sharing it again as part of this series without modification.
You can probably count on one hand the number of performers with the depth and breadth of career that David Bowie had. What struck me immediately when putting this list together was that two of the very best songs the man ever recorded were released mere days before his death at the age of 69. Can you think of many artists recording in the 1960s that produced such quality work so late in their life? I didn’t think so.
Here’s the playlist, with the tracks in rough chronological order to give you the best appreciation for Bowie’s development, transformations, and longevity.
Quite frankly it’s a stunning body of work. Here are a few of the personal highlights for me.
The Man Who Sold The World: Though it was later made famous by Nirvana’s performance during their MTV Unplugged set in 1993, I’ve always preferred the original. (And btw, the way people talk about Nirvana’s rendition, you would have thought it was a complete reimagining of the song. But it’s not too far of field from this take.) The song floats along over an eerie organ sounds played by Bowie himself, but the real star here though are the multiple layers of overdubbed, harmonic vocals that close the song out, sounding like a group of rather melodic ghosts haunting an abandoned old mansion.
Oh! You Pretty Things: Probably my personal favorite Bowie track and a definite high point of one of rock’s essential albums, Hunky Dory. Part ragtime, part The Beatle’s White Album-era album track, it’s quintessential early 70s Bowie: bleak, philosophical lyrics about the coming obsolesce of humanity contrasted masterfully with a jaunty, almost annoyingly catch piano and chorus. True genius.
Suffragette City: It’s been said Bowie could perform basically any style, and here is the definitive slice of raw, unbridled glam rock for the ages, propelled by one of the greatest guitar openings in history and a blazing piano riff. How this song failed to chart as a single is a mystery right up there with Stonehenge and The Bermuda Triangle.
White Light/White Heat: If there’s an artist beyond Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground that was born to perform this song, it’s Bowie. This version turns up the glam on the original while still capturing the underlying thrill and eventual darkness of its subject matter.
Young Americans: Perhaps only David Bowie had the instincts and talent to pull of the “British white guy goes Philadelphia soul” trick and do it quite so well. This is because Bowie didn’t simply try and ape the style from a studio in London. He went to Philadelphia to live and record, hiring and surrounding himself with local musicians and singers, including a then relatively unknown Luther Vandross, who would tour as part of Bowie’s backing band for the subsequent tour.
Sound and Vision: Most artists would trade the majority of their careers to have an album like Hunky Dory or The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust in their catalog. The fact that Bowie claims those and a work as stunning and creative as Low in the same decade is well nigh unbelievable and frankly seems a bit unfair. The first of three Bowie electric collaborations with Brian Eno as part of the “Berlin Trilogy,” the same sessions that would produce the iconic “Heroes”.
Modern Love: How many songs can claim to have Stevie Ray Vaughn and Nile Rodgers playing guitar on the same track? Despite the overabundance of firepower on guitar, it’s the bitching horn section that really makes this early 80s gem run at top speed.
I’m Afraid of Americans: This is an icy, sardonic slice of fuzzed-out electronic bliss about the homogenization of world culture under the onslaught of American consumerism. Another output of the fruitful Bowie-Eno partnership, it features a killer video featuring Trent Reznor that plays homage to Taxi Driver.
The Stars (Are Out Tonight): After nearly a decade away from recording and performing, Bowie returned with the shockingly good The Next Day. Does this song reach the giddy heights of his very best work? Of course not, but it’s vital and miles beyond what you have the right to expect from someone in their SIXTH decade of performing and recording.
Lazarus: If The Next Day was a wonderful, unexpected surprise, then Lazarus seems like a gift from the gods. The record, especially the title track, are achingly good, especially with the narrative of the record as Bowie’s planned farewell. The video for this song is haunting, as Bowie looks every bit the part of a dying man as he sings “Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.”
Enjoy the playlist and celebrate one of the few artists of our time that deserves the moniker “genius”.
When I was considering which musical act to kick off the Artist Essential playlist series, it didn’t take me long to settle on Radiohead. Not only are they one of my favorite bands of all time, their insistence on evolving as artists and refusal to cover the same ground twice make it unbelievably challenging to try and capture the essence of their sound in one playlist. The band that broke onto the scene in the early 90s with Creep bears little to no resemblance to the one that released The King of Limbs three years ago. To wit:
At 40 tracks long, this playlist reaches the upper limit I set for myself in the series rules, but even so it seems woefully lacking, with at least a dozen songs foundering in the wake that could have easily been included. Consider then that I wasn’t even able to consider one of their very best albums, In Rainbows, which is not found on Spotify, and you get an idea of the scope of the task.
Anyway, challenges aside, I’m more than pleased with the outcome here. Rather than bore you with a 5000 word piece that struggles to find 40 different ways to say “this song is awesome,” I’ve limited this post to write ups on 10 of the more interesting inclusions on the playlist.
Stop Whispering: Hands down the best song on Pablo Honey, which somehow has become much maligned due to the ubiquitous Creep. I’m here to remind you that it’s a heck of a fun record to sing along with in the car at the top of your lungs, which quite honestly you can’t say about many Radiohead albums.
Let Down: Let Down is my by no means the best song ever written, it’s not even the best song on OK Computer (that honor belongs to Lucky), but it most definitely IS the best song ever to listen to obsessively in the dark with a decent of studio monitoring headphones. This hot mess of a song, with dueling time signatures, complex layering, and overdubbed harmonies, reaches a thrilling, exhilarating, climatic release at the 3:40 mark, signaling one pop music’s absolute zeniths.
The Daily Mail/Fake Plastic Trees: Released nearly 20 years apart, these songs in their own way represent the blueprint that multiple imitators tried and mostly failed to replicate. On the surface it seems quite simple: a simple piano or guitar ballad that starts slowly, and steadily builds into heavier, messier track before fading. The trick is, instead of coming back to a louder, more “rock” finale like you expect, both tracks simply fade away. Much like the great jazz, these songs impress as much with the notes that aren’t played as as with the ones that are. Plus, they are just awesome.
Myxamatosis: Just your typical mix of a fuzz-drenched, un-danceable dance rhythm propelled by an almost criminally complex drum line, with lyrics about a pompous, lothario cat that may or may not be suffering from an obscure disease normally found in rabbits. How could it not be good?
Lotus Flower: The killer song from The King of Limbs that launched a million Thom Yorke/Beyonce mashup gifs with one video.
How to Disappear Completely: The best track from Kid A, one of the defining albums of the 2000s. Alienation, longing, loneliness and despair, and rolled into one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, regardless of genre. The guitars, string instruments, and ethereal electronic sounds that pan across the track create a soundscape unlike nothing else I’ve heard in modern pop music.
Polyethylene Pts. 1&2: Here’s the truly astounding (or infuriating, depending on your perspective) things about Radiohead: of the 40 songs on this playlist, 9 of them received no official release on a studio album, surfacing only as B-sides, bootlegs, or reissues, including this one. Had they wanted, Radiohead probably had enough The Bends/OK Computer songs that sounded enough the very best tracks from those stellar records to release at least two more records that “sounded” like Radiohead. This makes the decision to instead pivot to the sound of the brilliant Kid A instead only that much more astounding. For better or worse, depending upon your outlook, they would rarely return to the three guitar sound that defined their best easy work.
True Love Waits: Barring a miracle reworking or inclusion of True Love Waits on a future release, Radiohead will likely go down as the biggest act in modern recorded music history to withhold their arguably best pure song from a proper album release.
Motion Picture Soundtrack: Radiohead excel at absolutely killer album closing tracks, and this one from Kid A may be the best. Mournful organ and accordion sounds give way to angelic, sweeping harps and the soaring ondes martenot, as Thom Yorke sings of red wine, sleeping pills, cheap sex, and sad films, culminating with a promise to see you in the next life. Simultaneously thrilling, deeply sad, and soaked to the hilt in regret.
Feel free to comment and tell me how woefully wrong I am and/or which one of your favorites I left out. I’m not even finished with this post, and already I’m kicking myself for leaving Fog (Again) out of the mix.
Wait, what’s this? Actual blog content? Whoa!
Yes, I know it’s been a while, but this whole “job” thing puts a bit of a damper on my ability to consume and regurgitate pop culture is somewhat limited, but what are you going to do?
I still get an itch to write, however, and I hate seeing a potential writing space go unused, so I’m kicking off a new music playlist project this week, “Artist Essentials.” In the spirit of my yearly “Best of… mixtape” series, I’m going to put together what I feel is an essential introductory Spotify playlist for a variety of musical artists, and then provide an accompanying write up explaining/defending some of my selections. These are meant to serve as an introduction for somebody who is completely new to an artist, though I’ll try to go a little deeper than well-known hits to provide a true picture of what each act is all about.
Here are the rules:
- Playlists are limited to music that is available on Spotify, simply because that is my streaming service of choice and one that is fairly easy to share with those who aren’t paid subscribers.
- There won’t be a set length or number of songs, they will vary based on longevity and quality of the artist. I will, for my own sanity, cap playlists to forty songs maximum.
- I’m not limiting the series to artists that I actually like, but rather will try and tackle a verity of acts and genres in good faith, if only to challenge my own preconceptions and notions of taste and quality. I can’t promise that my writes ups will stay 100% objective in every instance, but I will do my best to put together a playlist that faithfully showcases what an act is “all about.”
- In support of item 3, I’ll take requests. There’s 52 weeks in a year, after all, and I’ll need the help to keep things fresh. Let’s be honest though, you can expect to see a healthy does of JLo favorites along the way. The first one is all about Radiohead after all, and it is absolutely top shelf, if I do say so myself.
- Playlists and write-ups will be released into the world every Friday, though I reserve the right to take a week off from time to time. Given my well-documented love for playlist making, however, those vacations will likely be few and far between.
Other than above, there are no rules. Go ahead submit your requests about what you’d like to see. I’ve got a few queued up already, but will do my best to get to everything you submit. I’m dead serious about wanting you to push me out of my comfort zone, so give me your best shot.
Greetings, and welcome to episode 41 of the Mundanity podcast. This week we preview the TV and film that we are most looking forward to in 2016, I give you my most anticipated albums of the upcoming year, and we review The Revenant (spoiler-free), including input from our returning special correspondent, Emily. We wrap up with our weekly recap of Downton Abbey (S6, episode 3), including our list of those characters most likely to be killed off by Julian Fellowes before the end of the season.
Cheers all, and thanks for listening!
Jim and Shawn
Greetings and thanks for checking out Episode 40 of the podcast. This week, we spend most of our time talking about the passing of two greats, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, and what they meant to us personally. As per usual these days, Shawn relays a story about Bowie that relates to another formative childhood trauma, but really, does that surprise you by now? We wrap things up with our weekly visit to the Crawley household, discussing all the doings from last week’s Downton Abbey episode.
If you have not already, you check out our career spanning David Bowie playlist on Spotify.
Cheers, and thanks very much for listening!
Jim and Shawn
Last night the world got a bit of an early Christmas gift, as the entire Beatles catalog was deposited en masse on the streaming music service of your choice. Back when I was putting together the Best of… playlists for each year of the rock and roll era, the big caveat from 1963 to 1970 was that The Beatles were missing from Spotify, which quite frankly was a blessing since it saved from having to pick just one song from Rubber Soul and Revolver and Abbey Road, etc.
Well now that void has been filled, but rather than go back and adjust those mixes, I put together a playlist of my 40 favorite Beatle tracks for you in one handy playlist, the Fab Forty. (And yes, I’m primarily doing this to avoid making the aforementioned musical Sophie’s Choice. Thank you for pointing that out.) It is arranged pretty much chronologically, all the better to hear the unparalleled transformation that took place in the scant eight years that the band recorded music.
One note though, as convenient as it is to have the entire catalog streaming, please, please, please do not let this be the only way you listen to this music. Pretty much all of it sounds like a muddy, jumbled mess compressed into the minuscule streaming pipeline. If there was ever a stone cold case for physical media, this is it.
Enjoy the playlist. And Happy Christmas to you all.
For our final podcast of 2015, we are pulling out all of the stops. That means another edition of Mundanity Podcast Live, recorded on the porch here at Casa JLo, with special guest appearances by Emily, Byron, Brandon, aka our kids, as well as Herbet the Hawk. We of course talk about the box office shattering phenomenom called Star Wars: The Force Awakens (no spoilers), as well as our favorite movies, music, and films of the year.
We wish you all the happiest of holiday seasons and a wonderful 2016. Thanks to all of you for listening, and we will see you next year!
Jim and Shawn