Monthly Archives: January 2014

L.A. songs versus New York City songs

Quick, name a song about New York City.

This one probably comes to mind first.

And why not this one first? It’s a classic. It’s probably the song most people think about when they think about New York City. Otherwise, it might be this one.

This is a good one too! Perhaps a modern classic (isn’t that an oxymoron?).

I find that songs about New York City tend to have a lot of bravado. I guess they deserve it. It’s the biggest city in the country. It’s got loads of history. It’s probably the first city most foreigners think of when they think of America. So many amazing things and people come from New York.

What about songs about Los Angeles? I feel like most people outside of L.A. wouldn’t be able to name a song about L.A. off the top of their heads. Oh, sure, there are plenty of songs about California, or Southern California, specifically. Name any Beach Boys song (“California Girls”) or maybe “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas and the Papas. But what about L.A. proper?

Ask most Angelenos and you’ll likely get Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” which is funny considering the satirical message of the song. It’s very much about the extreme dichotomy of L.A. – it’s about the very rich and the very poor.

People like to put L.A. down a lot. The city’s kind of a punching bag. Everyone LOVES to say things like “Oh sure, you’ve got all that sunshine…but you’ve also earthquakes and traffic and brush fires and mudslides!” (insert canned laughter here)

Yeah, and the Pope is Catholic. So what? Tell me something I don’t know.

At least with songs like “I Love L.A.” we’re acknowledging the flaws along with the blessings. I think Angelenos have a good sense of humor about it all. The freeway system is a way of life here, and we laugh at anyone who complains about “traffic” anywhere else. We hardly blink an eye at anything below a 5.0 on the Richter scale (but we’ll probably still talk about it just to show how tough we are for living alongside the San Andreas Fault).

Anyway, what city is perfect? New York City gets flak for being dirty and crime-ridden, and New Yorkers for being pushy and rude. I’ve never been there, so I’m not about to throw out any accusations. I still dream of visiting one day when I hear songs like “Theme from New York, New York” and “Empire State of Mind.” They’ve painted this grandiose, exotic picture in my mind of what it must be like, which is the point of most songs about New York, I guess.

People like to scoff at L.A. or say that it’s fake. When they live here or visit, they like to complain about it (some Angelenos are guilty of this themselves). I just think they can’t handle it. Sure, Jay-Z sang about NYC as being the place where “half of y’all won’t make it” but what about L.A.? People can’t handle it, so they complain about the things Angelenos are used to. What’s their REAL beef with L.A.? I think Guns N’ Roses has the answer to that.

People call New York City a concrete jungle, but I think L.A. is just as likely to eat you alive. Again, we have a song about L.A. being honest about L.A. I think it’s a fantastic song to throw back at the complainers. Yeah, that’s right, you couldn’t handle it, so get out, run home, you crybaby.

Maybe these two songs about L.A. won’t go down in history the same way “Theme from New York, New York” already has. But that’s okay, because they’re a part of L.A. history. Just go to a Dodger game or Laker game and you’ll hear it over the speakers: “I loooove L.A.!” Say whatever you want about our city, it won’t stop the sun from shining and it won’t stop us from enjoying it.

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fountain

Well, I was gonna post something else I wrote up earlier today, and then this happened:

What is “this?” This is iamamiwhoami, a Swedish electronic/new wave audio-visual project/band/experience. I realize how pretentious that all sounds, but this single may actually be their most accessible song to date.

iamamiwhoami (the band name and songs are almost always in lower case so I follow suit — it’s pronounced I-am-am-I-who-am-I, by the way. You’re welcome) sprung into existence seemingly from thin air when they began releasing music video snippets on YouTube and emailing them anonymously to music journalists and bloggers in late 2009/early 2010. It took some time before people figured out that the woman in the videos was Swedish singer Jonna Lee, though her North American record company denied any knowledge of her newest project.

After the snippet-teasing phase, iamamiwhoami began releasing videos about monthly as part of their bounty project, available as digital singles throughout 2010. (An actual album release wouldn’t come until three years later.) In 2012, they released a video every other week as part of their kin project, also available as digital singles. An actual album followed pretty much immediately after the project completed though.

iamamiwhoami fans have had about one album/project/something to hold us over per year, so I figured we had to be due for something soon (though I was a little doubtful in wondering if they could keep it up). The question was when, as iamamiwhoami has always shrouded themselves in mystery, releasing new singles or starting new projects without notice. At this point, we can’t even really be sure whether fountain will be a standalone single or the start of a new project. Even in between bounty and kin, for example they released two standalone singles that never went anywhere until they appeared on the bounty album. Nevertheless, the fans (myself included) have pretty much broken out into hysterics like teenagers at a Beatles concert.

The thing about iamamiwhoami is that everything they do is so incredibly deliberate and planned. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all Type A personality perfectionists. The result is worth it. Their sounds are aural landscapes, so it makes sense that they release a music video with every single.

fountain is no different. In fact, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching the video on the highest quality available and in full screen. It’s like being transported to some far away fairy tale land. You half expect to see mermaids leaping out of the water, trolls stomping across the hills, and unicorns running through the woods. Jonna herself looks like the Queen of the North Pole as she navigates her boat through the misty waters. There’s something magical about the way she moves and takes in her surroundings. She tells a story while simultaneously making you wonder what that story is and allowing you to make your own.

The music complements the visuals perfectly. I can see it being used in a 1980’s fantasy movie like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal. Both the synths and Joanna’s voice are ethereal and otherworldly, like you’re hearing them in a dream. I’ll totally admit that I can’t understand what she’s singing half the time though. Blame that on the reverb effects, I suppose. But it kind of adds to that sense of wonder and dreaminess.

So can you handle the high art musical pretentiousness? If you like artists like Björk, Kate Bush, Florence and the Machine, and maybe even Depeche Mode, then drop all your presumptions and just give it a listen. And a watch. Just…experience it.

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Rockit

Seeing as how it’s awards season and the Golden Globes just aired the other day, I thought it would be appropriate to share this song and accompanying creepy video – “Rockit” by Gorillaz.

The first thing most people ask me when they hear this song is “Is that the ‘Macarena?!'” No, but it’s a pretty neat sleight of hand (ear?), isn’t it?

“Rockit” was the precursor to Phase Two: Celebrity Takedown, which you can think of as the second phase of the Gorillaz’ career. It was the period that spawned what I think was the greatest album of their career, Demon Days. This single was never released on the album, but rather as part of D-Sides, a collection of B-sides and remixes.

(A little side note: If I speak about the Gorillaz in past tense, it’s because they’re on “indefinite hiatus.” They probably won’t get back together again, at least not in the next several years. But that’s a subject for another day.)

What a great transition to their next album. Gorillaz was fun and, when you look at the band’s career overall, pretty lighthearted. But Demon Days came from the moment they realized that people were listening, so why not say something important and make it sound good at the same time?

“Rockit” was one hell of a preamble. The video features the animated band trekking across a barren wasteland toward a statue of the Mesopotamian demon Pazuzu, while tree branches encroach on them and the cartoonish dismembered heads of various celebrities fall from the trees’ blossoms. Meanwhile 2D (vocals of lead singer Damon Albarn) drones on, almost in monotone at times, about drinking too much and falling victim to the sexiness of the world, with a constant refrain of blah blah blah blah blah blah blah’s.

What does it all mean???

To understand a little better, we have to take a look at what was going on at the time. The song was released in December 2004, about three and a half years after their last album. In that time, the music industry saw the brief rise and fall of the U.K.’s Pop Idol, which was imported by the U.S. as American Idol, where, as we all know, it went on to become a huge hit. After that, the U.K. got The X Factor, marking the successful infiltration of the music industry by reality TV culture, where anyone could become a star.

Around that same time period, the Gorillaz almost made a movie, but quickly abandoned it after becoming disenchanted with the harsh reality of Hollywood.

“Rockit” was a reaction to all of that noise. It was the Gorillaz’ pessimistic commentary on the state of the music industry and pop culture in general. In the video, I can easily spot the dismembered heads of Simon Cowell and Britney Spears, the latter of whom had a whirlwind 2004 (remember when she got married and divorced in 55 hours, then remarried 9 months later)? It’s all so much to bear that 2D can’t even bother singing about what he doing or where he’s going. What does it matter anyway? It’s all the same. Blah blah blah.

It’s a pretty angsty song. The only hopeful verse seems to come from the background refrain of “rock it,” reminding us that not all music is lost. Even in the video, the band wearily pushes on through chattering zombie heads as Pazuzu calls out to them (“rock it, rock it”). It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, we get the message: “REJECT FALSE ICONS.”

The only thing I can’t figure out is what the hell Noodle mouths to the camera toward the end. I read somewhere that you’re not supposed to be able to tell though; it’s supposed to make you wonder. Oh, well.

“Rockit” is a hauntingly beautiful song. Listen to it while watching the video and it’ll haunt you for days.

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The Princess and the Frog

Minor spoilers for The Princess and the Frog.

Ever since I got access to the Frozen soundtrack, I’ve been on a Disney kick. While Frozen had an enjoyable soundtrack, it fell a little short of the greats: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and, one of my favorites, The Princess and the Frog.

Yup, even though the movie didn’t perform as well as hoped and expected, I still think The Princess and the Frog soundtrack – and the movie itself – is greatly under-appreciated and underrated.

First of all, it covers an incredibly diverse range of sounds, which includes New Orleans jazz, soul, gospel, blues, and zydeco. Second, the lyrics are clever, deliberate, and catchy from the very first listen. Finally, the lyrics would be nothing without the singers, who bring life and character to each and every song on this album.

The intro song “Down In New Orleans” does a great job of setting the tone, kind of in the way that “Belle” did in Beauty and the Beast, although that song was more about the main character than the setting. They’re still both great mood-setters for the story that follows.

Next up, we’ve got “Almost There” which I think may have been the only Disney princess song up to that point that’s not just about what the character wants but also how they’re going to get it. To me, it’s got all the gusto of The Lion King’s “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.”

“Friends On The Other Side” may be the best Disney villain song since “Be Prepared,” though thematically it reminds me of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” The spoken asides are fantastic and really help define Dr. Facilier as a smooth-talking trickster. Keith David’s voice was made for this song, period. He makes it one of my favorite villain songs, if not one of my favorite Disney songs ever.

“When We’re Human” is another fantastic character defining song. It does a great job of showing how different Tiana, Naveen, and Louis are, even while they all sing the same melody. A melody that makes me want to get up and dance, by the way.

Next up we get some spirited Zydeco music with “Gonna Take You There.” This is the song that amazes me most with its ability to blend the musical genre with that classic Disney sing-along charm that just sweeps you up into its lyrics.

“Ma Belle Evangeline” is a real treat. Is this the first Disney love song exclusively sung by a male character about a woman? Sure, Gaston was singing about wooing Belle, but it’s safe to say no one was rooting for him the way everyone was rooting for Ray’s unrequited love for Evangeline.

“Dig A Little Deeper” is the soundtrack’s uplifting answer to the earlier “When We’re Human.” Seeing as how Mama Odie is the modern (well, sort of, considering the movie takes place in the 1920’s) version of the fairy godmother, it’s a clear parallel to Cinderella’s “Bippity Boppity Boo,” although the characters can’t just get what they want because they want it. It’s got a great message for that reason.

The soundtrack comes full circle with a reprise of “Down In New Orleans,” with a soulful performance by Anika Noni Rose. It makes you truly believe, as she sings, that “Dreams do come true in New Orleans.” It’s the classic Disney ending, with all the bells and whistles and fireworks exploding at the end, done New Orleans style.

The Princess and the Frog soundtrack is full of New Orleans spirit. If it could be summed up in one sentence, it would definitely be “Laissez les bons temps rouler.”

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