Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guest Review #6: Rickey Takes the Wheel

Every so often, I meet someone who is so like me when it comes to music, that it's scary. Rickey was one of those people. We met through a mutual friend and just immediately started messaging eachother large swaths of text about music. I was so excited for him to do this Guest Review and he did not let me down. I'm so excited to post this, that I'm not really going to annotate it like I normally do. It's long, but I think you'll find that you don't notice the length. I certainly didn't.

The songs in this guest review appear on Countdowns that span a period of time from 7/27/13-7/12/14

So, as James already knows, when it comes to music I do several very… specific things. To start off, I have a 35 Day Playlist. I used to consider it a project, but now it’s just MY radio. I don’t listen to the actual radio because, well, I just don’t have a radio… nothing snobby. So when I put on my iPod, I’m usually listening to this playlist made up of (you guessed it) music I’ve added to my iTunes library in the last 35 days. Simple enough. But here’s where it becomes more specific and, well, a project. As music runs the course of those five weeks, I make sure I listen to every album at least three times. On the third listening I rate every song. 3 Stars means I actively DISLIKE the song and clearly think the album would be better without it. 4 Stars means I like the song well enough, it works with the album as a whole, but there’s just something about it that doesn’t GRAB me. Also there’s a good chance that if it came up on shuffle, I would skip it. And, of course, 5 stars means I feel the song is not only essential to the album, but I also love the track on its own, plain and simple. I do all this for two reasons. The lesser is because I like to rate and rank the albums I’ve acquired in a year-end post on my blog. The greater reason is… I have an iPod Nano, and there has to be SOME way to whittle my 7200+ track collection down to a solid 2500 essentials I can carry with me at all times. I guess I should note, I use 1 and 2 star ratings purely for organizational purposes.

The other applicable thing I do with music is compile mixes (mixtapes, mix playlists, etc…). I started at about two a year back at the turn of the century, then three, then last year I did one for each season. This year I’ve done four so far, and it’s only July... So why am I sharing all this information? Because that’s how I’m approaching this Guest Review: Fast forward in one listen as if it were a new addition to my library and about to run it’s course through the 35 Day Playlist, rating tracks from 3 to 5 stars, with an extra little boost if it would make (or has made) one of my mixes. Simple enough? After the reviews, I’ll introduce a third specific thing I do with music that probably crosses the line from enthusiasm into obsessive compulsion. But HEY, it’s how we do...

1. Arctic Monkeys: Do I Wanna Know? ::: I actually started listening to Appetite For Distraction at the beginning of this year because I WANTED to be more in touch with what’s new and currently on the radio without, you know, having to dig out an actual radio. The thing is, I had NO idea some songs would be on The Countdown for more than half a year. So if someone came up to me and asked, “What’s the biggest alternative song of 2014?” I’d have to say this one because when I think of it, I think of The Countdown. So DEFINITELY a great opener for this mix! The only thing is, I’m really not a fan of the song. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely grown on me... Kind of like a musical Stockholm Syndrome, if you will, after being exposed to it for SO long. So I don’t know. In and of itself, it’s a 3 star track for me. BUT as an essential track for The Countdown it *should* get 5 stars. Compromising right out of the gate, 4 stars.

2. Bastille: Pompeii ::: Conversely, this is a song that got me from day one of listening to The Countdown. I’m thinking it might have even been on the 2013 Year-End episode… In any case, it made me feel like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, that I had chosen wisely by drinking the Appetite For Distraction Kool-Aid. I also love it because even though it’s really unlike any other song off Bastille’s Bad Blood, it’s an excellent gateway song INTO that album, where you discover so much more. “Oh, where do we begin? The rubble or our sins.” Just the symbolism and metaphor or whatever between the historical destruction of Pompeii and the breakdown of a relationship or even one’s self… How do you recover? Gorgeousness and gorgeousity, I say. Definitely 5 stars and not only did it make the first mix of 2014, but it was one of the core songs I built that mix around. 

3. Cage The Elephant: Come A Little Closer ::: Here’s another one from the first mix of 2014! Too funny, I’m trying to write about these songs AS I’m listening, but these last two tracks… I just want to listen. I like the flow here. Makes me feel like I’m on a magical journey… The driving rhythms of the verses has me racing across plains and deserts, then the groove of the chorus puts me at the edge of a cliff, seeing the vast jungles and waterfalls below... And then you reach 2 minutes and 20 seconds and it all changes. You’re wandering along a dimly lit path, not exactly sure where you’ll end up, tension building with the repeated refrain, “Time flies by. They all sang along.” And then BAM daylight! Now that I think about it... it’s possible I got some of this imagery from watching the video back in January, but that doesn’t matter. The fact that this song can take me on this kind of internal journey every time I hear it says something. Just lovely. A++ would do business with again. 5 stars.

4. Foster The People: Coming Of Age ::: Okay. I’m not sure I recognize this… “Feels like…” something, right? Yeah, “Feels like I’m coming of age.” Okay... Hmmm, I’m not sure why I never went out of my way to track this song down. I’m actually digging it. Maybe I was turned off by him saying, “like an animal I protect my pride,” just following the sentiment that he hurts the ones he loves the most. I get there’s another meaning to word “pride,” but the metaphor gets muddied… And wasn’t he just on a boat or something? Still, I may have to give this another day in court. I really like the song “Warrior” by Kimbra which features Mark Foster (he’s Foster The People, right?)... Yeah, not bad. 4 stars. Mix contender. Oh wait… I thought it was wrapping up… Over a minute to go. THIS might actually be what lost me. I’m not a fan of the false ending. Return Of The King was pure Civil War leg amputation for me. Still, not bad.

5. Grouplove: Ways To Go ::: I DO NOT know this at all. I’m kind of loving it. OH! THIS IS GROUPLOVE! I LITERALLY just got chills. Their 2011 album just passed through the 35 Day Playlist. It was pretty much flawless. This must be off their latest release. At 47 seconds, restarting… Yeah, Amazon is DEFINITELY gonna be $10 richer this weekend. This is almost a total departure from their Never Trust A Happy Song but it’s still TRUE to who they are. Man… You know, when you have a song you love and you give it 5 stars, where can you go from there? Well, when you love it SO MUCH and you need that extra push over the cliff… You give it 6 stars. Seriously, I love this so hard core. Guaranteed to be on a future mix (unless, of course, the album offers even brighter gems, which is absolutely possible if not probable). 

6. Kings Of Leon: Supersoaker ::: Yeah, I don’t know this either. Not sure how to convey my sense of underwhelment after the wonder I just experience. Not terrible... Kinda sounds like The Strokes, I guess, but I promise you this isn’t Casablancas. Hmmm. It doesn’t really do much for me, but I could imagine this band capable of making something that would. So, if I HAD heard it on The Countdown, I’d still check out their other music. Okay, googling now. Oh, Kings Of Leon. I’m not really familiar with this band, but I just put their song “Wait For Me” on my July mix after hearing it WAY too briefly on The Countdown. So yeah, I could dig this band, but this particular song… 3 stars.

7. Linkin Park: A Light That Never Comes ::: Oooh! Nice change of pace. Again, not familiar. I’m starting to think this tracklist goes backwards chronologically from when it was on The Countdown? If so, there’s a good chance I’ll be less and less familiar as we go. I like this. Linkin’ Park? Guessing by the Rap-ish verse then the… I dunno… NOT rap-ish chorus? Google ahoy!... Called it! Linkin Park (no apostrophe). Checking my library… Yeah, I have no Linkin Park songs in my collection, but back in the day when I was a radio queen I heard my fair share of their work and this is LOT better than most of their stuff I remember. Kudos for evolution! Yeah. I’m definitely adding this to my collection, but I don’t really see it making one of my mixes. Just not in my “wheelhouse,” as the kiddies might say. Kind of a tough call rating-wise. Hmmm. 4 stars. Final answer.

8. Lorde: Royals ::: OOOH GIRL! Now THIS is all up in my alley. Perfect first single for the album. I remember James reading a comment where someone said, “we get it Lorde, you grew up poor.” He wondered if that’s what the whole album’s really about.. Well, it pretty much is and this song really encapsulates that sentiment. But the album is even MORE about the limits of what you can do for fun as a lower-class teenager and how, with the right people, you can make your own fun, even if you’re broke. So, at it’s core, it’s about friendship and bonding and disregarding the materialistic conventions pop culture tells you are needed in order to be happy. Definitely a 5 star song, but never quite made one of my mixes due to poor timing and me just loving “Ribs” more.

9. Lorde: Team ::: Ha! Another Lorde song. Actually, I wish I had known this was next, because, even more than “Royals,”  this song is really about the bonding and friendship aspects of the album. I gotta say, though, not my favorite song off the album. I see it DOES have 5 Stars in my library, but I’m gonna give it 4 stars for this mix. Maybe it’s just hearing it on The Countdown for SO LONG... What’s the opposite of Stockholm Syndrome? Dengue Fever? The truth is, after “Royals” the single choices off of this album have been rather disappointing and even angered me at times. Just SO MANY stronger songs on that album… “400 Lux,” “Buzzcut Season.” Hell, even Lorde herself has said “Ribs” is her favorite. I guess “Glory And Gore” wasn’t a terrible choice, but “A World Alone” would make a GREAT single because it’s a strong song but a departure from what she’s had on the radio so far… Damn. Now I just want to listen to Pure Heroine!

10. MS MR: Hurricane ::: Don’t know this. Dark and moody… Oooh. Wasn’t expecting a female voice. This is definitely working for me. Kind of Zola Jesus, or a darker Florence And The Machine… Okay, it’s MS MR. Never heard of them. Hmmm… I dunno. As it continues I have to say it’s good but not great. Like the Kings Of Leon song, I could see there being some more solid tracks on this album or from this band, but not sure I’d go out of my way to find out. I find it very odd that I’m more compelled to add that Linkin Park song to my collection before this. I mean, it’s totally the kind of thing I’ve been into more and more lately like CHVRCHES and Phantogram, but there’s just something… missing. For that reason alone, I’m gonna have to give it 3 stars. I SHOULD love it, but I don’t. 

11. The Neighbourhood: Afraid ::: Love this song. I know James has commented a few times how much it contrasts with the previous single “Sweater Weather,” and I have to agree. Sounds like it could be a completely different band, honestly… But it’s that contrast that makes me appreciate both songs all the more. The funny thing is, I was a HUGE fan of “Sweater Weather” when I first heard it, and was about to obtain the whole album back in early 2013… then I made the mistake of watching the video. Just… every single thing about it (aside from the music) turned me off. Then THIS song came on The Countdown… Or maybe it was on the 2013 Year-End, not sure. In any case, once I discovered it, I snatched it up real quick and put it on my first mix of 2014. I still have yet to check out the rest of the album, may have to give it a few listens on Spotify (NOT on YouTube) and see if it’s worth the pretty polly. 5 Stars.

12. Panic! At The Disco: Miss Jackson ::: I think I remember hearing this…. WOAH! That was unexpected. Is this Linkin Park again? Ha! Not bad. I’m assuming it’s called “Miss Jackson.” Wait… “Are you nasty?” Is this a Janet Jackson tribute song? Someone needs to mash this up with something off of Rhymefest’s Man In The Mirror. Hmmm. Again, not bad… Definitely makes my head move. But does every song that makes my head move deserve 4 or more stars?... Okay, I had to replay this one. There IS something here. I dunno... It’s fun. Nice integration of hip-hop elements in a mostly rock song, gets a little heavy in parts. Tough call. But you know what, now that I’m deep into this mix, I gotta start rating on a curve and give this 3 stars. *struggling internally* Man. It REALLY is a fun song, and if I were a Lincoln Park Trixie (no relation to the band…) and at some bar in Wrigleyville and this song came on, I’d probably cry out, “Oh my God! This is my JAM!” down the fifth drink some rando bought me and pull my girlfriends out onto the dancefloor. But I’m not. So yeah, 3 stars it shall be.

13. Pearl Jam: Sirens ::: Ahhh. I seriously CAN NOT believe how I fell for this song. I mean, if you would have told me that I’d EVER put a Pearl Jam song on a mix that wasn’t “Black” on a retro 90’s playlist, I would have laughed in your face. But there’s so much… beauty here. The music, the lyrics… It just grabbed a hold of me. I mean, just when he sings, “I study your face... The fear goes away...” and then that guitar solo. I’m sorry, it DESTROYS me. So yeah, this was on my second mix of 2014. So, of course, 5 stars. “I want you to know that should I go, I always loved you… Held you high above too.” And then he studies your face again and the fear continues to go away. Seriously, chills listening to this. Love it.

14. Phantogram: Fall In Love ::: OH MY GOD! Talk about being destroyed and chills, this song at 10 seconds… hell this WHOLE song. I think it’s EVERYTHING I love in new music right now. I have nothing to say. Go spotify, youtube, itunes, amazon this now because it’s just absolutely phenomenal. With a score of 730, it’s album of origin, Voices, shares the top spot for highest rating of the 20+ albums I’ve added to my music library so far this year. Don’t worry your pretty little heads, you’ll be subjected to my neurotic album rating system soon enough. So yeah. 5 stars and it was on my May mix this year.

15. Phoenix: Trying To Be Cool ::: And HERE is everything that… I won’t go as far as saying I HATE in today’s music, but it’s just… So much of nothing. It’s like someone took all the elements of what’s popular nowadays and ran them through a computer and it cranked out this song. Just the same dude with the same voice over the same synthy vanilla funk disco whatever… Thank you, no! And what’s worse is that these dudes trick me over and over again. I’ll hear a song and, on its face, it seems like the kind of music I’d like. So I go and buy the album and just find myself regretting everything, lost in this haze of white noise, you know... HA! I absolutely ADORE how appropriate it is that this song is called “Trying To Be Cool.” Also, it’s Phoenix, one of the very bands that tricked me in the past with their album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Boo-urns. If I had a gong I’d Jamie Farr the hell out of that thing, and these dudes would be off the stage. 3 stars. This might actually bump “Miss Jackson” up to 4 stars on the curve… We’ll see. 

16. Tame Impala: Elephant ::: Oooh. Sexy… Idiosyncratic. Hmmm. I’m kinda surprised that this even made The Countdown. I wonder how high it got. I don’t so much like it as I’m impressed that it has the balls to be what it is. No idea how to google this one. Shazam! Elephant. Tame Impala. Not sure which is the title and which is the band. I’ve already said twice in this review that it’s possible I’d find something I’d really like on a band’s album, even though I’m not particularly crazy about the song at hand. Well, here I have to say I think there’s an equal chance that I’d end up hating everything. In either case, I definitely want to check them out… Once I figure out which is the band and which is the song title. 4 stars.

17. Thirty Seconds To Mars: City Of Angels ::: Nice little digital opening. Drums kick in, good. Piano? Sweet. Only 45 seconds in and I might already be sold on this one… Ugh. Really? Okay, you know how I referenced “the same dude with the same voice,” earlier… well I forgot about the OTHER dude that’s on every other generic alternative pop song. Only difference from the dude who tricks me into thinking I’d like his music, I can not STAND this dude. I am so utterly disappointed right now. I mean, I was REALLY digging this. *sigh* And these lyrics! “The hills of Hollywood on fire.” Really? What, did he take the same creative writing class as Francine Smith? And I PROMISE you this guy thinks every word is gold too, cascading from his throat like water onto a hot summer sidewalk… Quelle dommage. I bet people LOVE this song. And you know what, I don’t fault them if they do. It’s definitely got its act down. I just… have no way of wrapping this up. 3 stars. Next.

18. Twenty One Pilots: House Of Gold ::: Oh dear… Just like that Elephant / Tame Impala song, I’m surprised to see this made the countdown… just for VERY different reasons. I mean, it’s cute and sweet and everything, but… OH MY! Child, what is this screaming nonsense??? Seriously, how was this even on the radio? Is Dr. Demento still on the air, because this belongs RIGHT between “Funny Farm” and “Spiders And Snakes.” I’m starting to fear I’ll never know what it’s like to feel happiness again. 3 stars.

19. Vampire Weekend: Unbelievers ::: THANK YOU! Another song I had heard on The Countdown and made a note to obtain at some point, but never got around to. Hmmm. I really like it, it’s got a kind of modern day Paul Simon feel… Wait… is this Vampire Weekend? Oh dear... *googling* Sure as sugar! So I basically just said what every other reviewer on earth has ever said about this band. Ha! In any case, now that I’ve been reacquainted with this track, it’s very likely to be on my next mix... In fact, as I sit here a month in the future, cleaning up this review, it has since seen it’s way onto my July mix. 5 stars.

20. Young The Giant: It’s About Time ::: FULL DISCLOSURE: When I first listened to this mix and wrote these reviews I was totally hating on this song. But, again, sitting here and now some 30 days later, it ain’t so bad... Honestly, now that I think about, I could probably write the exact same review here as for the opening track on this mix. Not really a fan but it’s definitely grown on me and it makes for a GREAT closer on a mix reflecting The Countdown. *shrug* I originally had it down for 3 stars and even used it to validate bumping that Linkin Park track up to 5. But let’s not go nuts… 4 stars, again compromising as we cross the finish line.

AND NOW WE SCORE!!! I know I threatened earlier to walk you through my obsessive rating system… But it’s not so hard to figure out. It’s a scale from 00X to X00… Or I guess 10 to 1000. This mix has 20 tracks, so let’s see. 
5 stars: 8
4 stars: 6
3 stars: 6
Take the sum of each rating, divide it by the total number of tracks, round up or down accordingly. [So like 8/20 = 0.4, so 4 goes in the first slot. 6/20 = 0.3, so 3 goes in the second slot, etc.] Final score 4-3-3, which is the lowest B on my scale. I know this may seem VERY forgiving since 433 is less than %50 of 1000, but it’s actually just under the top third of all 66 possible combinations of stars. So yeah, if you haven’t already figured it out, I’m an insane person. But I love my music, and I thank James for asking me to take on this guest review. If you made it through all 4000 words, I thank you for reading, and hope you found it at least a bit entertaining. Thanks!

Oh yeah… Here’s where most of my nonsense takes place :::

Thank you so so so so so much Rickey. This was fantastic.


Sleepover Jesus Wins The Pillow Fight said...

So! After chatting with James and him pointing out that an album with 20 songs, where 19 of them have 4-star ratings and 1 has 5-stars, would technically receive a score of 1100, I realized that hyphens are kind of necessary. So even though 1100 is higher than 1000, 10-0-0 is higher than 1-10-0. :D

James! said...

But in that discussion, Rickey said that he wouldn't hang on to an album with only one 5-star song, so that slightly mootens the point, but i think that it's clear that the hyphens help a lot.