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What’s up with “balaclava” in rock music? April 29, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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I’m sure I had heard the word “balaclava” before, but I’m not sure I knew what it meant.

Then I heard it used in the Tokyo Police Club song “If It Works”, and I was motivated to look it up. OK to us Americans, it is a ski mask.

Now, in the new Arctic Monkeys release “Favourite Worst Nightmare” there is a song titled “Balaclava” (which happens to be the worst track on an otherwise brilliant album). What’s up with that?

Apparently, there was previously a Chumbawamba song named “Knit Your Own Balaclava”.

Maybe Tom Waits can write a “balaclava” song. never mind.

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Lily Allen vs. Amy Winehouse – Sound Opinions vs. Musicheads April 15, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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It’s a battle of the Brit bad girls.

In this corner, with supporters Jim and Greg from Sound Opinions is Lily Allen, that sassy, crassy, firecracker from London.

In the other corner, backed by Bill, Tony and Danny from Musicheads is Amy Winehouse, the boozy, soul crooner from Enfield, Middlesex.

Jim and Greg reviewed both albums and gave Lily Allen a double “buy-it” and Amy Winehouse a double “trash-it”. Bill, Tony and Danny discussed the Amy Winehouse album recently and gushed over it. They also opined that she “blows Lily Allen out of the water”. On the other hand, Jim and Greg are “unimpressed by Winehouse’s pale imitation of artists like Donnie Hathaway and Nina Simone”.

I think we are headed for a critical beat down.

I agree with the Sound Opinions guys. I haven’t purchased the Amy Winehouse album, and I won’t. Her Shirley Bassey channeling act doesn’t appeal to me. While Lily Allen certainly has an element of the hard-drinking lifestyle, she is more about being a woman who won’t take any crap from any guy. She is a strong, young woman with a fun voice who is able to create and deliver terrific songs. Amy Winehouse apparently takes boozing and raises it to an art form. It makes it hard to listen to more. When your big song is about not going to rehab, I’m not going to go there.

The winner by a knockout is Lily Allen and Sound Opinions.

Lyrics as poetry: Fox Confessor… April 5, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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Here is an example of the poetic character of pop lyrics. Neko Case’s song “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” from the album of the same name is a lyric poem in 2 minutes and 42 seconds. The lyrics are (from songmeanings.net):

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Driving home I see those flooded fields
How can people not know what beauty this is?
I’ve taken it for granted my whole life
Since the day I was born

Clouds hang on these curves like me
And I kneel to the wheel of the fox confessor
On splendid heels
and he shames me from my seat
and on my guilty feet, I follow him in retreat

What purpose in these deeds
Oh fox confessor, please
Who married me to these orphaned blues
“It’s not for you to know, but for you to weep and wonder
when the death of your civilization precedes you,”

Will I ever see you again?
Will there be no one above me to put my faith in?
I flooded my sleeves as I drove home again…

Since I am not personally well-versed in explaining poetry, here is an article from cokemachineglow.com, which in part describes the context of the song as follows:

“Fox Confessor’s title is taken from Ukrainian mythology … the fox, thirsting for the wolf’s need for absolution, cons its way into assuming the role of the trusted confessor, then promptly uses that relationship to abandon/seduce/kill/eat/generally f*** over its unsuspecting prey.

“Fox Confessor’s title track … locks horns with that mythology. Here, she (the fictional ‘she,’ not Neko) drives by ‘beautiful’ flooded fields in the first verse and floods her own sleeves (finally realizing she has nothing to ‘hold [her] faith in,’ she breaks down) in the last. Both scenes bookend a confrontation with the fox confessor, who she follows, guilt-ridden, in ‘retreat.’ ” [Read the rest of the article for more.]

Now this might all be a load of dingo’s kidneys, but isn’t that always the way it goes with the analysis of poetry? You can never exactly be sure what the reality is, since you are not the author. But it rings pretty true… and it’s a terrific song.

At any rate, I think it supports the thesis that poetry published as such is being supplanted by pop music lyrics.

Pop music killed poetry (or saved it) April 3, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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How much has poetry suffered in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries? An essay by Bruce Price that I have just read makes the point beautifully.

It starts by asking the reader to do the following exercise: “Quick, name a famous living poet.” No. I couldn’t.

In looking for poets who today write with with vigor and emotion, Mr. Price answers, “Our songwriters may be the exemplars. One of the pleasures of being in a Karaoke bar is to really study the lyrics on the screens, study them as if they are great poetry. Some are. You just know, if they published a book of Recent Poetry That Actually Made Somebody’s Heart Beat Faster, most of it would be by the Beatles and 50 other rock and rollers, Tin Pan Alley wordsmiths, blues and country singers, rappers, and other outcasts.”

Absolutely right! Most poem published as such are awful. Pop song lyrics are the finest examples of poetry available today. The mere fact that the lyrics are intended to be set to music means that there is a effort to write with some rhythm. Rhyme, which at some point became the manifestation of what was considered trite, can now be used creatively in lyrics.

Next time, I’ll provide an example of a song which exemplifies poetry in rhythmic motion.

Twee March 20, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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I found an online source that defines “twee” as “affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute or quaint”. In case you codgers haven’t heard it used, it is frequently employed by pop music critics to describe what I would call “precious”.

I previously mentioned how I don’t get Joanna Newsom. She is most definitely twee. The group Belle and Sebastian is twee.

A codger point-of-reference: an artist’s degree of Twee-ness (dT, when expressed in an equation) is directly proportional to the amount that they sound like Donovan. Remember “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow”? That man was the grandmaster of twee.

2nd albums – What do they teach us? March 18, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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There are a number of bands which have recently released or will soon release highly anticipated 2nd albums. Included in this group are “Clap Your Hands Say Yeah”, “Arcade Fire”, “Arctic Monkeys”, “Art Brut” and “Gnarls Barkley”.

What does a second album say about a band? Nirvana’s 2nd album was “Nevermind” (1991), which included “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Come As you Are”, “Lithium”. Of course, since Kurt Cobain died 3 years after the release of “Nevermind”, it doesn’t tell us much about what a 2nd album portends for a band’s future. But it was pretty brilliant, eh?

R.E.M.’s 2nd album was “Reckoning”, which I don’t think I have ever heard. It contains “7 Chinese Brothers”, “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”, “Pretty Persuasion” and “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”. Allmusic.com gives “Reckoning” 5 out of 5 stars, but does anybody listen to it anymore? Does it even hint at a band that will be able to record “Automatic for the People” in 8 years?

What is typical, though? It is certainly true (or should be) that bands that make horrible 2nd albums should fade rapidly into obscurity. But can a 2nd album be used to predict how good a good band will be?