Friday, July 22, 2011

Messing with Saxophones

Perhaps inspired by "Just Dance"-era Lady Gaga (before her empowerment phase), Katy Perry and Ke$ha are making it popular again to sing about young girls getting dangerously drunk and bragging about it. At least Cyndi Lauper was discreet. When I heard "Last Friday Night" on the drive home from work this week, I almost barfed. Until it got to that beautifully manipulated saxophone solo. Listen to that. So good.

It got me thinking about other strange saxophone sounds in pop songs. One comes to mind from Pink Floyd. Can anyone think of it?! Maybe I'll follow up with another post.

Go ahead and just skip to 3:58.

Katy Perry: Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) from Starworks Artists on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Animal Collective at Pitchfork

By now, it's become commonplace to refer to Animal Collective as the Grateful Dead of the indie music scene. Why?
  • The musicians perform their songs loosely in concert, often choosing to find their way through electronic and rhythmic improvisations as musical transitions.
  • Band members Avey Tare and Geologist recently cited the band as a shared influence when they first met because of their interest in improvisation as 9th graders.
  • They are now using a Dead sample in oneof their songs.
  • Their live shows push an absurd amount of neon psychedelia (see above).
  • It seems that many of their die-hard fans have adopted a counterculture-like style of fashion (face paint, rags), which, as in the case of the Dead, risks becoming a parody of itself as it increases in popularity. (A little editorializing there.)
If I sound cynical, please note that I am trying my best to be evenhanded. This Friday's performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival here in Chicago marked my first time seeing the band live, and, in some ways, I was impressed. I enjoyed listening intently to hear how those beeps, glitches, and howls would transform into songs. I think there is a lot to be said for a band that risks finding its way, musically speaking, in front of a live audience. But my respect for that kind of integrity reaches a point and then stops.

I've come to believe strongly in this basic principle: if you are a rock band, you need to deliver songs. Many excellent songs. Whether in the studio or in concert, the songs are where the focus should be. Observing the audience during AC's musical transitions, I noticed that many fans would either lapse into conversation or take a toke and wig out dancing. Both are signs of musical boredom that I recognize from every jamband concert I have been to. And, believe me, I've been to more than I care to recount. The best moments in AC's set were the songs. But there were too few of them.

It's a bit ironic that the band that took to the Green Stage before Animal Collective was Guided by Voices, guys who have made their name simply playing the hits. Upon taking the stage, Robert Pollard asked the audience (paraphrasing here) if we were "ready for some quality, authentic, rock and roll music?!" The band proceeded to blast drunkenly through 15 to 20 strangely anthemic tunes, the best of their career, and then left as quickly as they had appeared. And how, you ask, did Pollard transition between songs? Song title, dose of tequila, count-off, go. That's rock and roll.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eight Bit Tiger

A friend told me that upon hearing new music, he tries to not instinctively think of which bands or artists the music sounds like. I can see why. It's helpful to have a context, but too much provides a framework for the sound that might limit the way you hear it. Unfortunately, in the case of Eight Bit Tiger, I just can't resist. Saw this band last Saturday night at the Hideout. They do electronic indie pop very well. Their sound patches and prerecorded patterns are incorporated deftly into the live sound, meshing with keyboard and electric guitar drenched in reverb. But based on sound and style, I can't help but wonder...

Will this band...

become this band?

or this band?

Monday, July 4, 2011


Beyonce is maturing with style and class. The songs on her new album, 4, owe a lot to R&B from the 80s and 90s, and some tracks, with their crisp production and sneakily singable chord movements, could have found success as mid-70s soul and dance tracks. "Love on Top" could have been a solo Diana Ross hit. (Four key changes in that song! Thanks to Emma for making me take a re-listen.) Seriously, this album is sophisticated, danceable, and purely enjoyable. Definitely take a listen.

There were lots of thoughts I wanted to put down about "Party" (probably the best song on the album) but, in all honesty, Nathan S. at Refined Hype put down the same ideas more succinctly and with more detail than I probably would have. Definitely check the link. I thought immediately to R&B but Nathan notes the verses are actually a reworking of the melody of Keith Sweat's "Right and a Wrong Way". He also writes that Kanye's beat is so minimal that he's not sure if it's genius or it just sucks. To me, it's perfect. Except for the intro and outro rhymes. "Swag sauce" is bad, but "dripping swag goo" is infinitely worse! And, of course, it's exciting to hear Andre 3000 deliver a great guest verse.

Seriously, go to Refined Hype to hear the track and look around at this great blog. And, while you're here, check out Solange doing "Stillness is the Move" by Dirty Projectors. Why do I post this? Beyonce's layered vocal harmonies made me think of the production on the vocals from the Projectors song. And Solange is Beyonce's sister.