Are you having trouble sleeping at night? Well, you’re in luck. There are plenty of doctors out there that can help you. In the meantime, why don’t we sing about it? 1, 2, 3, 4…
-”Who Needs Sleep?” by Barenaked Ladies (Appears on the album Stunt)
Even when he’s not singing his lungs out, Steven Page is still giving it 110% on the flute. I guess it’s true what they say: “There ain’t no rest for the wicked.” Sorry… I still haven’t gotten over him leaving the band.
Billy Joel once sang “Don’t go changing, to try and please me. You’ve never let me down before.” Someone needs to force him to listen to “Uptown Girl,” and ask him: “Was it worth it Billy? Was it really worth it?” There are plenty of great artists that make tragic missteps when they step outside their comfort zone (The Beatles’ migraine inducing “Revolution 9″ and Kanye West’s attempt to be the next R. Kelly on 808s & Heartbreak are just a couple that spring to mind). However, not every time an artist branches out is it necessarily a bad thing. In fact, sometimes an artist can pull out a song so different and bold from their normal sound, it eclipses anything else they’ve ever done. These are those songs that an artist produces that are in a league of their own.
5. “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” by The Gaslight Anthem — appears on the album The ’59 Sound
When The Gaslight Anthem appeared on the music scene, one thing was for sure: punk-rock music sung with near Springsteen-like vocals sounds even better with aged pop culture references sprinkled throughout. Brian Fallon cannot hide his love for all things nostalgic. I don’t think anybody could have predicted though, that the best song on their first full-length album would be a slow-moving bar stool ballad, that is as touching as it is sad. Perfectly tying into Fallon’s love for the past, “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” is a nostalgic trip alright, but it is filled with sorrow and bitterness as the singer looks at what could have been…
Although unintentional, there’s something quite ironic about the fact that “Train in Vain” was the only song on London Calling without mention in the lyrics and on the track listing (it was created quickly after they printed out the album cover and liner notes and tacked it on as the last song of the album). It’s a bittersweet love song, bouncing from one pop-fueled melody to another, differing wildly from all the Brit-punk slashing songs before it. The Clash’s most recognizable song to mainstream audiences is one that was simply just an afterthought.
3. “Human” by The Killers — appears on the album Day & Age
The Killers were the alternative band to look out for at the start of the last decade. Their eclectic taste in influences brought Springsteen choruses, Vegas glamor rock, and modern day guitar anthems together in a unique blend matched by no other band at the time. As the years went on though, Brandon Flowers kept pushing the band’s sound to new heights, wanting the sound to be bigger and better each time. It all culminated on their third and latest album Day & Age with “Human”: an enormous dance anthem centered around existential questions… Not since Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest has there been such a public case of mistaken identity. It’s the same Brandon Flowers vocals; it’s just that the band is hiding in plain view behind a perfectly executed dance anthem.
The debut album from Looking Glass included a lot of Grateful Dead influenced tracks, and one radio-ready pop single simply called “Brandy.” On an album full of mellow rock, “Brandy” rose to the top for being surprisingly different from the rest of the album, and shamelessly the same as everything else on the radio in the early ’70s. If “Brandy” hadn’t caught on, who knows what style the band would have landed on next?
1. “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by The Hollies — appears on Greatest Hits
The Hollies lost Graham Nash in late 1968. He was tired of the fandom, and Nash disliked his group’s identity as a “pop group.” He left the British pop group to go form Crosby, Stills, & Nash, one of the most celebrated American acts. The Hollies (minus Nash) went on to create the song “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” in 1972, a very American sounding rock song, as if to say: “now that Nash is gone, out with our Beatles persona, and in with Creedence Clearwater Revival influences!” But none of that stops “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” from being one of the best songs from the ’70s, or from being incredibly annoying to type out.
Bon Iver by Bon Iver Justin Vernon (the man behind the pseudonym Bon Iver) buried himself in a cabin to create his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago. It was a beautiful album, pairing luscious folk music with gritty whispering, and it ended up being one of the best albums of 2008. It took him nearly three whole years to follow up with a second album, but patience was rewarded for those who waited. Vernon named his second album Bon Iver, which makes sense, because he has seemed to really come into his own as an artist. He is no longer a novelty, but a true visionary. His songs are much larger in scope, while sacrificing none of the minimalistic qualities that got him noticed. His lyrics are as beautifully cryptic as they’ve ever been. and it’s great to see he made it out of the cabin alive.
Write About Love by Belle & Sebastian Belle & Sebastian is a band where there is much more than meets the eye… And not just because there are actually six members, in which none of whom have the name Belle or Sebastian. They produce sugar-coated pop songs that are as catchy as they are full of life, but they also have something deeper on their mind. In “Calculating Bimbo” the narrator chastises a woman for always relying on him to help her out, not her strong and rich boyfriend. In “Write About Love” the band gets meta and declares that sometimes the best way to cope with the fact that life can be a drag is to just write songs about love. With Belle & Sebastian, they don’t need a name to give insight to who they really are. They already do that in spades through their songs.
Miles Davis’ legacy reaches far more people than just “jazz fans.”
His influence is everywhere, and his talent is unmatched. Brian Fallon, of
punk-rock band The Gaslight Anthem, named a song after him (with the album
title also working as an allusion). He’s been referenced in slacker
comedies fronted by Adam Sandler, and just the other day I recognized his
composition “Freddie Freeloader” over the phone while I was put on
hold for the umpteenth time. Although all of his music deserves a place in
music history, it was his album Kind of Blue that solidified him as a
true music pioneer. He was doing things that no one ever tried before, and
he was doing them well. Kind of Blueis such a universal piece of composition
that it compliments just about anything: doing homework, a late-night drive, or
even a slow-burning jog.
Billy Joel is a master craftsman. He can go from stadium-ready rock
(“The Stranger”) to sincere ballads (“Vienna”) without losing
his artistic direction. The Stranger is arguably his best album
because it does the best job balancing the two personas. He even does it
masterfully in the course of one song, with the superb “Scenes from an
Italian Restaurant.” In “Scenes,” he tells the story of high
school sweethearts falling out of love over the course of their lengthy courtship.
There’s surprisingly deep pathos for a song centered around wine-guzzling high
school lovers, because Joel treats his characters with respect, and doesn’t
look down on them. Staying together out of routine will only get you so far,
but at least a fantastic song was made of it.
Sufjan Stevens may look like a frat boy, but he couldn’t be any more different as a musician. With Come On! Feel the Illinoise!, Sufjan has created a deeply personal account of him questioning his faith in “Casimir Pulaski Day,” or on a road of self-discovery in “Chicago.” The way he can bounce from lo-fi folk to meticulous chamber pop is sensational and should not be missed. Below I have included “Casimir Pulaski Day” (be warned though, it’s a tearjerker).
“Wait, what?? Are you out of your mind? Two albums by the same artist in the same Latest Listens post?” Whoa, whoa, calm down there. The reason for including two albums is because they are two completely different experiences. Sufjan Stevens takes on a more electronic approach in this equally beautiful album. His soothing voice on top of electronic chimes and synchronizing machines is a treat to listen to. He’s the same singer/songwriter with a different bag of tools.
When the school year ended, I set out to have an average summer for a nineteen year old, so I decided to watch all 251 episodes of M*A*S*H before school begins again. Okay, so maybe “average” is a bit of a stretch. In any case, I recently watched an episode that pinged my musical radar (no pun intended). In “Rainbow Bridge” (Season 3, Episode 2) Loudon Wainwright III made his first (of only three) appearances on the show as Captain Spaulding, the guitar-playing soldier. My admiration for Loudon Wainwright’s folk music was reignited.
Wainwright’s career has spanned four decades. He specializes in folk music, and a lot of his songs are amusing with just a hint of darkness. That only reveals itself upon repeated listens. The best quality of Wainwright’s catalogue is consistency. Pick an album of his, any album, and it’ll be a great showcase of his many talents. The bottom line: if you like one album, you’ll like them all (and vice-versa).
If you’re in the mood for some good folk music on the mundane aspects of life (comical and sadder aspects alike), then I’d recommend putting a hold on any of Loudon Wainwright’s albums immediately. They’re all worth a listen.
Still in need of a jumping-off point? No problem. Start with his album Last Man on Earth. It hosts a wonderful collection of songs, including the spectacular “Homeless” (which I have generously posted a fantastic live version of down below.)
With this weekend came the sad news of the passing of Clarence Clemons, the iconic saxophonist that was the heart and soul of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. With every album he participated in, he rose far beyond the call of duty making sure that his saxophone playing wasn’t simply heard, but was truly felt. His presence is definitely top-notch in a stellar track off of Born to Run in “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” which chronicles the formation of the E Street Band itself. Take a second to listen and mourn the loss of a truly iconic musician.
When it comes to old age, there are two types of artists in today’s music scene: those who adapt to it, and those who are overwhelmed by it. Jackson Browne is definitely in the former. On his first album in his Solo Acoustic series, he strips down the sound of some of his biggest hits (and little-known gems) and in doing so shows us what they’re really about. His acoustic version of “These Days” is absolutely beautiful and lifts the song to new heights that it has never quite reached before. “The Pretender” also gets performed, and thirty years later it’s still just as breathtaking as it once was in its infancy. Jackson Browne may be getting older, but it’s clear that he’s also getting wiser.
If Brandon Flowers’ name sounds familiar, it’s because for the last decade or so he has been the frontman for the popular alternative band The Killers. Rumor has it that for their fourth studio album, Brandon presented the band with a whole album’s worth of material, to which they flat-out rejected. So he released it as a solo album, leaving only himself to blame should it prove to be inferior to The Killers’ catalog. While the band was right to turn it down, as a solo album it’s hard to dismiss it for its faults. Who cares if the Vegas motif is spread on too thick? So what if the lyrics are consistently contrived throughout the album? These questions don’t matter as much as they should when the songs are so undeniably catchy. Brandon Flowers’ Flamingo is far from being a perfect album, but that didn’t stop it from remaining in my car stereo for longer than it deserved to be. I’m still humming the chorus of “Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts.”
With the month of May coming to a close, it can only mean one thing: summer is finally here. Whether you’re graduating from school or planning out your vacations, it is typical for one to notice just how quickly time flies this time of the year. All these songs touch on that very feeling, metaphorically and literally. Time may be fleeting, but remember to take a break every once in a while to listen to some good songs… Much like the ones below.
Comedy albums have a short shelf-life. After so many listens, the jokes tend to wear thin and the music doesn’t seem that catchy because you’ll start to realize that it was just an afterthought to the jokes anyway. The Lonely Island knows this, and strives to rise above this stereotype… And they succeed. The Lonely Island was formed by two Saturday Night Live writers (Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer) and cast member Andy Samberg, who is one of the only reasons to watch SNL these days. Their debut album, Incredibad, had one of the strongest debuts ever seen for a modern day comedy album, and it was no wonder why. The Lonely Island aren’t simply making fun of rap music, they’re embracing it while exposing what lies beneath. Their new album, Turtleneck & Chain, surpasses the first album in countless ways.
For one thing, this one actually feels like it’s a part of the genre it’s so keen on mimicking. They have obscure pop culture references sprinkled throughout, they have the obligatory ridiculous skits to act as transitions between songs, and they have a killer list of guest stars: Michael Bolton, Akon, Snoop Dogg, and Nicki Minaj (to name a few).
But none of this seems like a gimmick in the grand scheme of things. Just having Michael Bolton come in to sing the hook of your song is not funny, but what is funny is Michael Bolton coming in after just watching the Pirates of the Caribbean series for the first time and who inexplicably won’t stop singing about it. In “Japan,” the trio sings about their disdain for their label having never flown them anywhere exotic. In the song, the three of them find the most luxurious things and places to visit, all the while hoping that a music video gets green-lighted so their label has to pay for it all.
Comedy albums are hard to pull off, but it seems like The Lonely Island has a recipe for success. They know the line between what’s funny and what isn’t. They also understand the most overlooked aspect of comedy music: it must be as catchy as it is funny. They succeed on both counts.