Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Men I Trust - 'Oncle Jazz'

Men I Trust is an indie band from Montreal.  I first came across their seductive sounds while routinely listening to Real Estate Radio on Pandora.   I am a huge fan of Real Estate's abandoned mall rock sound, which emphasizes a sort of collective loneliness. And I find myself gravitating toward the band's music when I am desiring something melodic and chill, without feeling like I am stuck on the endless loop of a monotonous spa playlist.

In the course of listening to hours' worth of Real Estate radio while working or commuting, the algorithm had played Men I Trust's single, 'Show Me How,' several times; and each time I heard it, it resonated deeply:  Slow funky bass, Francophone-accented vocals, and spacey guitar amounted to a sonic smorgasbord this old soul couldn't get enough of.  

'You Deserve This' is another song the station played from time to time.  That track is consistent with the theme of steamy dream pop. 

When I was really lucky, the Pandora algorithm dropped 'Porcelain,' from time to time.  This song is what Failure might sound like if they had a female vocalist, in case you were wondering.

Based on the overwhelming impressiveness of these three tracks, I recently attempted to purchase the vinyl record from which they originate from, and I found many locations were out of stock of the album.  I checked out the secondhand market on Ebay and Discogs, and found the prices were greatly inflated.  So, I ultimately tracked down a record store that could backorder it for me for a decent price, but I would have to wait at least eight weeks for the pressing to complete and be available for pick up.  I easily relented and made the purchase despite the long wait, as this LP is just that good. 

But don't worry; I didn't go to all this trouble of tracking down a pressing of Oncle Jazz--yes, that is the aforementioned album's title--without enacting some due diligence.  I have been able to stream the whole production in Hi-fidelity using Qobuz, and every single track delivers.  In fact, the album is organized somewhat as a faux radio station, similar to what The Weeknd did a few years ago with Dawn FM.  For example, Track 1 is in bumper format, reminding the listener they are hearing "Oncle Jazz."  And Track 24 features a funked out Muzak interlude reminiscent of free form FM broadcasts from decades ago.  In sum, the album is a complete work of art in which each track blends perfectly into the next.  

If my hype on this band has intrigued you, I have included the video for 'Show Me How' in the player below. Enjoy! 

Friday, December 23, 2022

BOSCO - '4th of July'

Thanks to a recent referral by fellow contributor Tae, I have been able to embrace my Scandinavian roots, and experience some modern day infrared sauna at a nearby luxury spa.  The setup is amazing; you check in and are given your own private room, complete with bluetooth audio and hundreds of internet television channels.  A complete array of chromatherapy is also available.  

While the heat is unassuming for the first few minutes, once the infrared's photons have had enough time to microwave your insides, it can begin to feel like you are finishing a marathon without having set foot on a running track.  Your heart rate increases, euphoria arises, and you soon discover your skin contains more pores than you ever realized, each expelling metal-laden toxicants by way of colossal perspiration.  

During one recent session, I was grinding against the heat when '4th of July' by BOSCO came on the room's bluetooth stereo.  It provided the necessary inspiration for me to endure the final portion of my 40 minute session.  BOSCO's vocals carried the sweet swagger of a young Janet Jackson, while the beat of the song presented an untroubled array of chilled-out R&B.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a whole lot of information on BOSCO on the internet.  The only link of substance I could really find was the one to her album, Someday This Will All Make Sense, on Amazon here.  

But, you can watch the immersive video to '4th of July' by BOSCO down below.  Although, without the requisite heat, your viewing results may vary:

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Forgotten Gems: Kenny Loggins - 'I'm Gonna Do It Right'

If you were one of the bazillion people who watched the international smash hit, Top Gun, when it came out back in 1986, you were likely rocked to the core by the sensational, bombastic Kenny Loggins theme song, "Danger Zone".

And perhaps, after leaving the theater, you may have rushed out to your local record store to buy the 7" single of the song on vinyl.

Now... if I asked you what the B-side to the "Danger Zone" single is, would you guess "Playing With the Boys" from the film's iconic volleyball scene?

If so, you would be wrong.  

While "Playing With the Boys" (and its accompanying scene) is amazing in its own right, the song you would have actually found on Side B was "I'm Gonna Do It Right" from Loggins' 1985 album, Vox Humana.

Vox Humana was Loggins' fifth album, and was his first album following his wildly successful title track to the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie, Footloose.

For many critics, Vox Humana was a big disappointment.  Loggins was at the height of his musical powers in the mid-80s and decided to make the leap of faith from acoustic guitar-wielding Yacht Rocker to the dangerous zone of overproduced, synthesized pop rock.

The album also had to follow High Adventure, Loggins' most commercially-successful album, which featured the singles, "Heart to Heart", "Heartlight", and the Grammy-nominated Steve Perry duet, "Don't Fight It".

By comparison, Vox Humana fell flat, despite Gold-certified sales numbers and ballad single, "Forever".

But if you slept on Vox Humana or forgot to flip your "Danger Zone" single over, you may have missed out on "I'm Gonna Do It Right" -- a funktastic track featuring none other than the legendary Pointer Sisters on backup vocals and Sheila E. on percussion.  

It is easily one of the most uptempo dance tracks in Loggins' deep songbook, and I'm sad to say I'd never heard it until this week because it's a real club banger.  As a child of the '80s, I couldn't help but love it right away.  Give it a spin in the player below, and get ready to cut. foot. loose.

Postscript:  Fellow blogger, Steve, and I once attended a Kenny Loggins concert at a local casino roughly a decade ago. I went in expecting a routine run through of the hits (for which Loggins has MANY), but what I was not expecting was the exuberance and showmanship he had for performing and he belted out 30+ year old songs with the enthusiasm of a young man who'd just recorded them rather than someone who had played them thousands of times. It was a great show!

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Broadcast - 'Come On Let's Go'

I recently finished watching the HBO Limited Series Scenes From a Marriage. To say the show is an emotional upheaval is a massive understatement. Although I can't say I am too satisfied with the story arc's final conclusion, I will say that both Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac pitch a brilliant acting performance that masterfully portrays the exacting tolls of matrimony.  

In the series finale, a brief snippet of the space age pop song 'Come On Let's Go' by Broadcast is subtly featured in the background of a scene leading up to a big reveal.  The result is a wonderfully curated soundtrack which effectively captures the mood of the moment.  

This cinematic occasion inspired me to look more into the band.  It turns out that Broadcast was formed in England in the mid-90s.  They tended to create psychedelic electronica rooted in a mid century modern style. (Sort of in the same vein as 'Female of the Species' by Space).  In other words, if the universe of Mad Men had a house band, Broadcast very likely could have been it.  

Their magna opus is The Noise Made by People, which contains the aforementioned 'Come on Let's Go.'  'Echo's Answer' is another track on the LP, which is a less melodic and more detached offering. 'Unchanging Window' seems to borrow drummer boy rhythms from Bowie, but maybe that comparison is a forced one only because D.B. literally sang about Life on Mars?

Anyhow, the entirety of The Noise Made By People is well worth a spin, but if you want a solid introduction to the splendor of the group, definitely start with 'Come On Let's Go,' which you can stream in the player below.  

Big Thief - 'Change'

A person wiser than I once told me that all relationships end.  Whether it is a relative, friend, or lover, all associations cease due to death, breakup, divorce, or some other circumstance.  Although a relatively simple notion, the idea had never crossed my mind before.  Instead, I had often found myself clinging to the shadows of former bonds without recognizing or accepting this unavoidable reality. 

It is human nature to clutch what is familiar.  On the surface, it seems ideal to try and preserve the status quo at all costs.  But a world without endings is also a world without beautiful new beginnings.  It is a world of lost potential and unrealized discovery.  Nevertheless, the changeover from one reality to a new one can be some of the most painful journeys a person can endure.

It isn't very often that I hear a song that can almost compel me to tears, but 'Change' by Brooklyn's Big Thief is so honest and pure, it is almost paralyzing with how fierce it depicts the grief of letting an old life go in favor of welcoming a new one in; a process that is not always a voluntary one.  Singer Adrianne Lenker's vocals are tender and disarming.  They present some of the most intimate pleadings to be captured on a record.  

Would you stare forever at the sun,

Never watch the moon rising?

Would you walk forever in the light,

To never learn the secret of the quiet night?

Often, there are hidden joys to be found in the intimidating silence of the unknown.  But you have to be brave enough to step into the abyss in order to find them.  Is it sustainable to never depart from the known path, or do the unforeseen forks in the road instead inspire hidden resilience and strength necessary to nourish the spirit?  This brilliant song does not hesitate in its answer.  

You can stream the beautiful 'Change' in the player below:  

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Lord Huron - 'Mine Forever'

Tumbling off the dusty plains from the set of a Spaghetti Western, 'Mine Forever' by Indie Folk Rockers Lord Huron is a pleasant little jaunt of a tune.  Uplifting and harmonious, the bridge of the song is truly the cherry on top for me.  

If you like nostalgiac call backs to the late-60s days of Laurel Canyon, where everyone seemed to be California Dreamin' all the time, this is the track for you.  

You can stream the video for 'Mine Forever' in the player below:

Monday, March 21, 2022

In the Defense of "Butt Rock:" A Manifesto

Having been consumed with a full time career and parenthood in recent years, I may have encountered the cringe-worthy term, "Butt Rock," later than most other Internet denizens.  Honestly, I was flabbergasted when I first heard some 16 year old on Tik-Tok present the slang in a smug and disparaging tone all too common amongst Gen-Z.  After all, this was the very same music I came of age to.  How dare they?

I immediately pondered:  What is Butt Rock, and why is it so bad?  

On the  issue of definition, the term apparently refers to guitar-driven rock which was released in the late-90s and much of the aughts.  It isn't just nu-metal.  And it isn't just neo-grunge.  Instead, it is a blanket term used to describe the playlist staples of so many modern rock radio stations.  You know, the kinds with the bumpers that state:  "we play nothing but rock."  ("But rock..."  Get it now?).

On the issue of desirability, I infer that the phantom genre is seen as "bad" because it is largely music made by privileged white guys, who sing about privileged white guy stuff, and are therefore listened to primarily by privileged white guys.  After all, going after the privileged is trendy stuff these days (even though the definition of "privilege" is often a squishy one).   

But such an armchair assessment is probably too reductionist. On a purely objective musical basis the songs created by "butt rockers" often lack depth, are comprised of the simplelest of simple three-chord structures, and tend to be high octane and loud without any underlying artistic justification. Under that lens, I can appreciate the criticism.

Yet, why do I feel the need to come to the defense of Butt Rock bands?  Why do I still like listening to them so much?  If they are so bad for you, why do they make me feel so good?  

To answer that question requires honest self- reflection. When I first co-founded this blog seventeen years ago, I was very much like the smug 16 year old Tik-Toker mentioned above.  I was significant parts arrogant and hubristic.  My creator had endowed me with the gift of intelligent thought, so I thought, and therefore I must be right, while the other had to be plain dead wrong.  I was dismissive of those who didn't think or approach the world the same as me:

"Oh, you like KISS and Motley Crue, you say?  Well, then, you heathen; you must be one of those toxic masculine types I learned in the virtuous circles I dabble in to avoid at all costs.  Be gone Sinner!"  

Although this is a bit of exaggeration for illustrative purposes, one only need to search the early archives of this site to learn of my former sanctimony.  

Today, however, I have learned to appreciate KISS.  Now, my soul is stimulated when I hear the Crue on the radio or at a brew pub.  The freedom this pleasure-driven rock provides me can often be a breath of fresh air from the soul crushing minutiae I may have been dealing with earlier in the day.  

But I don't necessarily think KISS and Motley Crue are truly Butt Rock in the conventional sense, although the two bands may be "Butt Rock Adjacent."  (An even cringier term, I know).  Instead, the bands which are brought up in conversation often include Staind, Creed, Limp Bizkit, Puddle of Mudd, Hinder, Trapt, and the always scapegoated Nickelback.  

On the one hand, several of these bands are led by problematic frontmen who have taken polarizing political positions recently (Aaron Lewis of Staind, or Chris Taylor Brown of Trapt).  And several more have struggled with the demons of alcohol and substance abuse (Scott Stapp of Creed, or Wes Scantlin of Puddle of Mudd).  

But on the other hand, these bands recorded songs about addiction, depression, rejection, shame, divorce, loneliness, spirituality and the male response to those tragedies at a time when it wasn't all that acceptable.  And just like any other fallible human being, sometimes the genuine male human response to heartache and devastation is ugly.  All the while, that ugliness is nevertheless authentic.  Life is suffering, and the human condition is equal parts beautiful and ugly.  We have to accept the good with the bad if we are to get along with each other.

So why do I get so pressed  when someone chooses to dismiss the bands that I grew up with, and which I came of age to, as merely being Butt Rock?  Well, at some level, the answer is largely contained within the rhetorical question I just posed:  I assuredly have an emotional connection with much of the music because it provided me with more male guidance on a virtual level than the male role models I had in my real life at the time. And I am grateful for that.  

On another level, I have a respect for the pseudo-genre because of its flaws and its ugliness--the very things that make the critics hate on it so bad.  These bands said what they said without worry of backlash or offending somebody.  And perhaps, in these modern times where it often feels we must self-censor ourselves for fear of the offended party organizing a career-ending backlash, it is refreshing to spin some tunes that are genuine and recorded without apology. 

In recent years I have often lamented to myself the oft-quoted cliche that "rock is dead."  Much of the modern musicscape is dominated by electronic instruments.  Even in bands where a guitar exists, its role is often meant to supplement--as opposed to lead--the musical composition.  To me, the last era in which guitar heavy rock dominated the airwaves was the Butt Rock era.  Possibly, then, my passionate defense is rooted in nostalgia more than anything else.  Perhaps I simply long for a time when a regular Joe Schmoe of a guy could relax after a long day's work with some angsty guitar-driven licks without being condemned by some finger wagging 16 year old on Tik-Tok.

However, if I am being honest, I am triggered by more than just nostalgia.  I am triggered by more than just a teenage hooligan on social media spouting a poor hot take.  Candidly, what grinds my gears is the sanctimonious judgment applied to nearly everything on the internet and in public life in general.  Butt Rock may be the convenient target now, but what happens when the self righteous come after your music genre of choice?  All because the people who created the music which makes you happy weren't perfect?  Or because the song structure that you love so much wasn't sophisticated enough for the chosen few?  

I may be screaming into the void with this manifesto, but the never ending inquisition against culture and art that makes one feel uncomfortable has to stop.  Enough with the derogatory slogans.  Enough with the keyboard warriors who have a superiority complex.  So what, a band member once self-medicated her pain with drugs and alcohol?  So what, a singer happens to espouse a worldview different from you? 

Whatever became of redemption?   Whatever became of the once heralded liberal ideology of free speech (meaning speech you sometimes don't agree with)?    Is it fair to chastise an entire group of bands and their listeners because they don't neatly fit into the fashionable virtues of the current moment?

Butt Rock, as much as I despise the term, occupies an important place in music , and it continues to provide solace and enjoyment to millions of listeners, including myself.  If you hate Butt Rock, I get it, I used to be like you.  But then I grew up and learned that sometimes the most comforting art is that which is flawed, and which is in turn created by flawed artists.  It is a reminder that when we are weak and experience an ugly moment as humans are apt to do, we are not alone.  

So, stop trying so hard to be perfect and flawless.  Instead, assuredly embrace the facile hook of Nickelback when Chad Kroger exclaims, "It's not like you to say sorry, I was waitin' on a different story," and maybe, just maybe, you might like it a little bit if you give it a chance.  

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Khruangbin - 'So We Won't Forget'

Although the tone of 'So We Won't Forget' is warm, spaced-out, and peaceful, its lyrics are anything but.  The song's lyrics--and corresponding music video--clearly convey the eternal struggle between terminable mortality and the infinite march of time.  

Ooh, one to remember
Writing it down now
So we won't forget

Ooh, never enough paper
Never enough letters
So we won't forget

The track is composed by Khruangbin, a Texas outfit, whose tracks are inspired by Thai rock and funk.  Their gentle harmonies, interspersed amongst tender, vibey notes, is what gives 'So We Won't Forget' its special juice.

Watch the emotional music video to 'So We Won't Forget' below:

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

The Zolas - 'Yung Dicaprio'

'Yung Dicaprio' is a BritPop-inspired slapper from Canadian band The Zolas.  Lead singer/guitarist Zachary Gray's vocals are reminiscent of Filter's Richard Patrick during that alternative band's heyday (also during the nineties).  

Overall, the single is jangly and sauntering, brawny and audacious.  It serves as a great pick-me-up for a Saturday evening when the night is still young (or yung?).   

Check out 'Yung Dicaprio' in the video player below:

Monday, July 05, 2021

Jose Feliciano - 'Feliciano!'

I first remember learning of Jose Feliciano when I was watching a public television music documentary about the 1960s with my father when I was 15 or 16 years old.  In the featured clip, a young, sunglass-donning Puerto Rican was belting a Latin-styled version of The Doors' 'Light My Fire.' 

I was perplexed.  I was a mini-Stan of Jim Morrison at the time (which was the en vogue thing to be in the late-90s, following Oliver Stone's groundbreaking biopic of the rock legend earlier in the decade), but I had never heard the single arranged in such a peculiar way.  My dad explained to me that Feliciano was blind (hence the sunglasses), and that this particular version of 'Light My Fire' was a fairly big hit when he was in Junior High twenty five years earlier.  Candidly, I wasn't very impressed.

A few years later, while I was a student in my high school's Spanish Level 3 class, the instructor coincidentally decided to play another performance of Feliciano, once again bellowing 'Light My Fire' to acoustic guitar.  And as had been my original reaction only a year or two before, I remained unmoved. (The nexus between an English-singing musical artist who just happened to be of Latin descent, and the teaching of the Spanish language to Anglo-American students seemed flimsy, even at the time).

For the next twenty or so years, my only exposure to Jose Feliciano was on a yearly basis, when local radio broadcasted ad nauseum his Christmas anthem, 'Feliz Navidad,' a song so kitschy, the regional Mexican Restaurant chain Taco John's used it for years as the music behind its TV commercial jingles.  Again, I was unimpressed.

Then, in 2019, Quentin Tarantino released his love letter to the Second Golden Age of Cinema: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The stratified thriller ever-so-craftily set chic fashion, lustrous smiles, and unbridled ambition against the backdrop of the subtle and sinister forces of 1969.  The linchpin to such effective mood-setting was the film's score, which includes at many times actual vintage recordings of L.A. radio D.J. "The Real" Don Steele from local A.M. station KHJ.

In Hollywood, one of the featured tracks is 'California Dreamin'--- not by The Mamas and the Papas, who originally composed and popularized it, but by, you guessed it, Jose Feliciano.  Feliciano's version is restrained and stretched out; it is much quieter than its antecedent.  And it pairs faultlessly with the corresponding scene in the movie to set the perfect atmosphere.  Unlike my previous exposure to Feliciano, I was no longer indifferent to him, but now quite astonished and intrigued.

I began to research the man and his catalog, and I discovered that Feliciano is a master of the reimagined cover song.  Think on the same level as or better than Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" version of 'Layla' and Joe Cocker's Woodstock version of The Beatles' 'With a Little Help From My Friends.'  Feliciano not only flawlessly remakes any song he touches into his own image, but he has done it on an incredible scale for multiple decades.  Refer to his cover of Michael Jackson's 'Billy Jean' for just a scintilla of proof.  

A great introduction and starting point for the uninitiated to Jose Feliciano is his eponymous Feliciano!, which was released in 1968, and just happens to be his most commercially successful album.  It reached Number Two on the U.S. albums chart.  

Feliciano! is comprised of cover songs only.  It features the aforementioned 'California Dreamin' and 'Light My Fire.'  It also contains three Beatles tunes.  The Burt Bacharach penned 'Always Something There to Remind Me' is included as well, and it is a delightful reinterpretation.  But even though none of the songs on the album are an original, they are nevertheless unique and captivating, providing a gateway to an entirely new palette of music for listeners of rock music who may not have otherwise stepped in that melodious direction.  

I will feature a few of the tracks from Feliciano! in the video players below.  The album is certainly worth checking out and best listened to from start to finish, as opposed to a single at a time.  It is spacious and light, but earnest and brave. It is the fitting soundtrack to a relaxing dinner, yet perplexing enough to make the pickiest audiophile ponder.  It has quickly risen to become one of the favorite records in my entire collection.  And that makes me very glad.  

In a world of boundless access to any song ever created by way of music streaming and social media, it is refreshing and inspiring to know it is still possible to discover "new" music, so long as you are willing to open your mind and remove your preconceived notions.    Jose Feliciano has patiently and authentically continued to make incredible music in a career spanning over five decades by just being himself.  He has been here the whole time, even when I wasn't willing to listen.  I wonder what other great artists I have foolishly deprived myself of due to hubris.  I am immensely thankful to Jose and to Feliciano! for teaching me such a valuable lesson.    

Jose Feliciano - 'Light My Fire'

Jose Feliciano - 'California Dreamin'

Jose Feliciano - 'In My Life'

Jose Feliciano - 'Always Something There to Remind Me'

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Genesis Owusu - 'Gold Chains'

When you go to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, it's always a smart move to turn your FM dial to The Current on 89.3 KCMP.

The Minnesota Public Radio-owned station is a great place to hear a wide range of music, including local artists. I have discovered new music everytime I've been able to tune in to the station.

I made a weekend trip to Saint Paul this past weekend, and heard everything from new Modest Mouse to Bob Marley to Arlo Parks to Prince.

But one song on my drive out of town caught my attention enough to write this post -- "Gold Chains" by Genesis Owusu.

Owusu, a 23-year-old Ghanaian-born Australian, started recording just a few years ago.  According to his Wikipedia page, Owusu got his unlikely break in 2019, opening for the sold out 5 Seconds of Summer benefit concert in Sydney.

Owusu's debut album, Smiling with No Teeth, came out in March, 2021, and combines elements of experimental R&B, Hip Hop and Alternative Rock for a unique sound.  The album debuted at #27 on the Australian charts but hasn't quite taken off in the U.S. yet.

On his single, "Gold Chains", Owusu assumes the dual roles of soulful crooner and smooth MC, singing and rapping over glitchy trickles of late night electro-funk.  You can watch the official music video to "Gold Chains" in the YouTube player below.  

There's already a cool remix of the song by Harvey Sutherland, and if you liked "Gold Chains", I would also highly recommend Owusu's latest single, "Same Thing" with its Prince-like guitar lick and Frank Ocean-meets-Thundercat delivery.

For more on Genesis Owusu, visit: