Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ten Best Songs (Lyrically), Part 1

Those of you who know me know I'm a writer-- a poet, actually. I've got quite a little soft spot in my heart (and perhaps a little hard spot in my pants) for the best lyrics out there. Ranging from anti-war ballads from the LSD-era to hyper-visual verses from indie hip-hoppers. You could think of it like this: good lyrics are the captain of the football team, and I'm the fat chick who came to the party early and is already drunk. Don't get the analogy? Don't worry, I just wanted an opportunity to refer to myself as a "fat chick."

The reality of it is, good lyricists aren't lyricists at all: they're poets and storytellers; they're visionaries and soothsayers. That's why I think it's only fair that I share with you some of my favorite songwriters and the reasons why their words are the stuff of legends.

10. Her Father and Her, by Adam Green

This song is, to me, the peak of the mountain of mystery that is Adam Green. Mixing his deft ability to coax the human heart out of its cage, Green uses his typical, nonsense -style writing intertwined with heart wrenching and beautifully constructed verse.

Lines like "and just when I thought it was safe to put down my pen/ she said maybe I will let you fall in love with me again/ maybe I will let you fall for loving me again" prove that, beyond his warm voice and eccentricities, there's a brilliant little man screaming at the top of his lungs. Green's not done, though, adding for good measure that "everyone has hands just to use someone."

Moreover, the song ends of a bizarre, albeit intellectually appealing, note:

"It makes me feel just like old gum
to ride a fake horse into town
to ride a lame horse into town
to ride a fake horse into town
to ride your big fucking fake, fucking lame, fucking dead horse into town."

Lines which, when given thought, represent the idea of creating for yourself a facadical reality, and gallivanting about with the frustrating knowledge that your own existence is a lie.

9. Regret, by John Frusciante

What's sad is that, if you know the name John Frusciante, you're probably unfamiliar with his solo work. What's depressing is that, even if you do know his work outside the Red Hot Chili Peppers, you're probably one of the many people who skipped right over this track from his (in my opinion) best album, Shadows Collide With People.

Frusciante shows here that less really is more. I included the acoustic version in the video above because it's stripped of all production value and focuses even more on the bitter reality projected in the repetition of the songs only two lines:

"I regret my past."
"Stay alone."

It's a simple concept, and a simpler song, but there hasn't been a song that's incorporated so little lyrically and hit me nearly as hard.

8. Haiku, by Tally Hall

 It speaks volumes about this band's notoriety that I couldn't find a vid on Youtube with better quality than what's above. Even there, with the words you're able to make out, there's something coaxingly cute and warm about Tally Hall. This song is no exception. Wrapped in thick harmonies and neatly tied with a bow, Tally Hall presents a song that's as "meta" as it is literal.

Here's the thing: this is a song about not being able to write a haiku. The lyrics are written in perfect metric haiku form. There's even a little pronunciation lesson: "I've never thought much of formulaic verse anyway/ end-rhymes are not my forte."

This is keeping in mind that "forte" in a sense pertaining to someone's strong suit is pronounced "FORT." (See the "pronunciation note" if you follow the link) It's witty, clever, maybe a little pretentious-- sure-- but it's good writing.

And not to mention they give listeners lines like "Maybe this poem was lost in the sauce we spilled" and "Maybe you're beyond ancient Asian poetry/ or maybe it's just me."

The song closes just how one would want it to: on a romantic, witty turn of phrase, showing the songwriter's powerful lyrical ear.

"Words don't work like Webster says/ they trip me up all night./ I'm just trying to write for you/ but you're hard to write down right."

7. Handlebars, by The Flobots

This song, as oppose to many others on the list, was not overlooked by mainstream media. Its attention, however, was misdirected.

Paying more attention to the poppy-sounding music and the seemingly-lighthearted lyrics, pop music listeners the nation over found themselves unwittingly dumping this track onto their iPods. If you take a listen to the rest of the Flobots album, you get the idea that maybe things aren't as innocent as they seem.

Touching on issues of racism, capitalism, intellectual insurgency, and all sorts of other wild shit, the Flobots album Fight With Tools didn't seem a fitting place for a "simple, whimsical" song.

Upon further inspection, Handlebars is using juxtaposition and irony to express a hugely political message to its readers. By lining up exclamations like "I can take apart the remote control/and I can almost put it back together" next to "I can guide a missile by satellite" it's reflecting the idea that the two are equal in mindset. That the government is childish in the way they handle themselves, and that it's no more impressive to "end the planet in a holocaust" than it is to "know all the words to De Colores."

6. The Fix, by Elbow

 I love Elbow. Elbow is one of those bands that's easy to forget your love of, but every time you put iTunes on shuffle and hear them, you're like "Fuck yeah." In contention for this spot were a few other songs with more conventional lyric subjects, like An Audience With The Pope or Leaders of the Free World. They're both songs I like perhaps more altogether than The Fix, but the subject of this song and how adeptly it's written is what continues to blow me away.

This song is about the doping of race horses, and the selfishness of horse owners in the industry-- who know that doping their horses (sometimes with steroids, or cocaine, etc.) is dangerous to the animals, but continue to do it in the interest of monetary gain.

The verses are all absurdly good, but here are my two favorites:

"The redoubtable beast has had Pegasus pills.
We'll buy him the patch in the Tuscany hills
and the Vino di Vici will flow like a river in spring
now the fix, the fix is in."


"The Donahue sisters will meet us in France
in penguins and pearls, we'll drink and we'll dance
'til the end of our days, cause it ain't left to chance
that we win
'cause the fix, the fix is in."

5. The Act, by Hymie's Basement

This is by far the least well-known entry on the list. From the record label Anti-Con (to which one of my favorite bands, Why?, is signed), Hymie's Basement sacrifices typical musical elements in order to place more focus on their lyrics. Which is good, because, Jesus, are these lyrics good.

I'll post them, start to finish, below because I honestly think these are not, by any means, song lyrics. This is absolute fucking poetry. Read it, love it, absorb it, and check out Hymie's Basement if you dig the vibe.

"It makes perfect sense for children to practice having love affairs at summer camp,
it's practical evolution;  the perfect chance to pollinate another city with blanks.
Only seeming more intentional than the seeds of a dead dandelion
getting caught in the breeze and the act that follows you'd like to think of as a passive fertilization.
Well, it might be as dodgy deliberate as the bar scene or date rape. It makes perfect sense
for children to practice making sex at summer camp."

A novel look at the reproduction process and the impurity it faces in today's world, Hymie's Basement has put together, with this song, a wonderful piece of music and an even more impressive piece of writing.

Stay tuned for PART TWO, which will be coming shortly. If you liked these lyrics, or the songs they belong to, feel free to check out the artists and support their work.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review - Tab the Band, "Zoo Noises"

Tab the Band, the Boston indie rockers who backed bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Cage the Elephant, and, for a brief stint in Boston, Slash, has released their album "Zoo Noises" this year. However roughly-cut the tracks on Zoo Noises are, in some strange, wonderfully endearing way... it works.

Channeling all the best parts of early 00's JET and the aforementioned Cage the Elephant, and throwing in some of the Brit-rockers the 22-20's, Tab (as I'll here-on be calling them) has really put together a cohesive piece of throwback rock and motherfucking roll.

Take, for example, the third track from Zoo Noises, "Bought and Sold". The track opens with a pretty traditional garage rock opening-- the rhythmic guitar, the pounding drums, the offbeat vocals-- but moves quickly into something heavier and, on so many levels, much more enjoyable than what could ever be considered "typical." The chorus is quick and concise, and just as impacting as you'd like from this type of band.

With bits and pieces of Jack White mixed in, "Bought and Sold" is the first track on the album that made me kind of stop and say "Oh, wait... these guys are legit."

"Southern Town" is a song that speaks so well for itself that I dare not even write anything about it. It'd be a shame to describe it some way that didn't do it justice. It's anthemic, it's raw, it's grand... it's really damn cool.

And so, what sets this band apart, aside from that good ol' je ne sais qoi, is their ability to mix styles so cohesively. "She Said No (I Love You)" opens with a Skynyrd-reminiscent southern-rock riff, but moves into tribal-sounding percussion and vocals that channel The Flaming Lips. There are some songs that make you want to drink a beer on the beach, "She Said No (I Love You)" is what one pictures oneself listening to while taking shots of 151 in the middle of the jungle. It might sound weird to describe a song as such, but give it a listen... I fucking dare you to tell me I'm wrong.

Weak points are in songs like "I'll Be Waiting" and "Because I Want To", wherein Tab is doing too much to stretch the boundaries of genre, and the mixture of sounds they apply fall miserably short of spectacular. At points, you think to yourself "I feel like I've heard this before," and later in the same song think to yourself "I'm glad I've never heard anything like this."

It's all forgiven with tracks like "Bobby and Jane", however, which boast an almost live show type aesthetic. And I think that might be what sets Tab truly apart from the rest of the garage-indie riffraff... each second those fringe vocals and bumpin' guitar parts are thrown straight in your face, it feels like you're sitting right in the studio with the guys, inhaling their secondhand smoke as they ask you if you wanna hit the bars after they're done recording.

And so there it is, I guess: that je ne sais qois. There's something endearing in this band, who seems like a group of those jackasses down the hall from your college dorm room who play music way too loud at 4am during finals week. The difference? These guys are great.

Just imagine if Jack White had been able to have a real band behind him, with real musicians, instead of some no-talent drummer. Their sound is thick, full, and exceptionally big.

I'd urge you, my wonderful reader, to get your rockin' ass into gear and check out the no-flash, no-filler style of Tab the Band as soon as possible. Buy the CD, put it in your 1996 Jeep CD player, and rock the fuck out as soon as weather allows all the windows to be rolled down.

I give Tab the Band's "Zoo Noises" a solid B+.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gutbucket Slim Interview ("hip-hop is the new blues")

Hey everyone--

So, after promising the Gutbucket interview (with its secret mastermind, Robin Davey) it took me a while to have the time to get all my ducks in a row. Robin finally got back to me and I finally have the time to get it hosted on Hot Water Music.

I hope you all enjoy, and be on the lookout for much more content in the next coming week, since I'm on spring break. While all you other college kids will be taking shots of rum in your butt, I'll be music journalisming. (That word even sounds made up). Finally, don't forget you can check out the Gutbucket album FO' FREE here.

Without further ado, here is Gutbucket.

HWM: How did work begin on the Gutbucket project? Was it something you began with no intentions of putting out, as a side project, or did you know what you had gotten yourself into when you began working on the tracks?

GS: It was an idea I had for a while. I ended up having a couple of weeks free and I thought that it was time to do it. Obviously I could never sell it because of the amount of samples I used - there are some in there I don't even know where they came from. So I knew I would just put it out for free. I really wanted to do a mix of blues and hip hop because in many ways hip hop is the new blues. I feel its origins come from a very similar place.

HWM: How has the Gutbucket project affected your other works, with The Bastard Fairies, or otherwise? Have you found that you've gained a wider fanbase because of the Gutbucket release?

GS: Well, I have found that The Bastard Fairies fans have embraced it and love it. I really have no idea how big Gutbucket Slim is, I don't know how many people have it on their iPod. It has been on many torrent sites labeled as Dangermouse or Beck, so I don't even know that if people have it they know that it's called Gutbucket Slim. I haven't even checked the download numbers since it came out, in the first week it did a few thousand I know that but since then I don't have a clue.

HWM: What was your intention in keeping yourself anonymous behind the Gutbucket Slim pseudonym? What was it like to see your music listed as "Beck" or "Beck and Dangermouse?" Was it weird at all to see others attributed with your work?

GS: I liked the idea of Banksy being this anonymous artist and I felt that the project, because it mixed many samples, would be more fun if people had no clue who was behind it. Pretty soon though some people in the UK figured out it was me, so I owned up to it. People were telling me they were hearing it played at gigs and clubs, it even got on radio in US and Australia. It was very flattering that people thought it was Beck or Dangermouse, at the same time there was that narcissistic element in me, that all artists suffer from, that wanted to claim ownership.

HWM: When you decided to "out" yourself as Gutbucket Slim, what followed? Did your bandmates know about the project? Who was kept "in the loop?"

GS: A few people knew, and then someone put it on my Wikipedia page, but like I say people in the UK had figured it out so I don't think it was a huge surprise. I have a couple of bands and for fun I contacted one of the members on Myspace as Gutbucket Slim, he right away said "Robin is that you?" so I guess for people who know me, it wasn't a surprise.

HWM: How was the decision made to make a blues-styled mash-up album? Why Bukowski? Why Carlin?

GS: I have played blues since I was in my early teens, but always listened to all sorts of music. I think that Bukowski embodies that old blues ethic, as does Carlin. They have such great voices that I knew their spoken word would work over a bluesy groove. Some things surprised me though, like overlaying Rick James on a slow blues, I just laid it in there and it fit so well. I had some stuff I was sure was going to work
but it didn't. Some Son House I couldn't get to gel, and some old Yardbirds and Animals vocals, I just couldn't get them to feel right.

HWM: What are some influences of yours, personally, and influences you could see having affected the Gutbucket sound?

GS: All the guitar on Gutbucket Slim is me, none of it is sampled, so in that respect Albert and BB King, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins are all influences. My brother Jesse Davey is a phenomenal player who I have learned a lot from. As for the Gutbucket sound, Tom Waits, N.E.R.D, Dangermouse, T Bone Burnett and the Gorillaz all played a part.

HWM: Do you plan to release another album under the pseudonym? A tour, perhaps?

GS: Gutbucket Slim is a very satisfying formula to work to, and I had a blast making the album, so I think I will definitely revive it. If I do a tour I would love to have a whole bunch of guests joining me, make it one big hip-hop, blues party.

HWM: Has there been any devaluation of music, in your opinion? Are you seeing anything in mass-consumed music that would indicate to you that the name on the album means less than the music it contains?

GS: Yes, but I think it has always been that way. The new music industry is not about big business anymore it's about the little people breaking through the ranks and creating something new.

HWM: What's the next step for you as a musician? Is there anything in the works for The Bastard Fairies?

GS: The Bastard Fairies are taking a little break so I am working on two new bands this year. One which is yet to be revealed and is a collaboration between some better known artists. The other is called Well Hung Heart, which I am excited about. It is very different to what I have done before. Live, it is myself on guitar, Greta Valenti on vocals and other flavors, and a drummer, just the 3 of us. I play guitar and bass at the same time. We're just beginning to shape the sound and get songs together. From the start though we are embracing the connectivity bands now have with fans. Sharing early rehearsal audio and being open about what we are doing. That way people can see the evolution of the project.

HWM: Finally, can you sort of speak to your vision for Gutbucket Slim, the idea to release the music for a free download, and the state of the music industry as a whole? (e.g. illegally downloaded music, "pop" versus "underground," where you, personally, fit in the music industry, etc.)

GS: Gutbucket Slim was an embracing of what can be done now utilizing new distribution methods. The industry is in a very transitional stage. It's great for the indies but not so great for the majors. Personally I have always been very independently minded even though I have been signed to majors as well. I just keep putting stuff out there, because its fun to create it and hope people connect, some do more with certain projects than others, but for me as long as it's fun then something good is going to come out of it.

So there you have it, folks. Stay tuned for more awesome shit from HWM. Because, like, if you do, I'll straight up love you.