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Ashley’s Favorite Music of 2013

Well, here it is. The grand finale of my favorites of 2013. It took me two weeks to compose my thoughts on this topic… Or rather, I’ve been stupidly busy with work that I haven’t had a chance to write it. I like the first excuse better though.

Last year was a pretty damn good year. Favorites returned, new people surprised me, and there were some great indie stuff that popped up in my personal circle. I talked about some of it in the middle of last year, but what made it to the end? Well, let’s start with

Favorite Singles

Honorable Mention: ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry

I hate that I like this song. I hate that Katy Perry songs keep getting in my head and every time I say I don’t like it, it beats me into submission until I do. It happened again with ‘Roar’ to the point I would turn it up and belt Katy’s turn at an empowerment anthem after her divorce from Russell Brand. Though, due to Katy’s writing style, I still think she’s writing about Travis McCoy.

6.) TIE: ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk and ‘Holy Grail’ by Jay-Z feat. Justin Timberlake

Lots of people got sick of these songs rather quickly, but strangely, I never did. Even though I couldn’t get into Magna Carta Holy Grail the way I did Watch The Throne, there were several tracks on the album that completely stood out to me like ‘BBC,’ ‘Picasso Baby,’ and ‘Jay Z Blue.’ The lead single of ‘Holy Grail’ was completely entrancing. I think I might have ended up liking Justin on this track more than on most of his singles from The 20/20 Experience. Well… most…

As for ‘Get Lucky,’ it really was everyone’s song of the year. It was a fun disco track that felt more genuine than any other track on the radio this summer. It also probably sealed the deal for the awesome year Pharrell had. Well, maybe it was that OTHER song, but I refuse to acknowledge the existence of the Canadian Creep.

5.) ‘This Is Gospel’ by Panic! at the Disco

I really only liked about half of Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die. The half I really liked was sexy, catchy and weirdly emotional. The half I didn’t was boring to the point it began to run together. Thankfully, the second single ‘This Is Gospel’ was on the half I liked. It’s a stand out song on the record even without single status due to the sung in a church like feeling of the song and the pure brutal emotion. I’ve cried to this song, and I’m not afraid to admit that. Even if the rest of the album is dull, I’m glad that this is the song that shines.

4.) ‘My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)’ by Fall Out Boy

It’s been a year and a day since this song roared into my life and it hasn’t gotten old yet in the million times I’ve listened, screamed, drove and rocked out to this song. The band came back with a vengeance and this song did a great job of staking their claim in the year of music. Not to mention the Butch Walker handclaps certainly help.

3.) ‘Problem’ by Natalia Kills

This was the year I discovered Natalia Kills and I feel like it improved my life in so many ways. The album Trouble is full of gems, but the lead single ‘Problem’ was blowing cigarette smoke in my face with a smile and I was loving it. ‘Problem’ is an anthem for bad girls everywhere who love their vices and don’t give two fucks about who judges them. As I slipped into that side of me throughout the year, that song played in my head and guided my steps.

2.) ‘Closer’ by Tegan and Sara

I feel like a bad queer girl when I admit that I haven’t really listened to Tegan and Sara seriously. I know I would like them and I love the song ‘Hell,’ I just keep forgetting to listen to them. Still, even with my constant forgetfulness to listen to Tegan and Sara, I fell in love with the song ‘Closer.’ Never has a song so accurately reflected what it’s like to be so completely smitten with someone that all you want to do with them is get them to sit a bit closer to you. You bet I turned this up when I finally heard it on the radio.

1.) ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ by Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu

In an alternate universe, this song became a massive hit, Janelle Monae gets the fame she so rightly deserves, and everyone recognized ‘Blurred Lines’ for the date rape song it is and lets Robin Thicke wallow in obscurity forever. Unfortunately, my physical body does not reside in that universe. However, I still have ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ and I still have Monae rising, showing the world what she’s made of.

EPs

I should note that I usually never cover EPs, but this year had three that definitely stood out to me that are worth noting.

Who's gonna take you home tonight? [wikipedia.org]

Who’s gonna take you home tonight? [wikipedia.org]

3.) True Trans by Against Me!

This EP was more of a two-sided single to tide people over as they waited on Transgender Dysphoria Blues (that review is coming, by the way), but splitting hairs doesn’t take away from the fact that this EP is fantastic. It features acoustic versions of the song ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ and ‘Fuckmylife666,’ which are probably two of my favorite songs on the record. On the record, the songs are plenty emotional, but there’s a personal vulnerability in the EP versions that pack more punch than their electric counterparts.

Must Hear Track: The entire thing. It’s two songs.

2.) Pax-AM Days by Fall Out Boy

This eight song EP that the band recorded over a drunken weekend in Ryan Adams’ studio only clocks in at 13 minutes. It’s the very definition of loud and fast with the band only taking one or two takes for each songs. It was an interesting experiment considering how perfectionist they can be. It was loud, fast, and rage filled like the early days, but with skills that don’t make the record too painful to listen to for long. I’m sad I didn’t get to run around a field blasting this album like I originally planned. THIS SPRING IN THE MOUNTAINS…

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Hot to the Touch, Cold on the Inside,’ ‘Caffeine Cold,’ ‘Love, Sex, Death’

1.) Peachtree Battle by Butch Walker

Wherever you are, that's my home. [butchwalker.com]

Wherever you are, that’s my home. [butchwalker.com]

I cried like a baby listening to this EP. I’ve cried even harder hearing these songs live. Butch has always been an emotional songwriter, but Peachtree Battle drives right to the heart. When Butch began writing the songs, his father had been on a slow decline in health and Butch began writing the five song EP to come to terms with his father’s mortality. Before the EP released, Big Butch Walker passed away, which ends up magnifying the emotional impact of the songs even more. It’s a personal reflection on the effect one person can have on our lives, especially one as big as a parent. Still, it’s not all about death. There are plenty of life lessons that Big Butch taught Butch in these songs too. Ones that we can all learn from.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This,’ ‘Let It Go Where It’s Supposed To,’ ‘Peachtree Battle’

Favorite Albums

Well, here they are. The cream of the crop. What albums prevailed to be my favorites in 2013?

I’m up all night to get lucky.

5.) Random Access Memories by Daft Punk

I think I ended up liking this album less as the year went on, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think it gets ragged on way too much. Daft Punk has always been about bringing art to electronic music and this album was very much about exploring their roots in several ways. Some of it was disco like ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ and ‘Get Lucky.’ Some of it was more experimental. A lot of it really, but it works because there really isn’t anyone out there that gets it like Daft Punk. Just because I can get down to ‘Get Lucky’ doesn’t mean I can’t chill to ‘Touch’ or appreciate/rock out to the reverse engineering of ‘Giorgio by Moroder.’ It isn’t Discovery, but we need to stop expecting Daft Punk to make that album again.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Touch,’ ‘Get Lucky,’ ‘Doin’ It Right’

4.) ARTPOP by Lady Gaga

I was worried about this album, but it ended up pleasantly surprising me in the end. It’s not flaw free, but ARTPOP is definitely one of the best albums Gaga has released. It was an honest and beautiful look at the life of an artist trying to balance her life and art. With some catchy dance numbers and lots of modern art, of course.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Sexxx Dreams,’ ‘Do What U Want,’ ‘Artpop’

3.) Rated Heart by Professor Shyguy

I'll attack you once, you attack me back!

I’ll attack you once, you attack me back!

Meanwhile, I ended up liking this album more. Maybe I’m a little biased towards my friends, but Professor Shyguy can write a damn good chiptune pop song. Even if I don’t always get what he’s singing about, I can get down without hesitation. I feel like I should have a deeper reason of liking this record so much, but I don’t. It’s geeky, catchy, and fun, which is all I need sometimes. As I said before, “the Poor Nerd’s Justin Timberlake” mixes geekdom and pop music with ease.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Keywords and Dubstep,’ ‘Weak,’ ‘Destroy Metroid’

2.) Trouble by Natalia Kills

I must confess, when one of my online friends asked me if I had heard the new Natalia Kills record, I had no earthly idea who the hell she was talking about. The album took forever to get on Spotify, but I ended up blasting ‘Problem’ for weeks until it did. Where I started to scream “I PUT MY HIGH HEELS ON SO I’M CLOSER TO GOD” at random points up until I finally bought the album and long since after. Much like ‘Problem,’ Trouble is an album about girls with their middle fingers in the air as they party, but it also shows the motivation and sadness that fuels it. Trouble isn’t just a party record, but a record about broken people putting on their best faces.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Problem,’ ‘Stop Me,’ ‘Devils Don’t Fly’

1.) TIE: Save Rock and Roll by Fall Out Boy and The Electric Lady by Janelle Monae

I don't know where you're going, but do you have room for one more troubled soul?

I don’t know where you’re going, but do you have room for one more troubled soul?

I debated this for WEEKS. I’ve talked at length about these two albums online and in person to anyone who will listen. I’ve listened to them over and over again that I sing along with instrumentals. I’ve cried and rocked out to both of these artists live. And in the end, I could not decide which album I really wanted to put as my #1 of the year: Janelle Monae’s genre bending entry of love, heartache, and standing up for what you believe in her Metropolis epic or Fall Out Boy rediscovering themselves and setting out to make a record to inspire the next generation of garage bands. Both records meant a lot me last year while being simultaneously fantastic. What else can be said?

Must Hear Tracks:

Save Rock and Roll: ‘The Phoenix,’ ‘Rat a Tat,’ ‘Save Rock and Roll’

The Electric Lady: ‘Q.U.E.E.N,’ ‘Givin Em What They Love,’ ‘Victorious’

janelle-monae-album-cover-electric-lady-homepage

Well, that finishes up my favorites of last year. What were your favorites of last year? What did you disagree with me on? And don’t worry, we’ll stop dwelling on last year soon enough. My review of Transgender Dysphoria Blues is next.

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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Music

 

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A couple of announcements and some ‘Applause’

Hello readers! Long time, no see.

Well, I guess I should be honest outright about why I haven’t been writing here lately. Recently, I was picked up as a writer at the collaborative blog Nerdophiles. I’ve written three pieces for them so far, including a Dragon Con Survival Guide that has gotten a lot of traction since it went up yesterday. The experience of writing there has been delightful so far and I can’t wait to progress into the future with them!

Speaking of Dragon Con, I will be there! I’m not attending as press or as a performer, but I’ll be hanging around for sure. It’s likely that you’ll see me at the Pacific Rim fan meetup on Saturday and the Airship Races representing Steampunk Chronicle. Probably the Comic Book Pageant as well, knowing my dearest Lady Swales. At least I’m prepared!

Okay, onto the review.

Last week, Lady Gaga released her newest single ‘Applause’ into the world a week early to combat hackers who leaked the track. She followed this quickly with the official lyric video (which reminded me of how long its been since I’ve been to a drag show) and the gorgeously shot, but very bizarre official video.

Now, I was a little worried about sharing my thoughts on the song after Gaga posted this:

Ruh Roh...It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence about writing in your blog about your thoughts on the song when you opinion is regarded as not relevant.

Then I remembered a very stupid detail: I’m a blogger, but I’m also a fan. Sure, I haven’t been able to see her live, but since the days of ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Poker Face,’ I’ve considered Lady Gaga one of my favorite pop stars. I was deliriously excited when the ‘Telephone’ video came out. I still cry about her ‘Speechless’ performance at the AMAs. I wrote a whole blog about how Born This Way grew on me as an album. I’ve cosplayed her. TWICE. I even bought and regularly wear her perfume.

It smells like fame, poisoning your boyfriend, and a little like apricots.

So, I think I can say the following with confidence:

‘Applause’ is one of the most boring pop songs I’ve heard in the past year. It seriously sounds like an unmemorable song from a 90s Europop band.

And I hate saying that! I’ve tried to like the song, but it’s like The Silence. As soon as it’s off, I forget I’ve heard it.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I can remember the chorus pretty well, but the song doesn’t make me want to go and listen to it on repeat. It doesn’t make me want actively avoid it the way I avoid ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke either. It just… exists.

The thing for me though is that Lady Gaga isn’t suppose to just exist. She’s loud and memorable. Even if you don’t understand her, she’s making you talk about her. She’s digging your way into your head, even if it’s a song that offends multiple ethnic groups at once. I shouldn’t have to say I remember and like a Katy Perry song full of Dr. Luke’s lazy songwriting better than a Lady Gaga song, but that’s what’s been happening.

Of course, this isn’t me pitting one artist against another. It just makes me a bit concerned about ARTPOP if I’m not gelling to the first single. Then again, I wasn’t the biggest fan of ‘Born This Way’ and I ended up enjoying the album for the most part. Plus, it seems like Gaga is going a similar route that Bjork did with Biophilia and is including an app that goes along with the album. I’d like to see if it takes off and popularizes that approach.

Still, I’m not feeling the ‘Applause’. I know Gaga can do better and I hope she will do better with ARTPOP. Since I won’t know until November, I think I’ll just put The Fame Monster and ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ and ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ by Janelle Monae on repeat in the meantime.

lady-gaga-applause-cover

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Music

 

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Defending The Faith: A Look at Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock and Roll

falloutboyWhile Fall Out Boy was on the dreaded hiatus and working on their own projects, I constantly swore up and down that the hiatus was going to be the best thing that ever happened to the band. I mean, it wasn’t like Blink-182. No one in the band was outright detesting the other and it wasn’t going to take a near death to get the band back on tour. It was just going to take time. Fall Out Boy just had to take some time off from Fall Out Boy, and they were going to come back stronger than ever.

I don’t think I anticipated how much they were going to knock the world off its feet when they returned though.

Back in February, Fall Out Boy not only announced the end of the hiatus, but a new album that they had recorded in secret with producer (and my personal hero) Butch Walker, a set of tour dates (see you June 2 at The Tabernacle!), and the first single ‘My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)’.

Now, when the fandom realized that the band had done this all in secret, some puzzle pieces from the past year began to make sense. Like Patrick’s post about why he was stepping back from his solo stuff. Oh, you sneaky, sneaky boys. I even saw Butch live while they were working on the album and I was none the wiser!

But it’s okay, because the end result of them recording an album with no expectations on them is an album that far exceeds my own.

The image that let me know the rest of my year was going to be this band...

When the band announced Save Rock and Roll, they said the album was different from anything they had ever done, but encapsulated what Fall Out Boy was in 2013. I can honestly say that’s probably the most accurate description of Save Rock and Roll. There are signatures of older Fall Out Boy here, like Pete Wentz’s classic wordplay and the mix of pop-punk and metal influences that drive the rhythm section. But it’s also obvious that the boys have had a chance to play a little more during the hiatus. There’s a groove on songs like ‘Where Did The Party Go’ and ‘Miss Missing You’ that calls back to the Minneapolis Sound influences of Patrick Stump’s solo album Soul Punk. The bass wobble on ‘Death Valley’ and the general feel of ‘Just One Yesterday’ remind me of Black Cards. The thrashing guitars and drums on ‘The Mighty Fall’ and ‘Rat A Tat’ make me want to give another listen to The Damned Things and With Knives after hearing Joe and Andy get to flex their musical muscles a little more. The biggest surprise though was getting to hear all the boys provide background vocal harmonies, which I assume came along with the help of Walker.

Still, even with all these changes, it doesn’t feel like the band is trying to escape who they are. It might be jarring to casual fans or people who only know the songs they’ve heard on the radio, but those who have followed the band and their activities through the hiatus will see that this is a natural evolution. If anything, getting to explore new sounds and working with a producer that reminded them how to act like a band after three years off has strengthened their sound.

It also doesn’t hurt that the guest spots on this record are spot on.

Not seen: Patrick Stump's fanboy attackSince the days of Take This To Your Grave, Fall Out Boy has always managed to snag some great guests for their albums. From friends like William Beckett and Brendon Urie to major stars like Elvis Costello, Debbie Harry, and Jay-Z. They somehow managed to take the cake with Save Rock and Roll. There is the relative unknown of British singer Foxes, who offers beautiful ethereal vocals on ‘Just One Yesterday’. Rapper Big Sean drops a line on ‘The Mighty Fall’ that mixes extremely well with Wentz’s lyrics and keeps the flow of the song perfectly.

But really, it’s about those last two tracks.

‘Rat A Tat’ is a driving track that has grown on me the more I’ve heard it and makes me extremely excited to open my windows and drive as soon as the pollen stops blowing its load. It features Courtney Love doing a speak-sing on the track that’s manic, beautiful, and fits the track perfectly. When the album was leaked by the band the week before the album, I seriously thought that her parts were parts Wentz had written for himself initially before they decided to include Love. So imagine my surprise when I learned that every part that Love sings was written by Love herself. Her style meshes with Wentz’s like peanut butter and chocolate, and it’s a shame that people are going to write off this track just because of a continuing hate on for Love.

I will defend faith/Going down swinging‘Save Rock and Roll,’ the emotional title track, closes off the album in an epic way that only Fall Out Boy could do. It perfectly bookends the bombastic opener ‘The Phoenix’ and feels like the perfect in-house response to ‘What A Catch, Donnie’ from Folie a Deux. With gorgeous strings, the loop of ‘Chicago Is So Two Years Ago’ from Take This To Your Grave and the band singing “Oh no, we won’t go/Cause we don’t know how to quit,” the track assures the listener that Fall Out Boy isn’t going away again anytime soon. If ‘What A Catch, Donnie’ was about uncertainty, ‘Save Rock and Roll’ is about facing the future head on without forgetting what brought you here.

It doesn’t hurt that the track features an amazing vocal part from living legend and Fall Out Boy fan (I will never be over that) Sir Elton John. Hearing him sing alongside Patrick Stump while singing words written by Pete Wentz is so surreal, but amazing and just makes me cry even more. It feels like a decree from on high that Fall Out Boy is a part of an every evolving history of rock and roll. Genres change and it evolves with people who are willing to push the boundaries of the genre. Fall Out Boy wanted us to question what we consider ‘rock and roll’ with this album. Will they actually save rock and roll with their unique twists on the genre? It’s hard to say.

As many other reviewers have noticed before me though, I think this album certainly saved them.

Like young volcanoes...

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Music

 

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Famous Last Words: Reflecting on the life of My Chemical Romance

Two weeks in and I’m already messing up my own schedule. I’m going forward with the MCR post though. Which begins now:

Much to the embarrassment to some of my friends in this dimension, I’m still a fan of many pop punk bands that initially came to popularity in the mid-2000s. Not all, but bands like Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Cobra Starship, and The Hush Sound are among my favorite bands in the world. And it makes me happy that two of those bands have gotten back together and are making music again.

However, that’s not the case for one of the bigger bands from that era.

On March 22, My Chemical Romance announced that they had officially called it quits after 12 years of being a band.

MCR-internet-pics-my-chemical-romance-24748831-900-600My initially reaction was very chill. With some of the drama the band had right at the very end, it wasn’t that surprising that they called it quits (even though it was all unrelated to the band breaking up). But as it really sunk in that the band was done, I got surprisingly emotional. I had become less connected with the band over the years (I still haven’t heard Conventional Weapons), but it doesn’t mean that they stopped meaning anything to me. My second ever rock concert was them. I still have and occasionally wear the gorgeous shirt designed by Heather Gabel from that tour. One of my few attempts at visual art was trying to draw up a t-shirt design for a contest they had with Fuse way back in the day. I attempted to write a very terrible stage version of The Black Parade many, many years ago. One of my earliest memories of Hellblinki was seeing them back up Voltaire on a cover of ‘Blood’. I spent countless hours working on a Killjoy costume and forming Zone 42 at Dragon*Con. Hell, one of my greatest regrets involves not saying hello to Gerard Way at Dragon*Con even though he was 10 feet in front of me because I didn’t think it was him!

This band drove so much love and creativity in me, and now they’re gone and I never really got to say goodbye.

Except as Gerard said in a very, very long tweet two days after the announcement, they’re never really gone. Because you can’t kill an idea.

MyChemicalRomance2010DC081110

This really sunk in when I had listen thrus of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, The Black Parade, and Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. The band was often labeled as emo because of the way their lyrics focused on death, but I don’t think people realized that Gerard came from a comic book artist background. (If you don’t believe me, just listen to him scream a quote by Death herself from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman at the beginning of ‘It’s Not A Fashion Statement, It’s A Deathwish.’) A lot of My Chemical Romance’s songs told stories about lives that existed outside of this plane. They were about a man with cancer being lead through a journey of his life and the afterlife. They were about a man trying to reunite with his lover by killing 1,000 evil men. They were about rebels in the desert trying to survive the apocalypse. They weren’t just about death and wanting to be dead.

And because these songs about death were told in a story, there were songs about being alive and living without someone you lost. Songs like ‘Cemetery Drive’ and ‘Famous Last Words’ are big examples, but they’re all over Danger Days. ‘Sing’ is about not being silenced by fear. ‘Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back’ is about being ready to fight on without someone. And ‘The Kids From Yesterday’… well, I’ll let that one speak for itself.

I have seen so many fans of musicians claim that the musician and their work saved their lives, but not as many as with My Chemical Romance. So many MCR fans were inspired to keep on living by the band and their work. Right now, it seems like hard times, but the band gave us all the tools we needed to survive and live on without them. And as long as fans keep living on and creating in their name, My Chemical Romance can never really die. As Frank Iero said when Danger Days came out:

Fear is the eternal enemy. If they can keep you scared, they can keep you controlled. We too came face to face with this saboteur, and found the strength to break through and carry on. We are here as a reminder that the world is not better off without you…these are dangerous days we live in and you, the artists, are our last defense.

Art is the Weapon.

Your Imagination is the Ammunition.
Stay Dirty, and Stay Dangerous.
Create and Destroy as you see fit.
Embrace your Originality.
The Aftermath is Secondary.
You can and should do Anything.

In conclusion friends, if you take anything away from this record, please let it be the strength to be passionate.

Love what you do and who you truly are. Be willing to die for it. If you are true to yourself, you can never go wrong. And remember when life gives you lemons, MCR says start a fucking band.

You’re never truly alone, Killjoys. Don’t be afraid to keep on living.

Plus, the Killjoys comic is FINALLY coming out this summer. Talk about never being able to kill an idea. I guess it’s true what Dr. Death Defying says. “Even if you’re dusted, you may be gone. But out here in the desert, your shadow lives on without you.”

tumblr_mk4q1wYCdx1r6liawo1_500

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2013 in Music

 

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Hunger Games Month: A look at Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Happy West Coast Wednesday! Yeah, this one is a little late for me. First off, my latest review at Steampunk Chronicle went up and I can now confirm that I will be at The Steampunk Empire Symposium in late April! More on that later, but let’s get down to what you came here for.

Ever since T-Bone Burnett was announced as the music supervisor for The Hunger Games, I’ve probably been more excited for the soundtrack than the movie. Even more so when Glen Hansard revealed he had been writing songs for the movie. With the elements, it was assuring me that the soundtrack was going to be my anachronistic retrofuturistic dream come true.

Thank you, T-Bone Burnett, for answering my prayers.

While The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond is more of an official companion album to the book and the movie than a soundtrack, it’s so fitting for the overall feeling of the universe. As a Hunger Games fan, the running themes and references to the books make me so joyful to know that the artists involved actually tried to fit within the universe. As a retrofuturist, the sounds were a fantastic blending of the old of District 12 and the intruding future of the Capitol.

The main single for the album was ‘Safe and Sound’ by Taylor Swift and Civil Wars. When I first heard it, I was genuinely impressed by ‘Safe and Sound’ due to the fact it wasn’t a typical Taylor Swift song. It showed a lot of emotion and real growth for Swift. However, it might have been the assistance from Civil Wars that might have helped on that one. I wasn’t as impressed with ‘Eyes Open’ due to the shades of her usual wide-eyed-everything-is-cotton-candy-ness popping out during the song. However, maybe writing from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen is what makes her a better songwriter.

The soundtrack has an interesting mix of mainstream and independent artists on the listing. Arcade Fire opens the album with the haunting ‘Abraham’s Daughter’, which takes a turn on the story of Abraham and Isaac that’s ultra-fitting of Katniss. Glen Hansard has two tracks on the album. Well, two written by Glen Hansard. His track, ‘Take The Heartland’, is an intense track that feels like you’re right in the arena and holding your own in the Cornucopia. His other track, ‘Come Away to the Water’, is performed on the album by Maroon 5 and singer Rozzi Crane. Adam Levine’s voice isn’t as intense as Hansard’s, but it still carries across a strong emotional impact. It’s dark, fluid and fitting for the universe.

The most surprising track for me though was ‘The Ruler and The Killer’ by Kid Cudi. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the end result was a dark and reptilian track about totalitarian power. Very fitting for President Snow, the series’ main villain.

Along with that Cudi track, the ‘Beyond’ side of the title is covered fairly well. ‘Lover is Childlike’ by The Low Anthem reminds me a lot of Annie and Finnick of District 4 and ‘One Engine’ by The Decemberists is a high speed track that brings back mental images of the train ride into the Capitol.

The best tracks for me though are the one that really seemed to pay attention to the source material. ‘Nothing To Remember’ by Neko Case, while not mentioning Katniss directly, gets right into her head and puts her personality and emotional distance to song. My absolute favorite track on the album though is ‘Daughter’s Lament’ by Carolina Chocolate Drops. I’ve been a fan of the Drops for a while now (and will be reviewing Leaving Eden sometime soon), and I was extremely excited to see that they would be on the soundtrack. The Rhiannon Giddens written and lead track is about the death of Katniss father. Miranda Lambert and the Pistol Annies also have a song about it called ‘Run Daddy Run’, but the Drops do it in a style of an old folk song for District 12. It’s an amazingly emotional track that shows that the Drops just get District 12. If they make it onto future albums, I would not argue.

If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games and/or retrofuturistic folky music, I’d highly suggest The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond. It’s an amazing companion album to the universe of The Hunger Games filled with solid tracks from artists all across the board. I hope that they will be keeping T-Bone Burnett for future films because he’s put together something great.

Come back on Friday, because I’ll finally be reviewing the movie I’ve been waiting ages for…

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Books, Film, Music

 

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Hunger Games Month: Six Reasons Retrofuturists need to pay attention to The Hunger Games

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, readers! You get a special today due to the fact my own personal schedule made it impossible to do my blog on time this week. Instead of one blog post, I’ll be posting two!

First off, I just wanted to share my recent Backing Steam column, in which I interview Professor Elemental. Lovely chap, the Professor. I’d love to speak with him more in the future. Even more lovely is that he has since reached his goal on Crowdfunder! Splendid!

Anyway, to what I promised to post.

You know how they teach you in school that every rectangle is a square, but not every square is a rectangle?

That’s how I feel about Retrofuturism and Steampunk.

Steampunk is Retrofuturism. There’s no doubt about that. It’s what happens when the Victorians get a hold of our technology, or when we have to depend on advanced steam technology to get things done.

However, people tend to forget that not all Retrofuturism is Steampunk. Retrofuturism is a blending of old and new technologies and concepts. This can be Dieselpunk, Da Vinci’s technology advancing the Renaissance, or, in today’s case, a dystopian future where most of the world is in desperate poverty.

The Hunger Games is one of the best examples of Retrofuturism in mainstream media. However, I haven’t seen many people who share the same opinion. I can get enough opinions about the love triangle or the battle to the death (more on that next week), but I’ve only known one other person who’s recognized the Retrofuture elements of The Hunger Games.

Well, that’s what I’m here to do. Here are my six reasons that Retrofuturists need to pay attention to The Hunger Games. Spoilers follow!

1.) The setting dichotomy – The Hunger Games deals a lot with the settings of the District 12  and the Capitol and how different they are. The Capitol is pure luxury and technology that we only dream of today. District 12, however, is extremely poverty stricken and feels like it’s mostly out of place. Most of the districts from the reader’s understanding are. Their technologies are no where near as advanced as The Capitol’s. They live a life that doesn’t feel like a future society, so the Capitol lifestyle sticks out like a sore thumb.

It’s not just the setting though…

2.) The District 12 lifestyle – Getting to know life in District 12 feels like what would happen if people from the Coal Mining South held onto their traditions while the rest of the world collapsed and rebuilt around them. Life in 12 revolves around the mine and it’s very much set up like a mining town. The differences in culture definitely stand out in Mockingjay during the wedding scene in District 13. Where 13 is probably what many sci-fi writers had in mind when they came up with a militaristic utopia, for a brief moment, they get a shock of 12 culture when they celebrate with folk dancing and a fiddle player.

3.) The fashion – As I mentioned in my Effie post, Capitol fashion takes well after Neo-Victorian fashion with big hats, big bustles, big ruffles, and sleek suits. However, the clothes of the other districts, while simple, do have a twist of the old. Take Katniss’ Reaping dress compared to Effie’s for example. It’s such a similar vein of time at two different ends of the spectrum. If you hadn’t told me that The Hunger Games was set in the future, I wouldn’t have known any better.

4.) The technological imbalance and dystopia – From my personal experience, while many Retrofuturists believe in utopianism, they LOVE some dystopia. Especially when there’s a certain technological imbalance with who has access to what, who can make something out of nothing, and how the technology is used to keep those who can’t access it down. This happens a LOT in The Hunger Games, the biggest example being Lavinia’s capture in the woods of District 12 and subsequent punishment. Also, the main character in this science fiction series hunts with a bow and arrow. That’s about as archaic/anachronistic as you can get in a society such as Panem’s.

5.) The music – I’m reviewing the soundtrack next week, but oh man, I nearly jumped for joy when I saw the tracklisting. Seriously. Look at it. I don’t want to know any Steampunk/Retrofuturist who doesn’t want to hear most of that. Plus, along with their contributions to the soundtrack, Arcade Fire and The Carolina Chocolate Drops have also contributed to James Newton Howard’s score, which is sure to incorporate many of the retrofuturistic elements, but I cannot stop thinking about the fact that Arcade Fire wrote The Capitol anthem.

6.) The anachronistic elements help tell a timeless story – This one is sort of self explanatory. While science fiction is used as a way to tell stories of the fantastic that somehow relate back to our current society, it’s my personal belief that these stories are more effective if there’s something about it that is not quite current. This is part of the reason why Firefly was such a great series. Even though it was set in space, the more anachronistic elements of the show helped tell a very timeless, human story about survival and family. The Hunger Games does a lot of this as well. Through Katniss and what she experiences, we get a very intense story about survival, poverty, and (in the later books) dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s made even more real by the fact Katniss isn’t living with the colorful Capitol beings or surrounded by the highest technology when we initially meet her.

My fellow Retrofuturists, I hope that my list had convinced you. If it did, I will see you at the Games. If not, well, I guess the odds (and my writing) weren’t in my favor.

Stay tuned to this blog today. Later, I will be talking about the brilliant irony of Lionsgate’s marketing for the film.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2012 in Books, Film, Steampunk

 

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Black Cards, we need to talk.

Hello my dear readers! Have you missed me? All apologies for going so long between posts. Getting settled into a new dimension can be rather jarring and I had to take a bit of a break after the speed run that was the year end review week. While I was gone, I made some plans for future reviews and my latest article went up at Steampunk Chronicle.

However, today’s subject is not entirely a happy one. In fact, it is what is commonly called a “Come to Jesus meeting” in the American South.

Black Cards, I need to have a few words with you.

If you don’t know, Black Cards is the current project of Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz. Initially starting out as a four piece band, the Black Cards had an impeccable way of mixing older influences with electronica music. Futurism with a good dash of retro, if you will. This was especially evident on their first single ‘Club Called Heaven’. The speakeasy victrola is well balanced with the electronic keyboard and the video even features lead singer Bebe Rexha as Jan in the Pan from The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

Or should I say former lead singer? I’ll get to that after the video.

For the past year, the band had been working on songs for an album that was dubbed “The Unicorn” by fans. Occasionally, Wentz would leak demos of songs they had been working on and a few songs managed to make it out. My personal favorite would have to be ‘Dominoes’, but my friend Thaddea prefers ‘Take Me Down (Higher)’. For a while though, all we were getting was remixes of songs that weren’t by the Black Cards.

Then, on January 11th, this happened.

Without any warning or formal statement, the band’s bio was changed to show that the only members left in the band were Wentz and keyboardist Spencer Peterson. Every picture and song that included Bebe had been taken down. Fans were left confused for TWO DAYS before Bebe finally released a statement on her Facebook page that she was no longer in the band. It took Pete a whole two hours after that to release a statement about it through the Black Cards page. And of course, due to Pete Wentz’s confusing language, it was up to James Montgomery of MTV to clear up the news that Black Cards was going to keep doing stuff without Bebe.

…Where do I even begin about how very wrong this is?

It’s not the fact that Black Cards is continuing on without their lead singer. It is upsetting that a great talent like Rexha will no longer be in the group, but that’s not what is really wrong with this situation. Bands lose and gain members all the time. It can be through mutual decisions, sudden surprises, and just generally getting screwed over. The parting of the ways for Bebe and Black Cards is relatively tame in comparison to some.

What is really wrong with this situation is how poorly handled the whole thing was by Black Cards, Crush Management, and Pete Wentz.

First off, Wentz’s statement should have come out first. Not Rexha’s. Not the changes in the Facebook page. Wentz and Crush should have been upfront from the beginning that Rexha was no longer in the band. He should have also been a bit clearer about what the future of Black Cards will be. The average reader would probably not know that saying “The black cards are dead. Long live the black cards”  means there’s a regime change, not an ending.

Also, there is no assurance to the fans. None. I realize that the mixtape is coming out soon, but by only leaving your remixes of Gym Class Heroes and Rihanna on your page for the time being isn’t really assuring fans that the deck is being reshuffled. It just makes it seem like Black Cards has become just another remix project. If you want to let your fans know everything is going to be fine and that you know what you are doing, prove it.

The thing that I always come back to on this whole mess though is the Facebook bio. It was changed without warning and not even acknowledged for two days.

Two. Days.

That is a lot of time for confusion and animosity to fester. It was just made worse by the fact that the recently departed Rexha was the one who had to speak up first. I’m not sure if changing the Facebook bio early was a mistake by someone at management, or a deliberate attempt at sneaking her departure in under an already closely watched radar, but it was disrespectful. It was disrespectful to the fans and it was disrespectful to Bebe by trying to erase her life with the band without even acknowledging it was happening first.

Ultimately, I feel like this move has killed the Black Cards project before it even really got out of the gate. The album had been sitting on the shelf for a while, and now the voice behind those songs is gone. Wentz says he hopes that the songs with Rexha will see the light of day, but that’s no guarantee. The fan outrage and ship jumping has already started, and Pete Wentz will be fighting an uphill battle to prove that he didn’t waste everyone’s time with hopes and expectations of something cool and different. Considering the fact he already has to do that with trying to convince Fall Out Boy fans that he has to do this, that hill is getting pretty steep. It makes me worry that he’s going to end up tripping and fall backwards down the slope.

I’ve been wrong before, though. Perhaps there is an ace in the sleeve on this one, but the Black Cards are going to have to play it fast before losing the pot.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Music

 

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