Friday, December 17, 2010

Top 25

Note: If you follow the links in this entry, forgive the commercials.

So I'm on a bit of a music kick these days. I used to do this when I was younger, particularly in high school and college. I would buy an album (Jeez, remember CDs?!?) and listen to it beginning to end with the liner notes in hand. Lots of times I had to have music playing to fall asleep. I'm not listening to more music or enjoying the music I do listen to any more than I normally would, but I'm thinking about it more. Some of this undoubtedly has to do with long commutes with nothing but my iPod for company. I'm a big fan of putting the two thousand something songs in that little miracle box on shuffle and just letting it rip. I do my fair share of skipping around, but it's nice to get reacquainted with a song or unexpectedly hear something that takes you back to a specific moment in time. That's not always good, but it's always interesting.

The other catalysts for this renaissance of musical primacy are friends of mine who are either in the business or just have really, really ridiculously good taste (at least similar to mine) in artists. My buddy Mike, who is a member of a prominent band which shall remain unnamed, has recently introduced me to Paper Route. Mike has a habit of giving me solid referrals to the point that when I'm feeling things are getting a little stale, I'll call him up and ask him what he's listening to these days. I have yet to be let down.

My self-admitted music snob friend Maria has similarly introduced me to Sleigh Bells. Maria's introduction was kind of a wake up call. You can't turn on the TV or get online right now without seeing something about Sleigh Bells. I guess it was a sign of how far gone I had gotten (and how much Top 40 radio I was listening to) that I had no idea who they were until Maria threw me a bone.

I love having people like this in my life. Music always changes and new bands are constantly popping up all over the world. Your favorite song is probably still floating around out there in someone else's head. It's just an idea he/she needs to write on paper or tentatively pick out on the strings of a guitar. It's exciting to compare musical tastes and new bands with friends like these because the conversations are always reinventing themselves and discovery is always just catching up away. Which is why I'm presently at such a loss, a loss dripping with guilty pleasure.

You can tell a lot about a person by what's in their iPod. And you can tell even more about them if you go to their Top 25 Most Played list. I did this earlier today. I was shocked. Apparently, my sensibilities are a lot more mainstream than I'd like to admit. I attribute some of this to pre soccer or training run playlists. At least, that's what I tell myself. It would be really tough to glide through a 10 mile run listening to Elliot Smith. Seriously. But the fact remains that the majority of my Top 25 Most Played is rap music. I can't quite explain this. I grew up upper middle class and white. So did my sister, but she has a deep and abiding love for Tupac.

It occurred to me to doctor the list. I could squeeze in some Gaslight Anthem, Mumford and Sons, Death Cab For Cutie, et al and post a list sufficiently cool/esoteric enough to rescue my ego from total disclosure...but where's the fun in that? So,here goes:

1. I'm So Hood (remix) by DJ Khaled - This one cracks me up. Mostly because DJ Khaled is such a freakin' joke. I am patently against producers in their own songs and especially when they talk over huge portions of the song bragging about how they make hit records. Having said that, the first few verses in this song are awesome, particularly Ludacris and Busta Rhymes. I also gain a little bit satisfaction watching the artists in this song awkwardly interact with DJ Khaled in the video. He clearly has no idea what to do on screen and winds up looking like a bad high school improv student. Plus, they all look low grade annoyed by him, sort of like having to hang out with the water boy at the football party. Or like they're all thinking, "God, I wish he'd quit doing that with his hands." Perfect pre soccer song. PS: There is nothing about me that is even remotely hood.

2. All of The Above by Maino - Firstly, Maino is awesome. It's complicated, but he's one of those artists who is a total trainwreck/thug, but is also completely authentic. I don't think I'll ever wrap my mind around how someone can have booze and strippers i their videos, but also be a positive role model for kids. This only seems to be a debate in rap music. I don't think I've not gotten a yellow card in a soccer match when I've listened to this song before kick off.

3. Everybody's Changing by Keane - Clearly, we're changing gears here. I'm pretty sure Maino and Keane have nothing in common. To be honest, I wasn't a big Keane fan until I saw them at Austin City Limits Festival. It was during that huge "we all want to sound British and somewhat vintage" phase and I sort of dismissed them out of hand. Granted, they are British and don't try to sound vintage, but whatever. I just wasn't in to bands like this at the time. I was at the festival with my girlfriend, it was early evening, the festival hadn't quite yet turned into the choking dust bowl it would the next day, and we sat on a hill and watched their set. I was in love and this was one of those perfect moments that you later realize occur so rarely in life.

4. Buried Myself Alive by The Used - Changing gears again. I used to think of The Used solely as "that band with the lead singer who was dating Ozzy Osbourne's daughter" (a clear publicity stunt). Having said that, they have some pretty damned good songs. What can I say? It appeals to the skate punk in me.

5. Ride by Ace Hood - I plead the Fifth here. No idea what to say. I can remember being between relationships and getting a ride to the airport from a female friend with whom there was always a mutual attraction. This song was on the radio and I thought, "Maybe?" PS "Maybe?" is never a good thing to think when contemplating whether or not to start a relationship. Also, Ace Hood songs should never serve as an emotional impetus for anything.

6. Get Like Me by David Banner - Total disclosure? I love David Banner. I remember after Hurricane Katrina there was a huge controversy because Banner gave a huge amount of money and time to the relief effort in Mississippi (his home state) and was later given some civic honor for his efforts. A Republican politician had the temerity to suggest that Banner wasn't a role model and should not be honored for his work and support because some of his songs are less than totally appropriate (some are, but seriously, what a dick). Also, I went through a phase when this song came out that when people asked me what I was up to later I would just say, "Stuntin'." When they stared at me blankly, I would clarify, "It's a habit."

7. What You Know by T.I. - Great song. Awesome beat. TI is easily one of the best lyricists in hip hop music today. Maybe not in this song, but that's beside the point. What makes this song is the beat. It's epic. Yes, epic.

8. Banquet by Bloc Party - I was actually introduced to Bloc Party by a video game. It was one of the incarnations of EA Sports' FIFA franchise (I can't remember which). Who says video games can't have positive effects on young minds? I'm not quite sure why it's this song that's in the Top 25, especially considering there are other songs by the band that I like much more, but I'll take it.

9. Out Here Grindin' by DJ Khaled - Here's that freakin' DJ Khaled again. Honestly, he's a total ass clown, but maybe all he does is make hit records? Does anyone remember when you could buy "Homies" from candy dispensers? DJ Khaled looks like a Homie.

10. Lights, Camera, Action by Mr. Cheeks - What's great about this song? The guy's name is Mr. Cheeks. That is the least badass rap name of all time, which makes it badass. Plus, when this song came out I think Mr. Cheeks was something like 40. Whatever. It was my go to song when I was playing soccer in college. Coincidentally, my girlfriend at the time was also a soccer player and it was her go to song as well. I'm guessing this had less to do with lyrical content and more to do with the chorus and the beat. I'm hoping so anyway.

11. Give it All by Rise Against - If Maria isn't rolling her eyes already, she will when she reads that Rise Against weighed in at number 11. Firstly, they're from Chicago (her hometown). Secondly, they're a politically active, vegan, environmentalist, animal rights band. I mean, really?!? Can a band be more earnest? I can't help myself though, this is a great punk anthem. Love it. Trivia: the lead singer has two different colored eyes.

12. Stuntin' Like My Daddy by Birdman and Lil Wayne - Can you not like Lil Wayne? What a freak show. Say what you will, but the guy is a legitimate rap star. Prolific, artistic (or at least a trend setter), and he just doesn't give a damn.

13. Unholy Confessions by Avenged Sevenfold - This is definitely a guilty pleasure band. When I was teaching high school and overhearing teenagers bitch about their angst filled lives, I had to accept the fact that I was listening to the same music they were. This is definitely a band in the "my parents just don't understand me" genre, but the two guitarists are legitimate virtuosos and there's something reassuring about the fact that even the 2000s couldn't kill The Metal. PS Watching this video makes me want to be a ROCK STAR.

14. Shawty Say by David Banner - David Banner again. This song is essentially about treating women correctly. Granted, David Banner says it in his own special way - which is probably the way the previously mentioned Republican politician was referring to when he railed against him being honored for charity work - but that's beside the point. The other great thing about David Banner? The chick who says his name over the beat at the beginning of every song.

15. Kimdracula by the Deftones - This one totally flummoxes me. The best I can guess is that I made a playlist once and put this song on it twice. I love the Deftones, but this is not the song I would have picked. *High School flashback* My best buddy Gary took me to a Deftones show in 1996 at Liberty Lunch in Austin, TX. There were all of 300 people in the crowd and the show cost $3. $1 for each band playing. Deftones, Man Will Surrender, and Human Waste Project. It was, and still is, the best concert experience of my life. Chino Moreno has an incredible voice and they are one of the few bands I listened to at that age that has actually grown with me. Also, "I wish these snakes were your arms...." great lyric. Note: The video on this link is not the actual music video because they never made one for this song.

16. Dope Boys by The Game - Ok, I legitimately have no business listening to this song. Like I said before, there is zero hood about me. The Game is from South Central Los Angeles and had a scholarship to play basketball at Oregon State but just could not shake the hood in him. Honestly, and I mean this with no judgement or humor, but if another rapper is going to get shot sometime soon, a la Tupac, it's going to be this guy. Having said that, the beat is ridiculous.

17. You Are the One by Shiny Toy Guns - This song is addictive. I'm not sure a keyboard riff has been more balls out awesome since "The Final Countdown". I mean that ironically and seriously. I used to listen to this song before indoor soccer matches to get my Euro fix (the band is actually from California). I also have to confess that I had a faux hawk at the time and was referred to at work as "The creepy European guy". Shiny Toy Guns no longer has the same female vocalist. They replaced the chick in this song, Carah Faye Charnow, who is also exhibit A in how sexy tattoos can be on a woman, with another girl named Sisely Treasure. Does that not sound like a porn name to anyone else? Anyhow, treasure does a decent enough job, but Charnow had a voice like a bell.

18. Just Dance by Lady Gaga - Ok, ok. What the hell? Well, I'm a product of my times and my times are currently defined by Lady Gaga (at least my popular culture times). Honestly, though, I challenge you to not want to dance, or at least hum along, to her songs. Plus, she's an actual artist who actually writes her own songs. She's also proof that you can exude sexuality and be sexy without actually being terribly good looking.

19. Hi Hater by Maino - Another great song I challenge you to not sing along to.

20. Savior by Rise Against - Maria, roll your eyes once more. Honestly, I can't explain the video. People in stuffed animal suits. Who knows? It's a pity too because the song stands on its own merits and would be fine if the video were even just a performance montage. Whatever. I'm not sure why I love this song so much, but I think it reminds me of an Ex in that waaaaaaaay too serious and emotional kind of way.

21. Jackie Will Save Me by Shiny Toy Guns - Again, no official video for this song, but I wasn't listing the Top 25 Most Played Videos, was I? I've got nothing new to say here about Shiny Toy Guns. Guilty pleasure...Euro feel...Carah Faye Charnow is sexy as hell. That about covers it. Oh, one more thing. If I were a professional soccer player and had to have a Youtube clip video set to music, this might be the song I'd use. I'd be badass...and maybe a little gay.

22. The Taste of Ink by The Used - Another The Used song. I think it's hilarious that an emo band hails from Salt Lake City. Great song to belt out late at night in the car.

23. Split Me Wide Open by the Bravery - This is another band I got in to because of the Austin City Limits Festival, and this is just a great song. Synth, guitars, great vocals. Sort of reminds me of all the reasons I love The Cure. There's this highly sexual and somewhat androgynous quality to the lead singer's voice that fits just perfectly with the music. Can't believe I just wrote that. See the last five words on #21.

24. Smile Like You Mean It by The Killers - I feel like I may have a thing for keyboards.

25. Wake Up by Metalkpretty - I have a thing for bands with female lead singers who have PIPES. this girl can sing her ass off. Also, and this really creeps me out, she looks exactly like a girl I dated a couple of years ago. The resemblance is uncanny enough that I wikipediaed (I totally made that a verb) the band to make sure it wasn't her. Also, some friends of mine saw the girl I dated in a Lowe's the other day. Pretty good sign she's not a rock star. Damn.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

American Girls, They Want the Whole World/They want Every Last Little Light in New York City

I get addicted to bands. I'll hear a song that strums one of my admittedly many emotional chords and I'm hooked. Sometimes this results in a terrible crime. I love a song so much and put so much stock in how well written all of said band's other songs must be, and then...nothing. It's the worst kind of sleight of hand. You get all prepared to love a body of work but instead you're asked to tolerate a life's work of mediocrity for two minutes and thirty seconds of accidental genius.

[Aside: I had this great analogy working here about wonderful first dates and shitty second dates and wanting to be rescued from shitty second dates and I even worked "deus ex machina' in there, but it seemed too self satisfying.]

[Aside to my aside: See how I went ahead and used the self satisfying analogy in a self deprecating way? I am such an asshole.]

Such is not the case with The Gaslight Anthem. There is nothing profound about me saying this as they're already a critically acclaimed band and have been around for a few years, but I'm just now getting into them and want to enjoy this honeymoon period for all it's worth. If you don't know the band, please consider this an earnest introduction. In particular, check out The Queen of Lower Chelsea (title of this entry from the song), Miles Davis & The Cool, and She Loves You.

Lyrically, all of these songs are outstanding. Touching, intelligent, mature. Plus, they can bring the rock. That's always important. Enjoy!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Another Letter to My Nephew

Dearest Otto,

Here's the deal: It looks like your folks have settled on Otto as The Name You Will Forever be Called. I put that in all caps to remind you later on how final something like this is. Seriously. My folks decided, for no other reason than to be confusing I'm thinking, to also call me by my middle name. Every roll that is called, every job interview you attend, every face-to-face meeting with someone in an official capacity will start with you saying, "Actually, I go by 'Otto'."

Whatever. Your dad is in the same boat so maybe he thought he'd be a smartass and pay it forward. To be honest though, it's not that you'll have to explain, ad nauseum, For The Rest of Your Life (See what I did there?) that you actually go by your middle name that bugs me, but that for whatever reason, the much, much cooler "OJ" was voted down. I know, I know, initials for names can be obnoxious. Trust me, I once had a friend named "BJ", I know the weight a set of initials can put on the shoulders of an unsuspecting adolescent. It's not pretty. "OJ" though? for the whole "named after a probable double murderer" thing. Details, details.

Anyhow, how have you been? I still haven't gotten to meet you in the flesh. I'm feeling a little like I'm shirking my duties as an uncle, but multiple time zones and a paucity of expendable income in my bank account have conspired to keep us on opposite sides of the country. Soon, dear Juice, soon. I have, however, seen many a picture of your earliest days and have heard you wailing like a banshee over the telephone as I try to talk to your mother about shit that probably doesn't really matter to her at all these days. Tough to tell her about what I'm listening to or reading these days when she's worrying every second about the helpless infant crying in her arms for whom she is SOLELY RESPONSIBLE. Puts things in perspective, I suppose. If anything, it makes me realize how desperately unready I am to impregnate anyone. I say "impregnate" not to make it impersonal, but to point out the fact that I have a few hurdles to jump over before I can say "have a baby." You know, details like fall in love, get married, plan. Actually, you don't, but one of these days you will...and I'll be able to offer you a whole slew of advice, not all of it willingly gained. But that's a conversation for another day. Just remember, you'll have tough times, but eventually it will all be worth it. If you ever get lost, look at your parents as a model. Hell, even I do sometimes.

Enjoy discovering the world on a daily basis and doing whatever it is 3 month olds do to occupy their time. I'm guessing this is a lot of feeding and sleeping. Sounds like heaven!


Your Uncle