Had some fun with Photoshop today.
I don’t HATE Mumford & Sons. Sure, I think they are a bit sucky…but this isn’t a blood feud. I just think bums are funny and Ron Weasley is also amusing.
We’ve all heard the complaints about be-quiffed British crooner Sam Smith’s dirge of a song “Stay With Me” more or less directly ripping off American folk-rock scarecrow Tom Petty’s terrible ode to perseverence”I Won’t Back Down”.
Here’s the video proof:
But, the other day, I was eating a bowl of Golden Grahams and noticed even MORE intellectual theft. Check out the similarities between these two tracks:
You can hear it now, can’t you? I’m youurrr Jean Grey toooniiiight. Argh, sentinels!
You may or may not have noticed that I haven’t blogged here in over a year. I fell off. I didn’t pay enough attention. I failed to maintain. It’s not that things stopped being great for me to love. Things are still great and I, as a general stance, still LOVE things that are great. I just didn’t love my work schedule over the last year or so. Now, has it recently changed to being better since I fell off? No. I’m still pretty craze-balls here there and everywhere between my day job, improv, stand-up, and my social/family commitments. But, the main difference is that I’m just gonna be more flagrant about when I do all this stuff. So, hopefully, by caring a little less about getting shit-canned, I’ll get more done! That’s how it works, right? I’m like the world’s worst super-hero. Trying to juggle all my (non) heroic duties. The Craptacular Spider-Man. With great workloads comes half-assed attitudes and sloppy output.
So, what am I short shrifting my work to talk about today? It’s Swedish Popstar, Robyn! Robyn Carlsson, to be exact. I like this because Carlsson is also Carl’s last name from THE SIMPSONS. Carl Carlsson.
Really, I first knew of her from back in the early 90s. Her “Show Me Love” surfaced in the singles charts for a big and it was an enjoyable if ultimately forgettable little tune. It also had the misfortune of landing in proximity to another song called “Show Me Love”. This one was by Robin S. (Another Robin, just to add further confusion), and when comparing the two, Robin S.’s was bigger, bolshier, and all around more memorable. I’ve just looked it up and the songs were 4 years apart. Not long enough for me to really differentiate considering that those were years that were high school and college for me and I was mostly concerned with silently fancying girls at my Catholic school. So, if it wasn’t Jill Sobule or Sophie B. Hawkins, I was less likely to retain that track information.
Anyway, several years had passed since Robyn’s “Show Me Love” was on our American radios. I kept busy, going to University–studying writing and performance in tandem with Stella Adler studios, working my summers at a meat factory, eventually graduating and then finding work as a bartender, doing comedy in the alternative club scene in NYC, meeting my future wife, moving to LA, moving to Baltimore, moving back to Brooklyn, moving over to the UK–first living and working in Scotland and subsequently shifting down to England, hitting the Manchester comedy circuit, getting married, honeymooning in Ecuador, riding horses around a volcanic crater a couple hours outside of Quito, hiking Hadrian’s Wall for charity and occasionally dining out and seeing films with friends. Those were wild times. Finally, 2007 arrived. I’d been so busy with my own life that I hadn’t even bothered to consider that all this time, the Swedish soprano chanteuse had been laying it wait. Coiled like a short, blonde-tufted, snake, about to strike with a song that would infect my ears, my head, my dancing shoes, and yes, my heart.
What’s that YouTube? You have a clip of the song that you want to show us? Well, that’s great, I’d love to listen to it again.
I hoped you liked that song. It’s a testament to the track that I still like it even though the supershitty neighbors we had upstairs from us for a while at our old apartment in the Castlefield (yes…a whole field of castles!) neighborhood in Manchester used to blast it at their terrible parties full of even shittier friends. These guys were real dirtbags. Just scum. I mean, they stole balcony furniture from other tenants and would let their cigarettes fall through their balcony slats down to ours. Gross. I want to give you some idea of what they were like so I’ve googled ‘hipster douchebag’ and this is the first image that appeared. Works for me.
Anyway, it’s that good that I still love it even over that negative association.
I like Robyn because she makes perfect pop music which still seems authentically artful. I like that she has both singing talent AND ideas about what she wants to create. In fact, she started Konichiwa Records in 2005 over creative disputes with her former record company. She wanted to go more electro and they were all like, ‘naaah’. So, she was like, ‘bye I guess’.
But it’s her collaboration with and video for “You Should Know Better” that is the real centerpiece of this blog entry. I love everything about it, from the gender-swapping kids to the choice pop partnership to the general badassery to the shout out for a woman pope. Here she is with Snoop Dogg (he was still Dogg at that point and not Lion, I believe).
I love that the kid pulls so many Robyn dance-moves from previous vids. It’s perfect casting for both of the reverse doppelgangers.
*Fun Fact* Robyn plays his Mom in that video.
Here’s a bonus bit of fun with The Lonely Island.
This pleases me because I think that the fact The Lonely Island reached out to her means that she’s cool enough in America again to be appreciated by these creators of cultural touchstones. Goodo.
OK, you know. I started this blog post in February…I mean, obviously, you won’t know that because it looks like it has practically no content except videos and that it would have taken approximately four seconds to write…but it’s now the middle of March now and I STILL haven’t posted it.
Yet, today there is NEW Robyn news. Check out this brilliant song from my favorite Buffalo-stancin’ British rapper, Neneh Cherry featuring none other than Robyn. I like it very much and since I’m so desparate to share it with you, I’m finally gonna hit publish on this post. Thanks for pushing me off the plank, Neneh Cherry.
P.S. For more amazing Swedish recommendations see the film SHOW ME LOVE, The Cardigans, Abba, Ikea, and The Swedish Parliament (which has the highest ratio of female lawmakers in the world!!!)
And we’re back! Edinburgh was fun, thanks. Will probably do a blog-recap of it shortly. Anyway, back to the day-to-day stuff. It was a bank holiday weekend here in the UK (hooray) and I had a really good one. Went to gig in Newcastle on Friday. Though it’s a long way to go for an unpaid spot (about a 3.5 hour drive), the gig itself was absolutely lovely and the three of us who went from Manchester had a warm glow of happiness on the drive home. Then on Saturday, had a good sleep in and spent the rest of the day eating nice food, reading a book, and playing PS3–that is living the dream. On Sunday, we went out to grab lunch with a friend and had a couple of beverages. Then yesterday (Monday), Karey spent almost the whole day in the kitchen churning out treats both sweet and savoury–whilst I tidied up the place a bit and continued on with my idyllic weekend of reading, eating, and gaming.
Now it’s Tuesday–here at work for a four-day work week (the lovely after effect of a three-day weekend). Started the day with a bit of a bump though and although it’s a minor nuisance, I’m really in a funk about it and can’t shake the feeling. You see, we’ve only been in this new flat for a couple of months now and we’re still trying to settle in/get to know the building/say howdy to the neighbors and all that. We’ve been buying bits of furniture and decor along the way as we can afford them–trying to make the place feel a bit more ‘us’. That mostly means me throwing comics and candy bar wrappers about the place and Karey not putting her shoes away and lighting far too many candles. But, we did get one nifty little item to throw into the hallway outside the door to our place. Check out this adorable doormat.
We put that sweet little number in the hallway and for a good week it brought smiles to our faces as we stepped into the flat. ‘Bonjour!’, we’d say in response to the confident poodle.
Anyway, a week’s worth of happiness is all we got from it…because some nasty pice of work has stolen it! To make matters worse, the store is out of stock and the line is cancelled. Can’t even get a replacement. Plus, it has the bonus negative effect of making me distrustful of our neighbors. It seems like such a nice building too! Not sure who is guilty. To be sure, I’m going to smear boogers on EVERYONE’S door. It’s my only solace. We can’t have anything nice…Even though I’m feeling a bit burnt and negative about this brazen theft, I’m going to try to focus on the positive. Let’s do a great thing blog!
So, without further adieu, here’s today’s great thing:
168. Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope” video
Let’s watch it!
Why do I like this video so much? You’ve seen it–it should be clear. But just in case you don’t dig on the same things I do, here’s why:
1. Super dancing! I like the fancy smooth footwork of Monae and her asylum inmate friends. This is also why I liked the video for “Single Ladies” when it first came out, because the choreography seemed so new and brilliant. It wasn’t five boy-banders just throwing shapes in synch. It was specific to the act and a pleasure to watch. I love the black and white of their saddle shoes flashing in front of my eyes.
2. It has a sort of story-line element. Far too few videos bother trying to craft any sort of narrative nowadays. Though it’s not crystal clear what is happening here, you can at least see that Janelle Monae and her friends are trying to boogie their way out of an anti-dancing sort of insane asylum. Apparently, the director, Wendy Morgan–who has directed for Bloc Party and Gnarls Barkley as well, references Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, an experimental film from the 40’s which I can’t say I’m familiar with. It’s where she got the idea for the mirror-faced dementors. Highbrow! Meshes of the Afternoon
3. Tuxedos. I like ’em. I used to be a cater waiter and maybe if we were all better dancers, this is what our breaks at work would have looked like. Alas, at those intervals we were mostly text messaging people, making fun of party guests, or stealing food and not staging super-jive jamborees.
4. Originality. I love that a pop star is using a creative edge instead of a tight top to get attention. Class act! I like it when people who could likely just coast on their voice and slick production actually wind up bringing something new to the table.
I don’t have the whole album, but I have picked up a few tracks from iTunes and I like what I hear so far. Janelle Monae was born in 1985. 1985!!!! There are grown ups around who were born in 1985!!! She’s from Kansas City. This helps in establishing her cool credentials. It’s good to be from a place with a mythos around it–like Kansas City, New Orleans, or Cool World. She then studied in NYC with an original goal of heading to broadway, which goes to explain her theatricality.
Another reason to anticipate further magical awesomeness from Monae? Check out this info from io9.com:
Monáe has stated that she has an alter-ego named Cindi Mayweather who according to Monáe is from the year 2719. In her first EP she gave her alter-ego a back-story stating that she is on the run after breaking the law in her home town of Metropolis after falling in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. Monáe explained about Cindi, saying “The Archandroid, Cindi, is the mediator, between the mind and the hand. She’s the mediator between the haves and the have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressor. She’s like the Archangel in the Bible, and what Neo represents to the Matrix io9.com
I bet she’s kick-ass in concert. I will only go out to live concerts and risk standing around and being moshed up against for special artists. She will qualify to be on that list. Do you hear that Janelle Monae? Now, come to Manchester please.
By my estimation, about 98% of music videos manufactured today are forgettable, tasteless, copycat crap. Every time someone innovates, we wind up seeing approximately 500 knock offs over a few years of said innovation. Using a fish-eye lens? Trying out a flash mob type feel? Putting your artist up solo against a wall of lights? Sorry, it’s already been done to death. Yeah, and so has open top car journey and the comedy sketch in the middle of the vid. The trick, I think, is to create something that is so unique to the song that it just can’t be replicated by some cheat who’s been assigned to direct the next Usher video. It either needs to be keenly specific to the song or so odd that the rip-offery would be far too blatant to even attempt…so weird that it could never possibly become a trope. Today’s great thing is a perfect example of that. It is the hypnotically engaging and absolutely un-trope-able:
159. The Video for Daft Punk’s Around the World.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Daft Punk would get a wholly original director to helm one of their videos. They are, undoubtedly, one of the most unusual commercial acts around. The two Frenchmen, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, rarely appear publicly out of their cool-ass robot helmets and have always emphasized visuals and story-telling in their music. Though I could give a fudge-bar (yeah, that’s right…I think Fudge bars are Cadbury’s worst candy bar!) about seeing the new Tron movie, I am eager to hear the score that they’ve created for it. Too bad the film looks like such kak–even if my friend Paul says it wasn’t that bad. I’m convinced he’s only saying that so he doesn’t get all mad at himself for spending money to see it in the theater.
159. The Video for Daft Punk’s Around the World.
It’s worth noting that Michael Gondry was the director in question. Gondry has a pretty excellent track record when it comes to creating memorable videos for creative musical artists. Just two notables include Bjork’s “Human Behavior” and The Chemical Brothers’ “Let Forever Be”. He, of course, went on to helm such great pictures as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and maybe the slightly less good The Science of Sleep. Fun fact, he utilized the bullet-time technique in film-making BEFORE it appeared in The Matrix.
“Around the World” was choreographed by Blanca Li (NOT the Blanka that we all know and love from “Street Fighter”.)
Blanca Li is a Spanish choreographer, silly. Before I show the video, let’s chat about why it looks the way it looks? (How do pin-headed athletes, “disco girls” in swimsuits, and mummies all wind up on the same stage?) What Gondry focussed on when making this video was it’s simple but super hooky structure. It utilizes only five instruments and each of those five instruments have different patterns…hence the five groups of characters. If you watch closely, you can see how they all respond directly to their own instrumentation. Here is a key:
The platform itself is supposed to represent a vinyl record. Neat-O! Let’s watch:
It’s all so harmonious. For once, the video matches how cool it sounds with how cool it looks (and vice versa). Also, is it just me or does the choreography feels a bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly. I think it’s marvellous how they all keep time without distracting each other–especially considering the costumes they’re all wearing. The mummies, especially, I think would draw my attention away from my rhythmic footing.
I wanted to close out this blog post with a couple of tributes to “Around the World”. Though with this next video, you might say that my earlier argument of this video being “un-trope-able” has just fallen down. But to that, I say “Nay!” Take a look and I think you’ll understand why it still stands…perhaps even stronger than before. I definitely think we can label this as an homage as opposed to a copycat. You can watch this Freemason’s video and still know that Daft Punk and Michael Gondry did it first. You dont’ forget the original…whereas you might not remember who first did filmed their performer against a wall of lights thanks to the sheer numbers of parrots who have done so since. Plus, unlike in the “Around the World” video, the dancers in this video don’t seem to correspond with any instrumental counterpart…they’re just dancing in time. So, it doesn’t have that eerie cadence to the choreography that the original does. It both celebrates and fails to match the original.
A more creative and fitting tribute comes in this cover by Señor Coconut and his Orchestra. Based on the mellow awesomeness of this bossa nova (or samba?) version of the floor-filler, I think I’m going to check out Señor Coconut’s whole album.
Now, if I can just find four friends who are willing to invest in the materials, I think I may go as a tribute to this video next Halloween…or at least the next costume party I get invited to. But I totally call the android costume. I’m not going as the disco girl.
Making up my Christmas playlist on my iPod this year, the final tally reached an impressive 160 songs. That’s a jingly jam session that includes Rat Pack versions of classics, some choral tunes, the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and some pop standards like The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping“. But, even with over seven hours of holiday listening, one can grow weary of hearing the same tracks over and over. (I listen to my iPod A-LOT). So, I was on the hunt for a few new and worthy Christmas releases to add to the collection when I stumbled quite accidentally upon today’s great thing:
156. The Hives and Cyndi Lauper A Christmas Duel
Cyndi Lauper has a Christmas album all to herself that I enjoy thoroughly.
But this new(ish) addition to her repertoire is a terrific surprise. Cyndi is such an old favorite of mine that it truly pleases me when more modern acts also recognize her brilliance. So, I thought it was pretty cool that Swedish rock band The Hives sought her out. They’re a respectable band and you may know their killer track “I Hate To Say I Told You So”. Of the team-up a Hive says:
“We came up with the song and we figured it was a duet, and we’d always hoped to do a duet with Cyndi Lauper.” Good enough for me! I’m pretty sure the process also included shopping at Ikea, playing some Abba, and chasing it all down with some meatballs and Akvavit..and other stereotypical things that I know about Sweden… and finally there you have it, a modern Christmas classic was born.
The charm of this song is that it’s about a miserable married couple having a ‘one-up’ sort of argument. A song done years earlier in a similar vein is “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues (and featuring Kirsty MacColl). Now, to most here in the UK this will sound like sacrilege, but I do not like “Fairytale of New York”. All the cool kids over here rank it seriously hight. I get that it’s supposed to be bleakly humorous, but for my tastes it’s too bleak. Even if the lyrics are funny, the music never picks up. It’s like an awful dirge with no spark of cheer in it. And I just can’t abide that at Christmas. That’s why I find this track a bit of an improvement. It’s got the black comedy in it…but it also has a bit of jingle jangle. In fact, if you listen closely, it sounds absolutely inspired by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.
Listen now and judge for yourself. There’s no official video…so this is just the track over some stills. I hope you dig it.
The track reached number 4 on the Swedish charts. Not too shabby. It’d be nice to see it get more play worldwide though. For further reading, here’s a link to a Rolling Stone notice of the track: A Christmas Duel
Now, for an extra holiday treat, here’s a second great thing for you today. Let’s call it the B-Side to today’s great song. The Killers’ “Don’t Kill Me Santa Claus” is a fabulous blend of 60’s style dramatic narration, coupled with mod rock beats, and Brandon Flower’s patented rock-boy keening. Released in 2007, it was an AIDS charity single. It’s got a good beat and I can dance to it.
There’s a fair number of people who may be instantly turned off when they hear a musician described as ‘girl with a guitar’. Lilith Fair, for all its supportive female-progressive intentions, also dragged a certain stereotype into the spotlight. There was much suffering throughout the nineties and early noughts caused by ‘girls with guitars’–women with poetry on their minds who thought just strumming out a few chords in progression amounted to a song/musical career. Well, it just ain’t so. But for every feeble haiku-spouting white girl with dreadlocks, there are ladies with actual song-writing abilities who just happen to play guitar as well. See Feist, Martha Wainwright, and today’s great thing:
147. Brandi Carlile
If that name doesn’t ring any bells (no it’s not BELINDA Carlisle), you’ll thank me for introducing you to her tunes. Born in the early eighties in Seattle, Carlile was signed to Columbia Records in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine named her one of 10 to watch in 2005. Her style is difficult to categorize. A bit folk, indie, country, alt-rock. Let’s just say that she fits comfortably in the ‘songwriter’ genre–along with some of my other faves…Rufus Wainwright, Neko Case, and Arcade Fire.
Only one of her singles has even made it to the top 100 in The States. That was “The Story”, and that only reached #75. It probably received a bit of a bump after a contestant on American Idol covered it. (Though I find that program grows more loathsome with every passing year, I AM suitably impressed when a contestant chooses something unusual–so, props to season nine contestant Lacey Brown for choosing this ace tune).
So, considering how under-appreciated she is by the world at large, how excited was I to see that this person was coming over here? To Britain! To Manchester! Where I live! A concert! Of course, I bought tickets immediately.
I also purchased one for my friend Kathryn and gave her a copy of Carlile’s CD’s…creating a new fan (you’re welcome, Brandi Carlile). I was curious, actually, about what the turnout would be for the show. at The Manchester Academy (a University venue). It’s often the case that The US and the UK have different musical tastes. For instance, they like both Scissor Sisters and The Gossip more than Yanks do…even though both groups are American. Likewise, they don’t recognize the strains of “Workingf or The Weekend” by Loverboy when I sing it at the top of my lungs on Fridays at work.
Additionally, I’ve been proven wrong with a few niche-type acts that I thought wouldn’t have massive foreign followings. My girlfriend loves The Indigo Girls–they had a huge swelling of support at their gig here in Manchester–as did Tegan & Sara. I guess lesbians over the world are just supportive in general of other lesbians. Sisterhood and all that. I’m supportive of the endeavours of women. Except for Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell. I can’t get behind that shit.
So…the show was supposed to be earlier this year. I’d been anticipating it greatly. I had my best checked-shirt pressed and ready to go. Then, thanks to a certain volcano that shall remain nameless, it was cancelled. I shake my fist at YOU Iceland. A bit of a bummer, but the gig was rescheduled for October. Again, I’ve been waiting eagerly for the show…and now I just found out that it’s off. Full stop. Period. The high numbers of cancelled/volcano gigs sort of wiped them out financially and it’s not viable for them to reschedule travel at this point. I don’t know where to cast my rage. Brandi Carlile, you can totally sleep in my spare bedroom in Manchester if you want to reconsider and if it helps you save money. We can play Guitar Hero if you want.
Here’s a bit from an interview she did with the website AfterEllen.com (entire interview here–AfterEllen):
AE: You just announced your U.K./Ireland and European tour dates which takes you from mid-April to mid-May. Any plans to tour solo beyond this leg?
BC: We’re going to tour all throughout the summer. We’re doing the Newport Folk Festival, Telluride, Bonnaroo; and in the fall, we’re putting together a compilation of symphony shows. We’re going to go to Denver, Cedar Rapids; we’re going to play symphonies. We’ll get like seven, eight, nine towns going with their local symphony. It’s going to be a real charge to play with a symphony. If you think “The Story” is epic, just imagine it with a 40-piece orchestra behind it.
Gutted. I want to hear “The Story” with a symphony.
Anyway, enough typing, let me know share a few tracks with you so you too can get the gist and perhaps become a fan. These are a few of my favorite Brandi Carlile songs.
Here’s “Josephine”. My friend Michelle, who I work with, swears that Carla Bruni does a cover of this. I’ve been unable to locate it. Anyone know more about that? I think she’s wrong.
Brandi has travelled with a couple of guys that she just calles “The Twins” for a little while now. They are actually the Hanseroth twins–Tim and Phil–rounding out her touring band are cellist Josh Neumann, and drummer Matt Chamberlain. The Twins freak my girlfriend out a little bit as they are very tall and bald. It helps Karey relax a bit about it when they wear hats. Here they are performing “Dreams” live at a Borders Bookstore. Luckily, hats are present. (Short interview at the start of the clip, btw).
Pretty good so far, yes? Would you like to know more? Of course you would. Borders (I swear this is not a commercial for their store) also has a series of cool interviews on YouTube where they interview celebrity guests about their favorite books/CDs/and films. Here’s Carlile’s:
At this point, I would also like to say that I have not one copy but TWO copies of The Neverending Story on DVD…just to sweeten that offer of housing if Brandi Carlile makes good on that UK tour promise…I also have The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth of course. We could pop popcorn and have a marathon!
BC (that’s what I’m calling her now), makes comment on how important a singer’s vocal quality is to her. I don’t think she’s referring to the fact that someone might be pitch perfect. Or maybe she is, I don’t know. But, what listening to Brandi Carlile makes me appreciate is the delivery of the song…the focus of the singer on telling the story and singing the truth out of it. I know that sounds so fruitily intangible, but I think you DO hear what I mean in artists like Freddie Mercury, and KD Lang, Rufus Wainwright and Brandi Carlile.
Anyway, back to the music. I only just became aware that Elton John sings the male vocals on this track–“Caroline”:
Whilst reading another charming interview at medleyville (see here: : medleyville), I also discovered that in 2006 she played my hometown! Erie! Pennsylvania! She was there! At the Civic Center! Oh Brandi, why must we always be ships passing in the night? So many missed connections.
Oh well, best not to leave on coulda shoulda wouldas…here’s the song that you probably know IF you know any of Brandi Carlile’s songs. “The Story”.