Monday, November 28, 2011

Music In Bordeaux

I wish I could say that I spent most of my time digging through the culture of the city, but the reality is that work occupied all but a small fraction of the two weeks I was there. And yet there's always something to take note of, however small, because music is everywhere ...

My morning alarm was set to a soft rock radio station, it just happened to be the first non-talk station that turned up when I was scanning through the dial, and I never bothered to change it. Once they played a song from Gainsbourg's rather excellent "Percussions", and on a different day they played Alan Parsons Project's "Eye in the Sky" and I couldn't get it out of my head for days (I knew the song, but hadn't heard it in years, and never knew what the title was and didn't know it was by the Alan Parsons Project). Is it just me or does it sound a lot like Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now"?

Total Heaven is a music store in the St. Michel area of Bordeaux, and it's well worth visiting if you're a jazz, metal, or noise/experimental fan. It's even more worth the time to visit if you buy vinyl. The ongoing downward spiral of record stores is depressing, but it's balanced by vinyl's outright refusal to die. There are few things in life that make me feel happier than knowing that vinyl will outlive every format that came after it for (at least) the hundred or so years after its invention.

Do Make Say Think's "Other Truths" is really good, and now I feel bad for ignoring it when it came out two years ago. It's the most chilled thing they've ever done -- including their early dub-influenced stuff -- and thankfully they've done away with the vocal experiments. Funny how I had to travel to France to hear the music I used to regularly hear back home.*

Dub reggae bands at the Saturday protest of the week in Victoire, and rock bands playing in the store windows at Lafayette Homme.

In the taxi on the way to the Bordeaux airport at 5:30 AM, Bryan Adams "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" came on the radio. Like everyone else over the age of 30, I've probably heard that song one billion times, or approximately 999 999 997 times more than I would have liked. However this was the first time I really listened closely to the production, probably because it was dark and quiet in the taxi and my mind was too weary to concentrate on anything else. My mind did wander to the subject of "Bryan Adams: Can-Con Y/N?" that was all the rage in 1991, so maybe that's why I focused on the production of the track, I don't know. Anyway, it bears repeating that Mutt Lange is a genius. It's a spectacular sounding track, the guitars layering but not smothering the vocals, the gated drums, etc. Swap out Bryan Adams for Joe Elliott and it's a Def Leppard song, it could have been on "Hysteria", or at least it could have been the natural sequel to "Love Bites" instead of the execrable and equally treacle-filled "Two Steps Behind". And I have no idea how I never realized any of this until that moment.

* my French host used to work in Ottawa, so maybe I'm exaggerating the oddity of this a little bit.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Diary of Musical Thoughts Podcast Episode 6

"Sat aft mix" - 98 minutes

In the absence of new writing from me (too much traveling lately), here is a mix that I've been sitting on for the past couple of months.

I originally titled it "the lazy saturday afternoon mix", full of downtempo stuff for wasting away the afternoon on a warm summer day. Except that I never got around to posting it. The seasons have changed, but it probably works even better as a cool autumn day mix. This mix was (months) ahead of its time, if you will.

I've been enjoying making mixes as a way of revisiting a bunch of old CDs that I haven't listened to in a while. I'm rediscovering my own music collection and recording what I found.

Most of these songs were ripped from CD's that I bought over 7-8 years ago. The mix was totally improvised, I didn't even re-listen to anything to refresh my memory before throwing it into the mix. Everything went according to my pre-existing impressions of the music, based on what I remembered about the music from the last time I heard it (which was years ago in many cases).

For more details, read the comments!

Monday, November 07, 2011

MTV European Music Awards 2011 ... diary!

How long has it been since I've done a running diary of a major music awards show?

Red carpet talk is centred around which artists will dominate the awards. Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Coldplay are all namedropped, which means I'm still reasonably up to date on who's who. Then I watched an interview with 30 Seconds to Mars and kept thinking "hmm the lead singer looks just like Jared Leto". One google search later revealed what everybody other than me must have already known -- it is Jared Leto. Looks like I'm not as up to date as I thought.

22:00 Somehow when I was looking the other way, both Coldplay and Maroon 5 became dance bands. For Coldplay it makes sense as they naturally progress along U2's career path and are currently finding their comfort zone midway between "The Joshua Tree" and "Achtung Baby". As for Maroon 5, I have no idea what they're aiming for. Scissor Sisters? I can make jokes, but the results are quite good in both cases.

22:08 Katy Perry accepts the award for Best Live. Even she is twice the size of Snooki.

22:11 LMFAO ride around in a giant zebra and bring the chaos with their hit "Party Rock Anthem". Some people apparently call this electro pop or "party rock" but those of us who remember the early 90's know our reheated Eurodance when we see and hear it. I mean, they've got the anonymous rappers and everything. Sure, it sounds awesome now, but bet your bottom dollar that people will find this stuff embarassing in ten years time. I'm out of it Part II: LMFAO are Berry Gordy's son and grandson.

22:25 David Hasselhoff (!!) presents the award for best female, desperately trying to sound suave and cool in front of the kiddies. He says he drilled a wall from his dressing room to the best female dressing room so they can watch him change. How did he get this gig? It's so creepy, yet so hilarious. Lady Gaga accepts the award wearing a dress that ressembles the giant white cones they strap to the necks of dogs when they don't want them to scratch themselves, with a hat that that looks like a plastic black phonograph speaker, and comments on seeing the 'Hoff's package through the hole he drilled in the wall. This segment will be difficult to top tonight.

22:30 Bruno Mars and his band, all dressed in matching light blue suits, channel the Big Bopper (Mars rocks the pompadour to really nail the part) with a rollicking 50's version of "Marry You". Fabulous performance, easily the best of the night so far.

22:36 Queen receive an icon award, and Brian May let his hair go gray? Amazingly, Queen have been at it for forty years, HALF OF IT WITHOUT FREDDIE MERCURY. It seem possible.

22:47 We're definitely hitting the dregs of the show, as they're hyping the performances still to come later in the show to keep us interested and bringing out the B-list celebs like Ashley Nicole Rickards and Sheamus (!). Sheamus (a Dubliner) rips on Belfast with some Irish in-jokes that go completely over my head, and Justin Bieber (sans mop!!) wins for Best Male. In just a year's time, he's lost that babyfaced cuteness factor that fueled his entire career to this point, and the haircut is a natural next step. He's approaching a crossroads not unlike that of Michael before he released "Off the Wall", where people sort of resented him for not being small and cute anymore, but before they were ready to accept him as a serious grown up artist. The next couple of years should be interesting.

22:55 RHCP have been doing almost nothing for me, going on 22 years. How time flies. They never change, so why should my opinion change?

23:02 Lady Gaga kicks off the second hour with her newest single "Marry the Night". It's a fairly toned down, understated performance (at least for her), most of it spent singing on top of a cratered half-sphere moon.

23:10 Bruno Mars wins for Best New (not "Best New Artist", just "Best New". It gets to the point with the bare minimum number of words), which makes sense because he's the only one of the nominees to have more than two big hits.

23:16 I've been ignoring almost all of host Selena Gomez's jokes and skits throughout the night because they're too dumb and pointless to be worth mentioning. Same goes for her live performance.

23:25 Snow Patrol went dance too? This show is putting me to sleep now.

23:35 Lady Gaga wins for Best Song with "Born This Way" and bawls her way through her acceptance speech. This time she rotates the large plastic phonograph speaker (bronze coloured now) so we can see a corner of her face. I'm all for making cool fashion statements, but if you're sincere about conveying the emotion of the moment, it makes sense to let people actually see you.

23:48 David Guetta hits the stage to save the second hour of this show with Jessie J, Taio Cruz and Ludacris. I'm not sure exactly what Guetta is doing back there. He's sporting a pair of headphones (which probably aren't plugged in because he never uses them), pretends to tweak dials, and holds his hands in the air. But the laser light show is amazing, the songs are too, and the guest singers nailed their one minute each. Guys like Moby will be the first to tell you that DAT shows can rock too.

23:54 Somebody dragged Malcolm Jamal Warner out of mothballs to hype his new show and present the award for Best Worldwide. I seem to remember that they used to give a separate award for each "region", which makes sense because how can all these bands from totally disparate continents "compete" for the same award? The whole point of awards shows is that you have a bunch of acts, who all appear on the same pop charts and roughly compete for the same chart pop fans, and the awards is given to the best person. But how is Britney Spears in direct competition with the biggest acts in India or Asia? Big Bang (from the Asia-Pacific region), win as apparently they are bigger stars than Britney (representing the North America region). Oddly enough I don't think she was even nominated for anything else tonight, so this comes off like an excuse to have her name mentioned on the show. Meanwhile, Big Bang are like Daft Punk on motorcycles. I should check them out.

00:00 The 'Hoff is back! Sucking on a balloon! How DID he get this gig?

00:02 Does anyone really think that Beastie Boys or Justice have a chance in hell of beating Lady Gaga for Best Video? Note to EMA organizers: if you want to build suspense for the Best Video award presentation, you should nominate bands whose names get mentioned more than once during the show.

00:03 Gaga can't be beaten tonight.

00:05 Queen and Adam Lambert perform a medley of songs that I never need to hear again in my life ("The Show Must Go On"/"We Will Rock You"/"We Are the Champions"). I've never really liked Lambert, but this is pretty much his dream gig and it's undoubtedly his calling to be singing songs like these.

Congratulations to Gaga and Justin Bieber for being the most popular stars in the world, although we didn't really need an awards show to tell us that. There were some good performances but nothing all that memorable, and it didn't help that the show almost died in the second hour. But of course the EMA's are never a bad way to waste two hours.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The death of CD shops, the death of the CD

This story about the major labels plan to abandon the CD by the end of 2012 made the rounds this week, prompting some good discussion about whether the story is true or not (it's not) and what the eventual death of the CD means in the musical big picture.

I don't think anybody doubts that the CD is on its last legs, but when the axe finally falls, it'll be major news and not something quietly leaked (allegedly) to a music site and reported on as fact without any sourcing whatsoever.

Remember when the major labels wanted to force you to pay $20 for an entire CD of music that they could manufacture for $1? And if you only wanted only one song then you were SOL, because there was no option to buy singles anymore? That was just ten years ago. Remember when they were willing to SUE YOU to keep that business model intact? That happened even more recently. And now, nobody wants the CD anymore. The music industry has been dragged into the future, kicking and screaming, just like it was with every other major change of listening format in the past 100 years.

Whenever this subject comes up, I wonder whether I made a mistake in not selling off my CD collection while I had the chance. I own enough obscurities that could probably fetch decent money for the foreseeable future, and most of my purchases over the past few years were bargain (and in many cases, rare) CD's that didn't set me back too much money anyhow. But for me it was never about the money anyhow, it was always about the collection itself, something I'd show off proudly as if it were a collection of books or old photos. I could never bring myself to part with a disc I loved, trading the physical object for a few files on a computer. The odd thing is, these days I have piles of music in the form of files on my computer -- and rarely find myself wanting to replace them with a physical object. Irrespective of price, genre, era, and sometimes even musical quality, I get attached to a CD in a way that rarely happens with any mp3.

And isn't it amazing -- and appropriate -- that vinyl will outlive the CD?