When the Sun Comes Out

If you’ve read my blog at all in the last 9 or so months, you know why I’ve been sharing 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.

Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’ (2011)

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. If he and Fitz and the Tantrums toured together, I’m not sure I could miss that show. Or, I’d be sad if I did.

It starts strong, ends strong, and although it’s not filled with stuff I love, it’s mostly strong through out. It all sounds pretty simple musically, but it’s got groove. It is, for the most part, a great blend of soul and funk.

I guess Day Dreams has soul, but it’s more jump blues. And again, it’s simple. Mostly just piano, voices and hand claps, with a little guitar noodling thrown in. And it might be my favorite.

There were a few songs I didn’t really care for, like Over You or Movin’ Down the Line. They’re just not really my thing. Movin’ Down the Line sounds like it would play over the part of the movie where I usually go get a snack. But it’s still well done, and I liked it more as it went on. I just probably won’t put it on a play list.

Another song I didn’t totally love was Good Man, and only because Taura Stinson’s vocals were riding that edge between R&B (which I’m not a huge fan of) and straight up (if not kinda slow) rap (which I’m not a fan of at all).

But it didn’t bother me as much as Just Don’t (featuring Little Dragon‘s Yukimi Nakano), which had some weird stuff going on with the guitar. It either had a weird sitar effect or there was an over-active flange. And neither did anything good for me. Plus, the chord structure felt unimaginative. He would just do the same thing in one key, then do it again in another key, then repeat. I know not every song is a hit, but in this age of digital music, you don’t have to release stuff like this just to fill an album.

Also, why are there still “hidden tracks”? Whether it’s two songs on one track separated by minutes of space, or it’s tons of short blank tracks, it just all seems inconvenient. If you want to have a special treat for your fans, put a song in the pregap. It’s less obnoxious. Don’t get me wrong, I liked this album’s hidden track. More than Just Don’t. I just don’t understand why it’s not its own track.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but the whole of the album really is great. In comparison, Just Don’t was the weakest track for me. But those four tracks that weren’t awesome still weren’t terrible, and I’d give this album a 4/5.

Erasure – The Innocents (1988)

Let me start by saying that when I think of ’80s pop, this is what I think of. Not this album, but Erasure for sure. I’m not a huge fan of ’80s pop, but at least these guys are good enough that they stand out to me as … not exactly stereotypical, but quintessential, maybe?

Then let me say that this album is, to me, just another ’80s pop album. It doesn’t suck, but  like I said, I’m not a huge fan of ’80s pop.

There were a few standout tracks, like Chains of Love, which was great. And Sixty-Five Thousand, which was obviously inspired by Glenn Miller’s Pennsylvania 6-5000. It even samples someone singing the only vocal line in Miller’s tune. I’d like to hear a big band play this instead of the synths. It was obviously well written and arranged, but those sounds don’t really do justice to big band swing.

I was first introduced to the opening track, A Little Respect, from Wheatus. Yeah, that Wheatus. It was the best song on their self-titled album, which made more sense when I learned soon after that it was a cover. For your enjoyment:

There were other good tracks, like Yahoo! and Imagination. But there weren’t any that made me groan and want to skip past them. Although Witch in the Ditch was a pretty stupid song. I don’t want to see if it has a music video, but it sounds like it would go well with the Safety Dance music video. I may never be a huge fan of ’80s synthpop, but this is well done and it’s enjoyable. 3/5

And, for some reason, Tim also shared Erasure’s Pop! The First 20 Hits. In 1992, Erasure took the best of what they’ve done up to that point and put it all on one album. To me, that’s not really the point of this game my coworkers and I play. Or rather, it’s kinda cheap and lazy.

It’s not really an accurate look at an artist.

Note: If you don’t want to read my stream-of-consciousness rant about the idea of an album in a digital music world, click here to do so, read what I thought about this greatest hits album, and move on with the post in general.

Before the interwebs, back when we actually purchased physical CDs, this was especially grievous. Younger readers may not have done this, but I’m sure everyone born before 1990 has purchased a CD for one song only to find out the rest of the album is trash. Maybe you kept it. Maybe you sold it back. That’s what happened to my Wheatus CD. Fortunately for me, I ripped the two or three songs I wanted to keep on to our computer before I got rid of it. Greatest Hits albums set up false expectations that their other stuff is like those tracks.

Maybe those albums are the best place to start if you’re new to an artist. If you don’t like their best stuff, you’ll hate the rest.

Maybe.

Bands who have been around for 20+ years have changed sound. Bands like 311, Smash Mouth, and No Doubt especially spring to mind. The latter two started as ska and went elsewhere, while 311 kind of did the opposite. You may not like a band’s commercially most successful songs, but if given the opportunity to explore their whole catalog, you may find some b-sides that you really love.

Actually, before about the mid-1960s, most albums were greatest hits. Most songs were just released as singles. The best of those were then collected on a bigger record and sold again. In the ’60s, albums began to be conceptualized from the beginning as a whole piece of art, not just a collection of disparate pieces.

In a way, we’re going back to the way things were in the beginning – and at the same time holding fiercely to how things have been “lately.” I mean, with digital music we can just buy singles. And most music is purchased that way. Albums could turn back into collections of singles. But most artists are stuck thinking an album has to be about 45 minutes (to conform to vinyl record capacities). Except now Blu-Ray discs can hold 25 GB of data. In terms of mp3, I don’t know of an artist that couldn’t fit their whole library on one disc

And if we’re buying music digitally, it doesn’t make sense to collect music in 45 minute chunks – or any time length. Why not have a 20-minute EP of songs you’ve written in the six months after your second kid was born? And then the next year release 10 songs you’ve written over the past couple of years, all inspired by your political views? And then two more EPs, the year after that? Have the songs on your albums actually relate to one another instead of trying to hit a time marker.

Does that make sense? Tell me what you think about the way release music – and if there’s a better way to do it – in the comments.

—End of Rant—

By the way, Erasure’s greatest hits? It’s just more Erasure. Aside from Chains of Love and A Little Respect, the only other song that stood out was It Doesn’t Have to Be (from their second album). That’s not true. Love to Hate You (from their fifth album) stood out, but not in a good way. Switch out the 80’s synthpop for ’70s disco, and you’ve got I Will Survive with different lyrics.

Also, tell me what you think about:

I Fight Dragons – KABOOM! (2011)

These guys wrote The Goldbergs’ theme song, Rewind. These are nerdy dudes doing whatever they want. They’re not being ironic. They’re being 8-year-olds. And for your listening convenience, now you can get this whole album for free from the band by going to their website because they hate their old label and love you.

I may have actually shown my coworkers these videos before, but just to give you a little whetting of appetites, here’s a typical performance (either in concert or in the studio)(but this was recorded in concert on not-so-great equipment, so the sound isn’t great):

And these guys don’t just play Nintendo as a sound gimmick (I mean, it is a gimmick, but it’s not just a gimmick), they can also really play. Here’s (the last one until I actually get into the album) one of my favorite covers of anything ever. Welcome back to the ‘80s. It’s awesome here:

These guys have some real rockers, like My Way or Don’t You, and some really tender songs, like Disaster Hearts or With You. They’ve got energy. They’re fun. And they can write good songs. Sure, they play off nostalgia, but ignoring what sounds they’re using, they’re still musically interesting. And lyrically clever (See The Geeks will Inherit the Earth). I discovered these guys just before this album came out and, until Belle and Sebastian, this was the last new band that made me want to write and perform music.

Here’s what my coworkers thought:

“I was kind of excited when Paul shared this album because I have heard of them, but never actually listened to their music before. But I was kind of disappointed, and that may have played into my review. In the end I felt like they were more of a gimmick than art. The music was interesting, at first, but then it just became too much really fast. I don’t say this very much, but I don’t feel like what they do is that hard. I mean I’m not a musician, but I know what sounds good and it wouldn’t take much to sample 8-bit music and rearrange it to my own tastes and songs. I just don’t see a lot of lasting value here, as much as a money grab on a bit of nostalgia. Where Saadiq took a nostalgic sound and made it fresh and new, these guys are just taking the sounds of my childhood and…well not really doing anything new with than other than arrangement and adding lyrics.” 2/5 -Tim

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3 thoughts on “When the Sun Comes Out

  1. Pingback: Never Forget that You’re Good to Go | Another American Audio-logue

  2. Pingback: Listen to You Play ’til the Sun Goes Down | An American Audio-logue

  3. Pingback: We May Now Enjoy the Dreams We Shared So Long Ago | An American Audio-logue

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