bentangle

music

Macklemore

by on Mar.27, 2013, under money, music, philosophy, politics

It started with silence, empty air. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to the radio in the car even though I still appreciate new music. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge, so my morning and afternoon commutes became a vehicle to slake that thirst. I can certainly bore you with the details of my podcast consumption habits that formed from there, but that isn’t really the point of this story. The point is that with the recurring set of shows I had come to listen to, I had gotten ahead of my supply with plenty of road ahead of me. So, recalling hearing good things about The Nerdist from somewhere, I queued up the latest episode and was instantly hooked.

Two weeks later (late last week), I’m listening to Chris Hardwick chatting with this YouTube Rap/HipHop artist named Macklemore. It was a compellingly interesting episode, but without clips of his songs my curiosity was only mildly piqued. But over the weekend, on an evening after the kids were in bed, I sought out his supposed breakout hit, and here is what I found:

Say what you like, but this thing is hilarious, catchy, clearly not kid friendly (glad I listened after bedtime), fun and light, and also has a message nested in there.

Jump to today – there has been a bit of a Facebook movement where people are changing their profile pics to red squares with pink equal signs on them (or some variant thereof). This is in support of marriage equality and coincides with the Supreme Court’s initiation of hearing arguments about California’s Proposition 8. I’ve read the arguments that this is a weak move and that a stronger action would be to donate money to causes, etc. I don’t care – I partook and I stand by the sentiment that it stands for – we all deserve to live and love equally.

So this evening as I’ve relaxing (once again having gotten the kids settled for the night) and perusing the musings on Facebook when an inkling tickles the back of my brain from that Nerdist episode – Macklemore also spoke of another song he did that got some mixed reaction called Same Love:

I watched this and got goosebumps and nearly cried, emotions swelled – a mix of pride and hope as well as shame and sorrow. Watch it, and you will get it (or you won’t, you are entitled I guess). This is more than just a music video – it is a short film as well as an anthem for the marriage equality and gay rights movement. I immediately posted it to Facebook.

The point that I’m getting to here is this: I could sit here right now and write entire blog posts about each of these videos. And if I did, the Venn diagram of their traits would be a small sliver of awesome. The one – a serious and moving story and diatribe about the plight of a yet oppressed minority within our nation and world, the other – a light, pompous romp about making fashion gold out of Goodwill fare (with an unveiled jab at the fashion/consumerist establishment). Together, these songs (and many others) paint the picture of a complex, intelligent individual who has a decided talent for expression through verse – one whom I now have a great appreciation and respect for and had otherwise no knowledge of two weeks ago.

Am I about to start clothes shopping at thrift stores now? Not likely. Am I gearing up to march on Washington over political issues? Not this week, but I wouldn’t rule it out. What I’ve really learned from this is two things: First, never underestimate a medium – I was never a big fan of HipHop and mostly dismissed it as the messages were all gold, guns, and girls, but here I was proven wrong. Second, labels don’t always fit – Macklemore doesn’t get much radio airplay as he is unsigned and pretty much a YouTube artist. But Billboard is starting to get where the audience is, and as such, he made it on the charts AS an unsigned YouTube artist and has since been on SNL and various other gigs (again, I could likely do a whole blog post on this topic as well).

The bottom line is that if I can still have my mind opened further at the age of 37, we all can if we let it happen. If it’s from this, you’re welcome. If it is from something else, that’s great too. But the moment you close out new experiences you stop living in the world, and the world is a variegated and interesting place.

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Okay … Go!

by on Mar.11, 2012, under Entertainment, Internet, music

After nearly a decade without a significant lead or shred of evidence, I think it is safe to say the cold case of the missing good music video is ready to be closed and declared de — what’s that?
You found something?  Don’t tell me this is another VH1 scam.
No?
Online?
YouTube??  Come on – they’ve got nothing but wannabes and cover artists…
Okay to go where?
Oh, the band is named Ok Go?  They sound familiar.
Ok, I’ll look into it.
Sorry folks – it turns out there is new evidence to review after all.  We’ll report back when we know more.
Ok, I’ve endulged my internal monologue long enough.  My point of writing today is, well (a) to get back in the habit of writing, and (b) to decry the merits of Ok Go as not only a band that I cannot help but enjoy and admire, but also as the last notable life-line to the vanishing art of music videos.  And don’t take my word for it – check out this playlist of some of their best works.  The list seems to actually be in reverse chronological order, which is cool because they only continue to get better and more inventive, but is also a shame because I think one is more likely to drop off after 3 or 4 videos when there are really gems scattered throughout.

What I find so amazing about their works is the (pardon my use of an oft overused idiom) out-of-the-box thinking.  They put their heart and soul into creating more than a just a video to accompany their music, but a video that is a peace of art in itself.  And as a result, there are several songs in their catalog that I enjoy more even when only listening in the car because of the depth that the video has breathedain into it.  Additionally, many of their videos are not just feats of artistic expression, but at times feats of physical discipline and/or engineering.

Some key examples of this would be This Too Shall Pass where the band (with some help) constructed a rather elaborate Rube Goldberg machine to accompany the song, or their older, classic hit Here It Goes Again where the band performs the whole video on a series of adjacent treadmills (which seems merely clever and semi-acrobatic until you notice that the whole thing was shot in a single take).  And then there is their most recent video for the song Needing/Getting which had a brief introduction via a Chevy Sonic commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.  Having gotten their most recent album a while ago, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, I’d heard the song before, but didn’t necessarily pay it any special attention.  In the video, they play the song while driving the aforementioned car … much of which is played by the car.

I will freely admit, there are some in the collection that are less awe-inspiring (in other words, just good music videos).  But there is undeniable artistic genius being achieved by this band, and it seems to be more than just a flash in the pan.  I for one plan to keep watching and also hoping that other artists see this as a gauntlet thrown and attempt to rise to the challenge.

Moreover, though, I have to give YouTube some of the credit here as well.  After all performance art is only as strong as its audience.  And with MTV and their ilk dropping the ball, YouTube has picked it up and ran with it.  And unlike its predecessors, YouTube’s viewing choice is as democratized as it can be.  And its audience certainly seems to reward such creativity, so if more of it arises I’m sure it will not go unnoticed for long.

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And Another Thing …

by on Mar.30, 2010, under music

Last week I wrote about a music group that I’ve recently been exposed to and come to enjoy.  I extolled their covers of popular songs as well as their original compositions.  I commented on the lovely vocals of Nataly Dawn and catagorized Jack Conte’s musical arrangements as quriky and ecclectic (in a very positive way).  As it turns out, I severely undersold Jack’s musical talents.  After reading more about the VideoSong concept that they employ in all of their music videos (there are two rules:  1. What you see is what you hear (no lip-syncing for instruments or voice). 2. If you hear it, at some point you see it (no hidden sounds), I have to say that I’m becoming more impressed with both the group and the man.  I then took some time to explore some of his independent works on YouTube, and this has become one of my new favorite songs.

The song is a mashup of Incubus’ Warning and Green Day’s Brain Stew and it is pieced together brilliantly.  It helps that they are both songs that I greatly enjoyed even before this fusion.  In addition to a number of artful covers and mashups, you can find a number of original songs of his (both lyrical and instrumental) on YouTube and much of it can also be purchased on iTunes.

So now after two weeks, anytime I’m listening to music, it is either something by Pomplamoose, Nataly Dawn, or Jack Conte (eventually I’ll move on, but what’s the hurry).  Hopefully some of you are also finding their music enjoyable (either through my introduction or your own musical discoveries).

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Put Your Hands Up

by on Mar.21, 2010, under music

Music is a very important part of my life.  I listen to it in many aspects of my life and it is both a mood ring and a recovery tool for my emotional state.  Many of the most important moments of my life can be and have been set to music.  So it is incredulous that I don’t write more about it.  I aim to change that starting here.

I’m always seeking new music to listen to.  While my wife is also very musically oriented, she has not pursued it as fervently as I tend to recently, so it was a welcome surprise last week when she turned me on to a new artist.  Before last weekend, Pomplamoose was no more than the French word for grapefruit (albeit a somewhat phonetically spelled version of the word).  It started with her playing the video for this quirky cover of Beyoncé’s “All the Single Ladies”.  After only a few iterations of it and hearing a few other covers, I found myself spending some downtime at work the following Monday investigating some more of their music including their originals.  By the next day I had purchased and downloaded every track I could find from the band as well as some of the singer’s solo tracks.  And for the rest of the week I listened to little else.

Pomplamoose’s sound is very indie, with Nataly Dawn’s vocals being very earthy and reminiscent of Beth Orton, and Jack Conte’s arrangements being very eclectic (including elements such as toy xylophones, triangles, and facial percussion).  But there is also a solid sense of a polished product – while the videos present a sense that all of their songs are recorded in an apartment, the sound is well produced and complete (even in the seemingly purposefully included snafus and antics).

Their covers include some original instrumental interpretations that make the songs their own and their originals are solid arrangements on their own.  I love the coy message in “If You Think You Need Some Lovin“, the subtle metaphors in “Expiration Date” (I especially like the line “when did you start complimenting in past and future tense”).  And while it could be argued that their video style seems single-threaded, Nataly’s near constant half-smile and Jack’s unique instrumentation and video antics make them all very watchable.

That being said, I encourage you to watch them all.  If you like what you hear, I also encourage you to patronize them as well.  While I don’t necessarily support the nature of the RIAA machine, I do fully believe in supporting real musicians that are trying to make a living.  I hope you at least enjoy a listen – currently it seems that their cover of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is at the top of the YouTube playlist, which I enjoy listening to more than anything actually by Lady Gaga herself.

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My Daughter, the Rock Star

by on Nov.09, 2009, under family, music, parenthood, video games

The funny thing with kids – no matter how complete your life may have felt before, once you have kids you can’t imagine life any other way.  Cricket and I have some interesting ways that we bond.  We play video games together, we read stories together (currently we are going back and forth between Nancy Drew and Harry Potter books), and we watch the cartoons together (some of them are quite fun even for adults).  Recently the kids and I had some free time together in the evening and opted to go to some nearby shops.  After doing a round at the pet store and passing in and out of a bike shop and a mattress store (who doesn’t like to bounce on beds?), we walked into a game shop to check out what Wii games were out and coming soon.

After browsing the selection and playing a round of each of the games they have on their demo systems, my son and I turn to see his sister having put a Rock Band guitar strap over her head getting ready to play it (mind you, she has never actually played any such games – she is only 5).  She gets her hands in position and shouts to the audience of the store “I’m bringin’ the THUNDER!”

Being her 3-year-old little brother, Grasshopper had to follow suit by getting his own guitar and repeating the phrase as best he could remember it.  In hindsight, I’m glad we had gone to the stores in the order that we did, because that was a better finale to the evening than the typical ‘don’t touch that’-fest that any trip the the pet store always becomes.  This event easily washed all of that away.

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