Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Concert Review: Michael Nesmith in Ferndale, Michigan

The last time I saw Michael Nesmith, it was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania back in April. Since then, the show seems to have changed a little bit for the better. Perhaps it was the seating arrangements (the Carnegie show had more of an auditorium feel, whereas The Magic Bag is a relaxed, jazz club feel in an intimate setting), or maybe it was Nesmith's level of comfort with performing his songs live again, but either way, it was incredible to see that these shows are getting even better.

The Magic Bag alternates between being a concert venue and a light dinner theater, so seating was mostly at tables and many people in the audience had popcorn. The lighting was low, but the stage was very visible. Nesmith and his band took the stage around eight-thirty and after a brief introduction of the band, Nesmith also introduced the concept that he built for the shows. Much as he did during his last tour, Nesmith built the setlist and atmosphere of the show by introducing a song or series of songs with a "setting," hence the tour title "Movies of the Mind."

Nesmith's artistry with words does create a terrific atmosphere, which I will try not to spoil for you when I say that the set started with a story that prefaced "Calico Girlfriend," "Nine Times Blue," and "Little Red Rider." Although it seems like an unlikely opener, "Calico Girlfriend" had much more energy than the recorded versions. After only a short pause, "Calico Girlfriend" became a heartfelt and rockier version of "Nine Times Blue." "Little Red Rider" closed the series of songs, and Nesmith created the setting for the next song, which I immediately realized was going to be one of my favorite of his compositions, "Propinquity (I've Just Begun to Care)." The word propinquity means "the state of being close to someone," and the song is a gentle tune about falling in love with someone you'd formerly taken for granted. In this live performance however, the lyrics and music were both only small players, outshone by Nesmith's voice, which sounds just as good as ever. His voice seems to have more or less the same range, but it seems to have gained a new level of depth as he's matured. Another lyrically masterful Nesmith track followed: a slowed-down version of "Tomorrow and Me," which really captured the emotions the lyrics seem to convey more so than the original recorded version.

The next vignette took place in Paris, and led into a version of "Different Drum" which featured mandolin and synthesized accordion. "Different Drum" was followed by "Some of Shelly's Blues." Another elaborate visual description set the stage for "Joanne" and "Silver Moon," while yet another still led into "Rio" and "Casablanca Moonlight." While I prefer the album version of "Rio," the live "Casablanca Moonlight" seems far more engaging than the album version.

The set continued with "Yellow Butterfly" and then "Light" and "Rays" played consecutively. My favorite part  of both shows I've attended is a trio of songs beginning with an updated "Cruisin,'" and continuing with "Dance" and "Tonite," all from Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma. That trio of songs works amazingly live, and stands out as the best group of tracks amongst many other great songs. The set closed with "Running From the Grand Ennui."

There was a pleasantly brief pause before the band returned to the stage for an encore of "Rising in Love" and an upbeat "Listen to the Band," during which, Nesmith introduced his actual band again, with solos from each of the talented band members.

Michael Nesmith and his band put on an incredibly good live show, with plenty of life and energy, and ripe with musical talent. Even if you're unfamiliar with some of his work, but you still enjoy a good "classic" rock show, Nesmith and co. provide. It's a relaxed journey, and well worth the ride.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Album Review: Lousy With Sylvianbriar by of Montreal

The last couple of albums of Montreal released didn't seem to be on the same level as either their early work, or Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?. But from the very first preview of "Fugitive Air," it became clear that Lousy With Sylvianbriar was going to be a good album (or a bad album with a really good track on it). Fortunately, not only did the rest of the album live up to "Fugitive Air," but sometimes surpassed it, and the album art makes it totally possible to judge an album by its cover.

Lousy With Sylvianbriar actually kicks off with "Fugitive Air," a mostly-retro, low-fi song. "Fugitive Air" contains a line I can only assume to be a reference (or misheard lyric) to "Abraham, Martin and John" by Dion: "Has anybody here seen my orphan blonde?" But more importantly, "Fugitive Air" brings to mind early of Montreal tracks, but with the twist of all the musical elements they've explored since then, and a much "harder" 60s rock feel than they ever explored before. 

From there, the album moves on to "Obsidian Currents," which gives up the harder sound for some pedal steel and a floating feel. Certain elements of "Obsidian Currents" feel like they come straight off of George Harrison's self-titled album (although that's surely not the influence). One of the strongest tracks on the album, "Belle Glade Missionaries" is next, with a distinctly 60s country feel. Kevin Barnes said he was very inspired by 50s and 60s country music on this album, and you can hear it in the loveliest of ways.

"Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit" is another standout track, with a slower tempo and gorgeous harmonies. The following track, "Colossus" has a monotonous feel, that Barnes seems to use at times to express a feeling of stagnation. 

The album takes a clear stance of mental unrest on "Triumph of Disintegration," which begins by declaring "The last ten days have been a mother****er," and goes on to say  "I had to make myself a monster just to feel something//ugly enough to be true." Along with the lyrics on the subject of depression, which Barnes has been working on and perfecting for years, there's great guitar and a use of tambourine that hasn't properly been explored by any band in years. "Triumph of Disintegration" gives way to "Amphibian Days," which bridges the gap between monotony and carefully crafted beauty. 

The instrumental rock gets a little harder for "She Ain't Speakin' Now" and the very 60s, Bob Dylan-esque "Hegira Émigré," which is easily one of the highlights of the album. "Raindrop in My Skull" features beautiful lead vocals by Rebecca Cash as well as more slide guitar and tambourine. It's interesting the way Cash manages to perfectly echo and compliment the voice of Barnes. 

The album closes on "Imbecile Rages," a track which begins with a hard-rock feel, but wavers between gentle lyricism and angry sounds. "Imbecile Rages" perfectly wraps up the album, in terms of both sound and overall feel. 

Lousy With Sylvianbriar does a terrific job of both maintaining a homogeneous sound, and not being boring, of sounding old and new, and of sounding like a concept album at both the start and finish, but not really seeming as though it's trying to be a concept album. Luckily, of Montreal have gotten their groove back, and it would be a mistake to miss out on it.

of Montreal are a rock band from Atlanta, Georgia.

Lousy With Sylvianbriar is out today and can be purchased here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Album Review: Fly By Wire by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

Bands can take many approaches in releasing a new album. The norm lately seems to be changing drastically into a 70s or 80s revival band, but Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin have remained pleasantly consistent in their sound. Their last album featured a brief shift into louder, clean sound on Let It Sway (which comes with having Chris Walla produce your album). However, Fly By Wire calls back to a sound much more similar to Pershing. It's not a regression, instead it is the band becoming very comfortable with their particular sound.

The album begins gently with "Harrison Ford," which disappointingly seems to have nothing to do with the actor. But the sound is sweet and soft with the tenderness of a Broom track and the catchiness of a song from Pershing. "Young Presidents" is poppier, but still calm and quiet, somehow bridging the unnoticed gap between noise-pop and hard rock. The next track, "Cover All Sides," is a good example of many aspects of the band, featuring a harmonious chorus, a soft verse, and their particular brand of jangling-yet-wailing guitar, and even the slightly inaccessible, but still completely sensical lyrics.

"Lucky Young" has the uplifting feel of "Modern Mystery" (and the blank-syllable chanting as well), but falls short in terms of overall staying power. On "Ms. Dot," the band manage to channel the beat from Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" and the chord changes from the bridge of The Monkees "Last Train to Clarksville" without sounding particularly like either song. That said, "Ms. Dot" is not a particularly standout track, but the tempo of the album picks of quite a bit for "Loretta," which has a reggae beat (although not feel) to it.

The album begins to wind down by "Unearth," which contains similar musical concepts to "Dead Right," but not played off as well. "Bright Leaves" is another track not quite up to par with the rest of the album.

Still, "Nightwater Girlfriend," an outstanding single from the album is used as the second to last track. "Nightwater Girlfriend" is a highlight of the album, featuring many elements that make the band good, and hooking you from the very first bar of guitar. "Nightwater Girlfriend" gives way to the title track, "Fly By Wire," which is a weaker track, but it still works fine as a wrap-up.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin have always seemed to me to be a good band that there's not to much to say  about. Fly By Wire enforces this idea. It's a good album, but somewhat indescribable. "Nightwater Girlfriend" is a great track, and  the rest of the album is pretty decent as well, but unless you know what to expect from the band, it's nothing to dive into.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin are an indie pop band from Springfield, Missouri.

Fly By Wire is out September 17th, and can be purchased here.

Monday, September 2, 2013

One-Mind Tracks: Manic Pixie Dream Girls

For those who do not know, Manic Pixie Dream Girl" is a title that was coined by a reviewer of the movie Elizabethtown. It was used to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character, and it has expanded to describe the over-the-top, happy-go-lucky girls that are often featured in…guy romantic comedies? These girls are sometimes depicted to have their own deep-seated flaws and insecurities, but frequently the main focus is their impact on the guy and how they can fix his life, or how he can get her to date him. Kate Hudson in Almost Famous and several Zooey Deschanel characters are considered to be manic pixie dream girls, but examples of the trope date back as far as Katherine Hepburn’s character in the 1938 film Bringing Up Baby. These characters also occur in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (story and film), Annie Hall, the comic and film Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and the character of Jane in Breaking Bad.

There are also Manic Pixie Dream Guys, like Will Ferrell’s character in Elf, Jason Segel in I Love You Man or Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club. But that’s another topic unto itself.

Although Zooey Deschanel often portrays this type of character, 500 Days of Summer is actually a deconstruction of the trope. Likewise, young adult novelist John Green utilized the trope in Looking For Alaska, and then deconstructed it in Paper Towns. The deconstruction of the manic pixie has almost become part of the idea at this point, but from Paper Towns comes the moralistic idea to "imagine people complexly," and a wonderful quote that sums up the manic pixie dream girl storyline better than this entire rant, and that is:

“What a treacherous thing to believe, that a person is more than a person.”

While some people would argue that the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" trope is anti-feminist, I would argue that it is no more damaging to women than any other cliche (in fact, less damaging than the woman in romantic comedies whose life is going to hell until she meets that guy). Due to the deconstruction part of the trope, manic pixie dream girls are not often one-dimensional either. The lesson, much like in Paper Towns, is often to try to see women as more than just redeemers or golden tickets into a world of happiness. I happen to love the trope, because it can be explored many different ways, and often is, in films, books, and song.

So finally we get to the playlist I have compiled, which includes songs about many different aspects of the manic pixie dream girl.

Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones
Although I've never been much of a Rolling Stones fan, if you asked me to sum the manic pixie dream girl up in a single song, this would have to be the one. You've got the mystique, the "dreamer" quality, the independence,and the narrator's intense desires for the girl in question. You also have the fact that in The Royal Tenenbaums, "Ruby Tuesday" is used at a turning point involving mpdg Margot (played by Gwyneth Paltrow).

She's Got You High by Mumm-Ra
Used in the (500) Days of Summer soundtrack, this track is perfect to describe the part of the story when boy first meets mpdg.

Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Apart from the fact that this song evokes the spirit of a noire detective film complete with the femme fatale (which I believe to be a relative of the mpdg), this song is also kind of the basis for mpdg film Watching the Detectives about a man who is content watching movies about adventures until he meets the adventurous Lucy Liu, who teaches him to go on real adventures. Parts of the basis for this story can be heard directly in the song.

She's So Mean by Matchbox Twenty
This is the first of two songs on this playlist which features a clear mpdg in the video. And the lyrics too!

Come On Sister by Belle & Sebastian
Not only does the narrator see the female character as someone that everyone must be after, but features the lyrics "And it's fun thinking of you like a movie star//And it's dumb thinking of you like the way that you were," which is the kind of misimagining of people that mpdg pieces are all about.

Makeup by Everybody Else
This song tells the story of a troubled girl who "[doesn't] believe in love," but is still incredibly interesting to the narrator who doesn't seem to know much about her.

Plans Get Complex by All-Time Quarterback
From Ben Gibbard side-project All-Time Quarterback, this song has always reminded me of Paper Towns.

Vancouver by They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants did a challenging project in which they wrote a song for every venue they played at on tour in 2004. In Vancouver, they wrote and performed this Cars pastiche, about a girl who is "a different kind of girl//the kind you see in pictures." She also wears a monocle, so she's either a mpdg or just a hipster.

She's So High by Tal Bachman
And now for the second mpdg-centric video, and a song that no one who lived through the 90s can forget.

Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac
Stevie Nicks based this song on the novel Triad by Mary Leader. She didn't know that Rhiannon is also a character from Welsh legend until after the completion of the song. The song character is a woman who can be many things and "wouldn't you love to love her?"

Born To Do by Everybody Else
A female character who walks into a grocery store singing, steals something so the narrator can see, then makes it clear she has money. The narrator is besotted with the girl, and loses his job and girlfriend in order to pursue her. Then she disappears...

Wildflowers by Tom Petty
The title track of Tom Petty's 1995 album, this song features a "free" woman who is perceived to be much better than everyone else.

Sunny Girlfriend by The Monkees
A girl who fixes everyone's problems and champions their thoughts with no concerns for herself. Almost a perfect example of a mpdg (spoiler alert, it's probably actually about drugs).

Just Like a Woman by Bob Dylan
Rumored to be about Joan Baez or real-life mpdg Edie Sedgwick, this song still shows both sides of the mpdg, who seems strong and tough on the surface (enough to have power over the narrator), but who is deeply flawed underneath.

I'm Looking Through You by The Beatles
The narrator comes to realize the mpdg is not who he'd thought. To me, it's reminiscent of the scene in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World when Scott finds out Ramona has dyed her hair without consulting or informing him,

She's Not There by The Zombies
This song is a little tough to interpret, but I think it could be taken to mean the woman turned out to be so different from what he thought that the woman he knew disappeared. The narrator seems to know all of her physical attributes and the fact that she lies, but not much else.

Windy by The Association
Much like the girl in "She's So High," "Windy" is put on a crazy pedestal. Just a reminder, putting anyone on a pedestal is unhealthy. Unless of course you're Steve Martin.

Grey Sky Eyes by Carbon Leaf
The narrator of this song seems attracted to the mystery of the woman in this song and her "grey sky eyes," but she fights back, warning him not to romanticize her.

Complex Person by The Pretenders
I'm not sure if anyone ever thought Chrissie Hynde was a mpdg, but she is still fighting back against being imagined one-dimensionally. She does the same in "Every Mother's Son," but spells it out better here.

Mouthwash by Kate Nash
Kate Nash asks people to imagine her complexly and realize there are many elements to her life.

Undun by The Guess Who
Like Alaska in Looking for Alaska and Penny Lane in Almost Famous, this song outlines the mpdg who tries too hard and feels like she fails.

That Girl Has Love by Rooney
Once again, this song features a girl who is very confident and in control when it comes to relationships, but deeply troubled and ends up committing suicide.

Any More? I'd love to hear them.

And if you live in the area of Marion, Ohio, be sure to catch most of this playlist Thursday night at 7 on One-Mind Tracks on 97.5 WDIF.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Interview: Alex Sheridan

It's always exciting when someone from your hometown makes something of themselves. In this case, Alex Sheridan of Marion, Ohio has created a hip-hop album which reached number seventy-seven in the iTunes charts. But beyond that, it's a great album, featuring contributions from local artists to big names such as Skee-Lo.

To find out more about the album, Heartbeats, I asked Alex Sheridan a few questions.

Alex Sheridan
No More Blood From a Clone: How would you describe your music?

Alex Sheridan: Hmm...That's difficult for me. It's pretty eclectic, so I have a hard time giving it a broad description. How about "eclectic-hop"?

NMBFC: Heartbeats contains elements of several musical genres. What artists influenced you growing up? Who are some of your favorite artists now?

Alex Sheridan: As a kid I loved Billy Joel, Queen, Hanson (shut up), Third Eye Blind, and Savage Garden. Nowadays, I still listen to all of the classics, but I try to keep my ear to what's hot at the moment, so I know what to play as I'm DJ'ing.

NMBFC: When did you decide that you wanted to do music as a career?

Alex Sheridan: There was never really a specific moment that I made a conscious decision to pursue music full time. I had done it for quite a while as a hobby, through high school and college years, as I was going to school to become a teacher. I got a job teaching, but maintained the music on the side. As that continued to grow, it allowed me the opportunity to get out of teaching and go into music full time. It all just worked out for me and sort of fell into my lap. Luckily, too, because I don't think I would have been brave enough to leap blindly into this.

NMBFC: Do you have a favorite track or track you are the proudest of on Heartbeats? Is there a song that you feel best represents the kind of music you’d like to produce in the future?

Alex Sheridan: I have a lot of favorites. As a whole, it's probably "Muddy Shoes." The production on that track is just so good. Lyrically, I really like the last verse in "We All Fall Down." The title track, "Heartbeats" is most indicative of what you can expect in the future. I started on most of the songs years ago, but Heartbeats just came around a few months ago. I'm way more comfortable flowing over that track than the others.

NMBFC: If I understand correctly, Heartbeats was made over the course of six years. How have you grown as an artist since the inception of Heartbeats?

Alex Sheridan: That's right. There are a whole lot of reasons that it took so long: life, computer crashes, perfectionism (the best and worst thing ever). I've definitely grown both as a person and as an artist. I've never had any musical training or formally learned how to mix, produce, etc. Most of my knowledge just came from trial and error, figuring things out the hard way, and creating my own ways of getting things done. Now that I have a good part of that under my belt, I'm hoping to crank out the next project within a year or so.

NMBFC: Your album cover is a powerful image. Can you explain how that photo came about?

Alex Sheridan: One of my buddies told me about this old abandoned building in Marion County. We went to check it out and it was an absolute a mess. A perfectly photogenic mess. I talked a couple of my friends into bringing their son there, and asked Kristian Irey - an amazing local photographer - to take some pictures of him for the album art. She just went to work doing her thing. Going into the shoot, the picture on the back of the album was actually intended to be the cover art, but I couldn't get past the simplicity and hope portrayed in the one we chose instead.

NMBFC: My favorite track is “Say You Gotta Man," which features female rapper Anca, who has a sound not dissimilar to the better works of Nicki Minaj. Anca is from Jacksonville, Florida, how did you become associated with her?

Alex Sheridan: Thanks! This is kind of dumb...I really wanted a female rapper on that song, but didn't know any good ones at the time, so I scoured MySpace Music pages for days looking for someone dope. As soon as I found her, I knew I could call the search off. She's ridiculously good. I don't even think she knows that story actually.


NMBFC: How did the video for “F.I.N.E.” come about?

Alex Sheridan: I spend a lot of time online. Browsing the web, using StumbleUpon, etc. I get so much inspiration from things that I find, for music, art, businesses, learning...everything. Anyway, one day I came across a claymation video done by this Polish artist, Tomasz Pudelko. I saw it and became obsessed with his style. I hit him up, sent him the song and a couple months and a few thousand pictures later, the video was complete. He came up with the concept and everything. That man is the real deal.

NMBFC: “Muddy Shoes” is quite empowering. What can you tell us about that one?

Alex Sheridan: Thanks! I love the swampy feel of it. That was one of the tracks that took their sweet old time. The hook has been consistent since it's conception, but I probably have a good 50 different versions of that song on my computer. Every couple of months I would add a new part to it, mix in some new instruments, have some harmonies added, take some parts out, etc. I always knew that song had a lot of potential, so I really took my time with it. There are still some things that I wish I could improve on with that song, but it got to a point where I just had to wash my hands and put the project out, or else I would drive myself mad, and no one would ever hear any of these songs.

NMBFC: There are a lot of children’s voices on the album. Who are they?

Alex Sheridan: "Ardy" features my buddy's niece and nephew, Alecea & Kyron Rucks. For "We All Fall Down" - this is both confusing and creepy sounding; I went to school for a year up at Bowling Green. There was a family there that sort of "adopted" college students. Invited them into their house for home cooked meals, gave them support, and all of that good stuff. One of the people I became friends with up there, was "adopted" by a family who had literally adopted three little kids. My friend acted as a middle man and convinced this super nice family to bring their three children into the apartment bedroom (where I had all of my stuff set up) of a college student to record stuff. They had the voices of angels.

NMBFC: “We All Fall Down” seems like a perfect closing track. Was that always the closer or did you have another song in mind originally?

Alex Sheridan: It wasn't originally intended to end the album. I was planning on ending the album with "On Top of the World", but it led into "A Little More Hip Hop" way too perfectly to not use that transition. After I decided to end it with "We All Fall Down," I added the false ending to the album and that last little surprise scratching part just as something fun.

NMBFC: Obviously this album has been fairly successful, but are you more concerned with making money from this album, or just building a fanbase?

Alex Sheridan: With this album, making money on it is nice, but right now I'm more concerned with getting people to hear it. I've spent so much time on this project and am so proud of it, I just want the world to hear it.

NMBFC: So, what now?

Alex Sheridan: The plan is to continue promoting Heartbeats for the next couple of months. We're putting a band together to do shows with, so it's not just some awkward rapper standing in front of a boombox. I'm hoping to keep the momentum up until I drop my next project in about a year. We already have 5 or 6 songs halfway done for that album. It already dwarfs Heartbeats. I can't wait to get it out there!

NMBFC: Thanks!

If you'd like to check out Heartbeats, it can be purchased on iTunes or Amazon. Or for a physical copy of the CD, you can order at

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Album Review: Electric by Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys have been consistently putting out albums since 1986, although most Americans who even recognize the name tend to think of them as the one-hit wonder band that gave us "West End Girls." But they have certainly done much more, and Electric is a testament to what a good band they truly are. Almost twenty years after the band's inception, and they are still putting out music that is fresh and relevant with heavy helpings of artistic integrity.

Electric opens with "Axis," a track which introduces the sound and overall feel of the album. Although "Axis" contains some 80s sounds reminiscent of when the band began, it sounds more like the pseudo 80s that is so popular now. This type of modern but nostalgic sound continues consistently throughout the album.

"Bolshy" is a dance-sounding track (another theme with this album), followed by what seems to me is the most sale-able single from the album, "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct." "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct" opens with an instrumental that falls somewhere between the dance sound of the album and a pop baroque featuring a harpsichord sound reminiscent of some Vampire Weekend. The lyrics are artfully crafted, and paint the picture of a man who has given up on love following a breakup. I don't think they could have picked a better single for the album, and it truly is both a great pop and dance tune. The entire piece is incredibly polished, and owes a good deal to both its writer and producer.

Following "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct," the sound of the album takes a slightly darker turn. "Florescent" is a solid track, although there's nothing particularly notable about it. "Inside a Dream" seemed to be the low point of the album, although it's still not a bad song, just not incredibly good.

The biggest surprise on the album is "The Last To Die," which is actually a cover of a Bruce Springsteen track from Magic. Pet Shop Boys do such a great job of owning the song, I never would have identified it as a cover. It is a beautiful cover of a very poetic and haunting tune that I can imagine being used in a zombie film. "The Last To Die" is a reference to a John Kerry quote regarding the Vietnam war: " do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

"Shouting in the Evening" is a heavily synthesized tune which is the shortest on the album. It turns into "Thursday" almost before you realize it. "Thursday" is a brilliant pop tune, and probably the best song on the album after "Love is a Bourgeois Construct." It also contains the Pet Shop Boys chanting style reminiscent of  the chorus in "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" Toward the end of the song, Example does a little rapping, transforming the song into something not unlike a Mark Ronson and the Business International track.

The album closes with another very strong piece, "Vocal," which was featured in Youtube ads for the album. "Vocal" is almost an ode to clubbing, but more importantly, an ode to music, and how it relates to mood. "Vocal" is positive and upbeat in a way most songs do not dare to be.

Electric is one of the best albums I've heard lately by a band that isn't one I'm gaga over. Much like They Might Be Giants Nanobots, Pet Shop Boys have taken the things that they are known for (electronic music innovation) and continued to grow and develop so that the age of the band is unrelated to the relevance of their music. I feel like Electric does what Random Access Memories by Daft Punk could have done. Electric doesn't try too hard, but it also doesn't rely on old material to convince buyers it will be good. Too many bands entering their second or third decade are busy trying to convince listeners that they are still young and talented and forget to actually be good (I love you B-52's, but this means you). If you're looking for something with a touch of 80s a heavy scoop of dance feel, I recommend you check this album out.

Pet Shop Boys are an English electronic pop duo.

Electric can be purchased here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

One-Mind Tracks: Musical Tour of the U.S.

In celebration of the 4th of July, this blog and the One-Mind Tracks radio show are going on a musical tour of the U.S.A. I mean, the blog will stay where it is, but the songs will provide musical journey (or something cheezy like that).

America by Simon and Garfunkel
I figured we should open with an overview. Simon and Garfunkel describe a trip across the U.S., hitchhiking and riding a Greyhound bus.

Boston by Augustana
Augustana's most popular song from 2005 makes reference to Boston, Massachusetts.

New York City by They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants provided this cover of a gorgeous Cub song that is a love song about two people as well as a love song to New York, New York.

Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John
Elton John suggested the title "Philadelphia Freedom" to his lyricist Bernie Taupin after John became friends with tennis coach Billie Jean King. The lyrics of the song, however, were more inspired by the bicentennial, and the music attributed to the "Philadelphia sound" such as The Delphonics and The Spinners.

Florida by Push Kings
A band originally from Boston sing this fun tune about Florida.

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia by Vicki Lawrence
Over to Georgia for this dark tune about the hanging of an innocent man by Californian Vicki Lawrence.

Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver
John Denver played a show with Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff who had written a song they were going to try to get Johnny Cash to sing. They decided to let Denver hear it, thankfully for both West Virginia and Denver himself.

My City Was Gone by The Pretenders
Chrissie Hynde laments about the Akron, Ohio that changed in her absence.

Chicago by Sufjan Stevens
Over to Illinois for this sweet track by Sufjan Stevens.

Kentucky Woman by Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond wrote this track about the groupies at a Kentucky show.

Graceland by Paul Simon
The title track off of Paul Simon's 1986 album explores Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, which Simon visited after his separation from wife Carrie Fisher.

Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn
Still in Tennessee, Marc Cohn sings about his trip to Memphis as well as Graceland.

Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
A band from Florida sings the praises of Alabama.

House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
The most popular version of an old blues track by a British band references New Orleans, Louisiana's unfortunate patronage.

Waking Up in Vegas by Katy Perry
Katy Perry sings a song of Las Vegas, Nevada where anything can happen and you must just accept it as fate.

California by Phantom Planet
A tale of returning to California which is credited in part to Al Jolson, who sang a song called "California, Here I Come" (although he is only a co-author of the song).

Walking in L.A. by Missing Persons
Nobody walks in Los Angeles, California.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose? by Dionne Warwick
Catchy tune about finding (or not finding) success in California.

Oregon Girl by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
In the vein of "California Girls," "Oregon Girl" sings the praises of women from Oregon.

Hello Seattle by Owl City
Despite being from Minnesota, Adam Young has said he considers this song about Seattle, Washington to be a track most representative of the type of music he wants to make.

Private Idaho by The B-52's
In this track, Idaho is code for paranoia.

Surfin' U.S.A. by The Beach Boys
To close much the way we started, here's another overview of the U.S. by The Beach Boys.

Any More? I'd love to hear them.

And if you live in the area of Marion, Ohio, be sure to catch most of this playlist Thursday night at 7 on One-Mind Tracks on 97.5 WDIF.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Concert Review: The Postal Service in Columbus, Ohio

Anyone who became a fan of The Postal Service in the last 9 years pretty much had to accept the fact that they were never going to see them live. Ben Gibbard was busy with Death Cab For Cutie and his solo work, and Jimmy Tamborello was busy with Dntel, not to even mention sometimes-member Jenny Lewis's schedule. Interviews with Gibbard tended to squash any ideas of a reunion too. But this year, fans finally got what they wanted, and it seemed like the band didn't hate themselves too much for it.

The opener for Columbus was Advance Base, the work of Owen Ashworth from Chicago, Illinois. Advance base does not make bad music, it's just not particularly noteworthy. He managed to make almost everything sound fairly similar, including a Kris Kristofferson cover, and the only time I (and most of the crowd) got truly excited was when he began to play the intro to "Stairway to Heaven," which turned out to be only a tease, and the end of his set. The crowd was respectful at least, and Ashworth seemed able to communicate with them well.

Advance Base
The Postal Service took the stage at just after 9, opening with "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and moving on to "We Will Become Silhouettes" and "Sleeping In," which featured Tamborello on vocals for the chorus. All three songs were performed amazingly with high energy.

They moved on to the weaker of the two songs released on the tenth anniversary edition of Give Up, "Turn Around." Despite the song being one of my least favorite Postal Service tracks, the live performance was incredibly well put-together. Jenny Lewis, whose presence and vocals had already been demanding a great deal of attention onstage, came forward to sing the Jen Wood vocal parts on "Nothing Better." The presence of Lewis onstage was incredible throughout the show. She has one of the most electrifying and (if I may say so) sexual stage presences I have ever seen.

Jenny Lewis
Next up was "Recycled Air" followed by two of my favorite Postal Service tracks, "Be Still My Heart" and "Clark Gable," both done impeccably.

They then did a cover of Beat Happening's "Our Secret," which blended well with their material. "This Place is a Prison" was slightly lower-energy than the rest of the set, simply because it's such a slow, sad song, but it worked out. A b-side, "There's Never Enough Time," came next, and then the incredible "A Tattered Line of String," another release from the reissue of Give Up. The crowd seemed pleasantly familiar with the newer song.

Jimmy Tamborello
Ben Gibbard. Photos by Erin Howard
The set closed with "Such Great Heights" and a very excellent live version of "Natural Anthem."

For the encore, the band played "(This is) The Dream of Evan and Chan," a Dntel song that Gibbard sang on, which began the collaboration between Tamborello and Gibbard, and "Brand New Colony."

The Postal Service put on an amazing show, one of the best live shows I've seen in a while. Their live sound was far more solid than I had expected from an electronic band, and they performed each song almost flawlessly, the vocals harmonizing perfectly, particularly at the close of "Brand New Colony." As contagious as the energy was, so was the happiness that seemed to radiate from the band members onstage.

If you get a chance to check them out during the remainder of this tour, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Emma Hath a Song: "In The Air Tonight"

"In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins is one of those special songs that most people like (or at least tolerate). My personal favorite part is when Collins calls out "and I remember," but I know most people prefer the unique drum machine solo just before the song picks up, toward the close.

In 1979, Collins was going through a divorce from his first wife, Andrea Bertorelli. He went on hiatus from Genesis, and recorded Face Value, an album primarily composed of songs intended to be messages to his ex-wife. The most successful song on Face Value, and arguably of Collins' career, was "In The Air Tonight." The phrase "in the air" was inspired by the lingering tension that Collins felt affected not only him and his wife, but their children. Collins has stated that even he isn't sure exactly what the song is about, but that it concerns the bitter, angry side of a separation [source]. His lyrics (particularly in songs like "Sussudio") are typically written as he sings, and based on what sounds good. "In The Air Tonight" is no exception. Collins responded to a particularly contradictory line, "The first time, the last time//we ever met" by saying:

"I didn't go back to look at the thing and say- 'Now, does this make sense? Because someone's gonna ask me years later.' I just said, 'does that sound good?' [...] Because I'm not very good with words. I mean, although I'm writing lyrics, I'm not very good with words talking. So, I thought, when she hears this she'll know how I feel."

Bertorelli left Collins after having an affair with a painter and decorator, inspiring Phil Collins to perform the song on Top of the Pops with a can of paint and a paintbrush onstage.

The recording of the drums in "In The Air Tonight" is notable. The sound actually came as an accident. Collins was recording drums for "Intruder," a Peter Gabriel solo track, when the reverse talk-back feature (which allows the producers to speak to those in the recording studio) was activated. Engineer Hugh Padgham was so impressed by the sound that he and a friend rewired the sound board so that the reverse talk-back could be used more formally. Later versions of the soundboard were made so that the listen mic could be recorded more easily. To create the sound of "In The Air Tonight," they also used heavily compressed and gated ambient mics. This sound (referred to as "gated drum" or "gated reverb") has become a trademark of Collins' work. When "In The Air Tonight" was released as a single, Atlantic Records asked them to add more drums earlier in the song.

Collins offered "In The Air Tonight" to Genesis, but the other members of the band felt it was "too simple."

This song, in particular the lines "if you were drowning//I would not lend a hand," has developed an urban legend surrounding it, creating several different backstories, none of which are true (although they are all more interesting than the actual story relayed above). This is all despite the fact that Collins himself has described the "drowning" lines as being symbolic, which makes rational sense.

The first story is that Collins watched someone fail to save a drowning person, from a distance too great to help himself. This story sometimes goes so far as to say that Collins hired a private investigator to find the man, and then sang it to him for the first time at a concert with a spotlight on the man. Another story says that Collins watched a man who had raped his wife drown. A third story claims that Collins himself saw a man drowning when he was a child, but couldn't help. These stories are referenced in an Eminem song, "Stan."

"In The Air Tonight" has become an important part of pop culture, beginning as early as 1984, when it was featured in the pilot episode of Miami Vice. Possibly because of that inclusion, it is an important component in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.

It's been featured in a ton of movies and tv shows, including a scene in the series finale of Ashes to Ashes, in which the creator elected to fade the song down early, so the drum bridge didn't distract viewers from the drama of the show.

And that's all that I hath for now!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

One-Mind Tracks: Self-Love

Just as a word of warning, this post is not G-rated.

When I got the idea to do this compilation, I had completely forgotten that May is National Masturbation Month, but how fitting! There are a ton of songs about love and sex, but a slightly smaller subcategory of songs about masturbation and privates (men like to sing about their boy parts a lot, actually). These are some of my favorite songs about self-love. I've even made you a Youtube playlist!

My Ding-a-Ling by Chuck Berry
I was planing on leaving this novelty tune off of the playlist until I heard this amazing live version. Chuck Berry apparently has an amazing sense of humor, as well as some pretty liberal ideas about sexuality. This song passed the censors of the day because it's "about a toy." Apparently this track got a lot of play on Dr. Demento, and it's not hard (tee hee) to see why. Not only is this song a great introduction to this playlist, but it's a great reminder that this sort of song can be fun, and there's nothing wrong with that.

In Quintessence by Squeeze
"In Quintessence" is not exclusively about masturbation, but it is about a fifteen-year-old boy, so there is the inevitable "In the corner with his book and tissue//all he can do is pretend to miss you//Closes his eyes as he sees her body//pulls funny faces and that's his hobby." It's also a fantastic song, both musically and lyrically.

Billy Liar by The Decemberists
In a similar vein, "Billy Liar" is about a boy's boredom during which he seems to spend a good deal of time with his pants/knickers down. "Billy Liar" comes from an English novel about a boy with an active imagination. Apparently the song character, however, imagines mostly one thing.

I Touch Myself by The Divinyls
Everyone's favorite, blatant song about masturbation can't be left out. The Bens (Ben Folds, Ben Kweller, and Ben Lee) also did a pretty amusing cover of it, but as this playlist shows, men touching themselves is a lot more commonplace anyway.

Captain Jack by Billy Joel
Billy Joel wrote this song about the teens in the housing project across from his apartment, who bought a kind of heroin called "Captain Jack." But because he's Billy Joel, it's not just an accusation or judgement on these teens. He imagines what it's like to be a poor teen, including, yes, the masturbation. It's a pretty depressing song all-in-all, it kind of gives the playlist bad vibes, but I love Billy Joel, so I can't leave this one out.

U + Ur Hand by P!nk
While this isn't really a song about masturbation, this feminist rock-anthem does center around P!nk telling a guy to self-service because he isn't getting anything from her.

She Bop by Cyndi Lauper
It's a nice change to hear a woman sing about self-love, since it almost seems like a pastime reserved for men, at least according to media. But Lauper sings openly about "she-bopping" and is adorable whilst doing so. She also reminds us that "She bop, he bop, a we bop//I bop, you bop, a they bop."

Dancing With Myself by Billy Idol
When I was younger, not only did I used to get Billy Idol and Billy Joel mixed up, but I also argued until I was blue in the face that this was just a fun pop tune. But the more research I do, it's probably about "dancing" with yourself. Especially when you see Idol's body language in the video. Still a great song, and a great addition to the playlist.

Turning Japanese by The Vapors
The internet loves to argue about this one, but at least three of the interpretations have to do with masturbation, so I'm calling it. Apparently it's actually about a guy who loses a girl and is so overcome by grief that he becomes someone else, but Urban Dictionary says otherwise.

Pictures of Lily by The Who
A boy has trouble sleeping until his father gives him a picture to stick on his wall. The implication is that something about this pin-up girl causes the narrator to be able to relax himself. He also says he falls in love with Lily. Pete Townshend got the idea for this song after seeing a picture of Lily Bayliss on his girlfriend's wall.

Pink Thing by XTC
Andy Partridge penned this unusual homage to his penis. In actuality, the song is built to have a dual meaning. Yes, it's about his penis, but hidden beneath that is the fact that it's about his son. You follow me? Because I barely do. Partridge and his wife apparently called their son "pink thing" when he was a baby, and Partridge wanted to write a song about his son without it being cheesy. Thus, he gave it a wax overcoat of being about a penis. It works.

Fingers by P!nk
Trust P!nk to make it on this list twice. Apparently her record company wants to make it really hard to get to this song. That's not coming from research, it's from experience. P!nk was going to include this on I'm Not Dead, then changed her mind, then released it on the platinum version of I'm Not Dead, so you have to buy the whole deluxe album to get it, and then I can't add it to this Youtube playlist because it's only viewable on its own. Anyway, it's about P!nk not getting enough from her boyfriend, so she has to finish the job herself. Very sexy tune, and a perfect wrap for this playlist.

Got any more? I'd love to hear them!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interview: Elias Gowins of Elias and the Error

Last year, Canton, Ohio band Elias and the Error released Aren't We So Lucky to be Alive. Now they're introducing Help Yourself, and I've got the scoop on it from Elias Gowins.

Elias Gowins
No More Blood From a Clone: How would you describe Elias and the Error?

Elias Gowins: Elias and the Error is a multimedia project built around my songs. I'm really inspired by the highly-visual, chameleon career artists like David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Todd Rundgren, DEVO, and Sparks. All of these artists make powerful music that's socially aware and supplemented with striking costumes, make-up, videos, and photography.

NMBFC: Can I ask you to explain what you mean by "chameleon career artists"?

Elias Gowins: "Chameleon career artists" is the only way I know how to describe people like Bowie or Manson and the like who have made several decades worth of albums, worked in many different musical genres and moods, and have evolved and changed their highly visual presentation.

NMBFC: Your latest album is largely about mental health and you've done a show specifically as a community outreach about mental health. May I ask why this matter speaks to you so vocally?

Elias Gowins: I am extremely vocal about mental health because it's such a terribly misunderstood subject, at least where I live in the Midwestern United States. I spent my adolescence and early adulthood chained to my own self-destructive wrecking ball. I was quitting jobs, burning money, destroying relationships, and hurting myself without understanding why or how to stop it. Unfortunately, the uneducated attitude most people take to this is "Oh, well, snap out of it. Cheer up." They try to inject logic into suicide. It won't ever work. It took me so long to summon the courage and the resources to finally get help. So, now that I'm at least able to get up in the morning without demolishing various aspects of my life and my body, I want to try and speak to people who are like me. I want to reach out to kids who are surrounded by people who don't understand mental health and ascribe a "get over it" attitude to their issues. I get a lot of messages and letters from fans. I've gotten pictures of arms slashed down to the bone, attempted suicide stories, and people telling me about their struggles with sexuality and gender issues. These people have no party in their life that won't judge them or shame them for trying to unravel their mental health issues and if my presence and my art serves that purpose for them, then I am honored and humbled to assume the role.

NMBFC: How do you feel you've advanced as a band since Aren't We So Lucky To Be Alive?

Elias and the Error
Elias Gowins: The songs are a lot denser and complex now. I used to play live solo or with a couple backing musicians, but we're a consistent four piece with a drummer now. That has added an incredible amount of power to our performances. Our visual representation is a lot more polished, too, and much less colorful than the visuals we had during the release of our first album.

NMBFC: Is a less colorful live performance better?

Elias Gowins: Less colorful doesn't mean that the shows are less fun or anything - it's more of a palette change than a dynamic change. We've been making things more monochrome and dramatic rather than over-the-top glammy and sci-fi like the previous live show we did. I think the new show lends itself better to the serious and intense nature of the new album's material and themes.

NMBFC: The songs on Help Yourself each seem to deal with different types and aspects of mental illness. Was there a particular system to writing these songs, or did you just coincidentally end up with these common themes?

Elias Gowins: I stopped making music for several months because I was in the deepest, most insane state I've ever been in. I quit my job and moved to another state to follow this person that I was convinced was going to love me forever and I would finally stop hating myself. As our relationship predictably became volatile, I became increasingly self-destructive, culminating in me going to the hospital in an attempt to keep me from killing myself. I charmed and deceived my way out of the psychiatric ward and returned to my house. Forced to really look at everything that had lead up to that, the only way I could reconcile it was to write a song. That song was "As I Was Going to St. Clair." From that point forward, I felt strongly that bringing myself back to music and dealing with my feelings through the music was going to help me through this period. I didn't have anyone to talk to, so I talked to the music. I didn't intend for the album to focus so directly on my story, but I didn't let myself second guess anything I was writing because I wanted to create an honest snapshot of what my life was like during this breakdown.

NMBFC: My favorite track on Help Yourself is actually "As I Was Going to St. Clair." Can you tell us any more about the story behind it?

Elias Gowins: My roommates whom I lived with in Pittsburgh staged this really frightening and isolating intervention that made me feel more scared and anxious rather than help me. When they saw that I continued to hurt myself beyond that point, they took me to a regular sort of hospital and just dropped me off. They expected me to go away for a long time or something. After I got booked, I was interviewed by the staff psychiatrist. It doesn't take more than a Psych 101 class to figure out what answers their looking for in regards to committing you, so I lied. I did so well I even received a prescription for powerful sleeping pills as a bonus prize. The whole situation was filled with people trying to "help" me, but it scared me to death and made me retreat further into myself. It did a lot more damage than good. So, my anger and frustration with these powerful people making decisions about my life and health who seemingly had no regard or understanding for my happiness or comfort inspired me to write that song.

NMBFC: How did you decide on the jazzy, almost vaudevillian, yet still very modern sound for it?

Elias Gowins: The original arrangement of the song was more like the choruses in the album version. It was electronic and very dissonant and frightening - a result of my anxious and terrified emotions that night. I found out about Cab Calloway through Danny Elfman, who most people probably know was the composer for all of Tim Burton's films. Cab Calloway's records are early 1900s hot jazz tracks with lots of call-and-response crowd vocals and jumpy, swing dance rhythms. I felt the swing-timing of the song would lend itself to a jazzy, cabaret arrangement and spent a lot of time honing the track to incorporate those elements. I'm also into a lot of vaudeville and jazz revival stuff like The Dresden Dolls and Squirrel Nut Zippers, so they definitely were a template for the style of that track.

NMBFC: I can definitely hear the Cab Calloway in that track now that you say that, but you've done a great job of giving it a modern twist.

Elias Gowins: Thanks!

NMBFC: What's your view on songs like "Fire and Rain," which is about James Taylor's experience in a mental institution, but really has nothing to do with his struggle with depression so much as his "lost love"?

Elias Gowins: I think a lot of depressed people find themselves in unhealthy, codependent relationships. I know I certainly did. The song "Gelobtes Land" is directly about my worst relationship. Something like "Fire and Rain" seems to pin the solution to our problems on the love of another when the love we have for ourselves is the most powerful. I can't speak for everyone, but my low self-esteem and dependence on others for love and approval was the root of my issues with depression. I hope to encourage more people to accept themselves rather than look for their self-image in a relationship, religion, or whatever.

NMBFC: Is it possible that love is just like a semi-tangible thing we can all pin our depressions on, instead of having to think about the fact that really we're sad for no specific reason?

Elias Gowins: I think love can definitely put up a smokescreen between us and the real nature of our emotions. Love is a great thing when it is healthy, but it is also a common outlet for a lot of hateful and hurtful things.

NMBFC: I noticed that there seem to be more female vocals on this album. What caused that shift?

Elias Gowins: I would consider myself to have a very feminine spirit, which is something I fought with for a long time. As I've developed my singing voice and learned proper technique, my singing voice has dropped an octave, giving it a deeper, bolder post-punk sort of tone. I wanted to keep this sort of daintiness and fragility to some of the vocal parts, so I enlisted some friends to help me out. Most prominent on the album is Romie RoMak, who has been in a bunch of LA-area bands, she's the female vocalist on "Gelobtes Land," and she is my ideal candidate for the things I find enchanting about female vocals.

NMBFC: Do you have any more live shows planned to promote this album?

Elias Gowins: Our production right now costs a lot of money, most of which comes from my own pocket, so we're taking things very slow when it comes to performing right now. I would rather play four shows a year where we can do the full production on our terms and give the audience an experience than play every weekend in a different basement with no videos, costumes, staging, or video screens.

NMBFC: Have you considered making a Kickstarter to help fund live shows?

Elias Gowins: If we had an idea that was big enough, absolutely. Kickstarter is a great platform for an artist to test the true marketability of an idea before they throw money at it.

NMBFC: Tell my readers a little bit more about your live shows.

Elias Gowins: I'm a very big fan of live music. I listen to just as many live concert recordings as I do studio albums. However, when I go and see most bands live, I find it tends to become very static after four or five songs. I'm not sure if I should ascribe this to how the modern media assaults and overloads all senses or my frustratingly short attention span. Bands like Nine Inch Nails, of Montreal, Daft Punk, SSION, and Amanda Palmer all have great live shows that utilize a variety of media to keep you constantly interested and stimulated by what's going on in front of you. Their shows feel like an experience, rather than just a collection of your favorite songs played live. My father lived in Las Vegas for nearly a decade, and I saw a lot of the Cirque du Soleil shows out there, which also create a dynamic experience that touches on many moods and vibes. I want our shows to be engaging, interesting, and interactive like the ones I referenced. Some elements to the current show are live video mapping, costumes, props, and custom staging. We play on a series of elevated platforms that are backed by surfaces we project video content onto. Our stage is decorated in rotten mushroom statues and we're all currently dressing in a sort of a classy 1930s swing dance troupe's garb. We go into the crowd as much as possible to sing and dance with people. We want to connect with these people and have love pouring from both sides of the front row. We only play in our home base of Ohio right now, but we regularly have people driving from out of state to catch our sets. We're extremely happy to entertain people that much that they find a 10-hour round trip drive is worth it.

NMBFC: What exactly is live video mapping?

Elias Gowins: Video mapping is the process of taking the entirety of a video projector's output and declaring different "zones" within it. Say for instance, I set an apple and a banana on a table. The video projector is projecting over the entire table, but using software, the projector only puts images on the apple and banana. So, each different place we play in, we adapt the video show to the set-up of the stage and wherever we end up putting the screens, so with one video projector we're getting several "zones" of unique video at once. Maybe some colors are strobing on my face while animations play on the wall behind us. It's really cool stuff and we're still learning what we can do with it.

NMBFC: Sounds awesome. Is there anything else the world should know about Elias and the Error?

Elias Gowins: Hoobastank follows the Elias and the Error Twitter.

If you want to hear more from Elias and the Error, you too can follow them on Twitter @Elias_Error.
Or if you want to hear their music, you can check them out at Bandcamp.