What's More Unbelievable?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Care For a Lozenge?

I'm not a huge metalhead, or hesher if you will, but I've always had a fondness for it. What I love most about a certain type of metal fan, the ones in Heavy Metal Parking Lot for instance, is their single-minded commitment to the metal lifestyle. From my vantage point, it seems that most headbangers just want to rock and while they may have their preferences any rock'll do. Except of course for candy-ass hair metal.

For last year's metal show, Mothra and I explored the various outlying realms of the metalsphere including, but not limited to, grindcore, stoner metal, viking metal and fantasy metal (my new favorite). While not all were instantly cuddly and lovable, I learned to enjoy almost all of them but the ones I just don't get are black & death metal. I can't even tell them apart. The reason I can't get a handle on these genres is because of the cookie monster vocals featured on every single song by every single band. Good luck telling the difference between Carcass, Cannibal Corpse or Gorgoroth and good luck trying to sing along. It's all throaty, rumbly nonsense and most of the lyrics read like an autopsy report. How do these singers get these voices? Do they gargle acid and broken glass? And it's not just men. There are female vocalists for some of these groups and they sound exactly the same. It's bizarre, creepy, unbelievably samey and I just don't get it. I do, however, get this:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stop! In the Name of Satan

In honor of Halloween, or Hallowe'en if you're feeling extra evil, Mothra and I will be playing 2 hours of metal this Sunday night. I know, I know - Halloween will have come and gone by Sunday night but the stench of corpses and pumpkin innards will still fill the air so we will obey our demonic masters and make your eardrums bleed. Neither of us owns a lot of metal so we have to scour the internet for hitz. I came across an amazing resource the other day and have been working my way through it ever since. It's a blog simply titled best metal songs and it's a continuing series of write ups and videos of heavy metal classics and obscurities plus some head scratching randomness.

I immediately took to it since the number one pick is Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" which is a refreshing change from the typical Black Sabbath/Led Zeppelin/Metallica list toppers. The blog also features a heavy dose of international meal bands including the more obvious choices like Brazilian thrash metal purveyors Sepultura and Swedish black metal vikings Bathory but also less well known bands like the wonderfully named German group Crematory and Austria's own Pungent Stench who mostly sing about cannibalism.

But then I realised that the number system may not be based on merit, although there are few metal songs more awesome than "The Trooper," but simply the order in which the author of the blog wrote about each song. Obviously his early choices were going to be some of the classics but I don't think he's really trying to make a list in order from best to worst, especially since he's just entered song #850 and nobody is that obsessive about making sure their list is in the proper best to worst order, not even Listmaker. Plus, he's not even solely writing about the best metal songs ever written since he's included some very odd choices like David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" (#833) and Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" (#393). The blog apparently started with a metal mission which has since become simply a list of great songs, which isn't a problem but he may want to rethink renaming the thing because I can't imagine any of The Supremes biting off the head of a bat while singing "Baby Love," (#330) not even Diana Ross.

Iron Maiden - "The Trooper"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hope I Die Before I Grow Mold

Tonight's episode: Fallen Heroes. You can't stay relevant forever. Here are a bunch of musicians who have dutifully fulfilled this prophecy. Let's go back to a time when they were worth something.

R.E.M. - She's Such a Pretty Girl
Joe Jackson - Baby Stick Around
Violent Femmes - Black Girls

The Faces - Ooh La La
The Rolling Stones - It's All Over Now
Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats (with Ike Turner) - Rocket 88
The Who - Happy Jack

The Monkees - The Kind of Girl I Could Love
Van Halen - Ain't Talking 'Bout Love
Weezer - No Other One

Metallica - Fight Fire With Fire
Black Sabbath - Paranoid
Nirvana - Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

Bee Gees - Holiday
Pink Floyd - Let There Be More Light
Stevie Wonder - Knocks Me Off My Feet

The Band - Katie's Been Gone
The Beatles - She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight
Cream - Badge

Queen - Brighton Rock
Smashing Pumpkins - Siva

The Police - Next To You
Velvet Underground - White Light / White Heat
The Clash - Lost In The Supermarket
U2 - Seconds

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Queen in Review: The Game/Flash Gordon/Hot Space

The Game was an album of firsts for Queen. It was their first album to feature synthesizers, an instrument Queen had explicitly stated they did not use on past albums. The record actually begins with the electronic sounds generated by a synthesizer bringing Queen into the modern new wave age of the eighties.

The cover of the single for "Play the Game" was the first image showcasing what would become Freddie Mercury's trademark moustache. It's hard to imagine that it took Freddie 8 albums to birth the moustache which I always associate with him but in reality it was a newcomer to the Queen arsenal. I truly believe that due to the awesome power of the moustache alone, Queen was allowed to coast through the rest of their career putting out mediocre albums.

The Game was also their first, and only, #1 record in both the U.K. and the U.S. but don't let that trick you into thinking that it's their best album for it most certainly is not and marks the beginning of the end to their weird and wonderful 70s brilliance. Much of this success can be attributed to the 2 killer singles "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust" which, even when I was 3 years old I knew was a monster single. Queen previously had hit singles with muscular rock, operetta and arena anthems so why not rockabilly and disco funk as well? Where did this band come from and why did they have to peter out over a series of bland albums and bad ideas instead of simultaneously exploding on stage?

Weirdest song - "Don't Try Suicide"

Dont Try Suicide - Queen

Queen is a band famous for their excesses but should be equally well known for their risk taking. Each album finds them pushing some sort of boundaries and attempting to expand their sound. They were incredibly restless so it really shouldn't come as a surprise that they follow up their best selling album with an original soundtrack for a cheesy sci-fi film that was sure not to sell anywhere near the colossal smash that was The Game. Like someone newly in love, Queen take their new fascination with synthesizers and bleed it for all it's worth on Flash Gordon. It's actually a fascinating album full of wonderful retro-electronic soundscapes scattered, smothered and covered in the kind of dialogue that will make you wet your space pants. For example: "Look! Water is leaking from her eyes. It's what they call tears." Flash Gordon sounds almost nothing like Queen but instead resembles Dr. Who and Tron attending a Tangerine Dream concert. It's not an easy listen if you're looking for a normal album but it does feature "Flash's Theme" which may just have the best falsetto ever heard in the history of the universe.

Weirdest song - "Crash Drive on Mingo City"

Crash Drive On Mingo City - Queen

This is where the ride ends. A depressingly unsexy album of funk workouts and cheeseball 80s dance-soul. I'll take Zapp and Roger over this junk any day of the week. "Under Pressure" is flawless and a beautiful finale to the astounding first decade of Queen. The rest is just nonsense.

Weirdest song - "Cool Cat"

Cool Cat - Queen

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Queen in Review: Jazz

Ahhhh, that's more like it. Gone are the smoothed edges of the strangely bland News of the World and in their place are a host of eccentricities bubbling up from the fevered brains of May and Mercury. Famously decried as "fascist" in Rolling Stone upon its release by pinchfaced killjoy critic Dave Marsh I find it a wonderful trip through all of their typical tropes with a few new bizarre tricks thrown in. I highly recommend reading the entire hateful review since it's up there with the Spinal Tap-Shark Sandwich critique in the canon of greatest terrible reviews of all time but don't believe a word of it. What Mr. Marsh calls "dull pastiche" I see as a surfeit of ideas. He dubs the members of Queen "arrogant brats" when they are simply the most fascinating artists in unitards that the music world has ever seen. Mercury in particular lets it all hang out, beginning the album with the maniacally exciting "Mustapha" and never letting up. He was so exhilarated at this point in his career that he describes himself as a rocketship, a shooting star and a "tiger defying the laws of gravity" on the insane penultimate track "Don't Stop Me Now." Queen may be drunk on their own power but, oh what power!

I always thought Queen was a hugely popular band from the start but reading about them now, I see that they had to struggle a bit since they were certainly not critical darlings and I'm sure their voracious musical appetites were not easily understood at the time. I can't stress enough how truly bizarre they are. By the time they released Jazz they had clawed their way to the top and had earned the right to take a victory lap and look around from the top of the mountain, surveying where they had been and where they next wanted to venture. This is their last truly great album save for Taylor's typically horrid track, this time a painful disco funk song sadly titled "Fun It." Jazz beautifully summarizes and encapsulates everything they had done up to this point. From here on out they followed their pop muse and lost a lot of their lovability along the way.

Weirdest song - "Bicycle Race" You probably are well familiar with this song but listen to it again and enjoy how truly odd it is. Plus, the stupid/brilliant lyrics are a plus and so much fun I had to include them all below for you reading enjoyment.

Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

You say black I say white
You say bark I say bite
You say shark I say hey man Jaws was never my scene
And I don't like Star Wars
You say Rolls I say Royce
You say God give me a choice
You say Lord I say Christ
I don't believe in Peter Pan
Frankenstein or Superman
All I wanna do is

Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my

Bicycle races are coming your way
So forget all your duties oh yeah!
Fat bottomed girls they'll be riding today
So look out for those beauties oh yeah
On your marks get set go
Bicycle race bicycle race bicycle race
Bicycle bicycle bicy
I want to ride my bicycle
Bicycle bicycle bicycle
Bicycle race

You say coke I say caine
You say John I say Wayne
Hot dog I say cool it man
I don't wanna be the President of America
You say smile I say cheese
Cartier I say please
Income tax I say Jesus
I don't wanna be a candidate For Vietnam or Watergate
Cos all I want to do is

Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

Bicycle Race - Queen

Monday, October 20, 2008

Queen in Review: News of the World

After two albums named after Marx Brothers movies, Queen's sixth album shares its title with a song by The Jam that was released only a few months after this record. It may just be coincidence but Queen was certainly influenced by the burgeoning punk movement when they recorded News of the World. Eschewing the longer, more complex arrangements in favor of more direct and arena ready anthems, Queen pare down their excesses and tighten their sound, paving the way for the grand rock gestures and stadium-friendly music of the 80s.

This is the record that starts with the ultimate one-two punch of "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions." Time has not dulled their magnificence and bonehead sports fans have somehow not ruined their power. They are perfect on their own and exponentially better together. They were written with arenas in mind and they certainly achieved their purpose. The opening "stomp stomp clap" will forever be as instantly identifiable as the beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But at what cost everlasting fame?

Only two albums after "Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen sounds like a completely different band. They've always been a populist band but on News of the World they make no attempt to hide the fact that these songs are short, straightforward and to be enjoyed by everyone. The ultimate effect is a strange blandness that hovers over most of the tracks from the Aerosmith-lite of "Sleeping on the Sidewalk" to the grand misstep "Get Down, Make Love." With a name like that, it has to be terrible.

Where A Day at the Races was a slight comedown from the maniacally overdriven A Night at the Opera, this is overall a boring album. Queen pull every punch in favor of not offending anyone and create a humdrum collection of forgettable songs. They remove nearly everything that makes them so lovably bizarre. It may seem like a footnote but to me the fact that "Spread Your Wings" was the first Queen single without harmony vocals sums up what's wrong with this album. Freddie Mercury is a man who needs to let his freak flag fly high but on News of the World it sadly rests at half mast.

Weirdest song - "Sheer Heart Attack"

Sheer Heart Attack - Queen

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Queen in Review: A Day at the Races

Unbelievably, this is the first Queen album to begin with the sound of a gong. Why did it take them so long? One can only guess but after the over the top everything of A Night at the Opera, it may have been the only trick left that they had yet to try.

A companion in both name and sound to the previous album, A Day at the Races, plays like the comedown from Opera' outrageous high. As opposed to the general sunniness of Opera, Races is a darker, more serious affair. It's understated and restrained where its predecessor was flamboyant and over exaggerated. Of course, understated for Queen is a comparative term and by no means is this a subtle collection of songs. "The Millionaire Waltz" for example still features the multi-tracked mayhem we've come to expect from Freddie and the boys but it just doesn't seem as aggressive or outlandish as their previous efforts but maybe it's just because the varied genres, operatic breakdowns and absurd lyrics are nothing new at this point.

What I love about Queen is their ability to garner gigantic hit singles with the craziest of songs. In what cultural climate was "Bohemian Rhapsody" able to be a monster single? After the success of that masterpiece on Opera, Queen released gospel-tinged "Somebody to Love" as the first single from A Day at the Races to great success. Were people more open to this kind of silliness in the 70s or was Queen somewhat responsible for altering the culture? Which came first, Queen or a public ready to accept such an insane band?

Weirdest song - "The Millionaire Waltz"

The Millionaire Waltz - Queen

Where Have You Been All My Life?

Songs from albums we haven't listened to in over a year...

Eric Bachmann - The Mysterious Death of Robert Tower

Weezer - In The Garage
Faraquet - Study in Movement
Phish - Chalk Dust Torture

The Raincoats - No Side To Fall In
Tsunami - Skinny
Edsel - Buckle

The Pogues - Navigator
Led Zeppelin - Friends
Allman Brothers - Pony Boy

REM - Letter Never Sent
XTC - Fly On the Wall
Sebadoh - Elixir is Zog

Pinback - Non-PHoto BLue
The Velvet Teen - Forlorn
Engine Down - Taken In

Danielson Famile - Good News For the Pus Pickers
Ween - Mononucleosis
Hans Reichel - Le Bal (excerpt)
Six Finger Satellite - Home For the Holy Day

Bob Marley - Mr. Brown
Roky Erickson - Unforced Peace
U2 - Numb
Radiohead- Go To Sleep

Circulatory System - Symbols and Maps
Smashing Pumpkins - Silverfuck

Monday, October 13, 2008

Queen in Review: A Night at the Opera

I'm off to Boston (a hardcore Queen town if there ever was one) tomorrow for 5 days so this will be the last review for a bit but once I return we'll wrap up the rest of the band's first decade. But for now, here we are at the album Queen has been building to all along. It certainly is as manic and silly as the Marx Brothers film from which it takes it's name but is certainly the closest they ever got to rewriting La Boheme in their own image. Although, Queen is never as classy as Puccini. This record is more like a cross between Grease and Rocky Horror Picture Show with its retro manliness and its glorious campy overdrive.

A Night at the Opera begins with the ferocious and unstoppable "Death on Two Legs." It's possibly my favorite opening song of theirs and sets the listener up for what promises to be a muscular masterpiece of rock and roll. Queen of course have no tact so they follow it up with the momentum crushing old-timey lark "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon." From there all best are off as Freddie and the rest of the musical dilettante's flit from this flower to that as nature commands them to.
Drummer Roger Taylor solidifies his title as work songwriter in the band with this album. The author of previous disasters "Modern Times Rock n Roll" and "Tenement Funster," Taylor contributes the execrable "I'm In Love With My Car" to Opera and it's a depressing attempt at power rock that fails miserably. I'm all for musical democracy in theory but when it births such tragedies, I start to see the benefits of autocracy. I just read that he also wrote "radio Ga Ga" so he has secured his place in musical hell for certain.

There's plenty of crap to be had on this album but the highlights are some of their greatest songs ever. "'39" is a self described "sci-fi skiffle" about Einstein's time dilation theory and I can't get enough of it. It's an understated, simple song that is so unlike the rest of their catalog and is pure joy. And then there is "Bohemian Rhapsody" which even the massive supersaturation of the airwaves caused by Wayne's World couldn't kill. It is inarguably a perfect song as long as you have a stomach for the sublimely ridiculous, which I certainly do. Simply put, May and Mercury lay it all on the line here and fully capitalize on their unique and astonishing talents. It's a song no one else could have written and even if the rest of their catalog were as terrible as "Sweet Lady" it would all be worth it for this song alone. It's all downhill from here folks.
Weirdest song: "Seaside Rendezvous"

Seaside Rendezvous - Queen

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Night off

Sorry for the weak tunes during our show tonight. Excuse: Gamera caught the space bug and Mothra was entertaining in-laws-to-be. Apologies.
Here's another great Queen video to check out. Is that Joe Perry playing bass? Have you ever seen Freddy wear anything that baggy?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Queen in Review: Sheer Heart Attack

Picking up where Queen II's final track "Seven Seas of Rhye" left off, Sheer Heart Attack begins with sounds of the sea before launching into "Brighton Rock," a tour de force for Brian May. During the recording of the album, May was sidelined first by hepatitis and then by a stomach ulcer so by the time he returned to the studio to record his solos, not only did he have a fire in his belly but also hepatomegaly and you know how well that comes in handy in the life of an artist. There's nothing like an enlarged liver to bring out the best in your work.

Side A is pretty solid except for the bizarrely titled "Tenement Funster" and tepid closer "Now I'm Here" but on Side B Queen let their freak flag fly high. Their growing confidence leads them to cannibalize anything that crosses their path and follow any whimsical notion they may conjure up. Not content to simply dabble in variations of the rock genre, they spread themselves all over the musical map beginning with the operatic silliness of "In the Lap of the Gods." which sounds like the illegitimate father of Ween's entire discography. This wonderfully trange track features slowed down vocals, overly dramatic histrionics and blissful guitar noodling which must have inspired the Scotchguard 'n Mononucleosis experiments of Gene and Dean nearly 20 years later.

Queen continue bouncing from idea to idea with "Stone Cold Crazy" which apparently birthed thrash metal, tender-hearted piano piece "Dear Friends" and "Misfire" a jaunty little choogler with an intensely insipid guitar hook . Where to next? Why not a banjo heavy show tune any barbershop quartet would give their eyeteeth to have written? "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" is certain to get granddad out of the rocking chair and onto the dance floor. After the madness of Sheer Heart Attack's B side, where could they really go next but full blown rock and roll pomposity?

Weirdest song: "In the Lap of the Gods"

In The Lap Of The Gods - Queen

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Challenge The Mighty Titan And His Troubadours

Gamera you forgot to mention Queen first top ten hit from Queen II, namely "The Seven Seas of Rhye." Did it make your best of? Here's a taste for those reading.

The video also illuminates a feather in Queen's hat; they may have ridiculous songs, but they (or at least just Freddy Mercury) know how to perform them. Fledgling bands with stage-frightened lead singers who aren't sure what to do with their arms need only reference that video around the 2:28 mark to know that anything, literally, anything is fair game.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Queen in Review: Queen II

Queen almost named this album "Over the Top" which would really be a fitting title for any of their records since they never did write anything that could be described as subtle or subdued. Freddie Mercury had an infamous affection for pomp and always seemed to be playing to the cheap seats, even on his ballads. Queen II was completed in August 1973 but due to a government enforced conservation of energy due to the oil crisis at the time, it wasn't actually released until 1974. It was a semi-concept album based around fairies, myths and light vs. darkness and got some pretty terrible reviews at the time, including this gem from Record Mirror: "This is it, the dregs of glam rock. Weak and over-produced, if this band are our brightest hope for the future, then we are committing rock and roll suicide." Makes one curious to hear the album, for sure.

All 4 members of Queen wrote songs over the years but Brian May and Freddie Mercury dominate this album with nothing by John Deacon and only one song written by Roger Taylor, the drummer, fittingly titled "The Loser in the End." Side A (Side White as the label says) features May and Taylor's songs while Freddie Mercury gets Side Black all to himself and his whimsical fantasies. I remember in high school, a friend of mine leant me her cassette copy of this album and told how much she had fallen for it. I took it home and gave it a listen and even though I had played D&D for years earlier in my life, somehow the ogres and such turned me off. If it didn't involve a 100-sided die, I wanted nothing to do with it.

It also didn't help that I didn't recognize a single song since nothing from Queen II made Greatest Hits which is odd since this may be their most consistent and least schizophrenic album. The listenability must be due to the fact that they allow straight sets by the songwriters where all their other records jarringly switch between the members resulting in uneven song quality and a patchwork quilt of sounds and ideas that I never seem to get used to. Side Black is particularly solid, probably because Mercury was so comfortable in the milieu of magical and fantastical imagery. Before he got drunk on his own fame and power he was happiest prancing around with forest beings and whimsical sprites. Once you've delved deep into the world of gnomes and such, you don't think twice about wearing unitards apparently.

Weirdest song: "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke"

The Fairy Fellers Master-Stroke - Queen

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Queen in Review: Queen

Queen burst onto the scene in 1973 with their self-titled debut album. The album cover basically sums it all up - the Ren. Faire font signifies a fondness for the Tolkien-inspired fantastical lyrics so popular with hard rock bands and shut-ins at the time; the spotlight on a lone singer highlights the grandiose self importance of Freddie Mercury and his posture is as overly dramatic as a high school drama club escapee; the band name suggests regality but also bees, poker, chess and cross dressing. It's actually a perfect name for a band that is as tough as a greaser with a D.A. and a leather jacket one moment and effeminate and campy the next. The fact that a rock opera has never been written using this band's music is something that continues to stun and puzzle me.

Queen's ability to play both sides of the fence is evident in the opening 1-2 punch of "Keep Yourself Alive" and "Doing All Right" both of which made my custom best of. "Keep Yourself Alive" is a hard charging rocker in the vein of Heart or early Rush with pomp rock vocals verging on show tune silliness at times but then they follow it up immediately with a forgotten soft rock gem that wouldn't be out of place in the Bee Gees canon. It's a fantastic way to step out into the limelight. Apparently it didn't do so well for the band but that's to be expected for an album that vacillates between the proto-Motorhead "Modern Times Rock & Roll" and the Godspell castoff that is "Jesus." An intriguing album for sure and one that certainly pointed towards their later greatness but it also sets a tone for the uneven albums they put out year after year.

Weirdest song - "My Fairy King"

My fairy king - Queen

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Queen in Review

I have always loved best-of compilations in theory but in practice they always leave me underwhelmed. They typically miss personal favorites or include duds that don't belong anywhere near the words "greatest" or "hits." But there are some bands that I like but are either too hit-and-miss or have too many albums or I don't love them enough to want it all so therein lies the greatest dilemma of our times: Spring for the less than perfect collection or shell out tons of money for a discography that will never get listened to?
I choose option 3 - search through all the albums and hand pick your personal favorites to create a unique and custom made compilation of only the brightest and best. It's a great way to quickly familiarize yourself with a band and after a few weeks of intense study and analysis you can ignore 90% of their output and never visit them again. It's an insane waste of time for sure but it is one of my favorite hobbies.

Queen was the latest band that I picked apart and put back together as I saw fit. They had some spotty compilations come out in the 90s thanks to Wayne's World and the "Bohemian Rhapsody" renaissance but the greatest hits album from 1981 is pretty untouchable. 14 nearly perfect songs and no crap. It is one of the first tapes I remember loving as a child and my admiration for it has never waned over 26 years. It's so flawless that I figured they had to have amazing deep cuts somewhere in their back catalog. I am sad to say, they really don't.
I picked over each album from 1973's Queen to 1982's Hot Space and came up with very little worth keeping other than the songs on Greatest Hits. How could this be? Aside from the 13 songs on this compilation that I kept (sorry, "You're My Best Friend") I only found 10 other songs worth saving. How is it possible that there were only 10 other worthy tracks over the course of 10 albums? It's because Queen is the weirdest and most erratic band to ever grace the pop charts. Just look at that photo up there. They're like the Logan's Run house band. Freddie Mercury alone is worth an in depth assessment but it will have to wait. Over the next week or two I will explore each album so you can join me on the strange journey through Queen's development and I promise, there will be no "Radio Ga Ga."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

ohhh that's unique!

They Might Be Giants - Birdhouse
Stephen Malkmus - The Hook
The Beach Boys - Sloop John B

John Wesley Harding - July 13, 1985
The Mountain Goats - Beach House
Jonathan Richman - When Harpo Played His Harp
Animal Collective - I Remember Learning How to Dive

The Who - Pinball Wizard
Black Kids - I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You
Pinback - Shag
Les Savy Fav - Adopduction

Blast Off Country Style - Barf City USA
The Dead Milkmen - Laundromat Song
Smudge - Divan
Swirlies - Pancake
The Beatles - Why Don't We Do It In the Road?

The Ramones - The KKK Took My Baby Away
Frank Black - Fu Manchu
Cake - Pentagram
Modest Mouse - Wild Pack of Family Dogs

R.E.M. - Life and How To Live It
The Smiths - Cemetry Gates
Pernice Brothers - Flaming Wreck
Fugazi - Smallpox Champion

Neutral Milk Hotel - Two-Headed Boy
Bill Monroe & Doc Watson - White House Blues
Beck - Satan Gave Me A Taco
Wilco - Heavy Metal Drummer

Tullycaft - The Lives of Cleopatra
Neko Case - The Tigers Have Spoken
The Faint - Ballad of a Paralyzed Citizen

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pandora, I Love You

I want to tell you all (all 2 of you) about a little lady who has changed my work life dramatically. No it's not the woman who brought in a portable skillet today to make home fries and eggs at her cubicle for everyone in the department, although that was an incredible start to the month. Today I am singing the praises of Pandora, a website I had known about but never really utilized until recently. Just type in a band you like and away she goes. This little musical robot instantly loads up a tune by that band and then takes control of the music selection, playing song after song by bands she thinks are similar to the one you've chosen. Using some higher mathematics and an old copy of Spin magazine, Pandora calculates your tastes and interests, serving up a heaping platter of hits.

"But what if she's wrong?" you wonder. Well then, you just tell Pandora that her choice is terrible and she'll cut it off immediately, apologize for the mistake and move on to another choice, acting as if the miscue never happened. It's guaranteed that the offending material will never see light of day again on that station and you are safe to return to life as normal.

So far, Pandora has been mostly spot on but it seems to depend highly on what you input as your band (or bands) of choice. You can pick one musical artist and let it go from there which keeps the possibilities narrower but more well defined or you can pick a group of artists to allow for a wider range of suggestions from Pandora. You can have several different stations all with their own guidelines and play them by themselves or play a mix of all stations created. The possibilities are literally endless and my work productivity has grinded to a halt as I endlessly tweak and refine my stations, creating the perfect bubble world from where I peer out onto those around me, happy in my musical womb and refusing to rejoin the harsh outside realm.

Be careful with your choices though, as Pandora's ideas of "similar" may differ greatly from your own and you'll find yourself travelling down musical alleyways that frighten and disturb you. One of my stations is simply based on Guided By Voices and I have yet to come across a bad song. Here's a sampling of what Pandora has chosen for the GBV station: Modest Mouse "The Waydown", Wolf Parade "Shine a Light", Alex Chilton "Hook or Crook." Pure gold, right? But now contrast that with the Crooked Fingers station I chose which ended up spitting out terrible Bloodshot Records almost-rans and modern folk nonsense that has none of the fire or weirdness Crooked Fingers does.

And no matter how much I love Pandora, it won't stop me from questioning this head scratching blunder. My "Classic Prog" station is set with Frank Zappa, Rush and King Crimson as the barriers which she should work within. So why, Pandora, why did you think that Scorpions' "No One Like You" belonged anywhere near this station. A great song, no doubt (even if it's a little too similar to "Rock You Like a Hurricane") but not prog in any sense of the word. She also has a tendency to replay certain songs over and over. "Jenny and the Ess-Dog" is a daily selection on the Pandora jukebox. She does give me the option of banning certain songs for a month if they show up too often but I just don't have the heart. A week maybe but not a month. But for all her tiny faults, I still love her. Plus, she just chose to play "Boys Club" by Ween so once again everything is right in the world. The economy may be crumbling and tensions are heating up worldwide, but with Pandora at the helm of my ship, I know everything's gonna be alright. Just as long as she doesn't start throwing Bob Marley in the mix.