Satellite’s gone up to the sky….RIP, Lou Reed

This time, it’s not a hoax.

Sadly, Lou Reed left this world yesterday after complications from a liver transplant he received in spring.

For the folks who’ve left some sort of influential yet not interpersonal mark, the gauge of that impression seems to be if you can recall “Where you were when….” (As if they were lost in that very spot.) In my lifetime, pop culture has lost a few pivotal individuals, most notably: Princess Diana while watching Eddie and the Cruisers. Heath Ledger at my desk at an old job. And Michael Jackson in a Trader Joe’s parking lot in Center City Philadelphia. It’s the exits for these that are most recollected–the shock of their absence from the world and how those around reacted to their passing.  As my partner and I drove through the state synonymous with the VU front man, I privately read of Lou Reed’s death on a smart phone; it’s strange to learn of something while moving, given how things like this make time stand still for a second. But learning in this way was oddly appropriate, since I was immediately mentally displaced to the first time I was really moved by Lou Reed. It was an oddly profound moment.

In college, as a writing major (literally, not English, writing), it bothered me that I felt no sense of enlightenment like I’d expected to gain with higher education. I wasn’t really learning anything in school, it was just kind of happening around me.  Perhaps it was the poetic part of me that somehow knew that with the advent of the internet, things would be drastically changing and any sort of romantic, yet Dickensian, ambitions I’d had for life would be squashed as soon as I had real bills to pay. Up to that point, my thinking, although open, was pretty linear. But somehow, I knew that there was more, I just couldn’t figure out how to obtain that understanding.

And so, when my friend Stephen–a time-warped red-head who wrote short stories like people write grocery lists–had a few of us over to listen to Lou Reed records, it was not just a listening party, but an experience party. As we sat on the ground, huddled around his phonograph, window cracked to the city outside, the music of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground poured into the room and out that window like a vapor.  I couldn’t escape it and was completely engulfed by it. Everything most music I knew up to that point this was not–simple yet ugly, a little out of tune but with logical nonsense, aggravatingly gritty, disturbingly sweet, and yet hopelessly real. It was not raw in the way metal or rap or even screamo was, but in a way that was realistically challenging. I didn’t even like all of it, but I was intrigued. I had heard smatterings of Reed’s work along the way, but it was hard to ever connect with something like the popular, “Walk on the Wild Side,” and not think of its characters as caricatures. But now, my biggest education was in the form of the personalities and sounds I’d been encountering–I was meeting Candy Darlings on the regular.  I was also moving to a new era of lyrical appreciation–no longer did words in songs need to be abstract references to love, cliched sex, or trendy politics; they could just be observations. And in listening to things like, “The Murder Mystery,” music became more and more an art form.

I can’t say this introduction made me a die-hard Reed or VU fan, but it opened doors to a whole new world of music for me (Iggy Pop, Modest Mouse, Clinic), and made me appreciate my surroundings as they applied to my own literary endeavors. Knowing that a mere English major with some inner struggles could turn out such creations was inspiring.

I was able to see Lou Reed at the Orpheum in Boston about 10 years ago. Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Jonhsons, still not quite famous enough to be comfortable on a stage, sang one of the best performances I’ve heard to this day. Below is the song that I never forgot.

RIP,  Lou.

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“Well Absolutely” / Body Language

Body Language at Bowery Ballroom. Copyright 2009 James McDowell

One of my favorite-ever concert nights occurred in March 2012 with a double-header in NYC: After a so-so set by Tennis at Bowery Ballroom, my partner and I power walked to Mercury Lounge for what I was really excited for: Body Language. The place was packed and hot and full of hipsters, Eurotrash, and my Patagonia-wearing other half. But once the music started, no one was looking at anyone–people were dancing, eyes closed, lost in sound. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a show with such a jubilant young crowd (coughinNYCcough) where the energy of the performance was equally matched by the spectators. It’s truly something to watch a band on the brink of something big.

Body Language‘s first song to catch my ear was “You Can,” one of their slow jams, but their forte is truly the disco pop sound now backing Lord & Taylor tv spots (which uses “Well Absolutely” from their recent release, Grammar), the popularity of which has already helped spike their Facebook page likes (which seems to be a good indicator in terms of modern-day metrics.) For every song there are hints of soul, dub, disco, pop, bhangra, reggae, r&b, electronic, synth pop…the list goes on. Top 40 certainly affords itself a lot of canned beats that apply well to clubs or gyms, but really, both Social Studies and Grammar are much better auditory investments to get the blood pumping–stream both of them here: Body Language on Bandcamp.

Recently, my good friend over at Melodic Thrifty & Chic mentioned Body Language in her recent top 5 bands during an interview with Cece of Where the Water Meets the Sky  and gave me a ribbing for keeping my personal suggestion so close to the chest. So here you go, masses 🙂 Also, if you are so privileged, they are embarking on a little NE coastal tour with the supremely entertaining performance art/jam band Rubblebucket–that’s going to be a serious party.

So…do you really wanna be somebody?

The one that started it all:

iTunes: Body Language

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“Going, Going, Gone” / The Posies

Reality Bites

Reality Bites (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After spending an afternoon listening to and brainstorming 90s soundtrack songs for a workday Turntable.fm room, I have not been able to get some of the tracks I thought of out of my mind. The 90s had so much good music. Nothing was trying to be overly arty or eclectic, it was just straight up catchy and good. Pop radio had real instruments! I could spend hours on the details….

Reality Bites is one of the key movies in my 90s top ten list. By listing mere first names–Winona, Janine, Ethan–anyone that knows anything about 90s cinema knows exactly what pixie girl, sassy lass, and grungy poet I’m talking about. The Posies‘ “Going, Going, Gone” is nothing mind-blowing, but similar to the movie, there is something comforting about it. It’s one of those easy to appreciate tracks that sounds like a jam written by friends at a lazy Sunday barbecue. I think it best encompasses that familiar quality that made the characters of Reality Bites (and Singles, and Empire Records, and all the other 90s classics) so timeless.

Here’s one to put its arm around you as autumn begins:

iTunes: The Posies

iTunes: Reality Bites Soundtrack

“Welcome to the maxi pad.”

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“Most People” / Dawes

Taylor Goldsmith and Wylie Gelber of the band ...

Taylor Goldsmith and Wylie Gelber of the band Dawes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t even believe I am writing this post. But I can’t deny it: I thoroughly enjoy a song by a band I normally dislike.

Dawes broke out to wide acclaim about a year or so ago with 2011’s Nothing is Wrong, and I quickly groaned every time I heard the lead singles, “A Little Bit of Everything” and “Time Spent in Los Angeles.”  Just not my style. I have a soft spot for some dad rock–Warren Zevon is great. CSNY? Amazeballs. And I can even stomach the occasional Steely Dan song, no matter how much I think that Donald Fagen sounds like a creepy uncle. But the undeniable Jackson Browne overtones just sounds hokey and belabored to me. Oh well.

But! Then came “Most People” from their April 2013 release, Stories Don’t End. This track’s got clever lyrics. It’s got a story to it. It’s got a great hook. Like The Damnwells, it leans a little more to the country side of alt-country, but does so in a way that isn’t too grassy plains and cowboy boots. And I dig that round vocal at the end. (Who uses rounds?) Maybe this album will branch out into something more palatable to me than its predecessor. Or maybe (after my cursory sampling of their albums), they need to showcase singles that encompass their own sound, rather than someone else’s. 

So perhaps you’ll dig it. You gotta at least  love the getup:

iTunes: Dawes

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“Reflektor” / Arcade Fire

My Facebook newsfeed has included myriad posts regarding Miley Cyrus’s video, “Wrecking Ball.” These have been 90% outraged parents and 10% kids who knew her as Hannah Montana and responded with Vine memes of naked guys comically imitating her naked swinging. And I admit, despite really hating her music but really digging her haircut, I watched it to see the fuss and had to laugh. So much symbolic imagery potential turned to a laughing stock by sledge hammer licking.

But despite all that hubub, the music video that’s been top of mind for me this week is Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor.” Now, I am sure E!News isn’t all over this recent release like my local college radio station, which practically counted down to it like it was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (or “Scream”, or really anything MJ did, RIP); but I am sort of happy that the timing of this release came when people were thinking about music videos so loudly.

Aside from just a cool video on YouTube, Arcade Fire also released a Chrome-friendly interactive video, played up their release with street tags around the world (which yes, some people are bitching about  coughSlatecough, but every village has their cranky pants), and got David Bowie involved in backing vocals (and presumably, the writing of the whole song, given the whole tone–and I’m totally ok with that.) I am definitely not gonna fawn over this in the same way I regard “The Suburbs,” but it’s got too many major chords to be that kind of track anyway. I am just really happy that perhaps a band can have some far-reaching mass appeal, simultaneously drop some serious PR bombs about it, and yet not require nipples and airbrushed butt to do so.

Lastly, I am fully aware of the irony of posting a song that’s pretty much anti-internet/anti-social media in this kind of platform, but hopefully whatever medium gets to your ears has you swiftly out of your chair, dancing, and sweeping you in joy beyond the screen.

So here it is, whatever way you want to soak it up:

Arcade Fire’s Interactive Video (Chrome browser required)

iTunes: Arcade Fire

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“The Only One I Know” / The Charlatans

English: The Charlatans, UK Band

English: The Charlatans, UK Band (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one really needs a reason to highlight some fun Brit pop, do they? Here’s an  “ol’ good ‘un” from The Charlatans.

iTunes: The Charlatans UK

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New Order vs. The Walkmen

I have been a big fan of The Walkmen since 2011. (Late to the party, yes, yes.) Similar to Wilco, they are a band that has a definitive sound that never fails to deliver  joy or melancholia with a satisfying amount of yearning. The title track from 2012’s Heaven is a good example of the band’s overall schtick–pining, gravely, Tom-Pettyish vocals, lots of alt-country guitar tones, and a general vintage quality that makes me feel like I should be listening to them off a record, played on a phonograph, in a barn, while sorting cords of wood…or maybe that’s just me….

How interesting was it when my local station, WFUV, played an antique New Order track, “Age of Consent”, that blew my mind with similarities. Had I been a bigger New Order enthusiast, I would have noticed this earlier, but c’est la vie.  I really like The Walkmen and I don’t want to start pointing fingers, but this is just too much for me to handle. I also find that New Order’s track from 1983–recording quality aside–almost seems more current. (Though, that’s the point of New Wave, eh?)

What do you think?

vs.

iTunes: New Order
iTunes: The Walkmen

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