Showroom of Compassion

Posted in Music on January 31st, 2011 by Tom

Anyone I’ve ever talked to at length is probably sick of this story, but this is the one place it’s actually germane, so I’m gonna tell it once more.

Flash back to the summer of 2001: Did anyone ever see that episode of Pete and Pete where Little Pete hears a song playing by some garage band (literally) and it becomes His Song? That is this story in a nutshell. Before that, I didn’t mind music, but at age 11, I wasn’t especially sophisticated by any stretch of the imagination.

I had a Sony boombox type thing, whose CD player I used exclusively to play my copy of the London Symphony Orchestra doing the score to Star Wars. (It seemed reasonable at the time, but to see that typed out is a little… sad.)

The boombox also had a radio, and it was early that summer that I heard Cake’s ‘Short Skirt, Long Jacket’, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I even called the radio station on my home-phone (no cell phone back then!) to request it, and they played it! After that, you couldn’t stop me. Napster was all the rage, and I had an appetite. It started by tracking down 80s songs I’d heard in commercials, old TV themes I liked, but eventually that wasn’t enough.

Comfort Eagle was the first album I ever loved. Cake was my favorite band for at least the next five years, their back-catalog forming the initial foundation of my natal musical taste.

That was a little less than a decade ago, and in that time music has come to be a singular force in my life. Cake got me into music, and so I always approach their work with a bit of reverence.

Eventually, I should probably get to Showroom of Compassion, whose ‘Federal Funding’ we previewed here a long time ago. What we didn’t hear in that clip was the spirited yelp at 3:03 that, even that early into the album, assures you Cake is back.

So far my favorite track is ‘Long Time‘, because I think it nails the hybridization of Cake with a bit more modern flavor. It really felt like they tried to push the envelope beyond what’s comfortable for the group, and I liked what they came up with.

‘Long Time’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Initially, I was worried that I wasn’t going to like a lot of the material on here. There are some slower tracks, with the role of token plodding ballad in this case a tie between ‘Got to Move’ and ‘Bound Away’. The former of which is OK in the grander scheme of the album, whereas the latter is the one track I really do kindof hate (it joins ranks with ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes’ as well as ‘She’ll Hang the Baskets’ as the one song I can never come around on…).

Showroom really hits its stride at tracks 4-7. ‘What’s Now Is Now’, aside from straightening out the lyrical confusion from ‘Comfort Eagle’s “Now today is tomorrow, and tomorrow- today!, has a really fantastic little backing riff and interesting nontraditional sounds to it. Next is ‘Mustache Man (Wasted)’ which has solid Fashion Nugget-vintage hook, and sets us up for the crowning moment of the entire album; ‘Teenage Pregnancy‘, which is fantastic not just for the clever label of the instrumental piece, but also because it’s musically the most interesting thing happening on the record.

‘Teenage Pregnancy’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

On its own, it works less well, but in context it is a masterstroke. At its close, you are dropped off at the radio single, ‘Sick of You’, which is fun and could almost be called upbeat, but for the content.

Which gets at the principle complaint I’ve heard about the record: that it’s a bit of a downer. The criticism is fair, but the album doesn’t wallow to the extent that it stops you from listening to it.

A pleasant surprise towards the end, ‘Italian Guy’ is the best closer the band has had since their debut on Motorcade.

Ultimately, this isn’t an ‘instant classic’ type thing, but instead you’ll find Showroom of Compassion just interesting to listen to one more time- and that’ll keep happening for weeks afterward. It would be easy to like this album simply because it’s the first new Cake LP in 7 years, but the material really stands on its own.

It’d be nice to see these guys have a little more fun in the future, but that’s a personal appeal, and not a comment on the quality of the record.

Cake – Showroom of Compassion


Keith’s Final Countdown

Posted in Music, Politics on January 24th, 2011 by Tom

I was a little bummed this past Friday night to find out that Keith Olbermann, a fellow liberal fighting the good fight with his program every weeknight on MSNBC for the last eight years, had abruptly resigned.

At the time of this writing, it was still unclear what the cause of this one, but speculation was that NBC’s purchase by Kabletow-, I mean Comcast and the ensuing executive shakeup may have something to do with it.

‘The Final Countdown’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Whatever the reason, Keith will be missed. Certainly his spirit and that of The Countdown lives on in his protege, Rachel Maddow, (who will surely one day soon eclipse his accomplishments) as well as Lawrence O’Donnell, who was a frequent guest and substitute host on Countdown, but there is undeniably a Keith-shaped hole in the lives of the MSNBC faithful.

Thus, I offer Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown‘ because I thought it was a pretty clever play on words on my part, and I just finished watching Arrested Development.

We will miss the program, sir!

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New Track from Voxtrot Frontman

Posted in Music on January 10th, 2011 by Tom

I arrived late to the Voxtrot party in late 2009, by means of their swan-song single ‘Berlin, Without Return…‘, released just a few months before the band broke up. To date, it’s one of my favorite single tracks, and I was pretty bummed that it was the last we’ll ever hear out of Voxtrot.

‘Berlin, Without Return…’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Fortunately, lead singer Ramesh Srivastava has decided to hop right back on the horse, and has struck out recording music again, this time on his own. His forthcoming effort, titled EP1, features ‘The King‘ as its opening track.

‘The King’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Srivastava seems to be managing pretty well on his own, as near as I can tell. The new song doesn’t quite pack the punch of ‘Berlin’, but it’s got a lot of heart and gets your foot tapping. What I can’t tell if the three songs streaming on the site below are the full EP, or only a sample.

Either way, its good music and an encouraging development.

Voxtrot – ‘Berlin, Without Return…’
Ramesh Srivastava – EP1

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TRON: Legacy

Posted in Music, Nerd on January 7th, 2011 by Tom

Since early this past summer the internet music community has been pretty excited to hear the new TRON: Legacy score from Daft Punk. The almost bi-monthly appearance of fakes only piqued interest further.

A handful sample tracks finally dropped a few weeks in advance, but until I had the whole hour’s worth of music in my hands, I wasn’t satisfied. Even then, on the train ride home, I was worried that there was no way the actual product could live up to expectations.

As it turns out, my concerns were unfounded: Daft Punk delivered in full on this score. Before we get there though, I wanted to take a quick moment to talk about the film to which this music forms the soundtrack. And to do that, we really need to talk about the original for a second.

The original TRON film is pretty stupid. And that’s not to say I don’t love it, I do, and maybe ‘stupid’ is a little harsh… but it’s silly by today’s standards. The irony being, it’s only looks stupid today because it kick-started the age of CGI effects itself. Its cult-status stems from the cutting edge visuals, and a story just engaging enough to justify them.

The music for the original TRON, composed by “electro-acoustic pioneer” Wendy Carlos, is similarly interesting for how progressive it was at the time, both in composition and instrumentation. Below is a decent sample of what it had to offer, encapsulated in the film’s credits sequence:

‘End Titles’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

So it’s with that tidbit of history that we talk about the new film, TRON: Legacy. Almost universally praised for its visuals, the film is truly a spectacle. Though the story is not as clear or complex as some may have liked, it is a truly logical successor from its counterpart, which is a feat given the time between the production of the two films.

But we’re here to talk about the music: I had never heard a Daft Punk album before hearing this score, so I felt pretty lucky to go into it with no prejudices or expectations. The work as a whole is fantastically tight and cohesive. I like some tracks better than others, but none are weak, and every single one is evocative of the other-worldly visuals which they accompany.

The easiest influence to spot is Hans Zimmer’s Inception score’s signature brass (as well as the shout-out in the liner notes!). It pops up at climactic points, mixed at an unignorable volume, and accomplishes a similar end.

A more subtle connection I drew is to Phillip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi score, with TRON: Legacy’sThe Game Has Changed‘ containing a fairly strong allusion to Glass’s ‘Pruit Igoe‘, a fantastic and interesting track in its own right.

‘Pruit Igoe’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Koyaanisqatsi was a film about the consequences of living in our increasingly industrialized world, and even featured a track called ‘The Grid,’ so I’ve got to give style-points to the Daft Punk folks if that was in fact the work they were referencing!

‘The Game Has Changed’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

There’s a great many more stand-out tracks as well. ‘The Grid’ on Legacy is notable for having Bridges’ narration over it, and serves as a pretty cool little expositional point at the start of the album. I like ‘Outlands’ because it has some of the most triumphant overtures in the entire work (most tracks are dark or aggressive).

‘Adagio for Tron’ (where ad agio is an Italian term meaning ‘at ease’, indicating the song is to be played slowly) and ‘Nocturne’ comprise the soundtrack for the flashback wherein Flynn relates how his perfect system became corrupted. If you’re familiar with the characters from the original, this is a reasonably emotional point in the film, and the music is fitting.

This segues into the best scene in the film. The events at the End of Line club are the most polished of anything else in the movie. Michael Sheen’s performance of Castor was a delightful surprise, and maybe the only fun character in the film. Couple this with the solid action sequence interrupted by the deity-like arrival of Flynn, and this ended up being my favorite part.

‘End of Line’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The tracks ‘End of Line‘, the infectious ‘Derezzed’, and ‘Fall’ offer a great triffecta to accompany the above. ‘Disk Wars’ has another glipse of Zimmer-esque build (think The Dark Knight score), while ‘C.L.U.’ covers the last battle.

‘Arrival’, ‘Finale’ and ‘Flynn Lives’ set the tone for the conclusion, offering maybe the greatest nod that the original score was going to see in the new soundtrack, and ‘Tron Legacy (End Titles)’ is a electronic version of the same idea to go over the credits.

It’s a monumental piece of work. Without context of their earlier work, I can’t recommend that Daft Punk quit their day jobs, but if there was ever someone who could do so with impunity, it would be these guys. Pairing the duo to TRON: Legacy was a clever risk that paid off big. The outstanding question then becomes: does Daft Punk still have more to offer the world in terms of film scores?

TRON – Wendy Carlos
TRON: Legacy – Daft Punk
Koyaanisqatsi – Phillip Glass

Additionally, a hilarious bonus (featured in the new film):

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