Archive | November, 2011

Day 275: “Weird Al” Yankovic – Alpocalypse

30 Nov

Whatever You Like

This is an outrage!  Weird Al released a new record in June, and I didn’t know about it until now.  Even worse, a bunch of these songs were on an even earlier EP called Internet Leaks that I also missed.  What can I say, I guess I’ve fallen out of the parody rock loop since graduating from middle school.

All Weird Al nostalgia aside, Alpocalypse is a really funny record.  Nothing less should be expected from the guy who has brought us such bangers as “Amish Paradise” and “White and Nerdy.”  This time around, Al sticks mainly to band parodies—ripping off a band’s style as a whole, as opposed to a single song.  For instance, I could swear that “CNR”, a confusing little number that I’ll get to in just a moment, features Jack White on guitar with Meg White on the drums, or that “Skipper Dan” was performed by Weezer.

Lyrically, Al’s still as strange as ever.  There’s not a single track on this record that will leave you without at least a single chuckle.  Sure, some songs do tend to go on for a bit too long and get a little stale, but that comes with the territory.  Also, while some songs will leave you scratching your head, you’ll be laughing while you do so.  For example, the aforementioned “CNR” is a song about none other than former Match Game panelist Charles Nelson Reilly.  That’s not weird enough for Al, though.  He describes Reilly as a Chuck Norris-like figure, who “won the Tour de France with two flat tires and a missing chain,” and “sold his toenail clippings as a potent aphrodisiac.”  It’s that trademark strangeness that has made Al a hero amongst pre-pubescent boys, and no one else, since the early ’80s.

Al’s direct parodies are still as solid as ever, with the best of this record being “Whatever You Like,” a Kinko’s assistant manager’s version of T.I.’s track of the same name.  The polka-medley tradition continues on this record as well, with Polkaface covering everyone from Lady Gaga to Owl City.

If you don’t enjoy yourself while listening to this album, you’re listening to it for the wrong reasons.  This is perfect for cheap laughs, and it’s meant to be disposable.  Knowing Weird Al, he’ll have another song out next week.

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Day 274: Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks

29 Nov

Anarchy in the UK

I really shouldn’t like Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks—we’ve been through this quite a few times on quite a few Dad Rock Tuesdays.  I am presented with an old album that is considered influential in retrospect, and often, I end up doing my fair share of hating.  It’s tough to listen to an older record completely out of context, and even tougher when that record’s sound went out of style twenty years ago.

Maybe it’s because every punk band since has tried to sound like Sex Pistols in one way or another, or possibly because “Anarchy in the U.K.” was a big song in my Guitar Hero days, but I cannot say anything bad about this band.  While it’s true that they are the freaking Sex Pistols, and disparaging comments on my part would be utterly pointless, I did genuinely enjoy this album.

Sex Pistols’ legacy cannot be overlooked, either.  Bollocks is the band’s only album, but they were still able to make a ton of noise and news with it.  Songs like “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the U.K.” stirred up a lot of controversy for their anti-Patriotic U.K. sentiment, and managed to change rock music forever.  Controversial music is fairly commonplace today, but I’ve been told that wasn’t always the case.

Also, as a connoisseur of terrible singing voices, I cannot ignore Johnny Rotten’s vocals.  I wouldn’t really call it singing…it’s more like he’s moving his pitch up and down fairly randomly, while rolling a few r’s every now and then.  It gives this music that extra punch, and I’m sure it was a major factor in all of the press that this band received.  If you like bad singing voices as much as me, Rotten is pretty much perfect.

Day 273: Hutch and Kathy – Hutch and Kathy

28 Nov

In Brilliance

The Thermals minus an electric guitar shouldn’t be good.  Their special brand of angry pop punk is centered on Hutch Harris’ oft-disgruntled and frustrated vocals, which in turn receive an extra punch from the band’s riff generator, his electric guitar.  That’s why it’s so surprising that Hutch and Kathy, (the name of one of many pre-Thermals projects), works so well. Hutch Harris is on lead vocals/acoustic guitar and Kathy Foster helps out with supporting vocals and…I’m not entirely sure what else. She plays bass in The Thermals, but this record doesn’t really have space for her to lay down any grooves.

With a voice as distinctive (and nasally) as Harris’, it’s hard not to compare this band to what it would eventually turn into.  Even though the two separate projects’ respective genres—punk and folk—don’t have all that much in common, there are plenty of similarities between The Thermals and H+K.  Harris has a unique approach to songwriting, sticking to short, emotionally (or politically) charged phrases, and loose rhyme structures.  Although acoustic, his guitar playing is the same here as it would prove to be with The Thermals—simple, repetitive, effective.

Originally recorded in the late ’90s, this self-titled LP was remastered and rereleased by Sub Pop in 2007, in what looks like an attempt to capitalize on 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine (The Thermals’ most well-received record to date).  Fans looking for more power and anger in the vein of that album would have been disappointed, but those pleased by short, simple songs about love and whatnot (that can still be found in The Thermals’ music) definitely lucked out.

Day 272: Chairlift – Does You Inspire You

27 Nov

Bruises

I’m always looking for indie bands that don’t sound like other indie bands, which is why groups like Chairlift are great.  I’ve listened to a lot of music in my time, and I can’t think of a band with a sound exactly like Chairlift’s.  I’m even having trouble coming up with a band with a sound similar to these guys.

Don’t get confused; I’m not saying that an original sound automatically equals good music.  But, in a world where just about anybody can get their stuff out there via the internet, it definitely helps to stand out.  For instance, if you were to ask me for an indie rock band with a heavy focus on guitars and basic song structures, there’d be around 10,000 bands that would come to mind.  Even if you narrowed it down to bands that are still active and have lots of fuzzy buzzy effects obscuring their instruments, I could probably rattle off a list of no less than 20 groups.  But, if you were to ask for an indie band with dream pop influences, a retro aura, a chill-but-not-chillwave sound and a very relaxed vibe, I’d think of Chairlift and maybe Beach House.  But I’d recommend Chairlift, because they do it better.

But you already know what I’m talking about.  Chairlift’s “Bruises” was definitely in an Apple commercial of some kind a few years back.  There’s some hipster cred for ya.

In summation, if you’re looking for a band with a good sound all their own, and are in a state of relaxation (or trying to achieve such), look no further than Chairlift’s Does You Inspire You.  You won’t be disappointed.

Day 271: I Fight Dragons – Kaboom!

26 Nov

Suburban Doxology

I know that I’m going to temporarily lose 90% of my audience with this post.  271 days in, that just doesn’t bother me like it used to.

This is a chiptune record.  The members of this band often play things like Gameboys and NES’s instead of standard instruments.  I Fight Dragons is a nerdy band, and Kaboom! is a nerdy album.

I’m not one to embrace nerd culture.  Self-proclaimed geeks are quickly becoming the new hipsters.  Keep in mind, a person that claims to be a geek isn’t the type to get through a multivariable calculus class.  Instead, they embrace things that are considered nerdy, but that don’t require complex equations or an encyclopedic knowledge of the amino acids and all of their properties.  This can be done by taking a love of the Harry Potter series to unnatural levels, embracing Japanese animation, or looking down upon anyone who doesn’t share their interests in an arrogant manner that makes everyone around—including the real geeks—cringe with embarrassment and hatred.  It’s not the passions of these people that are obnoxious—it’s the air of superiority, the faux-intelligence, and the false sense of individuality with which they carry themselves—just like a hipster.

That wasn’t as much of a tangent as you may think—this is the type of person who listens to bands like I Fight Dragons.  That’s the main hurdle that I must overcome with this record because a band’s fan base is completely capable of ruining the band’s music for everybody else.

I must admit, though, Kaboom! is pretty good.  I Fight Dragons is not strictly a chiptune band—they play actual instruments, and half of the songs could be described as fairly standard pop punk.  But songs like “The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth” are keeping me from fully accepting this band.  We get it, you’re using multiple retro video game controllers as instruments.  That makes you pretty nerdy.  You lose something by acknowledging it.

Day 270: The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack

25 Nov

Answer to Yourself

Nope, I’m not above the insanity that is Black Friday.  While I may not have lined up in front of my local Target at midnight with my eyes on a new vacuum cleaner, I did celebrate America’s most ridiculous holiday in a different way—today is the winter edition of Record Store Day. After getting to my (kind of) local record store at a reasonable hour, I was able to grab Craig Finn’s new single and a Wilco 10-inch, both of which are Black Friday exclusives.  I picked up a few more things while I was there, including a used copy of The Soft Pack’s self-titled release.  All I had to go off with this particular record was that the band’s name sounded familiar—I can’t tell you why—and that this fairly beat up copy of the record was only going to cost me $3.

My impulsiveness paid off, as I’ve added a solid indie/surf rock album to my collection.  If you’re looking for a record with complexity in its composition, or featuring songs that sound different from one another, I would not recommend turning to The Soft Pack.  This album doesn’t get boring, though, as these guys have mastered the art of the three-cord, 4/4 timing rock song.  Track after catchy track, The Soft Pack somehow manage to maintain the excitement with what sounds like very little work.

This is why we need record stores.  Many of my favorite groups (Titus Andronicus, The xx, Sleigh Bells) are bands that I discovered by chance in record stores.  Hey kid, stop all the downloading.

Day 269: Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire

24 Nov

Lucky Now

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m still Swole Ear-ing it up.  To be honest, I never thought I’d make it so far into this project.  With less than one hundred days to go, the finish line is almost in sight.

By now, you know that when I start off an entry with one of those irrelevant intros, I don’t have all that much to say about the day’s record.  I figure that it is Thanksgiving; perhaps readership will be down (from its usual massive numbers) due to a whole bunch of food comas…

But, I do have a few international readers.  To all of y’all, I apologize.  Happy Thursday.

Anyway, Ryan Adams’ Ashes & Fire is a pretty generic record of the alt country genre.  However, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

But Dr. Swole, why isn’t that necessarily a bad thing?

I’ll tell you, in a manner that I hope exceeds 110 words.

Man, I’m really dragging this one out today.

Personally, I really like alt country music.  Therefore, if a record contains all of the characteristics associated with that genre, I’m going to like it.  That’s the transitive property, I believe.  I can’t be sure, though, because Geometry isn’t my strong suit.

Ryan Adams’ Ashes & Fire has all of the traits of your average alt country record.  It takes no leaps or bounds, and it doesn’t try to move the genre forward in any manner.  That’s fine by me.  Wilco proved in September that alt country shouldn’t be messed with.  This album is perfect background music, and I don’t mean that as an underhanded compliment—you’ve got to have records like that in your collection.

Day 268: Rabbit! – Connect The Dots

23 Nov

Ladybug

What do you get when you combine the naiveté of Fun.’s lyrics, Grouplove’s consummate cheery disposition, and the permanently joyous instrumentation of Apples in Stereo? Too. Much. Happy.

You heard right, there’s a band out there that takes charming and sweet to levels that not even I can handle. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who was disappointed by the newest Los Campesinos! record because it’s too depressing.

Recommended to me by my younger sister, I should have known what I was getting into with Rabbit!. The band’s exclamation point-suffixed name should have been the first hint.  A quick look at Connect the Dots’ song titles should have been enough to warn me off (“Magic,” “Ladybug,” “Pea,” “Jellybean,” and “Candy From A Car 2” is what we’re dealing with here). Still, I ignored the warning signs in my never-ending quest for new music.

I really like that first sentence in this post, so let’s break it down a bit. There, I listed three bands that I’m fond of, known for being fairly optimistic in their music. Fun., Grouplove, and Apples in Stereo (the latter two I have Swole-Eared), are all known for their cheerfulness, but for different reasons. Fun.’s got the extremely optimistic lyrics, Grouplove’s got the chipper attitude, and Apples have the upbeat instrumentation. When all of these come together, what you get is a cutesy overload, one that brings cringes more than smiles. “I love your laughter/especially when it’s after/you make conversation/and I make silly rabbit noises in your ear” is sung with complete sincerity on the unfortunately-upbeat “Pea,” and “Fall Into Love” calls for all to be “A sling-shot astronaut” with “no gravity to stop,” because “you’re spinning, spinning like a top.”

As it turns out, my total possible jubilation is limited. Thanks to Rabbit!, I’ve been shown exactly how much.

Day 267: Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic

22 Nov

Walk This Way

I mean…it’s Aerosmith.  There’s not much else for me to say. That’s never stopped me before, though.

This Dad Rock Tuesday, I’ve been assigned Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith’s third record, released in 1975.  Apparently, this album is of the heavy metal genre, which is news to me. That’s according to Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt.  I have to write about something, so I’m gonna run with that.

When I think of heavy metal, I think of Mastodon (and this comic), not of mid-’70s bands with members who wore really shiny pants and toted flamboyant mic stands.  I should probably be writing in the present tense—the band still tours—but they’re just… so…old.

Anyway, where was I before I went on a tangent from my original tangent?  Right, heavy metal and Aerosmith’s music’s classification as such.  I heard maybe one metal riff on this record (“Round and Round”), which is even kind of a stretch.  So I’m going to end this here.  CNN BREAKING NEWS ALERT: WIKIPEDIA GOT SOMETHING WRONG.  

In all honesty, disliking this record would do no good.  As I stated earlier, it’s Aerosmith.  It takes some effort to hate on an album, so I’m just not going to do it in Toys in the Attic’s case.  There’s plenty of catchy stuff on here that I only feel a little bad about liking.

But not even the overpowering feeling of laziness that comes with Thanksgiving Break can stop me from questioning this album’s closing number. “You See Me Crying” sees Steven Tyler taking on a falsetto of sorts—it’s pretty indescribable.  I thought it was a joke at first.  It’s like he’s growling or something.  God help us all.

Day 266: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

21 Nov

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you.   I have never listened to Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs before today. There’s only one reason for that, though; I thought that I had listened to Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs before today.

I consider myself a fan of le Arcade Fires, and own both Funeral and Neon Bible, two really solid records of theirs.  I was going through my iTunes library today, and saw that The Suburbs was nowhere to be found.  I was initially confused, but the reason for this slowly came back to me.

Lolla 2010.  Arcade Fire was set to close out the fest on the smaller of the main stages, and I was pumped.  But there was a problem–The National were set to play a side stage right before Arcade Fire.  I think I made the right decision.  Knowing I’d be in the middle of nowhere for Arcade Fire’s set, I opted to stay away from The Suburbs before the fest it came out only a few days before the band’s Lolla performance.

So here we are, a year and a half later.  This record was named the Album of the Year at the Grammys, and Arcade Fire has been catapulted into a well-deserved world of recognition and success.

After finally getting around to this much-hyped album, I can’t help but be just a tad underwhelmed.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of solid music on this release. As with both of the band’s previous records, they’re best when playing fast—“Empty Room” and “Month of May” are both examples of guitar (and violin)-heavy awesomeness.  It should also be noted that “We Used To Wait” has one of the coolest music videos of all time—yes, even better than A-Ha’s “Take On Me.”  Ultimately, while the record’s sixteen songs and hour-plus length are a little much, I’d say that Arcade Fire has earned the right to be a tad self-indulgent.