If you’ve read my blog at all in the last 9 or so months, you know why I’ve been posting what I have. Every week, some of my co-workers and I have been sharing some of our favorite music with one another. We’re supposed to review it, rate it, and share that with one another – but that doesn’t always happen.
This week, I got an album partly as a reaction to what I shared last week:
KT Tunstall – Eye to the Telescope (2004)
This is her first album. Like The Coral’s Dreaming of You, I was first introduced to the single, Suddenly I See, via Lego Rock Band. So I was expecting this whole album to be full of songs like that track, but that’s not exactly what I got.
My coworker Tim said the album has a great mix of songs. I would say a good diversity of things I wouldn’t have expected to be written by the same two people. It does make for a good listening experience as a whole.
The opening track helped lull me into affirming my expectations, but Another Place to Fall took me one place and Under the Weather took me another. Actually, Under the Weather felt very Ingrid Michaelson-esque and I liked that change more than the other. Her voice fit very well with the simple, mostly acoustic tune. And then she blended the two songs for Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, which may be my favorite track. Maybe it’s the Bo Diddly beat, but it just felt kind of primal. I liked it that I could hear and feel her emotion. I liked it much more than the pop rock Suddenly I See. Neither one are really that difficult musically, but one just speaks to me more than the other.
I also loved Stoppin’ the Love, and I think a lot of it had to do with the harmony and backing vocals.
Silent Sea was probably the most musically interesting, but it’s not a song that I’ll listen to over and over. However, I probably won’t skip over it if it comes up in a mix.
Overall, it was a good listen. There weren’t any real lowlights. Some kind of forgettable filler tunes, but I’d give this album a 4/5. Partly because only good things stood out to me, but it also felt new and confounded my expectations.
Charli XCX – Sucker (2014)
The lyrics on this album are intentionally vapid, party girl anthems. It’s an intentionally cheesy album. This is pop music in 2014. Mindless, party music. Charlotte Aitchison, the actual singer and songwriter behind the stage name, said “All the best pop songs are so dumb, that’s why they’re so clever.” Whether you agree or not is irrelevant (by the way, I don’t agree with her that “all the best pop songs” are “clever”), but it’s a look inside her head.
She knows where the money’s at right now. And while I can’t really fault her for that, I have a hard time thinking of her as an artist. She’s just a performer to me. I waited until after I listened to the whole album to give it a rating, and I tried not to be prejudice. But I don’t think it’ll surprise anyone who knows me if I gave this album a 2/5. But I didn’t. I gave it a 3/5.
There were a few pleasant surprises, like London Queen, Body of My Own, and (maybe not surprisingly) Hanging Around. I say “not surprisingly,” because it was co-written by Rivers Cuomo, front man of Weezer. And the track is just a Weezer tune with XCX singing. Maybe there’s some extra synths, but the groove is the same.
I had heard Boom Clap before. Mostly from commercials and such. And I’ve always just tuned it out. I’m not sure listening to this whole album has changed that. But that track and Doing It have a distinctly ’80s feel; like the music is actually slower than what the tempo says. I think anyone who’s listened to ’80s music knows what I’m talking about. It’s an almost dreamy feeling. One of the co-writers/producers for Doing It, by the way, got his start is a little ska band called The Hippos. His name is Ariel Rechtshaid.
Had I known, I would have shared that album this week, but I didn’t. Instead, I shared:
The Skatalites – Ball of Fire (1998)
Forget everything you thought you knew about ska. You’re going to get a little history lesson. In 1962, Jamaica gained independence from the UK and ska was the sound of their celebration. For a while, musicians from the Caribbean island had been trying to tune their dials into American radio stations from New Orleans or Florida, getting a blend of ragtime and rock, swing and surf.
The Jamaicans tried to play it all at once. They played it with the intent to dance. And the pioneers of this genre were The Skatalites.
Before reggae, Bob Marley and the Wailers played ska – because everybody in Jamaica played ska. But early show-goers weren’t there to see Bob, it was The Skatalites who drew crowds. Later reggae superstars owe their fame to playing shows with this nine-piece Jamaican jazz band.
And they were only together for a couple of years, from ’63 to ’65. One thing led to another (part of it was the rasta revolution – some band members converted and started playing slower ska with religious overtones, which they dubbed reggae, and others wanted to keep playing the more upbeat ska) and they broke up.
In the ’70s and ’80s, British bands like The Clash took inspiration from Jamaican immigrants and mixed ska with their own punk rock (and the social commentary it brought). Instead of celebrating freedom, the were demanding more. They were bringing ska back. Some of The Skatalites had died, but the rest got back together.
This record isn’t much like Less Than Jake, Streetlight Manifesto or The Mighty Mighty BossToneS. This is a jazz record. It’s instrumental. They play the melody a couple of times, then go into a solo section where the horns, guitar and keys take turns improvising. Sometimes playing off the main theme, sometimes off one another, sometimes references to other songs, and sometimes just whatever they feel like playing.
This record is old stuff that wasn’t recorded before, as well as re-recordings of some of their classic stuff. And while my favorite of these is Swing Easy, I suspect you might enjoy tunes like Latin Goes Ska, Occupation or Eastern Standard Time.
When I was playing jazz trombone in college (also as part of small combos in (thankfully) not smoke-filled bars during my college years), I had one guy ask me who my trombone hero was. I had no answer. He told me I should find one – someone whose trombone playing made me want to play more trombone. Someone whose style and sound I wanted to emulate. Someone who would teach me to solo, just by listening to him.
So I went on a quest. I listened to a lot of swing, ska punk, funk, reggae, dixieland, blues, cool jazz, bebop, zydeco, gospel, and brass bands. I had heard The Skatalites before, but never really listened to them. But The Skatalites’ main songwriter, Don Drummond, was the first trombone player I heard who really spoke to me. He made me want to play (and write) more trombone more than Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller ever did. Delfeayo Marsalis, from that Marsalis jazz family, said Drummond is one of his trombone heroes, which is saying something considering Delfeayo is one of the big names in today’s trombone world.
Here’s what my coworkers thought about the Skatalites:
“This wasn’t any more or less enjoyable than I suspected. I appreciate decent ska, and I appreciate decent reggae even more. This was a good listen as far as those genre’s are concerned, and it was fun to hear reggae versions of some standard classics. But I can’t say it’s an album I’d necessarily feel a desire to come back to. Back in high school I listened to reggae a ton, and I probably would’ve loved it back then. But these days there are a few other artists I’d reach for first when I’m feeling the reggae mood. Buncha talented dudes, though. Not bad.” 6.5/10 -Chris
“Ok. Let’s be real here for a second. Music is widely varied form of art that appeals to and affects many people for different reasons. I personally don’t place this album in with the other music we typically share, just as I wouldn’t necessarily place an album by Mozart in the same category as say Led Zeppelin or Queen.
For me this album just didn’t do it. It felt at times like I was listening to a pep band do their thing at a football game, rather than a professionally produced album. As I said in my statement above, this doesn’t disqualify it as music, it just isn’t anything I would blast in my home, car, or at work to help me get through the day. Is it good? Absolutely. The talent on the instruments is top tier. But is it something I think of when I personally think of music and an album? No. So the three stars comes from my feeling on the music itself, and the talent, but not my personal enjoyment level of the album.” 3/5 -Tim
Feel free to let me know in the comments below what you thought of it, KT Tunstall’s music, or your own musicians who inspire you to play.