Saturday, December 15, 2012

Album Review: Hawaii: Part II by ミラクルミュージカル

First of all, "ミラクルミュージカル" means "Miracle Musical" or "Musical Miracle" depending on who you ask. Either way, it's the side-project of Tally Hall guitarist Joe Hawley and includes appearances by most of the other band members. 

Hawaii: Part II begins with the almost holiday-sounding "Introduction to the Snow," in which Hawley employs 1930s-style vocals. "Introduction to the Snow" is a beautiful, yet very short track, which flows wonderfully into "Isle Unto Thyself," a heavily synthesized track. Next is "Black Rainbows featuring a very interesting sound, with melodic vocals by Madi Diaz and baglama played by Bora Karaca. "White Ball" is one of the lesser tracks on the album. Though it does feature vocals by Zubin Sedghi and poetic lyrics, I can't help but feel the female vocalists' talents would be better suited to Broadway.

"Murders" is a strange and dark tune that becomes stronger as a song as it progresses, beginning with simple  piano chords and continuing into an elegant bridge. The vocal also begin rough and become more refined and calm at the end of the piece. "宇宙ステーションのレベル7" or "Level 7 Space Station" is a very different track, with lyrics in several languages and featuring the use of a vocoder. These tracks are followed by "The Mind Electric," which is an altered version of an old, unreleased Tally Hall track formerly called "Inside the Mind of Simon." Both the original track and "The Mind Electric" are excellent pieces with a haunting and interesting story in the lyrics. 

The 8th track is titled "Labrinth," and reminds me of something by Mark Ronson and the Business International, due to a clever combination of somewhat 80s synths, a strong female vocalist (Charlene Kaye) singing eerily, interwoven with beats and rapping by Shane Maux. The rapping, although the center of the song, is done in such a way that even non-rap fans should be able to enjoy the piece. There is a more central use of the vocoder in "Time Machine," which features main vocals by both Hawley and Rob Cantor. "Stranded Lullaby," true to its title, is very much a lullaby, and features an intelligent use of strings. 

The album closes with "Dream Sweet in Sea Major," a bookend to the album, echoing the 30s vocals of "Introduction to the Snow," along with the faint holiday feel. The piece seems to have several movements, all different, but all gorgeous. The end of the album is as harsh as the beginning was gentle. 

Hawaii: Part II is a beautiful and intricate album, featuring a great deal of musicality and talent. Not only is is a must-hear for fans of Tally Hall, but for fans of music in general.

Hawaii: Part II can be found here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Interview: Micky Dolenz

When The Monkees sang the line "we may be coming to your town," I'd always assumed it was just lyricism, seeing as I live in one of the smaller cities in Ohio. But Marion, Ohio has seen a lot of bigger names in the past few years, such as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Peter NooneBoys II Men, and even Weird Al Yankovic. This Saturday, Micky Dolenz joins the list, performing at Marion's historic Palace Theatre. Luckily, I had a chance to speak with Mr. Dolenz prior to the show on Saturday.

No More Blood From a Clone: So what brings you to the Marion Palace Theatre this Saturday?

Micky Dolenz: They booked me there for a show with my band called "Micky's Monkees Christmas," which basically is a Christmas show, but it also includes all of the Monkees hits that I sang, most of them. So, it's kind of a rock and roll Christmas show with some classic Christmas songs for the whole family, but also a lot of kind of contemporary rock and roll Christmas songs too. For instance, I do The Eagles cover version of "Please Come Home For Christmas."

NMBFC: What made you decide to do Christmas-themed shows?

Micky Dolenz: I've been doing them for years. Every year I get booked to do a few. If I recall correctly, it's been like the last five, ten years. Something like that.

NMBFC: You recently released Remember, which is a beautiful album with re-imagined versions of older songs. Where did the idea for Remember come from?

Micky Dolenz: It's kind of an audio scrapbook of my life through music. The songs are particularly the songs that meant a lot to me or had some influence on me or were milestones in my life. For instance, I do a Beatles tune called, "Good Morning Good Morning" off of the Sgt. Pepper album. And the reason I do that song is because I was there at that session with The Beatles in the 60s. So that left a big impression, obviously. And I do, for instance "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry, which was my audition piece for The Monkees. That's the song that got me the gig. And [Remember includes] songs like that, that had some influence on me, or were milestones. I call it "Remember," it's a bit of a trip down memory lane. The title song is "Remember" by an artist named Harry Nilsson. I was there when he wrote it, he was a very dear friend of mine. All the songs have a story attached.

NMBFC: What I found very interesting about the album is the songs are originally all very different songs, but they have a very cohesive feel on the album. Where did you find that sound?

Micky Dolenz: Well, it was a combination of myself and my producer, David Harris, who had an enormous influence, like producers do. That's traditionally one of the main responsibilities [of producers], to [give an album], like you said, a very cohesive sound. So that was, like I say, myself doing arrangements, and David Harris doing arrangements and also producing. When we discussed doing the album and the songs we were gonna do, we didn't want to just cover a song, just do the exact same version that was done originally, just with me singing- a typical kind of cover version. We kind of wanted to re-envision the songs. A lot of that was down to him, because songs that I'd already sung a lot and performed a lot, like "Randy Scouse Git," which I wrote, I don't know that I could come up with a really different way to do that because I'm just so close to it. On the other hand, I did come up with the different sort of feeling on "Good Morning Good Morning" and I came up with the different feeling on "Johnny B. Goode" and a couple of the other ones too. "I'm a Believer," I came up with the country kind of feel on that. But a lot of it was down to, like I say, David Harris and his vision of it.

NMBFC: Now obviously we can expect some of the Monkees songs on Saturday, but are there any of the other songs that we'll hear from Remember?

Micky Dolenz: Not off that album, no. Well, I do "I'm a Believer," but I do that in the traditional way. And I do a lot of other Monkees songs. I may be doing "Sometime in the Morning," it's one of my favorite Carole King songs.

Wayne Avers and Micky Dolenz perform live.
NMBFC: What can you tell me about your live DVD from B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City?

Micky Dolenz: I haven't heard it yet, they're mixing right now. It's in the studio. We recorded it on the night of course, but then we've been touring, my whole band. My band is the same band that was on the Monkees tour, besides Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith. John [Billings], my bass player, and Wayne [Avers], my lead guitar player, they're the ones that put together and had it recorded, and they have it in Nashville, where they live, and they're working on it and mixing it right now.

NMBFC: You mentioned the recent Monkees tour. How do you feel that went, like the sound and the way the three of you interacted?

Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork performing in Cleveland, Ohio.
Micky Dolenz: I was very, very pleased. It was great playing with Michael again after years and singing some of his songs that he originally wrote and performed. The band was wonderful, I have a great band. Christian Nesmith also was there, and my sister Coco. So it was like a family affair, like a rock and roll circus show. It was wonderful. We all had a great time. It was very successful as you may have heard, and we got some really incredible reviews.

NMBFC: Do you think that was the final tour with The Monkees?

Micky Dolenz: I don't know. We don't know. Obviously, it was discussed, but I think kind of the general consensus was, "let's get through this tour and see how we feel, see how everybody feels." It wasn't a very long tour, it was only twelve dates. [We wanted to] see how the audiences like it, see how we like it, see what kind of reviews we get, you know, all of that.

NMBFC: Do you personally ever plan to retire from live shows, or just keep going?

Micky Dolenz: I tried to retire once, it was a big mistake. I was bored stupid. I was living in England at the time, and I sold off my investments and my properties and stuff, and I was just living in this big country mansion in the English countryside and I had nothing to do and was bored silly. No, I probably won't retire. I mean, I don't do as much as I used to, I have to pick and choose a little bit more. Because, you know, doing shows in rock and roll, it's hard work.

NMBFC: Just to bring it back around to the Christmas show on Saturday, what's the ratio of Christmas songs to your regular material?

Micky Dolenz: I haven't counted them up. I wanna say maybe kind of 50/50 or something like that. It will definitely be all the big Monkee hits.

NMBFC: About how long does the show run?

Micky Dolenz: Around seventy-five minutes.

NMBFC: Well, thank you very much.

There's still time to catch Micky Dolenz at the Historic Palace Theatre in Marion, Ohio this Saturday, December 15th at 8pm. Tickets can be purchased at the box office at 276 West Center Street in Marion, Ohio, or online at the Marion Palace Theatre website. Just click the ticket-shaped link beside the price listings.

And if you're interested in buying Micky's album, Remember, it's available as a physical CD or digital download.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Top 5: Underrated 80s Bands

The 1980s were a time of paradise (or hell, depending on your point of view) for one-hit-wonder bands. Due to the rise of MTV and VH1, bands that previously had no hope for international fame were suddenly finding audiences. The result was that the 1980s had a much broader range of music for the populous to listen to. But a lot of great bands ended up either being "one-hit-wonders," or being completely washed away. Therefore, I would like to present a non-definitive list of five 80s bands that I don't believe got (or get) enough attention.

#5 Bow Wow Wow
Bow Wow Wow were created to advertise a New Romantic clothing line by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Bow Wow Wow are generally considered to be a one-hit-wonder with "I Want Candy," an updated cover of a 60s song, but much of their album work is incredible, and has been an influence on bands like Red Hot Chilli Peppers and No Doubt.

You May Know:

You Should Hear:

#4 Siouxsie and the Banshees
Although they kick-started Robert Smith's career, most people today don't really know who Siouxsie and the Banshees are (a customer at the thrift store where I worked decided to buy a best of CD one time, even though he really only listened to rap and soul. I tried to explain the mistake to him, but he had to learn for himself). Nowadays, along with the previous band, Siouxsie and the Banshees seem to have found their home on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack, so perhaps there is still hope.
You May Know:

You Should Hear:

#3 Split Enz
Split Enz saw many changes in both their lineup and sound before they split up and Neil Finn formed Crowded House, but they never quite got the attention that their music deserved. While I'm not as familiar with all of their material as I'd like to be, they are a splendid group of talented musicians.
You May Know:

You Should Hear:

#2 Squeeze
Although Squeeze got their start in the late 70s and are still active, they produced a lot of great work during the 1980s, and they are underrated. Glenn Tilbrook has a voice rarely duplicated, which adds plenty of personality to their songs.

You May Know:
You Should Hear:

 #1 Talk Talk
While Talk Talk do have a lot of respect in the modern indie music community (as proven by the well-received release of this year's Spirit of Talk Talk), they never quite gained the clout that their music deserved. Talk Talk began as an incredibly good, but fairly angsty New Wave/New Romantic band, but managed to break free from the oppressions of their record label and produce a type of music that could not be categorized properly, but which had elements of jazz and classical music, and an overall ambient feel. As a fan of both eras of Talk Talk, I can't help but feel that they are one of the most under-rated acts of all time, and certainly during the 80s.

You May Know:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Concert Review: Carbon Leaf in Columbus, Ohio

Although I've been a fan of Carbon Leaf for years, I'd never gotten up the courage to go see them until Sunday night. I had no idea what to expect from the crowd or the band themselves. But I'm glad I made it happen.

Carbon Leaf took the stage at Woodlands Tavern more than fashionably late, and to "Cantina Band" from Star Wars. They opened with "Lake Of Silver Bells" from Nothing Rhymes With Woman which I enjoyed despite not being a huge fan of the album, and then moved on to the most catastrophic live version of any song I've ever heard, on one of my favorite Carbon Leaf songs, "What About Everything?" I was prepared to walk out if the show continued in the same vein.

Luckily, it did not. Barry Privett began to engage the audience with amusing banter, which made his stage presence less annoying and more amusing, like the class clown once he becomes your friend instead of just a disruption. The band played "One Prairie Outpost" beautifully (if a little faster than usual), followed by "7 Brides For 7 Sinners." By this time, Carbon Leaf had totally sold themselves to me, and I'd even forgiven them for ruining one of their best songs by giving it a strange tempo and melody.

Barry Privett and Carter Gravatt

Next up, they played "Attica's Flower Box Window," a request from some ladies who were standing to the left of me. Being a song from an earlier album I hadn't managed to procure, "Attica's Flower Box Window" was new to me, but it won me over. That said, "Paloma" was a welcome familiarity when they played it next. Barry then chatted with the crowd some more, before launching into "Miss Hollywood." 

Carter Gravatt in particular had several instrumental solos that aren't in the recorded versions of the songs. I was amazed to hear and watch him play, and I now believe he's one of the most talented instrumentalists I've had the pleasure of seeing live. He certainly knows his way around an instrument. 

"Desperation Song" came next, followed shortly by some lovely new songs that I can't remember the names of. Then they played two of their more popular songs, "Life Less Ordinary" followed by "Raise the Roof," both of which they performed impeccably.

At the close of "Raise the Roof," the band moved into a semi-circle around one microphone, and asked the audience to be a little quieter as they performed some truly amazing numbers. They began with "Comfort" which sounded great with the setup. They then played "What Have You Learned?," one of the only tracks from Nothing Rhymes With Woman that I really enjoyed. They ended the songs at the single microphone with a song I'm not familiar with, but which I did enjoy.

Carbon Leaf ended their set by inviting another band onto the stage with them, and playing a lively "Let Your Troubles Roll By" with several [improvised?] instrumental breaks. "Let Your Troubles Roll By" was a great closer, and both bands on stage were exceptionally talented. 

The band came back on fairly quickly for their encore, and played "The Boxer," which I guess is their most popular song, although I hadn't realized it until Sunday night. 

Carter Gravatt plays cello on "The Boxer."

"The Boxer" topped off a wonderful set and a wonderful night. 

Taking a cue from bands like Ok Go, Carbon Leaf offered a recording of the night's performance on a flash drive after the show. 

I didn't know what to expect from a Carbon Leaf show, but I'm glad I finally got around my inhibitions and checked it out, because it was a terrific experience.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Album Review: Former Lives by Benjamin Gibbard

Benjamin Gibbard is one of those rare modern songwriters who manages to be both prolific and wonderful. Just since the inception of Death Cab For Cutie in 1997 (prior to which, Gibbard fronted a punk rock band called Pinwheel), Gibbard has had at least two major side projects (namely ¡All-Time Quarterback! and The Postal Service), not to mention his collaboration with Andrew Kenny on Home, Volume V, and work on the soundtracks for One Fast Move or I'm Gone (with Jay Farrar) and the recent remake of Arthur, amongst other things.

But Former Lives is his first full-length solo album. It's clear from the fore that this album is not like the work of his bands. Former Lives kicks off with "Shepherd's Bush Lullaby," an a capella tune apparently recorded on an iPhone. At fifty seconds long, "Shepherd's Bush Lullaby" serves more as an intro to the album than a song by itself. "Dream Song," on the other hand, is a splendidly catchy song, with much more Gibbard-esque lyrics. "Dream Song" gives way to "Teardrop Windows," the first song from this album that was made available. "Teardrop Windows" tells an interesting story, but is ultimately dwarfed by the rest of the album.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is "Bigger Than Love," which features Aimee Mann. Mann's voice compliments Gibbard's so perfectly that, at the start of the song, I almost thought Gibbard was using some vocal effects on his own voice. "Bigger Than Love" contains the gorgeous lyric, "...our house got crowded and I'd never felt so all alone," a sentiment many have tried to express, but which is nonetheless poignant in this instance.

"Bigger Than Love" is followed up by another beautiful piece, "Lily." "Lily" contains strong and elegant imagery, along with a folky melody that has touches of early country to it. Gibbard's voice is truly highlighted in this number as well, with minimal instrumentation. "Something's Rattling (Cowpoke)" is a mildly western-style piece, featuring Trio Ellas and vocals by Zooey Deschanel. Trio Ellas play a modern form of mariachi, which gives the piece its feel. Gibbard and Deschanel sing a "chorus" that's somewhere between a humming lullaby and howling, but in a smooth and graceful manner, which makes the voices into truly irreplaceable instruments.

Amongst the weaker tracks on the album is, "Duncan, Where Have You Gone?," a slow whine that could have been rejected from a Death Cab album. The tempo of the album picks back up with "Oh, Woe." Despite the positive feel, "Oh, Woe" is much in the vein of "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" by Of Montreal (rather than a song like George Harrison's "Blow Away"), calling for irrational depression to leave. The lyricism of "Oh, Woe" is terrific. Gibbard personifies the emotion, and points out the way depression touches people. He even mentions the romanticized sadness that can draw people in, by speaking of woe like a lover, "...oh, woe you caught my eye//And I thought that I'd give you a try//But you're nothing like the way you looked//in all those famous songs and books."

Another of my favorite tracks is "A Hard One to Know," a rock-ey number with smart lyrics. The chorus is catchier and stronger than that of any other song on the album. "Lady Adelaide" is a slower and softer song than "A Hard One to Know." "Lady Adelaide" tells the sad story of a woman who has become cold due to a broken heart. It features another of my favorite lines from the album, "Now she's a bird with a broken wing//She likes the ideas of things//More than what they are bound to bring." Gibbard delves deepest into country on "Broken Yolk in Western Sky," which features a pedal steel guitar played by Mark Spencer

The album closes on "I'm Building a Fire." "I'm Building a Fire," much like "Shepherd's Bush Lullaby," is quiet and gentle, and it features only vocals and guitar. Gibbard recorded "I'm Building a Fire" using Garageband. "Shepherd's Bush Lullaby" and "I'm Building a Fire" create lovely bookends for an already brilliant album.

Benjamin Gibbard's songwriting rarely disappoints me, so it's no surprise that Former Lives is already one of my favorite albums of the year. His melodies and lyrics are just as sharp (and, at times, cute) as ever. While I would be inconsolable if Death Cab For Cutie never put another album out, I think Former Lives and future Gibbard solo works could help treat the woulds.

 Benjamin Gibbard is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Former Lives is his debut solo album.

Former Lives can be purchased here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Brief History: Wall of Sound

A few posts ago, I mentioned Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound," and promised to elaborate. Well, I wouldn't like to disappoint.

One of the more prolific and/or legendary music producers of the 1960s, 70s, and beyond was Phil Spector. Spector worked with female vocal groups like The Crystals and The Ronettes, before producing The Beatles' Let It Be and several George Harrison and John Lennon solo works. He even produced one album for The Ramones. Then he became a convicted murderer and went to prison, but that is strictly besides the point.

What made Spector so legendary wasn't just the fact that he worked with awesome acts that happened to churn out lots of hits. Spector was also an innovator of one of the more important musical techniques of the 20th century. There is heavy debate over whether Spector's "Wall of Sound" did more to help or to hurt the music industry, but there is no denying its impact.

In the early 1960s, Spector created a technique of layering sounds together so that they came through well on the radio. He used studio musicians of the era (an elite group of commonly-used backing musicians known as The Wrecking Crew) to create a specific sound that his pieces became known for. The Wrecking Crew would record several guitar parts in unison, together with musical arrangements for groups as large as a full orchestra, all recorded with echo chambers. Sounds played by the studio musicians were bounced back through the studio before being picked up and recorded. The use of orchestral instruments in pop music was uncommon for the time. It immediately made "wall of sound" pieces stand out from the crowd.

The wall of sound was generally carried out on monophonic recordings, despite the traction that stereophonic recordings were gaining at the time. Spector disliked stereo recordings, saying that they took the power of the recording away from the producer and gave it to the listener instead. Were it not for the recording techniques used, Spector's songs would have had a much more flat, dull sound, seeing as they were mono recordings. Instead, the wall of sound created a rich sound with much more depth than the usual mono records.

For a more in-depth look at how the wall of sound worked, I recommend checking out this video:

Spector's work on The Beatles' Let it Be was extensive. The most controversial work he did was on "The Long and Winding Road," the production of which angered Paul McCartney so much that he cited it as one of the reasons for dissolving the band.

Tracks like "Be My Baby" and "Sleigh Ride" by The Ronettes are widely recognized as vivid examples of the technique. But the wall of sound was used in many places at the time and continues to be used to this day. During the 60s, the "Wall of Sound" technique was utilized by Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys on Pet Sounds and Smile as well as other works. Producer Johnny Franz also used a similar technique on his production for Dusty Springfield and The Walker Brothers.

In the 70s and 80s, techniques similar to the Wall of Sound were used by Queen, ABBA, and Bruce Springsteen.

These days, Wall of Sound techniques have developed into several musical genres, in addition to the throwback sound trend utilized by groups like She & Him. Shoegazing, Noise Pop, and Dream Pop all find their roots in the Wall of Sound in different ways. Dream Pop finds roots directly in George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, a Spector work.

Wall of Sound is definitely a technique that has had a great deal of influence over music in the last fifty to sixty years. The musical world would be very different without it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

An Apology

Every once in a while, there are events in my personal life that make it hard for me to function outside of the fetal position (exaggeration). In the beginning of my blog, this wasn't noticeable because I didn't post often anyway. But when I go from like seven posts a month, down to two and then to none, I feel I should explain.

I am still going to run this blog. I love doing it, even if I don't have many readers and even if I don't make money out of it. Thus, I feel guilty for leaving it sit for a month without explanation. I was going through some insane stuff in my personal life that made it difficult to concentrate on the blog posts I was working on. It was difficult to concentrate on much of anything. I even had to leave my paying job once because I was freaking out so much.

All that is, as far as I can tell, over. I have an article about Phil Spector's Wall of Sound in the works and will also hopefully be reviewing the new thenewno2 album, The Fear of Missing Out as soon as I get a chance to listen to it. I've failed to write about two of the shows I went to, but I figure it's been too long since the shows for me to bother. I have the set list and photos from the Death Cab For Cutie and Andrew Bird show I went to, and will share them at the end of this post, but I don't have anything from the Miniature Tigers show, which is okay since I've already made it pretty clear how I feel about their shows. In any case, I should be back very soon, and I offer a very deep thanks to those of you who care to read!

Now, the Death Cab show:
I went to see Death Cab For Cutie and Andrew Bird on July 13th, in Pittsburgh, PA. I got some pictures of Andrew Bird, but I'm not an expert on his discography, so I have no idea what he played.


Death Cab put on a good show as always. They played a mix of pretty much all of their albums, kicking off with Ben Gibbard alone on the stage playing "I Will Follow You Into the Dark."

 "I Will Follow You Into the Dark"
"Home is a Fire"
"I Will Posses Your Heart"
"Crooked Teeth"
"We Laugh Indoors"
"Doors Unlocked and Open"
"Grapevine Fires"
"Summer Skin"
"Portable Television"
"You Are a Tourist"
"New Year"
"Lowell, MA"
"Monday Morning"
"Expo '86"
"Soul Meets Body"

I had to use panoramic mode on my camera to get the band all in one shot, seeing as Chris Walla likes to stand over yonder by his lonesome, so there are several pictures like the one above and the one below. I don't know, I kind of like them.

"Title and Registration"
"Styrofoam Plates"
"Blacking Out the Friction"
"St. Peter's Cathedral"
"Marching Bands of Manhattan"

Thanks, and the regular blog posts will return shortly.