Happy Birthday, Claire! (Sort of!)

It's the birthday owl!

It’s the birthday owl!

So, yeah, I’m a day late on this, but I’m hoping I can make up for it with this playlist. Also I hope it makes up for the fact that I haven’t written on this blog for, I dunno, forever? Too long.

This playlist arises out of a conversation I’ve had a few times with Claire about the music at her upcoming wedding, namely that Claire has exacting standards when it comes to music. The basic idea was good music, and a complete lack of things you hear far too often at these types of gatherings. I’m of course talking about any song that requires a large group of people to do the same steps in the same order for 5 minutes – basically any song with the word “slide” ending the title. I get that. It’s tough to “program” for a wedding – you have to appeal to the drunk 20-somethings that comprise the friend group while still allowing for the parental groups to get their groove on as well.This is a task I’m usually uniquely suited to. I love obsessively putting together playlists that appeal to a wide demographic, and I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

This, however, was a real challenge for me, because of the fact I cannot, for the life of me, dance. Not even a little bit. It’s really weird, too, because it’s not a matter of time keeping or feeling the rhythm – I’ve played bass for two-plus decades. I can stay in the pocket no problem, I can set myself up behind the beat no issue. I can wait 140 bars not playing anything and come in on the and-of-three without a second thought. Can I move my arms and legs in a pleasing fashion to a beat? Not to save my life.

Still, I had to try. I decided the best way to do this effectively was to come up with a theme appropriate for a wedding put on by Claire. That theme is this: middle school dance, circa 1997 meets coked-out disco, circa 1978 meets the dance club from Walk Hard: A Dewey Cox Story where people go to dance erotically. I can almost hear the squeal of joy across the coast when Claire hears this list – it’s chock full of those tracks that makes a dance floor go, “Ooooohhhh!”

Some quick hits:

  • I had to start the list off oddly and awesomely, with the New Orleans-style bounce jam from Mystikal, “Bouncin’ Back (Bumpin’ Up Against The Wall).” It’s ridiculous and the beat does, in fact, bounce. And those horns!
  • There was no way I was going to make a list for Claire’s birthday or wedding that didn’t include “Return of the Mack.” I think she might walk down the aisle to it.
  • “Go Your Own Way” isn’t perhaps the most danceable, but it is a song to jump up and down and shout and play air drums. Maybe it can be played after the chicken dance.
  • I did keep to a couple wedding cliches – you can’t have a wedding without some Michael Jackson. I think it’s actually illegal in most states.
  • The real crown jewel of this list is, as it was always going to be, “Ignition Remix,” which is why it’s the last song. I toyed with playing it first, but I didn’t wanna blow my wad on the first song. It’s such an awesome song, I’m not sure I remember what it was remixing.

Happy birthday, Claire, and I cannot wait for your wedding.

No, Seriously: Top 5 Bands You Should Already Be Listening To (by Joshua)

Listen up, kids. Claire and I have been writing this blog for years now, and we love it. Sure, we take off vast chunks of time sometimes for no reason, but we do love it. What has begun to bug me, however, is how little some of you actually listen to the stuff about which we talk emphatically. This is evident because I will put the music on, and you will say, emphatically (yeah, I used it again.), “Damn, this is really good.” And because I’m often a dick, I will Rob Gordon you and say only, “I know.” But what I really want to say (and occasionally do say) is, “You dummy! I’ve been talking about this band for so long now!” So here are the top 5 bands you should’ve already been listening to, if you took our recommendations seriously. And each band will be explained as if you have just told me you’ve never listened to them.

Alabama Shakes

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I cannot stress how good their debut album is. I’m not sure where you’ve been since it came out. It’s been all over the place – literally every music publication has a big ol’ hard on for them. And how can you blame them? It’s such powerful music, all punctuated by the unbelievably strong and sexy voice of lead singer Brittany Howard. The band sounds like a modern version of Otis Redding, and there is literally nothing wrong with that. And while Redding’s songs were often carried on his voice alone, Howard has an excellent band backing her. No, you’re not going to get rollicking solos akin to, say, the Hold Steady, but you are getting probably the best name in modern soul – and they do this without a horn section. So suck on that, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings! Wait, you’ve never heard of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings?

Middle Brother

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Seriously? I know I’ve played you their songs before. It’s a super group comprised of the dudes from Dawes, Deer Tick, and Delta Spirit….None of them? Really? Well, I mean, I guess I can’t blame you, because it took me hearing this album before I got into all of those bands, but I’m the one in the right here, so you have failed. This album has all the makings of perfection: soaring harmonies, rocking licks, and that bit of folksy twang that’s just so irresistible. I have described them before as if The Beatles were somehow American, grew up in Wyoming, and had a drinking problem….I haven’t? Well, the description fits. And honestly, if that description doesn’t make you want to listen to the album right now, I’m not sure we can be friends.

Little Green Cars

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Are you sure I haven’t told you about this band? They were my first musical obsession of the new year. I previously totally wrote off the album because it didn’t sound exactly like the single I had heard on the radio, but I’m willing to bet it was because I was totally hungover when I listened to it.  This is another band that has such amazing harmonies that they alone should sell you on the band. But the instrumentation is also wildly compelling – they manage to blend electric and acoustic so well I’m never exactly sure when I’m listening to each. And yes, the album does hit kind of a rough patch in the middle (actually, maybe it’s just the song “Red and Blue” – that song does suck), but it’s so worth it to stick it out to the aforementioned single, “The John Wayne,” because the song sounds like a happier Arcade Fire, like a happier, Irish, less full of themselves Arcade Fire.

The Oh Hello’s

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Oh, you like the Lumineers or perhaps Mumford and Sons? Perhaps you have been annoyed by both bands’ absolute failure at creating cohesive and compelling albums that make you listen all the way through. …You don’t listen to albums all the way through? You just have a few of their singles? Well…you suck. But, wait, just because I insulted you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to the album they have called Through the Deep, Dark Valley. This brother-sister team can really make folk music. And their harmonies are amazing, and they only get better by being bolstered by what sounds like the entire choir from their Texas church. (The siblings are from Texas, so I just assume they go to church with more regularity than me going to shul, which is for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs only). But yeah, speaking of folk, there’s only one name in folk rock, and also happens to have the best concert ever recorded:

The Band

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The Band! No, not which band, this isn’t a fucking Abbot and Costello bit. The Band, you asshole. So you haven’t seen The Last Waltz? That’s a real shame. I could go on for hours about why you’re all sorts of idiotic for having not seen the finest concert movie ever made, but I do have to ask – are you even familiar with them? Because it seems like most people these days only know their most famous song, “The Weight.” ….Yes, I mean what you have mislabeled in your iTunes as “take a load off fannie by bob dylan.” Wait, Bob Dylan? I know they were his backing band for a bit, but come on. There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to start. Ok, here’s what we’re gonna do. Here’s my personal copy of Music from Big Pink….and, you don’t have a record player. Well, I give up. Have fun at your Ke$ha concert.

So Hot Right Now, April 2014 (by Joshua)

 

springFucking hell, it’s about time.

Spring is finally here in Baltimore, after what has seemed to be the most annoyingly long winter in recent memory. There wasn’t as much snow as, say, the winter of 2009-2010 (The Snowpocaplyse, as it were), but it was frighteningly cold the entire time. Winter is always an ordeal in the Delmarva area, but I don’t know of another winter I quite hated as much as this one. I literally wept two days ago when baseball season started – I got out of an especially grueling day of work to come outside to bright sun and 64 degrees and I couldn’t help a tear coming to my eye when I got home, opened up all the windows, opened up a beer, and watch the Orioles beat the reigning World Series champs, the Red Sox. (I fucking hate the Red Sox…more than the Yankees, less than the Steelers, about as much as I hate Jeffery Maier.)

So I figured my April list, which is usually bright, had to be especially upbeat this year. I had a lot of help this month from NPR’s lists of SXSW artists, which are…extensive. I’ve been pouring over them at work, much to the chagrin of my co-workers, who seem to prefer 80′s arena rock and Trampled by Turtles. (I know, it’s an odd combo. But it’s still better than Katy Perry and Eminem on forever repeat.) The song “Jardin Du Luxembourg” by The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is a good example of a song that I discovered from these lists, my co-workers are baffled by, and I’m enamored with. It’s got this great groove to it, but the ethereal lead singer and the droning, parallel fifths harmonies have proved to be just too weird for most. I guess I get it? But come on, get on board.

Really short story: You know how I often say I either write off or immediately dislike music when I first hear it, then once I either re-discover it or actually listen to it I find I love it? I had to live with the unfortunate result of my quirk this month when I super excitedly sent Claire the track “Oh Man” by Born Ruffians. The message was all like (as they often are), “Oh fucking fuck hell balls shizzbot, Claire, you gotta peep this with your earballs right this very second!” Of course, nearly immediately she sent back, “Uh, yeah, I know. I have. Born Ruffians were on my wonderful February SHRN list, which you follow.” Nice job, Joshua.

Some quick hits:

  • Holy balls, I cannot get the synth line from “Peaches” by In the Valley Below out of my head. They need more stuff on Spotify, pronto.
  • Also, according to this list, I’m apparently super into synth pop/rock now. Who knew that was gonna happen. Claire, I guess? She did turn me on to CRHVCHES. (Who are doing two shows at the 9:30 Club which are already both fucking sold out.)
  • Sold out too? Fucking Alabama Shakes. Why in the world didn’t I buy tickets when they first went on sale? I’m totally slacking on concerts recently, and I’m angry about this.
  • Not sold out? King Kahn and the Shrines, playing at the Ottobar in June. I’ll buy tickets to that, uh, tomorrow. Yeah.
  • I’ve always written off ELO as kinda lame (“Evil Woman” is, in fact, totally lame.), but holy hell is “Long Black Road” fucking funky as hell, and “Mr. Blue Sky” is perhaps the happiest song ever.
  • Most of these artists I’ve heard the one song on this list, so I’ve got some albums to listen to this month. I did already listen to the Summer Camp album, and it was really fun. I’d check it out, if I were you.
  • Yes, “April Come She Will” is a lazy, easy way to end a list for April. Also, fuck you.

So Hot Right Now, March 2014 (By Joshua)

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I cannot figure out what I’m into this month.

When I first was putting this list together a couple weeks ago, it was like two-thirds 90′s rap. I had gotten into a discussion late last month with my brother about the best rap albums of the 90′s and my list quickly became a who’s-who of that genre: 2Pac, Biggie, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan…all the best were there. But after about a week I realized that I just couldn’t listen to them anymore. I don’t know why I’ve changed, but 90′s rap is really boring me recently. It shouldn’t; I really believe some of the best rap ever came out in the early nineties. I mean, it’s just hard to find a rap album better than A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, but I still can’t listen to it right now.

Having said that, this list is not devoid of rap or hip-hop….or whatever the hell you call OutKast. There might not be a better hip-hop album released in the Aughts (2000-2009) than Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It’s so much fun, and it’s so fucking weird. Also in this list is perhaps my favorite song from 1990, “Fight the Power.” It’s weird to think about how much Chuck D and Flava Flav hated white people, and the latter had two different shows on VH1.

Still, this list all over the place. I go from a band that sounds exactly like the Alabama Shakes would if they had a male singer (St. Paul & The Broken Bones [it's freaky how much they sound like AS. Still great, obviously.]) to St. Vincent (how fucking awesome is their [her?] new album, guys?) to a whole section of 90′s songs I never thought I liked, but nonetheless have been stuck in my head. (90′s posts are coming, people. We just have to get up off our lazy asses. Well, I’m lazy; Claire has a wedding to plan.)

A couple quick hits:

  • “The Sign” is fucking poetry, y’all.
  • I really would like to hear a funk or soul version of “Come On Eileen.” Make it so, soul bands.
  • I could listen to “Counting Blue Cars (Tell Me Your Thoughts On God)” on repeat for days. It’s also probably responsible for the band Live, so, there’s that.
  • The series finale of Dollhouse is freaking awesome, and the it’s mostly the song they use at the end of the episode (“Everywhere I Go”) that makes it so heart wrenching.

Listen To This, Not That (by Joshua)

eat this

I’d like to introduce a new series on this blog. Are you familiar with the popular books and web series, Eat This, Not That? (Sorry for the link to fucking Men’s Health.) I read Yahoo! Sports a bunch and there are always of ads for this diet, and I’ve clicked on them a few times because I’ve always been curious about what you skinny people actually eat, and if it’s any good. (No, it isn’t.)

So while I obviously don’t care about what I eat, I care immensely about what I listen to, and perhaps making me a bit insufferable, what other people listen to as well. It pains me when I know people I like listen to crap music. Yes, I know that sentence makes me a complete asshole, but it’s the truth. When I get into someone’s car or go over their house for a party or something and they’re rocking out to Sublime, I cringe, and silently weep for them.

I have to wonder, though – is it that they really like Sublime, or have they just never been exposed to something that is better than Sublime? I’m willing to bet it’s the second. Well, that’s what I’m here for.

DON’T LISTEN TO….

“Santeria” by Sublime

I’ve gone on record with my distaste for Sublime, and all of those reasons are immediately present in this song. It begins with a boring guitar sound (looks like someone found the reverb pedal!) and punches into an equally boring beat. Even Meg White could handle that drumbeat. Brad Nowell’s voice isn’t bad, but like all parts of this band, it’s bland and uninspired. The lyrics are pretty heinous – most of it is gibberish, and the rest is about killing Sancho. And I get that lyrics aren’t supposed to be the focus of reggae music, but this is barely reggae, and the lyrics sound like they were just filler sung over the music while they were recording the track, as if they showed up to the studio with the music written and Nowell was too stoned to put pen to paper and just said, “Fuck it, I got this.”

LISTEN TO THIS INSTEAD:

“You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff

If you want a nice musical pick-me-up, put this song on. It also works in literally any place you would’ve played “Santeria,” from the car to the party. It has a wonderful slide-in-guitar, trumpet opener,  and Jimmy Cliff’s silky smooth voice keeps you in, and the wonderful backup vocals are complementary without being overbearing.  The lyrics, while not winning any awards, are at least pleasant and uplifting. The trumpet really gives it an extra punchiness, too, especially in the short bridge section. This is reggae – none of this SoCal lo-dub bullshit. It also begins one of the most wildly influential reggae albums (at least one of the most successful) of all-time, The Harder They Come, the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, put together and mostly written by Mr. Cliff, with a few great standouts by other artists (such as the always enjoyable “007 (Shanty Town)” by Desmond Dekker). If you like Sublime’s fake ass reggae, try on the real thing. I’m willing to bet you’re gonna like it.

Anatomy of a Mixtape: Sussing You Out (by Joshua)

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I have a seriously problem when it comes to mixtapes. I’ll make them for any and all occasions. Birthday? You bet. Kwanzaa? Sure. Arbor Day? That was one hell of a party. Don’t knock partying on Arbor Day until you’ve tried it. But the mix I make most often is, without a doubt, one for a current or potential love interest.

Obviously these lists are always different, and those differences aren’t just based on the lady involved. If it was just about making a mix for a potential special lady friend, I might make the same mix every time, simply because if I found something that worked, I’d keep doing it. (It’s a combination of the idea of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and sheer laziness. To quote Dave Chappelle, “If a guy could get laid in a cardboard box, he wouldn’t buy a house.”)

So I have a treat for you. I normally don’t talk about this on this blog, but I have had a crush on a girl, a friend of a friend, and unsurprisingly, I made a mixtape for her. (Correction: She has already shot me down in the process of writing this post, but I like the idea enough that I’m gonna keep writing about it.) I was going over to my friend’s house under a thin pretense of playing drinking games, but really I was just going over there to try and see where she stood. So, before I left, I quickly slapped together a list. I called this mix, “Sussing You Out.”

And that’s what it was designed to do, musically. I had recently played a song for the friend that she was convinced the girl in question would like (that song was “What We Gained In The Fire” by The Mynabirds) so I built a mix around it, designed to figure out what kind of music she was into. But obviously I couldn’t put the Mynabirds’ song at the beginning, for two reasons: 1. You have to bury the lead when it comes to mixtapes for potential special lady friends, or else they may not listen past the song you said you’d play for them. 2. The song is really kind of an ending song, despite it being the opener on its respective album. No, I decided to open with “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire, a great opening track, and one designed to slip into whatever situation the night had presented when I decided to start the playlist. It’s a chameleon song, you see.

But it has a flaw as an opening song – it’s not punchy at all, so I had to kick it up quick. Hence “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When I put this song on the list, it immediately synthesized my secondary goal with the playlist – subtly hint at the fact that I had a crush on the girl. If you look at the mix song to song, you’ll notice almost all of them are some kind of love song. Maybe not all of them are happy love songs (“Use Me” is a particularly fucked up version of love), but some of them are almost sappy (here’s looking at you, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”).

Now, the sequencing isn’t great. I did slap this together in about 15 minutes, and it’s not a super great representation of things that I like, just a bunch of songs that don’t sound out of place at a party, songs that I’d like to know if she liked, and songs that say, “Hey, I’m digging what you’re throwing down.” These goals are certainly achieved, but it can be done better, and despite getting shot down, I am gonna take another crack at it soon.

And to be clear: by taking another crack at it, I mean do a second draft of the playlist, not keep trying to woo a girl I know is not interested.

So Hot Right Now, February 2014: Musical Regression (By Joshua)

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Have you ever found yourself reliving your past? I seem to be doing that this month. All I want to listen to is my old So Hot Right Now lists. And the funny thing is I have very little desire to listen to the ones from 2013, just the ones from 2012. I hit those lists out of the goddamn park. The March list of 2012 is perhaps my favorite So Hot Right Now list I’ve ever made, and it’s a seriously weird one. I mean, on one list exists Warren Zevon, Rasputina, The Band, Rage Against the Machine, The Beatles, and The Moments. The weird part is that I know how I sequence these lists, which is to say I barely do any sequencing, and somehow each song flows perfectly into the next one.

I’m struggling to find a reason for why this list is so good. Maybe I was having a good month that month…but my list doesn’t seem especially happy. I think that was the month I moved into my place in Charles Village, but I honestly remember that as totally stressful and not at all happy. Maybe it doesn’t have to be happy to be good. Maybe it’s good because it’s unhappy. Either way, it’s good, and there are like 8 songs from that list on this one.

Also prominently featured on this list is my list from November of 2012.  And looking back at our posts from those months, I think I found a parallel: March was our month on the structure of an album, and November was our month on the structure of a song. Maybe I was just in better musical mindspaces in those months. I had to’ve been, these lists are hot as hell.

Included as well is a smattering of songs from both of my birthday mixtapes Claire made for me. They are both truly excellent, though for some reason I am drawn over and over again to the one from 2013. I love the inclusion of They Might Be Giants right next to the bird and bee’s cover of “I Can’t Go For That.” Also, I had to throw in the excellent Mavis Staples’ cover of “Can You Get To That” off of this year’s birthday list.

Now, you might notice that this list has 14 songs rather than my customary 15. The reason for this is simple: there’s a song on this list Spotify doesn’t have that I do. If you want to listen to it, it’s called “Gardening” by Spoke Ensemble. Good luck finding a good version – Youtube has a crappy video of a live performance in someone’s backyard, but that’s about it.

Oh! I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention why Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” is on this list, and the reason is simple: Because of my amazing acumen with music, I have won a slap bet with this song and therefore I get to slap my brother Matthew across his face. Hard.