Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 10: Albums of 2015

Each year that passes leaves me increasingly worried that I've reached that age at which you can no longer appreciate new music. I had a lot going on in 2014, and ended up not even having a top ten albums, but merely singles. Luckily, my faith was restored in 2015, and I definitely have a top 10.

What's to say about 2015 in music? For pop radio, it almost seemed to be a year of breakout hits, one-hit wonders, etc, except that Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber, and Adele all dominated as well. The pop charts didn't do much to impress me, but that's not to say they were without winners. And there were plenty of independant pieces that totally rocked. Below are ten of my favorite albums from 2015.

10. Hypercolor by Carrick
Carrick Moore Gerety utilizes a great deal of pop-style production for his first major solo project. It lacks some of the soul of his work with Everybody Else, but his voice will make ANY track pretty good, and there is some definite songwriting prowess exhibited as well.

Key Tracks:
"I Get High"
"All I Think About"

9. Still Got That Hunger by The Zombies
The Zombies toured this year to support their 1968 classic Odyssey and Oracle, as well as this crowd-funded masterpiece featuring 80% new material. I understand jazz saw a big comeback overall this year, and I hope the jazz-influenced stylings of this classic '60s group were not overlooked.

Key Tracks:
"Chasing the Past"
"Edge of the Rainbow"
"Maybe Tomorrow"

8. Kintsugi by Death Cab For Cutie
Perhaps it's the loss of Chris Walla that gives this album a more tired feeling, but it just didn't have what Death Cab For Cutie's previous albums have had. Still, it packs quite a few punches. It has more in common with Ben Gibbard's Former Lives than Death Cab's Narrow Stairs, utilizing his storytelling as he bemoans lost relationships and more. It's a step down from Codes and Keys, but still a nice piece of work.

Key Tracks:
"No Room in Frame"
"Black Sun"
"Little Wanderer"

7. Grand Romantic by Nate Ruess
I don't know why I was so hell-bent on finding flaws in Grand Romantic, but I eventually had to admit that even "Ah-Ha," which initially got on my nerves, is a solid and catchy tune. There were a couple of misses on the album, but overall, Nate Ruess blends pop and indie sounds together with his out-of-this-world voice for a wonderful album.

Key Tracks:
"Nothing Without Love"
"You Light My Fire"
"Great Big Storm"

6. Alone in the Universe by Jeff Lynne's ELO
Jeff Lynne's flair for production makes his new project sound as fresh and new as anything from this year, as well as remaining consistent with the earlier works of ELO. As I said in my review, this album features a hefty helping of slide guitar and songwriting that is not to be missed.

Key Tracks:
"When I was a Boy"
"Love and Rain"
"Ain't it a Drag"

5. Glean by They Might Be Giants
Still one of the most enjoyable groups out there, They Might Be Giants reintroduced their "Dial-A-Song" concept this year, which meant a new song every week. This provided them with a great deal of new material for GleamGleam is as varied in style as fans have come to expect from the group, yet all drawn together by the sound understanding of musical principles and songwriting that these gents have shown us year after year.

Key Tracks:
"Let Me Tell You About My Operation"

4. Aureate Gloom by of Montreal
Only a mild step back from what I consider to be of Montreal's best work on Lousy With Sylvianbriar, Kevin Barnes faces divorce and another lineup of the band with his usual verbose and vitriolic tongue. With the backdrop of a funky throwback sound, Barnes also finds time to discuss politics and his own dark side. If you missed my full review, it can be found here.

Key Tracks:
"Last Rites at the Jane Hotel"
"Empyrean Abattoir"

3. The High Country by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Featuring some of  Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin's catchiest lo-fi work yet, The High Country is not only one of my favorite albums of the year, but some of the strongest work by the band. As I stated in my review, they have retained the sincerity of their first album, Broom, and the earworm qualities they broke out in Pershing, but with a great deal of finesse. The High Country is totally one of my favorite albums of 2015.

Key Tracks:
"Full Possession of All Her Powers"
"Step Brother City"

2. Guitars and Microphones by Kate Pierson
Very close to topping this list, Kate Pierson's debut solo album is a masterpiece. For years, she has played an important role in The B-52's, but as of this year, with the help of Nick Valensi (of The Strokes) and Sia, she is sounding her barbaric yawp as a solo artist. Despite the fact that she's a seasoned artist, everything sounds fresh. The upbeat nature of the songs makes them addictive, as does their catchiness and power-pop tendencies.

Key Tracks:
"Bottoms Up"
"Throw Down the Roses"
"Mister Sister"

1. Uptown Special by Mark Ronson
I deliberated for a long time on which album was my number 1, but Uptown Special totally deserves it. As I said in my review, this record combines different styles, recording artists, and moods into one stellar album with a throwback soul sound. The success Mark Ronson has seen with this album (#27 here in the U.S.) is not only understandable, but well-deserved. Uptown Special is a block party, a romp, and a piece of poetry, making it my favorite album of the year.

Key Tracks:
"Leaving Los Feliz"
"I Can't Lose"
"In Case of Fire"

Friday, November 6, 2015

Album Review: Alone in the Universe by Jeff Lynne's ELO

Alone in the Universe represents The Electric Light Orchestra's first album of new material in fourteen years. Back in 2001, when Zoom was released, low ticket sales led to the cancellation of their North American tour. This year, however, I think the world is more than ready to receive more of what ELO has to offer. Not only that, but Jeff Lynne's ELO is more than prepared to bring everything to the table.

Bands with distinct sounds, particularly ones that have been around over twenty years, with lengthy breaks in-between albums can sound stale, even when the music is structurally sound, or can sound tired, even with modern recording techniques. Yet as Alone in the Universe begins, all one can think of is that they are listening to a fresh new project.

The album begins softly with "When I was a Boy," a track that could trick the unsuspecting listener into thinking they're listening to a new Beatles album. Of course, we all know it isn't The Beatles, but ELO was created to (in the founders' minds) pick up where The Beatles left off. John Lennon and George Harrison were both big fans of the work ELO was doing as well, and Lynne even produced Harrison's Cloud Nine and Brainwashed. So it's not tough or wrong to hear a Beatles sound in their tracks. "When I was a Boy" marries the soft piano sound of Lennon's "Imagine" with Lynne's signature style of lyricism. Many of the techniques utilized on George Harrison's later 80s work (circa "When We Was Fab") are updated for the song as well. Through it all though, the soft embroidery of the typical ELO sound is sewn. One can't help but be grateful that Lynne's voice is holding up quite nicely, as it certainly does the trick for the song. One slightly notable difference that can be heard in the song, and album as a whole, which makes it more Harrison-esque, is that they have replaced many of the orchestral sounds with a slide-guitar.

Even the video brings to mind the "Free as a Bird" promotional film (a song Lynne also produced).

Alone in the Universe
is also the first ELO album since George Harrison's death, and one can't help but feel that his good friend Jeff Lynne has now more specifically attempted to pick up where Harrison left off. After all, Lynne and Dhani Harrison completed Brainwashed, the last of Harrison's unfinished work.

If you're wondering about this theory, I recommend you listen to "Cloud Nine," the title track of the aforementioned Harrison album before checking out "Love and Rain," another gorgeous Lynne composition. The two songs aren't twins, but they are certainly estranged brothers. A sombre tone accompanies another of many Lynne tracks with a rain motif.

Or course, the sun returns for "Dirty to the Bone," a very ELO composition, which gives a 70s sound a modern feel. Although slightly lacking in energy and lyrics, "Dirty to the Bone" is really a reminder of what ELO have innovated on their own, as is "When the Night Comes," another track with retro vibes restrained by modern production.

"Sun Will Shine on You" is a very different piece for Lynne vocally, beginning with a near-acapella intro compared to the band's usual sound. The positivity of tracks like "Mr. Blue Sky" is echoed with a more acoustic vibe. The verse works slowly and quietly, sympathetic to the sadness the subject of the song is experiencing, while the chorus becomes uplifting each time, offering a very friend-like pep-talk out of sadness. Yet again, the Harrison-like slide guitar tiptoes around in the background.

In the spirit of more energetic earlier ELO songs, "Ain't it a Drag" also borrows from fifties sounds. Lynne has never been the most energetic songsman, but here the reservation is definitely a plus. He doesn't try too hard to sound young or hip, and that is often the saving grace of this album.

Next, Lynne sings what could surely become someone's wedding song with "All My Life," a beautiful ELO ballad, followed immediately by a breakup song, "I'm Leaving You." "I'm Leaving You" is oddly pleasant for the subject matter, but is still one of the weaker tunes on the album.

"One Step at a Time" sounds the closest to the late 70s work of the band, with only a few modern touches (including a guitar bridge, which is more of a drawback than anything). Overall though, "One Step at a Time" is quite solid.

Closing the album is the title track, "Alone in the Universe." It begins slowly, with the sound and energy building. It's a great wrap-up for the album, bringing everything together with the musical poetry Lynne has such a knack for.

Lynne is the only founding member of ELO to work on Alone in the Universe, making Jeff Lynne's ELO a polite (and possibly lawsuit-preventing) way to title the group who did work on it. Lynne's production and arranging can be heard in everything he involves himself in. I know there are those who dislike that fact, much as Phil Spector's work is often disliked. But I feel Lynne has flair. Alone in the Universe is a great new piece for fans of the band. In addition to that, anyone who has been jonesing for new George Harrison material should also give the album a listen. I can't guarantee that all Beatles fans will love it, but Harrison fans will sense his presence, and feel the appreciation he would have had for the album.

This is of course, simplifying all of the album's complexities down to a couple of caricatures, which isn't fair. The album soars as any new album is capable of. The songs are artistic in their composition. The sound is congruent with the band's earlier work, while moving onward, looking to the future without trying too hard to be modern. I can only hope this album will be successful enough for more endeavours by Jeff Lynne's ELO in the near future.

Producer and founding member of ELO, Jeff Lynne.

Alone in the World is out November 13th and can be purchased here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Separated at Birth: 2 Videos That Include Several Genres of Dance

It's not all about setting here at "Separated at Birth." Sometimes, it's the central idea of a video that is repeated or happens to be similar to an older one. So it's a similarity in concept we're talking about today, with just two videos from the last ten years.

In 2007, KT Tunstall was somewhat successful with her track "Hold On." The video involves some kind of strange time machine that takes Tunstall through different moments in the evolution of dance, making her the center of each genre.

There are certain quirks to Tunstall's performance, including being seemingly confused about some of the dances and singing despite the dancing and genre changes.

Flash forward to last year, in which Taylor Swift released one of her many responses to haters with "Shake it Off."

It's interesting that the overall concept not only seems similar, but that something about the personality is comparable.

In reality, I'm sure it's just a coincidence, but it certainly seems like these two videos were separated at birth. Stay tuned for more musical artifacts that were separated at birth.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

One-Mind Tracks: Creepy Age Gap

Rock songs have a storied history of some super creepy references to enjoying the company of people much different ages than the singer. Below are just a few of those tracks.

"Sweet Little Sixteen" by Chuck Berry
Long before Ted Nugent was being creepy with "Jailbait," etc., Chuck Berry was singing the praises of sixteen year olds. Which would have been way less creepy had he not been arrested for transporting a minor across state lines for allegedly "immoral purposes."

"Younger Girl" by The Lovin' Spoonful
Much as The Beach Boys would steal "Sweet Little Sixteen" for "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Younger Girl" is an uncredited adaptation of "Prison Wall Blues" (by Cannon's Jug Stompers). This creepy piece found its way onto the very first Lovin' Spoonful album.

"Outside Villanova" by Eric Hutchinson
What is there to say about this song that it doesn't say itself in "she's getting older and legal soon" and "some girl that I'd be forgetting by the time the cops came by that afternoon"?

"Lolita" by Miniature Tigers

Loosely based on the most creepy age gap story of all time: Lolita, this track seems to be based more on the 1997 film than the book, but it can't be left off of the playlist.

"I Saw Her Standing There" by The Beatles
No, I don't know what you mean about her being seventeen. Please elaborate. Okay, so in it's original context, there's nothing wrong with this song, since Paul McCartney was around that age when he wrote it. But I really don't enjoy hearing men 25+ asking me if I know what they mean about the underage girl they saw standing there.

"You're Sixteen (You're Beautiful And You're Mine)" by Ringo Starr
Speaking of which, why Ringo? I understand that this song is a classic written by The Sherman Brothers (the Mary Poppins guys) and originally recorded by Johnny Burnette when he was 26. No one was anywhere near sixteen when this song was written and recorded. But still, Ringo was thirty-three when he recorded it. Ick.

"Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
Gary Puckett sings this song about a man who decides to blame this girl for seducing him despite her age, although it's still pretty obvious that they were lovers. Let's just hope composer Jerry Fuller didn't write it from experience.

"The Man With The Child In His Eyes" by Kate Bush

As with many songs by Kate Bush, the exact meaning of this song was unclear for years. In 2010 however, it was revealed that it was (at least in part) about her relationship with Steve Blacknell, a man six years her senior (they dated when she was around seventeen), that she evidently saw childlike qualities in.

"Don't Stand So Close To Me" by The Police

All I can say is, it's a lucky thing Sting had The Police on his side when he wrote this song about a young teacher's inappropriate relationship with a student. Ecspecially seeing as he was a young teacher before the band took off. He even name checks Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita. Yikes.

"My Sharona" by The Knack
Doug Fieger met a girl named Sharona Alperin when he was 25 and she was 17. After a year of courtship (and getting rid of his girlfriend and her boyfriend), the duo dated for four years. In the first few months of knowing her, he was inspired to write many songs and to "get it up for the touch of the younger kind." Bandmate Berton Averre didn't want to use Sharona's real name, but Fieger insisted that he wanted it to relay exactly how he felt.

"Maggie May" by Rod Stewart
Alright, here's a song that's pretty much the opposite of every other song on the list. Instead of a creepy older dude, it's a creepy older woman seducing a young schoolboy Rod Stewart who is also narrating the song. According to Stewart, "Maggie May" was based on the real woman he lost his virginity to.

"She Doesn't Get It" by The Format
The main focus of this song seems to be the fact that the guy has an emotionally difficult time having a one-night stand, but why is "New Religion" familiar to the narrator and yet long before the girl was born? Granted, lead singer Nate Ruess was born the same year that song came out, so it's probably more of a cultural thing.

"Sweet Young Thing" by The Monkees
This one isn't that creepy...well, he's yielding before the wisdom of a "child." But there are definitely creepier songs than this Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Michael Nesmith-penned piece. Still, the narrator is way too obsessed with the "Sweet Young Thing."

"Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" by Neil Diamond
Should we worry about the fact that Gary Puckett also did a cover of this song? Neil Diamond wrote it to his young fans, but something seems a little off about the sentiment to me.

"Infant Kiss" by Kate Bush
Award for creepiest song goes right here. Kate Bush wrote this song based on the movie The Innocents. In the film, a young governess is putting a child to bed and he kisses her passionately because he's possessed by the spirit of a man who haunts the house.

Find them all below:

Know any more songs about a creepy age gap? Tell me what they are in the comments.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Separated at Birth: 3 Videos Set in Crowded Diners,

Full disclosure: I know this isn't actually the same set or real diner or whatever. My point is more along the lines of "wow, three different people in less than ten years decided to set their videos in little, cramped fifties-style diners with an almost-identical layout."

First, in 2003, the artist Kelis named her album Tasty, so a Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo composition was brought to life. "Milkshake" has since become something of a legend because of the ambiguity of what "Milkshake" is in the song. The video looks something like this:

So technically, "Tasty's Yard" is the location in which "Milkshake" is set, but it's just a diner that looks very small and crowded, yet still pretty cozy. It's rumoured to have been shot at "Relish" in Brooklyn.

In 2007, Sean Kingston sampled Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" for his breakout hit "Beautiful Girls." He also sampled the idea of a packed, tiny diner in the video.

Now Kingston's diner is definitely not the same one. It's an abandoned restaurant in Hollywood called "Johnie's." And in fact, not only was it a setting in The Big Lebowski, but it's been used in several other music videos which make it look totally different. Tom Petty and Reba McEntire have both shot in this quaint location [source], so really that could have been the three videos covered here. Except McEntire and Petty's videos both make the space look larger. Petty utilizes the space as a full restaurant and McEntire's use makes it look fairly desolate. Kingston and Kelis both have the same central idea with theirs.

Fast forward three years to 2010, when Cee Lo Green works with several other composers including Bruno Mars to make a song that quickly made its rounds on the internet. The radio-appropriate title is "Forget You" and the video was set in...a congested diner!

Green has stated that "Forget You" is actually a message to the music industry rather than a woman who spurned him, but the video is very like Kingston's not only in setting, but in the flashbacks to a former era mixed with present day Green. Green's video was filmed at Cadillac Jack's, a diner in Sun Valley that was also a location in Grease 2.

So while there's no actual link between these three videos (different directors and everything), all three shooting locations are utilized in very much a similar way, with the camera following in the entrance, the bar staying on the left hand side and the booths on the right. Obviously they weren't really filmed in the same spots, and they had different directors, but these videos share some obvious central ideas.

Stay tuned for more musical artifacts that were separated at birth.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Album Review: The High Country by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

The musical journey of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin continues in The High Country, an album some say is the culmination of all previous works. The High Country remains unafraid of being poppy, but in this case, it's much closer to noise-pop than the polished indie pop the band generally exudes. The goal was to bring the album closer to the energy of the band's live shows, and it definitely has made this soft-voiced band turn a corner.

From the fore, the new approach is presented on "Line on You," which is still very congruent with their previous work, just with more feedback. The pop-riddled "Step Brother City" has something of a Strokes sound to it, but with the usual aspects of an SSLYBY song: the melodic howls and gentle vocals, and the occasional sprinkling of cutesy lyrics such as "all the good songs and poems are all about you//and all the bad ones too." That particular blend of sounds continues with "Goal Mind," which you could easily imagine Julian Casablancas scream-singing on- but that's not the resulting sound at all. 

Next, "Full Possession of All Her Powers" reminds us what SSLYBY have a talent for: lilting power pop with the shy indie twist. "Full Possession of All Her Powers" is easily one of the best songs on the album, telling the tale of a confident but flawed woman and the man with a crush on her, in a very upbeat manner. It gives way to the pleading "Madeline," the slowest and most tender track on the album, with a Simon and Garfunkel quality.

This album was built for vinyl, something few albums do these days. Not only are the liner notes clearly designed to be a sleeve or vinyl insert based on the layout, but "Madeline" ends side A and the grumbling "What I Won" picks up side B. I rarely make first-time album purchases on vinyl because I feel like vinyl is more of a commitment, but seeing the care they put into making "Madeline" the soft end of side A and "What I Won" an intro to side B, I really wish I'd gotten the vinyl instead. "What I Won" has more of the gravelly guitar sound the band promised on "Line on You," as well as an even more noise-pop style mumbled lyrics. "Trevor Forever" is loud and proud and more punk than anything you'd expect from the rest of the album. That is, unless you count the guitars on "Song Will," which come off as pretty rough (in the good way).

"Foreign Future" and "Magnet's New Summer 'Do" are both straight out of the SSLYBY handbook, with their signature guitars very much at the front of the stage. 

Finally, "Total Meltdown" brings everything together: the feedback, the soft vocals (but this time with audible lyrics, which wasn't a given on every song on The High Country), the SSLYBY guitar, the well-thought arrangement of lyrics, powerpop and just a dash of punk. "Total Meltdown" is very bright, with the line "I'm not afraid" being the mantra of the piece. As it fades out, one can't help but feel both satisfied by the album and hungry for more. 

SSLYBY have come a long way from 2005's Broom. Their sound is miles more refined and their album layout is impeccable. A part of me was afraid they would lose the sincerity of the earlier albums, but the sincerity is ever-present. Tracks like "Madeline" aren't being produced by anyone else. I also feared they'd begin to lose the catchiness they had with tracks on Pershing, but "Full Possession of All Her Powers" is just one catchy tune on the album. Really, there's nothing to fear with The High Country. After listening to it, much like the narrator of "Total Meltdown," "I'm not afraid."

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

The High Country is out June 2nd and can be purchased here.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Following in the Footsteps: Queen

What's that? Another new article series? You betcha. "Following in the Footsteps" explores the songs of bands or artists who seem to be carrying the torch lit by a previous band or artist. It's yet another type of playlist featured on One-Mind Tracks (the radio show, not the article series), and you can catch this playlist tonight at 7pm on 97.5 WDIF or streaming online. If you're outside of the timeframe though, let me tell you what you missed.

"Grace Kelly" by Mika
Early on in his career, Mika's voice was often compared to Freddie Mercury, to the point that he ended up referencing the comparison in "Grace Kelly," which definitely has some Queen aires. He wrote this piece about his annoyance with the music industry and their insistence that he change to sell records better, but he also wrote a track about his love of larger ladies entitled "Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)." Does that sound like a familiar concept maybe?

"Old Bike" by Rob Cantor
Not that we're just talking about people whose songs deal with similar ideas to those found in Queen songs (although I did toss that idea around for a bit). Rob Cantor's alma mater band Tally Hall often saw comparisons to Queen as well, but you can't deny the similarities in this glammy track with vocal harmonies in just the right places. If you're doubting the comparison, just hold out for the bridge.

"I Believe in a Thing Called Love" by The Darkness
How about a band that wants to be Queen so bad that they hired Rufus Taylor, the son of Queen's drummer Roger Taylor as their new drummer? Kind of like the way The Who wanted to be The Beatles and so they got Zak Starkey for the touring band (I'm joking of course). But seriously, The Darkness has frequently been compared to Queen, and it's not hard to see why. Or...hear why. Either really.

"Welcome to the Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance
Yeah, I know, it's not 2006 anymore. And I'm sure most people got burnt out on this song so much that they don't want to hear it or think of it as music anymore, and the other half of people are being reminded of the embarrassing era in which they shopped exclusively at Hot Topic and dyed their hair black, but this song is still pretty solid. And it's definitely got some Queen vibes going on, so just deal with it.

"At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)" by fun.

One thing to remember about Queen is that they weren't all arena sound. fun. totally could be, but they also have that other quality that made Queen rad; namely "fun" (even when they're a little melancholic). See also: the acapella intro and vocal harmonies in "Some Nights."

"Starlight" by Muse
I know Muse kind of shot themselves in the foot when they got attached to the Twilight series, but they still have a certain polished glam rock feeling to them. It's like a glam-rocker that wears a button-up coat with a scarf covering any troublesome neck that might otherwise show. You can hear a little heterosexual Freddie in there for sure.

"Brighter Day" by Jellyfish
Jellyfish have a wide range of influences from all over the musical map, and they blend it all up into their own thing. "Brighter Day" is definitely their most Queen-esque track. Although if you're looking to find the lovechild of Queen and The Beach Boys, look no further than "Sebrina, Paste, and Plato."

"Stuck on the Girl" by Young Beautiful In a Hurry
Young Beautiful in a Hurry is a band completely unashamed of the influence Queen has had on them. Lead singer Brendan McCreary has even performed as Freddie Mercury in a Queen tribute show (The Show Must Go On). To find out more, check out the interview I did with him here.

"Unstoppable" by Foxy Shazam

Foxy Shazam are honestly probably the closest match on this list. Upbeat lyrics with an arena sound? Check. Lead singer unafraid of running around in tight pants? Also check.

These tracks can all be found below:

Know some more Queen-esque tracks? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Interview: Brendan McCreary of Young Beautiful in a Hurry

Los Angeles-based band Young Beautiful in a Hurry have been around since 2011. Last year, they released a seven-track EP called Royalty, and now they're back in the mix with their funky single "Single Mothers." I sat down with lead singer and songwriter Brendan McCreary to talk about the new single, the band, and music in general.

No More Blood From a Clone: So how would you introduce Young Beautiful in a Hurry to someone who's never heard of them before?

Young Beautiful in a Hurry, Brendan McCreary (center).
Brendan McCreary: Arena rock for the new era? Inspired by Queen, inspired by this total rock and roll feel...But it's not like the way Wolfmother is like "yes, this is for all you Led Zeppelin fans," it's not quite like that, but it's just arena rock with a dash of pop.

NMBFC: How would you describe the personality of the band?

Brendan McCreary: It's a very jovial vibe. The core group has been together (myself, the bassist, and the drummer) basically for like six years. So the three of's like a family, yanno? I don't need to say anything, I don't need to print charts or anything, it's just like I throw a new song at them and it's instantaneous. They catch on like a well-oiled machine.

Young Beautiful in a Hurry.
Left to right: Pete Griffin, Brendan McCreary, Bryan Taylor.
NMBFC: The other guys in the band are in other bands and work as session musicians. What kind of experience do they have?

Brendan McCreary: So Bryan Taylor is a wonderful professional drummer, I'm honored to have the pleasure of working with him. Chris Norton is incredible, he's played with Zappa Plays Zappa, that was his old band. Pete Griffin has played with Dethklok, he goes on tour with like these hardcore metal bands. So Pete can play any genre, but his bread and butter is mostly in the world of metal. He recently put on Twitter like "I really like this band's new album"...and like a few weeks later, they wrote him through a private Twitter message and they're like "hey, we looked you up, you're cool, come on tour with us." They're just incredible musicians.

NMBFC: What's your musical training exactly?

Brendan McCreary: I started piano, had a few weeks of formal training, but after that, I basically taught myself everything I know. From guitar to record production to songwriting, I've never had more than a few lessons. Like I've had a handful of vocal lessons, which I quit...I'm pretty much a self-taught guy. It's always been about the inspiration through composing songs. The way Bryan sat down to become a drummer and Pete sat down to become a bassist, I sat down to become a songwriter. It only took me like thirty years. Anything I've learned, I've learned by writing songs and pushing myself and my musicianship on a technical level. I try to make more new and fundamentally challenging things in my own work just to stimulate my own growth. I used to play saxophone and I eventually quit because I couldn't sing at the same time.

NMBFC: What did you do before music or has it always been music?

Brendan McCreary: Yeah, there's nothing else [laughs]. And that's tough for me because I think a lot of people have various hobbies if not other things that they do. You know obviously I read books and I watch movies and I play video games and I like walks along the sunset beach or whatever. But that's basically all there is to it. I don't really do anything else and I really wish I did, because music is so all-encompassing and engrossing but it's also extremely difficult and I wish I had sort of a release like knitting or something else that I excelled at. But it's all music.

NMBFC: Let's just say music falls through, like you suddenly lose all your ability to do music, lose your hands, injure your vocal chords...what then?

Brendan McCreary: Um...I don't know, flipping burgers I guess.

NMBFC: You did some acting in Chillerama?

Brendan McCreary: I mean, there's a good thing, I think if I did actually lose my hands or something I would probably pursue acting...maybe? I would definitely get acting lessons. My raw talent ends with music. But like...I was in this movie and it was awesome, it was so much fun. The director is a good buddy of mine and he wrote this character for me. I actually got a few auditions based off of that movie and a couple of the directors that were involved. I never ended up getting any other roles. But I can't think of a more painful profession (other than music) than acting. I mean, that is not a glamorous life. I know it looks that way...same with music...but acting is not a glamorous life. But yes, I think I would probably go into acting if I couldn't do music.

NMBFC: So you've done a lot of work on soundtracks. How does that compare to Young Beautiful in a Hurry?

Brendan McCreary: It compares. I mean, it's virtually the exact same process. I'm the songwriter on the tv show called Defiance on Syfy network. The season two record is out May 26th (you can order it on iTunes right now) and then season three starts on June 12th. I think the only difference really is that I can take my time with YBH a little more in writing and when I'm writing for soundtracks for tv or film, there's like a hard deadline and there's a whole team of people relying on me to get those tracks in. So basically I just have to come up with something and that's it and then it's out the door. My process for writing for YBH isn't entirely different. You come up with an idea, you explore that idea, hopefully that idea becomes awesome and if it doesn't, it doesn't.

NMBFC: Do you have a favorite song that you've written for the band?

Brendan McCreary: You know, honestly, it would have to be our most recent release, which is "Single Mothers." I think that is my favorite tune and it's sort of the jewel in my crown. I've been writing that song for a very long time and it's sort of my magnum opus. I'm not saying it's the best thing I'll have ever written before or hence, but it's definitely my favorite tune that we've done thus far.

NMBFC: So obviously "Single Mothers" comes from a very personal place. What inspired you to take on this topic in song and were you afraid it would be too personal for mass appeal?

Brendan McCreary: I mean, first of all [laughs], I don't worry too much about mass appeal at this point in my career. I would love to worry about it more but at the same time, if you're an artist and you have something to say that's just all there is to it. Obviously I was raised by a single mother, so that was clearly my inspiration for the tune. I've wanted to write "Single Mothers" for a very long time, possibly more than a decade, I don't know. It's just been kind of been rolling around back there. I knew if I was gonna do it it would have to be awesome and I didn't quite think that I had the vernacular to do it or the abilities to do it so I kind of put it off. After I got out of school, I became a preschool music teacher and I ended up meeting tons of single moms and being very close friends with them, and that inspired me more. Because to have a single mom is different than knowing as friends, as equals. Your parents, in the best of all possible worlds are always omnipotent. They don't tell you about their problems, you never see them cry, they never tell you they're sorry or whatever, yanno? Like they raise you, they have their hands dirty and ruin their lives for you...but yanno they're sort of these omnipotent figures a lot of times. So when I met all these other women it was so interesting to hear their stories and to see their lives and to meet their kids and to kind of learn about single moms from the ground level as opposed to being raised by one.
After a while, I was working on Royalty [Young Beautiful in a Hurry's EP available here] and I started working with drum machines and drum loops around that time, mainly when I was working on Defiance season one. I had this iPad drum machine and I came up with this beat and I was like "that's a cool beat." I flew it into Pro Tools and I just started sort of building stuff around it and somehow it became "Single Mothers." And that was the first time I ever wrote a song like that. I'd never used a drum machine to write a song, I'd never come up with a beat before ever, and I had never used drum loops before. I use them very infrequently even still. So it was this start of a new method of writing songs. Also I'd never flown stuff into Pro Tools, like I would sit and write songs for three weeks to three months on my acoustic in my living room, I would never just start producing a track right away, which is kind of the way professionals do things anyway. Like, when you're a producer, you don't have time to sit and experience your song for three months. So it was like the start of a new creative process for me and I think that's one of the reasons why it came out the way it did, because I think I just knew in the back of my head that I wasn't able to do it the way I had been doing things before.
That was all three years ago. So I wrote it and it wasn't quite good enough and I put it on the back burner. Then I came back to it, rearranged it, and then it still wasn't quite good enough. And then it came time for whatever reason, I knew Mother's day was coming up, it just came time to get this song out into the world. I started working with this producer and extremely famous jazz musician, John Beasley. He used to play with Miles Davis, he played with Sérgio Mendes, he plays with Herbie Hancock. He's all over the place, everybody in town loves and knows this guy, world famous musician. We started working together and he was gonna arrange the horns for me. In about five minutes he took the tune from eighty-five percent and made it a hundred and ten percent. He refused to take a production credit on it. I wanted to give him one but he wouldn't have it.
So it was about three years in the making, nearly. The inspiration simply just came from having a single mom that I loved very much and love very much. I don't think there's any single mom anthems out there. Towards the end of the process, I was like "how many single mom songs are there?" and I looked it up and there's just like a couple hip-hop tracks. If you look it up on iTunes, there might be one or two songs called "Single Moms" maybe. There's not a whole lot of content out there for these women. For me, I was just really passionate about single moms and I think that came from working with so many of them. I hope a lot of them can hear it because I think it will help them out. I think they all need a helping hand. The lyrics are super brutal if you listen to them, they're not like sunshine and rainbows. It's like hard work. I wanted to make sure the song, as dancey and poppy and as celebrational as it is, was super real. I didn't want to dramatize or hyperbolize or glamorize the world of being a single mom.

NMBFC: So how do you think having a single mom has influenced your life and how has it effected your views on women?

Brendan McCreary: I think it's influenced my life in as many ways as it can possibly be influential. I didn't have a dad around all the time. You know, my dad is around, he's always been around, it wasn't like a bad situation. My dad and my mom just weren't compatible and they're good friends so in that regard I'm extremely fortunate. I think there's a lot of very unfortunate single mothers and children out there that have shitheads for dads or dads that aren't...whatever, yanno? I don't wanna get all preachy about it.
But mother was an artist. She was an author, is an author. She had a house and she provided for my brother and I, being an author. And every day I saw her put us through school get us breakfast, get us out the door and then she'd be working on her books. So, I lived with an author, I lived with an artist. I mean, that's all there is to it. She allowed me to daydream, she allowed me to be what I wanted to be. I wish she had been harder on me, looking back on it. But I think she celebrated the fact that my brother and I were musicians. She always encouraged us. When she realized that I was never going to be like a professional classical pianist and when I was just pounding on it and singing all of the time she was just like "Alright. You're gonna do this." When I told her I was gonna be a rockstar in eighth grade, she was just like "Okay. You're still gonna go to school." Without my mom, I would be nothing. She did everything for me.
As far as women are concerned, I wonder what it would have been like having a dad around. I remember as a kid, she just put the fear of God in me about women, "you respect women." It took me 'till late in high school and even some into college to realize that women are fallible human beings. I remember her, as a child, lecturing me on women all the time. It doesn't mean that I'm not a total asshole, like I've been a jerk to girls, I've broken up with girls, I've been a butthole like every other man. But I do love women and I do have a very strange way of dealing with them and existing with them. I don't think I'm an average guy when it comes to how I work with and associate with ladies and I definitely know that is all my mother's impact for better or for worse.

NMBFC: Let's talk more about the Royalty EP. My favorite track is the first one, "Stuck on the Girl." What can you tell us about that?

Brendan McCreary: That tune came from a crush that I had and it was completely unrequited to this day. It's such a weird song because at the end of the day it's kind of creepy if you pull it apart. Kind of like in the way that "Every Breath You Take" is a creepy song. Where it's just like "Wait a minute, Sting, what the f*** are you talking about?" Here's this ballad anthem that everyone knows and slow-danced to in the 80s. But then when you stop and look at the lyrics, it's like "this is f***ed up." So it's kind of a fetishized viewpoint from the narrator, didn't get that bad [laughs]. But it's that the girl's very cruel and icy and a sheer person and this guy just can't break through. The tune was also sort of a turning point for me because Royalty was supposed to be a collection of songs that was kind of coherent both in songwriting style and production. It's a very guitar-driven album and that was the first song I wrote for that record.

It seems like "Oh Future" could be addressed to several different people. Who is "Oh Future" a message to?

Brendan McCreary: "Oh Future" is addressed to me and anyone that is extremely freaked out by their future. So anyone in their twenties, any artists: actors, authors, editors, screenwriters. Anybody in their thirties. Life is really f***ing hard for most people, for pretty much everybody. In today's culture, there's just no middle ground anymore. You turn on the tv and it's just f***ing rich people. Rich, privileged people that can pay to do amazing things all the time 'cause they got money. I watch a lot of Bollywood movies, and the other day I saw a movie and it was about poor people. I was just taken aback. If you just stop and think about it, how many Hollywood movies do you see that are about poor people or middle class people? People for whom money is not an option or a solution to their problems, because they don't have enough of it? "Oh Future" isn't necessarily an economic song, but it is basically about fear. It's a song about not knowing what lies ahead and what you can do about it. It's sort of just about throwing your hands up. "Oh future, I'm playing your games//I came in a wild one//and now I'm coming out tame" that's definitely like the line for this kind of uninformed optimism that you have as a young person. There's no other option, of course you're going to make it, of course you're going to be the next Black Keys or whomever. And then you're pushing your late twenties, you're pushing your thirties, and it's like "oh f***! Maybe I've got to come up with a plan b or something. Maybe this isn't gonna happen for me. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to address this? Do I quit?" All these things that occur to people every minute of the day, every day of the week. It's overwhelming and it's depressing and it's stressful. Being an artist, you just have to learn to deal with that. There's kind of a silver lining to that song in the bridge. I don't even know if it's a silver lining, it might be me or the narrator of the song sort of diluting the situation but the whole "and then we'll dive into the sea//we'll fly into the breeze//somewhere we can be free." In that little bridge section there's this moment of relief from the stone cold reality of being an artist and being kind of alone in the world. I'm lucky to have gotten this job with Defiance. When I wrote "Oh Future" I was sort of pre-Defiance, and I was extremely depressed and down and I didn't know what to do. All you can really do is just hang tight.

NMBFC: I noticed with a lot of the songs on Royalty, much like with "Oh Future," that there's this uplifting sound contrasted with kind of sad or downtrodden lyrical narrative. What can you say about that contrast on the EP as a whole?

Brendan McCreary: That's kind of like what I do. I just do it kind of naturally. "Single Mothers" is a great example, I discussed it earlier. You've got this anthemic, huge, celebrational Prince pop rock tune...and the lyrics are like: "24 hours//you've gotta wipe the sweat right off of your brow//there's work to be done and no one else can do it quite like you." That's a really brutal line and it's super sad. It makes me wanna cry just saying it. It's sad and it's beautiful. But it's hard. So, I do that on everything and Royalty is no exception. I just like the counterpoint. As an artist, if you want to convey something dark, it doesn't have to be a "dark song" If you have a sad song, it doesn't have to be a "sad song." Life is very varied and situations are never ever cut and dry and super simple to understand. It just creates (in my mind, anyway) a richness in storytelling. It just creates depth, and if you're not interested in the depth, you don't have to dive in and if you are, it's there for you.
One of the things that I was really shocked by when Royalty first came out, a lot of people were coming back to me and saying "I'm so inspired by this song, it's so positive." And I was like "I'm really glad to hear that" because I was not in a positive place when I wrote it. But I'm glad. A lot of people said that to me and I was shocked. I do think also that instruments and music tell story, it's not just lyrics that tell the story. A lot of times, if you just read lyrics, they suck. But when you pair it with a song, the simplest of lyrics become so powerful. That's kind of where it comes from for me, is just creating a layer and kind of a counterpoint. If you have very sad lyrics, I don't want to necessarily saturate it in sad music because that's just going to be way too sad.

NMBFC: It sort of creates a strength through adversity kind of feeling.

Brendan McCreary: Sure, yeah.

NMBFC: Okay, so cover songs. You've done a lot of really cool ones, including "Say Say Say" and "Don't Stop Me Now." But let's say you were only able to be a cover band from one musical body from now on. Who would that be?

Brendan McCreary: Obviously it would have to be Queen. [The Show Must Go On is] this Queen gig that my brother and I put together for an AIDS benefit. It was the twentieth anniversary of Freddie [Mercury]'s passing. We put together this band of ultimate badasses. I played Freddie for the evening. We had three of some of the best guitarists in the world, most notoriously a guy named Mike KeneallyBrendon Small from Dethklok, and a guy named Rick Musallam, who's a huge session cat out here in L.A. We had four backing vocalists, a bassist, my brother was on keys, and a drummer. Effectively what we put together was...a one night only...Queen festival. We sold out the Roxy. It was all non-profit, we were raising money for AIDS Project L.A. and it was one of the most amazing nights of my life. We never did it again, I've been trying to put it together every year but everyone's so busy. But that was probably the best night of Queen music since Queen broke up and I will f***ing stick by that. It was an amazing night and it was a total love bath.

Brendan McCreary: It was just this wonderful experience and people were coming up to me and embracing me afterwards. It was sold out and after the show had ended, everyone stayed! Just holding each other and loving each was one of the most magical nights of my entire life and I will never forget it. I would definitely do anything to re-live those moments again.

NMBFC: You say you're influenced by Queen obviously, as well as David Bowie, Elvis, and Aretha Franklin. Who are some artists you listen to now?

Brendan McCreary: I don't really have an answer that would sort of represent what I do...My favorite contemporary artist is Major Lazer, honestly. I don't make DJ music, I don't make dance hall music- I f***ing love Major Lazer. I am just like hook, line and sinker addicted to them. I can't wait for their new album. But other than that, I don't have like a band that I like listen to actively. Like, I have my eye on Bruno Mars, I really respect Bruno Mars. I would love to get into the ring with him one day and duke it out. I'm hoping great things come out of Bruno Mars. I think he's getting into that position where like one more album and he'll be able to do whatever he wants to do. Like, he's right there, he can do something awesome.

NMBFC: So what's down the road for Young Beautiful in a Hurry?

Brendan McCreary: A lot of singles. I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the studio this year, we've got two new singles coming out throughout summer. I'm not really interested in cutting a record at all. Records are expensive, they are less effective these days. That saddens me because I think records are awesome. I grew up in a super old school way and I consume music in a very old school fashion. I think there's people like me out there, but I think the vast majority of people are Spotify users and Pandora users and iTunes one-or-two-songs-off-the-album-buyers. So that's why I'm putting out singles. I'm doing these songs that I think will be great and awesome and I'm gonna put them out there so that people actually listen to them. Instead of releasing a ton of great songs on an album and maybe they get the album and maybe they don't. So that's the plan for now is just pumping out singles.

NMBFC: Is there anything else my readers should know about Young Beautiful in a Hurry?

Brendan McCreary: Check us out and spread the word, especially if any of your readers have single moms or moms in general!

NMBFC: Thank you!

If you'd like to check out Young Beautiful in a Hurry, you can find their music on iTunes and Bandcamp.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

One-Mind Tracks: Songs of Positivity

It's been a while since the last "One-Mind Tracks" here on No More Blood From a Clone. But the journey continues each week on 97.5 WDIF here in Marion, Ohio and streaming online. Since not everyone can clear the 7 o'clock hour on Thursday necessary to hear the show, here's a throwback to the original days of "One-Mind Tracks."

This week, we're featuring songs with some positive messages and attitudes.

Don't Stop Me Now by Queen
One of my favorite Queen songs, this track is full of positive energy, even if it does seem to wind down in a somewhat melancholic manner toward the end.

I Can See Clearly Now By Johnny Nash
It's hard not to think of this song in a positive light, since not only is it about the rain stopping (usually a metaphor for coming out of depression), but it's ingrained into my childhood. Jimmy Cliff covered it for Cool Runnings, a Neil Finn cover was used in Antz, and even the three blind mice sung it in the Shrek: Far Far Away Idol bonus feature. Incidentally, that terrible joke about the three blind mice isn't as bad when you realize the Neil Finn cover was originally recorded to benefit an organization that treats blindness.

Hold on Tight by Electric Light Orchestra
Soon to be featured in an advice playlist also, "Hold on Tight" encourages us to never let go of our dreams. And that's a darned empowering message.

Don't Stop by Fleetwood Mac
There are too many negative break-up songs, and a few of them can be found as fellow songs on Rumours. But not this one, in which Christine McVie says goodbye to her eight-year marriage with a smile on her face and only thoughts for the future. Bill Clinton used this as his campaign song multiple times, and even convinced the group to reform at his 1993 inaugural ball to perform it.

Don't Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin
The first acapella song ever to reach #1 on the Billboard charts is this easy-going message of positivity. But speaking of what I just mentioned with Fleetwood Mac, and what I've discussed in the past, this song has also been used in a political campaign. It was a slightly less harmonious marriage than the Clinton/Mac one however, when George H. W. Bush decided to use this as his campaign song in 1988. Bobby McFerrin publicly protested the use of "Don't Worry Be Happy," saying that he was going to vote against Bush, and even discontinuing performance of the song to be clear about where he stood on the topic.

Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield
This song has always reminded me of the very end of the third Back to the Future movie. Aside from that though, and even though it was the most played song in the U.S. in 2006, I love the positive message of "Unwritten." I hope it doesn't end up lost in the entrails of time eventually.

I Am Woman by Helen Reddy
What's more empowering than the track that became the theme song for the woman's movement? Helen Reddy felt there was a need for an empowering song for women and so she decided to start writing "I Am Woman." It was the first song by an Australian artist to hit #1 in America, and the first song written in Australia to win a Grammy.

Everything is AWESOME!!! by Tegan and Sara (Featuring The Lonely Island)
This collaboration between Tegan and Sara, The Lonely Island, and Mark Mothersbaugh bleeds positivity.

Carry On by fun.
My favorite track off of fun.'s sophomore album Some Nights is about strength against adversity. "Carry On" is a power ballad and pop tune that can't be left off this list.

Tubthumping by Chumbawamba
The oft-considered annoying "Tubthumping" drives the point of positivity home. A "tubthumper" is someone who jumps on the bandwagon, and really the song is a political message. But at face value, this song couldn't make me happier.

We Are the Champions by Queen
The be-it end-all of songs about winning, "We Are the Champions" is the champion of positivity songs. It's also the b-side to "We Will Rock You" so...heck yeah!

Find these songs and more on the playlist below:

What song gets you feeling great? I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Album Review: Aureate Gloom by of Montreal

Of Montreal have finally come up with an album title that perfectly describes the group and their music. The title, Aureate Gloom could almost be a new name for the genre of glam funk with sad lyrics that the band have become known for. And, of course, this album totally fits the bill.

Aureate Gloom picks up where Lousy With Sylvianbriar left off, if we can assume that the latter was created with 1969 in mind and now of Montreal are ready to delve into the early seventies. It's also an obvious successor if we can assume that the mild depression of Sylvianbriar transformed into the complete emotional turmoil of Auriate Gloom.

"Bassem Sabry," named for an Egyptian civil rights activist, is described as the only non-autobiographical song on the album, although it features Kevin Barnes' usual eloquence and the line "I just watched my hero fail//now I'm in a dark and violent funk." Incidentally, the word "funk" also describes some of the sounds on the track, along with drums playing a starring role in the beginning.

Next up, "Last Rites at the Jane Hotel" paints a dark portrait of a couple (or former couple) plagued with infidelity and self-interest. The busy sound is a distant cousin of "Belle Glade Missionaries." "Empyrean Abattoir" is a much more simplistic, yet discoteche-worthy tune with a great deal of bitterness wrapped up in it. It has been suggested that "Empyrean Abattoir" is about Rebecca Cash leaving the band, which seems entirely possible, although it's also as great a break-up song as "Last Rites," even if they represent slightly different outlooks. It's worth noting that many of the tracks on this album deal with bitter separations, perhaps courtesy of the fact that Barnes has parted ways with many band members including not only miss Cash, but longer-standing members of the band, and his wife of eleven years, all fairly recently.

Barnes writes about his separation from his wife on "Virgilian Lots," a dark track with personal and self-searching lyrics. Although most of the sixties sounds from early albums and Sylvianbriar are gone, and it's probably been a while since anyone compared the band to The Kinks, "Apollyon Of Blue Room" definitely brings to mind "You Really Got Me" in places.

One of my favorite pieces of lyricism on the album comes from "Estocadas"; "Your shifty friend gave you a cactus for a gift[...]//Such a stupid offering what's it meant to symbolize//hostile immobility, is that something to prize?"

"Like Ashoka's Inferno Of Memory" is home of a strange, new influence for the band in the form of a sound very similar to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."  The concept of separation from his wife in "Virgilian Lots" returns for "Memory," poignantly when Barnes references the poem "Having a Coke With You," an ode to how great boring things are with the one you love, as a memory.

Aureate Gloom is very much an of Montreal record. If Sylvianbriar can be removed from the equation, it's definitely the best album since Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? It's a different direction from Sylvianbriar. Of Montreal albums can certainly be perceived as moods, so it's almost like another mood. Barnes continues to write personal and thoughtful lyrics ripe with cultural references and complex eloquence. While I can't say it's the band's best work, it's definitely worth a listen. 

of Montreal is the brain child of Kevin Barnes of Atlanta, Georgia.

Aureate Gloom can be purchased here