Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review of 2013-ish and Stuff like that.

Friends, Fans and notable subscribers of this blog (Drug-addicts, ex-cons and NSA agents) have suggested that with over 3 thousand hits in nine months, that I have a pretty successful blog and I should have an end-of-year best-of type of blog entry to commemorate and celebrate a pretty good blog run in 2013!! Woohoo!!
    Well, I disagree. I didn't buy and listen to enough new music this year to be any kind of expert in what's the best of the year. And besides, if anybody wanted that sort of thing, they could buy an issue of Rolling Stone or check out the billboard charts and get exactly that. Frankly, I don't have the time or the resources to buy and/or listen to everything that came out in one year. And my musical tastes, though varied, prevent me from forcing myself to listening to every single boring piece of output by pop princes and princesses like Myley Cyrus or Arcade Fire. Commercial pop isn't really my thing and droning bland, nearly chordless dullness isn't something I can recommend no matter how artsy it may seem at first. At the same time, i realize that Mumford & Sons may appeal to quite a number of people, but that doesn't really include me.

So, I'll just go by my own experience this year. A few examples of some things that have surprised me or just what I've found interesting personally. 

Something New: I bought the new Daft Punk (2013) album because they put it out on vinyl without anybody asking them or suggesting to them that it was a cool idea. Also, one of the first blog entries that I wrote this past year was on Paul Williams, who I think is a brilliant songwriter. Well, Daft Punk proved that Paul Williams is not only a class-act, but that he still has some great stuff left in him. Along with Williams and guitarist Nile Rodgers, Daft Punk used a host of live musicians to breathe new life into the world of dance music. On the surface, Random Access Memories, is a collection of dance singles and some trip-out grooves for a crowd high on ecstasy, but after a few listens this album starts to give the listener some hints of where the inspiration came from; a little funky guitar hook a la Sister Sledge, a little bit of the theme from the Love Boat, a little bit of Giorgio Moroder's early seventies techno-but not too-techno sound. The album format, the large chunks of this album recorded in Analog, and the great sound produced by live players on a high-quality vinyl release also exposes the drum-machines and techno-effects used. Analog allows the listener to hear everything and Daft Punk's auto-tune vocals could easily be criticized as the sore thumb of an album that, otherwise, sounds disco-tastic. But you can't polish up everything, and that's not the point. This might be a future classic. A dance album which thinks of dance music as something to really think about.

Something Blue: Jack White's Blunderbuss (2012)  displays perhaps something obvious about Jack White. He doesn't think the same way as the rest of us. Neither did he give us a full-on rock album, nor did he tone down everything for a more commercial sound. Songs on this album have open spaces. Natural echoes and resounding tones of electric guitar and piano play throughout this album. A listen through the whole album gives your ears lots to listen to in between the strike of the notes. Even drum hits are allowed to resonate and trail off. This gives the slower songs on the album a haunting quality that suits the dark theme of the raven on the cover. The upbeat songs take on the sound of a party in a sparsely furnished room like a cabin. The song 'Freedom at 21' is the obvious hit-single on this album, but this album is more of a journey through several different moods all with a blues-hint or flavour. I have to say that I was actually surprised at how much I liked this album, but I guess if I was more of a fan of White Stripes, I might wonder at this new direction. I think Blunderbuss hints at even more interesting stuff in the future.

Something Dated, but Underrated: Thanks to a garage-sale dig, I was able to find a copy of Platinum Blonde (1983) self-titled first album. A band that was originally advertised as sounding 'a bit like the Police'. Platinum Blonde at the time was a trio: Mark Holmes, Sergio Galli and Chris Steffler, and since they all had blonde hair, they might have looked a bit like the Police (or they may have been a tribute band), but the resemblance ended there. Their real sound was far more in tune with '80s Canadian New Wave than with British-Punk or White-Reggae. In my own opinion, their first album stands the test of time surprisingly well, and more than most would think. Containing A mere six songs, it's really a 12-inch EP, not a full album. (Later it was expanded and released as 'Standing In the Dark') The song 'Not in Love' seems simple and yet the lyrics tell of a complex relationship. The sound of the song 'Video Disease' suggests we're all hooked on television. The guitar on Doesn't Really Matter is absolute coolness from opening riff to the snapping rhythmic bridge to solo.
  In their time, and despite high sales of their first album, the critics dismissed Platinum Blonde as pretty boys, while industry and corporate-marketing pressed them for ever more commercial albums and catchier tunes, trying to break them into the U.S. as an attraction for teenage girls. But true fans of the band seemed more genuinely impressed by the original sound of the band, relying on Sergio's guitar skills and clever use of bass and drums (especially what sounds like the loudest rim-shots I've ever heard in the song Doesn't Really Matter). Despite some success, and several Canada-based hits, the band broke up as the '80s ended.
   Well, the Blondes finally got a little more respect a couple years ago when Robert Smith and a group called Crystal Castles covered one of their songs in 2010. 'Not in Love' has over ten million views on the Crystal Castles YouTube channel and was an international hit. I still think the original is better, but hey... i still think the whole album is underrated.