Monday, December 26, 2011

A Personal History: The Long Blondes

At some point during high school, I took up the hobby of Google image-searching my favorite celebrities. During a routine "Chrissie Hynde" search one evening, I came across a photo of The Long Blondes. I would be lying if I said I was not at all attracted to the aesthetic of the band. As a matter of fact, that was what made me look into them, despite the fact that they were not the droids I was looking for. They had shown up in my search because someone had suggested a similarity between the vocals of lead singer Kate Jackson and Chrissie Hynde. The comparison is quite reasonable. I watched the video for "Once and Never Again" and was instantly hooked. I loved the guitar parts and the general rock sound of their songs, along with the killer vocals and the catchy tunes. My love for the clever lyrics came only slightly later.

Not only did I rewatch the few official videos quite often in the coming weeks, but I purchased both albums as soon as humanly possible. I researched the band, and was very disappointed to learn that they had broken up only a month or two prior to my discovery (due to health-related issues of guitarist Dorian Cox). I continued to listen to the group in excess. Years later, I am still very fond of them. And I still draw fashion inspiration (and envy) from Kate Jackson.

The Long Blondes left to right: Dorian Cox, Screech Louder, Kate Jackson, Emma Chaplin, and 
Reenie Hollis.

Where are they now? 
Since the break-up, Dorian Cox underwent treatment for his paralysis and has joined a new band called Milkteeth. Reenie Hollis and Screech Louder have formed The Bon Bon Club. Kate Jackson is reportedly working on a solo album under the name "Madame Ray."

Other Recommended Tracks:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seasonal Music Roundup: A Christmas Playlist

Christmas music doesn't have to be good to be enjoyable. It's something about the dorky gushy feelings we can get inside just because of all the lights we use to run up our holiday electricity bills and the snow that makes it harder to drive and the biting cold. I can't imagine living a life in which I don't romanticize these things even just a tiny bit. And the Christmas songs that play on the radio and in department stores every year around this time are yet another cliched staple that I wouldn't live without.

So, needless to say, I have quite a few personal favorites when it comes to "holiday" songs. Here are some non-traditional or revamped traditional "Christmas" songs that I enjoy. For once, I am allowing this playlist to include the goofiest, most childish songs I enjoy. Because...hey, it's Christmas! You only have to worry about these things for like a month, why not listen to whatever you want?

"Sleigh Ride" by KT Tunstall
This is a nice, poppy Christmas cover. Tunstall manages to cover the song without destroying the original piece and without destroying her own artistic style. 

"Snowflake" by Everybody Else
A couple of years ago, Everybody Else released a holiday-themed song and video just a few short days before Christmas. I fell in love with it instantly and was quite disappointed when it was taken down only days later. Luckily, this track did surface again as a Kickstarter prize but the video has yet to return. Personally, I think it's a very cute, heartfelt Christmas tune.
"Riu Chiu" by The Monkees
The Monkees performed this old Spanish carol for their Christmas special. The vocal parts are really beautiful.

"December Will Be Magic Again" by Kate Bush
For the young at heart. Not specifically a Christmas song, more just about the joy and wonder of winter and the Christmas season. A very cool song.

"Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses
You know how some people have a soft spot for things? I have a soft gaping hole for The Waitresses. This song is just...really sweet? It's one of those early rap songs like Blondie's "Rapture" that is just special. I also think the swear word in this song may be the most commonly overlooked in radio history.

"2000 Miles" by The Pretenders
One of my favorite bands performing an original Christmas song. It's a very lovely song, and it can make me a little emotional. There's also a more strings-oriented live version from Isle of View. KT Tunstall and Coldplay have both covered it as well.

"Little Saint Nick" by Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
This might be the best cover of any song ever. I do have a tendency to hyperbolize though. But seriously, Animal alone makes this song amazing.

"Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
This song is frequently overlooked, which is a pity. It's poppier than most Tom Petty stuff, but it's very catchy.

"Carol of the Bells" by The Bird and the Bee
Another example of a great cover of a classic holiday song. This sounds just like a Bird and the Bee song, even though it's clearly a classic Christmas tune.

"Oh Holy Night" by Weezer
Out of an entire album of Weezer Christmas songs, this is by far my favorite.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Death Cab For Cutie
I will listen to almost anything Ben Gibbard sings. Other versions of this song now sound strange.

"One More Sleep 'Till Christmas" by Kermit the Frog
From The Muppets' 1992 film The Muppet Christmas Carol, this is one of the cutest Christmas songs in recent history. I fondly remember singing this song (amended to suit the day) weeks before Christmas.

"Let It Snow" by A Fine Frenzy
This is a beautiful Christmas song, only helped by Alison Sudol's beautiful voice.

"Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band Aid
However you may feel about any of the artists that participated in Band-Aid, this is in-arguably a quintessential Christmas song, as well as being an important historical song.

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee
Yet another classic. I enjoy this song greatly, no matter how many times I hear it.

Fans of Doctor Who may recognize this song without knowing why. Apart from being a classic 70s Christmas song, "Merry Xmas Everybody" was featured in the 2005 and 2006 Doctor Who Christmas specials. I thought it was a tradition they'd stick with, but no such luck. Rooney also did a brilliant cover.

"Run, Rudolph Run" by Chuck Berry
Particularly memorable from Home Alone, this song sounds like every other Chuck Berry song, but I still love it.

"Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon
You know how sometimes you just like that song because it's embedded in your personal history? But I'm also not going to argue with the message of this song.

"Holly Jolly Christmas" by The Format
When I heard about this cover, I assumed it would be horrible. But Nate Ruess actually makes it sound cute and genuine.

"Christmas is Cancelled" by The Long Blondes
Bearing much similarity to an Elvis Costello song (circa Armed Forces), this is a catchy original Christmas song by one of my favorite bands.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top 5: Modern Male Vocalists

Today I would like to talk about five modern male vocalists that I think have a certain something special. There are a lot of really great vocalists in this modern era, ones that stand out for many different reasons. I'm not going to pretend to be the ultimate judge of vocal talent, or to have heard every single singer ever. All I wish to do is to relate to you some of my favorite male singers who are currently active in the music world. This list isn't in an incredibly specific order, but it will be counting down, as most great lists do.

#5 Julian Casablancas
Julian Casablancas has a rock voice. It’s smooth and coarse at the same time. Not only is his voice perfect for The Strokes, but it’s also beautiful when he uses it on his own (Phrases For the Youth). His vocals make the band recognizable amongst the sea of artists, as well as giving The Strokes, (or anything Casablancas puts his vocals to) a definite edge.

 #4 Ben Gibbard
Ben Gibbard doesn’t have a perfect voice. What he does have is an honest voice. When Gibbard sings, his voice gives you the impression that he’s singing to you, making his emotional and heartfelt lyrics all the more special. Whether he's playing an acoustic solo song, singing along with the digital beeps of The Postal Service, or rocking out with Death Cab For Cutie, Gibbard's voice supplies exactly what the songs need.

#3 Eric Hutchinson
Eric Hutchinson almost sounds like he should be a 60s Motown artist. He has a very powerful voice that suits his piano-heavy songs perfectly. He also does a killer Cher impression.

#2 Nate Ruess
Nate Ruess has taken his voice from The Format to fun., giving each band what they need to make the music wonderful. Like Gibbard, Ruess has a kind of honesty to his voice that allows us to empathize with his tender lyrics.

#1 Carrick Moore Gerety 
Carrick Moore Gerety has to be my favorite modern male vocalist. He can sing almost anything (including "Birthday Sex") and make it sound like a beautiful melody. It helps that his songwriting for Everybody Else actually provides beautiful melodies.

I picked these gentlemen because I think their voices are outstanding amongst the artists that I listen to. There are other great vocalists (like Daniel Merriweather for example) that I know have really great voices, but I just don't listen to them. There are also other men whose music I listen to, but whose voices are not overly outstanding.

 Recommended Tracks: 
Julian Casablancas Vocals:
You Only Live Once by The Strokes
11th Dimension by Julian Casablancas
Boombox by The Lonely Island Featuring Julian Casablancas
Reptilia by The Strokes
Machu Picchu by The Strokes

Ben Gibbard Vocals:
You Remind Me of Home by Ben Gibbard
Little Bribes by Death Cab For Cutie
Handle With Care by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins (featuring Ben Gibbard and Coner Oberst) 
Soul Meets Body by Death Cab For Cutie
Clark Gable by The Postal Service

Eric Hutchinson Vocals:
It Hasn't Been Long Enough by Eric Hutchinson
Rock & Roll by Eric Hutchinson
OK, It's Alright With Me by Eric Hutchinson
Back to Where I Was by Eric Hutchinson
Watching You Watch Him by Eric Hutchinson

Nate Ruess Vocals:
Dog Problems by The Format
Light a Roman Candle With Me by fun.
Snails by The Format
We Are Young by fun. 
The Compromise by The Format 

Carrick Moore Gerety Vocals:
Say Goodbye by Everybody Else
Helter Skelter by Rooney featuring Carrick Moore Gerety
Button for Punishment by Everybody Else
Nine Straight Lines by Push Kings
Soldiers Without an Army by Everybody Else