Monday, July 28, 2008

they said there was twenty thousand—i only counted nineteen

I consider myself a fan of numerous types of music. That said, I can't deny that the majority of my listening habits reside in the genre termed, depending on what day it is, "alt/punk." 

That further being said, it's maybe a little odd that I've made it this far in my life without making the trek—pilgrimage, even—to the Vans Warped Tour. Well, consider that time over as of last Saturday. Led by my two dear friends (dear friends to the DI as well, alums or close to), Susan and Shannon, who have been to umpteen-million Warped tours before, we set out in the middle of my New York City adventure to Long Island.

This is the one that supposedly "sells out," though I never ended up finding out how many kids (and everyone else there seems like kids, even a lot of the bands. All Time Low, I'm looking at you) it takes to sell out an outdoor festival show like Warped. The number thrown around most that day was 20,000 people in attendance. Whew. That's a lot of eyeliner, yes?

I don't want to write a full review of all the bands we saw, because that would be approximately twice the length of an 80 Hours front, but: 
• The Academy Is —Disappointing. Learn how to take care of your voice, Bill Beckett. Learn how to run the sound, techies.
• Gym Class Heroes — Fun and impressive, especially keeping in mind how much of their instrumentation isn't looped (Patrick Stump's vocals are an exception), but rather played live.
• Cobra Starship — Fantastic. They always are. They do better in smaller venues though.
• Angels and Airwaves — Epic, I guess, would be the word? It cannot feel good to hear the crowds chanting for Blink before you go on, I'll give Tom DeLonge that much
• Anberlin — That singer was having an awesome day, and that kind of energy rubs off. They got voted the Energizer Band for the day (10 minutes added to sets that typically run about 20-25 minutes), and they made good use of it.  

Check out that smile! (photos by Susan Elgin.)

• All Time Low — Watched from afar. Better than I expected. Nice to see they can actually sing and play, as opposed to others in their uber-poppy field (ahem, Metro Station).
• Say Anything — Amazing. Perhaps the best of the day. 

Max Bemis, reacting to the emotional content of the lyrics. Or having a million cameras in his face? 

• Katy Perry — No comment. 

Due to various sweet hookups, our trio found ourselves in a number of sick locations throughout the day including— the press photo pool using our lame digital cameras and not getting called on it; the production catering tent where we were able to eat actual full meals, without which we might have passed out later; and the production backstage afterparty where i stood in line to buy a drink next to two-fifths of Cobra Starship but might have been more excited about sitting down. 

No, Cobra Starship was more exciting. Yeah. So.

So, those are the highs. The lows are the same lows of any rock show, everything just sucks harder, and its all day. A little tiny concussion here, 20-30 crowd-surfers on your neck there (we're all still making grotesque noises, three days later), eh. 

All in all, I would say that the name given to the festival tour is exactly appropriate — Warped is like a concert, just twisted and distorted out of all recognition. The highs were higher than basically anything else. But then a 200-lb dude lands on your head, and you remember the other side.

—Anna, who is still battered and bruised, and not ready to talk about the whole "missing the train back" incident.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A wangsta complex

Okay, I'm feeling self conscious. First of all, I'm from Waterloo, and while it's not exactly the hood, it comes close at times. I usually use my hometown as a rationale for (1.) why I love rap/hip-hop music so much and (2.) why I'm allowed to love it so much. I'm sorry I'm not sorry that I have a hard time picturing some kids from po-dunk farm towns (and/or kids from suburban utopia) loving some seriously dropped dirty rhymes.

But I do. And I can. Yet for the moment, I'm self conscious. For harboring such a ridiculous obsession with rap music and anything I can ghetto myself out to (*note: by ghetto, I mean I role up one leg of my Express Skinny jeans, throw on a wife beater and jump on my bed trying to dance like people in the proverbial rap video dance club*), I have very little rap music lurking in my 25 GB of iTunes glory. I just spent the last hour making a playlist called "Gangsta Rap" and I'm embarrassed/terrified that someone might actually see this playlist at some point. And judge my love of real gangster rap music based on these 30 songs. I included a song by Missy Elliot and one by Moby/Public Enemy. (Yeah, my situation is that bad.)

So I've been trying to beef up my wangsta identity complex all night. I'm wearing a sweatband in my hair and blasting various solo projects by members of the Wu-Tang Clan and swigging some brandy I found in the cupboard (....ha, just kidding, Mom!) and reading about the remixes done of "A Milli," one of the singles off Lil Wayne's new album, Tha Carter 3. Each guest freestyles over the track's trance-inducing beat.

And I can't lie, these remixes are wayyyyyyy legit. Guest freestylers include Jay Z, Chris Brown, Jadakiss, LL Cool J, and Lil Mama. Oh, that's right, the lipgloss goddess just got a million times sassier. Check it:

Sorry for just a link, I'm terrible at embedding videos. (Like, horrendous.) I'm sorry, but the lady can spit a flow like a champ. And her freestyle is epic length, which is totally fine by me, because she's awesome and my idol. In fact, I like her version almost the best. (Gillie Da Kid and Jay-Z tail a second close and third.)
In short, these remixes are reviving my belief in rap music. So is that picture of the chimp holding a glock. So keep these remixes coming, celebs. My gangsta rap playlist needs a makeover and quick. I'm dropping judgment temporarily (um, I know, right? did we just snowboard home? because I think hell just froze over.) on all rap aficionados out there. You get a fleeting, provisional pardon to throw those d's and blast your GZA and Clipse and "A Milli" remixes as loud as you want...because I'm doing the same thing.

Peace homies,
lil Ann
PS. Omg that is the most embarrassing sign off I've ever given. I can't think of anything ghetto and hard enough [that's not totally obscene] to use.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cheerio, darling!

OK, I'll be done with the stereotypical British phrases.

To accompany my fab article about the new wave of British female musicians, here is a blog full of YouTube videos from the mentioned ladies. I picked my favorites, so if they don't float your boat, check the related videos and I'm sure you'll fancy at least one (had to sneak that in).

Lily Allen - Alfie

I'm slightly obsessed with her album, so I'd recommend just about any of her songs. Or check out her cover of Keane's "Everybody's Changing." Her sophomore disc Stuck on the Naughty Step comes out later this year... not that I'm counting down...

Duffy - Mercy

So this is really her only song so far. But that doesn't mean it's not great. Get your groove on with this retro ditty. Loving it.

Estelle featuring Kanye West - American Boy

It has Kanye. 'Nuff said.

Leona Lewis - Better In Time

We've all heard "Bleeding Love" about 28 million times by now, so I thought I'd put up one of her other singles. Very 90's Mariah Carey. This is a live version since nobody seems to believe in allowing Leona Lewis videos to be embedded.

M. I. A. - Paper Planes

A new classic. I'll let it speak for itself.

Kate Nash - Foundations

She's super cute and just celebrated her 21st birthday! If you're into quirky indie-pop, you'll like Ms. Nash.

and the grand finale...

Amy Winehouse - You Know I'm No Good

Gaaaaaaaah, I love it. I liked "Rehab" just as much as the next person, but "You Know I'm No Good" is by far my favorite track from the album. Please, PLEASE, better yourself, Amy. I need you around.

I'm not claiming to have discovered any of these people, by the way. I'm just suggesting my favorite songs by these artists for people who might not be familiar... or for those who are familiar, as a pleasant reminder of why we love them so much.

I'll see you in London (wishful thinking).


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

burnin' up for you, bay-bee

The last five songs I downloaded were the last five songs from the soundtrack of Mamma Mia!, (which, by the way, is a whole lot better than I would have ever guessed, Pierce Brosnan's balladeering aside). So.

the last five songs Anna downloaded that weren't Mamma Mia!: a critical look
"Everyone Nose (Remix)" — N.E.R.D., feat. Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco and Pusha-T:
  This revamp substitutes the dominant percussion and brass of the original, not to mention downplaying its shouted subtitle  — "all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom" — and ironically makes it sound more club-friendly than ever. The bass line throbs, the synths don't do much interesting, and the lyrical tone, sadly, is set by the first line we hear from 'Ye: "Do you have any black inside you?/Would you like some?"
  Look, it's not as though the original track was some uber-mysterious, "In The Air Tonight" thing. But I did like that Pharrell Williams and co. were able to get their point — it's about celebutates doing coke — across without spelling everything out, all the time. Here, the verses vary: Mr. West gets a few good lines in,  Pharrell really scores with a comparison of a young lady's nose to Atlanta, GA, Pusha's lighting-fast flow is a welcome change of pace, if one that hits a bit too late in the track. Overall, though, this remix sounds forgettable and unnecessary; all the things Seeing Sounds, the album from whence the original comes, isn't.

• "Burnin' Up" — Jonas Brothers: 
  There are, first, some serious questions that arise in a music reviewer's mind when considering the Brothers Jonas (one unbiased enough to consider them at all, that is). How much control do they have in writing these songs, anyway? Is there some sort of shady, Lou-Pearlman-esque figure waiting to have questionable charges of pedophilia thrown at him down the line, somewhere in there? Does Nick, the littlest Brother at 15, really have any sort of
 experience with being struck breathless by a a combo of "High heels/Red dress"?
  What I can't really deny (and what I find questionable anyone else would be able to, either, for the record), is that "Burnin' Up" is a damn good pop song. I heard it for the first time, and it was, no joke, stuck in my head for the remainder of the day. Clocking in at just under three minutes, it's not groundbreaking subject matter — Nick and his brothers, Joe and Kevin just cannot get over this girl. They are burning up, in fact. So much so, it's like slipping into lava.
  If it has one lame misstep, it's the weak "breakdown" in the bridge from the "JB's" security person (?) "Big Rob".  But even that isn't enough to stop the juggernaut-style catchiness of that

• "Belief" (live version, from Where The Light Is) — John Mayer:
  You know, I'm sure John Mayer is thankful for every fan he gets and all his success in whatever form it comes it and whatever. But seriously. If there's one artist I could name that has the worst choice of singles (and it's easy to think of some sort of cruel record company execs forcing him to release the odious "Daughters," but what do I know), it's him. 
  Or, perhaps, he's simply had the bad luck of getting a certain kind of fame and branding early on in his career: dreamy acoustic "Your Body Is A Wonderland" balladeer (holy hell, still a terrible song, when all the radio play is gone). Or maybe I'm just a Mayer-switchover so incredibly late into things (thanks, roommates), that I can't really get why everyone isn't listening to the Continuum-era with the same giddy, over-zealous nature that everyone wanted to play "Why Georgia" with. 
  Whatever it is, the fact remains — do not write John Mayer off until you've heard him play live. "Belief," curiously enough, simultaneously contains some of his most understated lyrical work, with a few heavy-handed lines tossed in. But what doesn't vary is Mayer's ever-improving (probably the most exciting thing about him as a performer and songwriter) guitar work. Extra bonus — without watching the DVD that comes with, you don't have to endure the axeman's trademark weirdo faces while playing. Just sayin'.

• "Come On Over" — Jessica Simpson:
  Come on, I had to do her next, right? After John Mayer? Get it? Or has everyone forgot about their past romance, now that Ashlee Simpson-Wentz (perhaps the most awkward name in recent years?) has eclipsed her sister in tabloid eyes for the past few months? Either way, the older Simpson sister's most recent attempt to regain her career footing, which is shaky, to put it kindly? Country.
  Not the the most sensible of moves when seen in print, but the results aren't bad, if not stunningly original, either. The instrumentation sounds like it was all created by pressing the "Downhome sass" button in a studio somewhere, full of twangy guitars, yet curiously airless sounding somehow. Jess, meanwhile, needs her man just the way he is —  now. And she doesn't sound like a girl to be kept waiting. 
  Joe Simpson, the eternally creepy paterfamilias of this clan (Pete Wentz seal of approval aside), made a statement that those surprised by Jessica's move to country must have forgotten that she's from Texas. However much her father is involved in this single's existence, Simpson enjoys a strong vocal melody here, thankfully steering clear of too much of a countrified accent.   Gosh, I miss Shania Twain. Anyone else?

"Beautiful Nightmare" — BeyoncĂ©:
  I wouldn't doubt that somehow, Beyonce may have had herself outfitted with some form of extrasensory technology to let her know what Rihanna's up to at any given moment. Anyone remember when people thought that Jay-Z had had some sort of dalliance with the "—ella, —ella, —eh" singer? Exactly, because it's unbelievable. Beyonce wouldn't bother with paparazzi and media concerns. She would have just bitten off Rihanna's head and tossed it at Jigga as a warning for the future.
  That said, this single, coming to radio scant weeks after Rihanna's thematic and sonic twin, "Disturbia," has a distinct aura of panic to it. It's positively slapdash sounding, like they only had enough ideas for about half a song and ran with it. Bey — we can do better.
  Because seriously. You have the nerve to label this under the genre Dance/R&B, yet it's lifeless, not building to anything, the bridge pulls the oldest trick in the book by dropping out everything but the vocal. Now, Rihanna, who has always been at her best when she has dropped the act of attempting to relate to normal human beings (see the boring, terrible "Take A Bow" for more) has apparently finally turned into a robot completely in "Disturbia," her current what's-going-on-why-do-I-feel-like-this song. And it's ten times better than "Beautiful Nightmare," in that it actually inspires one to stand up and move, albeit to some pretty questionable lyrics.
  BeyoncĂ©. As much as I was leading the "Umbrella" charge a summer a year ago, I've always been in your corner. Go back, regroup.

— Anna

NOTE-- After doing further Jonas Brothers-related research, I stumbled across this quote related to "Burnin' Up": "This song was inspired by Jonas Brothers' unlikely appreciation for the work of babe magnet Prince," according to the May 30, 2008 issue of Entertainment Weekly. 
  I know that I'm not assigning stars here, but if I were, this quote alone might up the song a whole 'nother half a star just to praise the boys for having the good taste to enjoy Prince at such a relatively young age. Nice work, kids. 

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The √'s

The beat was slow and funky. Eclectic even. Bassist Owen Biddle laid down a low jam with occasional ventures up the neck before shying back down the frets. Damon "Tuba Gooding Junior" Bryson puffed the sousaphone alongside Biddle, unable to wander up the notes, but able to physically accost the crowd with waves of hot, moist air. Kamal Gray walked out to tickle the keys with the duo, much unsatisfied with his set-up, shifting cords and pedals with 80/35 stage hands. Fortunately, he finds his niche and starts to crescendo the piano keys while holding the organ keys steady.

The foundation has been laid. Time to lay on the finesse.

In a shower of Hendrix/Prince/Lenny Kravitz sexual ebony-effeminacy, Captain Kirk walked out, picked up the rhinestone axe and threw some muffled treble over the accumulating sound. The funk is impending. F. Knuckles rolled out on the bongo, holding back his wailing hands to save the mood approaching on the growing Des Moines skyline.

Suddenly, ?uestlove walked out, nonchalantly and frowning, typical of the pick-in-hair'ed drummer. Feeding off the swelling bongos, the beat beginan. The sound that normally comes from a DJ booth radiated live and pulsating from the stage. The last piece of the puzzle walked out and the show began with Black Thoughts soothing lyrics.

More on the Roots and their earning the title "Top band of the 21st Century" by Rolling Stone soon...