Barely Blind hits MTV

21 Aug

As a native Texan, I know and follow many bands based in my home state. But when Barely Blind, one of my favorite up-and-coming acts, announced that they would be relocating to Los Angeles to start the next chapter of their journey, it was a bittersweet moment.

Now, with nearly ten years, three albums and countless live shows under their belt, the group has been featured on MTV’s “Fresh New Music” list for August. To be more exact, Barely Blind have landed the #7 spot behind the likes of Beyoncé, Norah Jones, and Brandy.

MTV is currently shining the spotlight on their most recently recorded music video for “Inner Child,” which was directed by Tyler Gorrell. The song is the first single off of their third album, Wilder Child of a Thousand Suns.

It’s always nice to see bands grow up and get a hold on the dream they’ve been chasing. It’s even better when you see it happen with a talented band you believe in, that’s been working their ass off since day one.

For more information on Barely Blind, including tour dates and (free!) music, visit their website, Facebook or Twitter. They even have one of those videos that will make you want to be in a band on their YouTube channel.

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Is Rolling Stone right about The Rolling Stones?

13 Aug

Thanks to this brilliant infographic from Paste Magazine, we can now see a breakdown of what makes a Rolling Stones song worthy of being named one of their 50 best.

But did the world’s most famous music and culture magazine get the list of their top 50 songs right? Does “Wild Horses,” one of the band’s most intimate moments in their 50-year career, deserve to be in slot #17? And is “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” really their best song. Really?

If I had it my way, I’d definitely move some around, and I might make “Gimme Shelter” the #1, and take a few other top ten tracks and toss them down a few notches (if not out of the running entirely.) Oh, and “Under My Thumb” would absolutely be in the first column.

Do you think Rolling Stone got it right? And if not, what changes would you make?

 

RSWords

Review: Best Coast – The Only Place

9 Jul

When Best Coast released their debut album, Crazy For You, Bethany Coesentino was hailed as a woman to keep your eye on. Now, she seems to be molded after a sort of one hit wonder more than this generation’s leading lady.

With the May release of their sophomore album, The Only Place, Coesentino & Co. seemed dead set on reminding us all that they’re from California. As if that were ever in jeopardy of being forgotten.

In a nutshell, The Only Place is merely a grown-up, less colorful, polished version of Crazy For You.

Starting with the album art, The Only Place (seen above) definitely carries on the tradition of animals, maps and California being used to really give the listener a vibe of the band before they even hear the album. The same tactics were used with Crazy For You, and it’s starting to seem like Coesentino has a one-track mind when it comes to her, er, art.

When Best Coast announced that The Only Place was in the process of being recorded, everyone wondered what the group was going to sound like. After all, drummer Ali Koehler announced she was no longer with the band right before Coesentino revealed that she would like to embrace her country side on the new tracks, with inspiration coming from the likes of Loretta Lynn. Then it was announced that famed composer and producer, Jon Brion, would be behind the wheel of the project.

But even with Brion’s help, Best Coast proved nothing on The Only Place, other than the fact that they might want to consider renaming themselves “One Trick Pony.”

You see, the problem with this album is not that the songs aren’t good – most of them are pretty catchy. The problem is that they sound so much like the tracks off of Crazy For You, they’re actually hard to listen to.

The album opens with the title track, which sounds like something the Governor of California commissioned Best Coast to write for a commercial campaign to attract tourists. While the sentiments are understood (California is a wonderful, magical place), it’s hard to want to dive head-first into the album. First impressions really are hard to shake.

The following track, “Why I Cry,” sounds like melodies and chord progressions were copy and pasted from Crazy’s “Happy” and “Goodbye.” This same pattern follows with tracks like “Do You Love Me Like You Used To” and “Let’s Go Home.” Really, you can’t listen to any track on the album without being immediately reminded of one from Crazy.

Coesentino told to Pitchfork that The Only Place is “more about self-discovery and figuring out who she is.”

Crazy for You was written in a very insecure, weird, 22-year old phase in my life,” she said. “I’m 25 now, and things in my life are much, much different than they were then. This record is really personal.”

Unfortunately, it’s hard to hear this album and not wonder what Brion, Coesentino and guitarist Bobb Bruno were listening to when they put the finishing touches on the album. Even the lyrical content of the songs haven’t evolved past that first album any more than the songwriting has. And while there’s nothing wrong with a brutally honest or even vulnerable track, building a career off of songs that read like a boy crazy teen’s diary isn’t something to aspire for.

But all hope isn’t lost. When push comes to shove, Best Coast still has talent behind the name. Albeit misplaced, they truly are talented. Hopefully we can chalk this off another sophomore slump, and the duo really does some growing for their next release to make up for lost time. If not, well, there’s always their first album.

Is HBO’s newest comedy, Girls, racist?

12 Apr

If you have premium cable and frequent HBO, you’ve more than likely caught a commercial or two touting their newest comedy, Girls.

In short, Girls is the brain-child of writer/director/actress Lena Dunham, and follows the lives of four early twenty-somethings throughout the transitional period between college and being an adult. Yet while it’s filmed in New York City and covers topics like sex, having an identity crisis and a slew of shit jobs, it doesn’t seem to be this decade’s Sex and the City, even if that’s how HBO is looking at it.

With executive producer Judd Apatow behind the wheel of the train, Girls looks full of promise. So, why then, does it seem like the show is getting a bad wrap before it even airs?

Most critics aren’t bothered by the content, the acting or even the dialogue. What’s got everyone talking is the fact that Girls‘ main characters are all – wait for it – white girls.

As someone of mixed ethnicity (I myself am half White, half Hispanic), I’ll be honest when I say that even I didn’t notice it. And why is that, you might ask?

In the year 2012, I have grown up watching television shows that feature casts of mixed ethnicity, as I have also seen casts that revolve around an all-White family, an all-African America family and an all-Hispanic family. I’ve seen this in movies and even commercial advertising.  Hell, HBO’s recently-cancelled series Bored to Death featured a mainly white cast, and it was shot in New York City, but I never heard rumblings about “not enough minorities.” Sure, Jason Schwartzman is Jewish and comes from the Coppola blood-line, but does that make him any less white? And what about his co-stars, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danza? Are they not considered white?

So, why then, is Girls getting such backlash?

I honestly can’t answer this question. Many people are saying that it’s because they feel “under-represented,” or because, like Sarah Seltzer of The Jewish Daily Forward said in her article, “if Girls ends up being as good as the hype, then we shouldn’t be afraid to offer strong, but loving suggestions about its racial makeup.”

But do we really need to coddle the audience for them to “get” it? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but people don’t like music, television, or art because the creator is the same shade of tan. People attach themselves to ideas, and they laugh at jokes or cry when the curtain is drawn because it moves them and they relate to it.

Maybe Girls does need a dash of color thrown in to the mix, or maybe we need to stop criticizing everything put in front of us. I’ll admit that I’m always worried to discuss the topic of race, but that’s not because I’m afraid people will gasp at my racism. In fact, I don’t know anyone that’s a bigger advocate for equality across the board, but even the most accepting position on race can be the most complex to explain.

The way I see it, claiming that there is a certain formula that must be followed in order to “properly represent” minorities is still a form of racism. Characters shouldn’t be written as an after-thought, nor should the only reason they were created was to make sure nobody was left out.

It sounds to me that Americans are still putting too much emphasis on a person’s ethnic make-up in the name of being politically correct, and if that’s the case, I’d rather not be. It’d be one thing if Dunham had stated she intentionally left minorities out and then proceeded to give a reason based on racism, but she didn’t. The truth is, minority representation isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a math equation. Additionally, Dunham isn’t racist for having four White leads, just as Tyler Perry isn’t racist for having all African-American leads on For Better or For Worse.

Nona Willis Aronowitz, Associate Editor at GOOD said it well, that “if we acknowledge that the semi-autobiographical details are what make Dunham’s work great, we shouldn’t be demanding the show to appeal to and reflect every girl.”

The truth is that, nobody really knows whether or not Hispanic or African American women (or men of any ethnicity!) will appreciate this television show, because it doesn’t even air until Sunday, April 15. So here’s my suggestion: let’s wait and see how the audience really reacts to the show before we start pointing fingers in the name of “racism.”

Until then… Congratulations, Lena Dunham. I can’t wait to see what Girls is all about.

Beyond Our Control: Why we’ll never avoid being cut by the double-edged sword of success in the music industry

26 Mar

The dust might finally be settling in Austin following its week-long occupation by SXSW-goers, but there’s still a buzz around what was seen there. And while Austin’s locals are still shaking their fists and telling us not to move there, I’m sure someone is currently roaming the “Help Wanted” ads hoping to high-tail it into the so-called Music Capitol of the World.

Nevertheless, Houston is only a stone’s throw from Austin, and our local music scene and city pride is just as strong – just without the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign featuring that eye-sore of a font.

So I wasn’t very surprised when Chris Gray, Editor of Houston Press’ music section, wrote an article reflecting on how the heart of SXSW Music has somehow become covered in Doritos cheese-flavored dust.

Now, more than ever, SXSW has become one big walking (or driving) advertisement. Nearly every surface in Downtown Austin is wrapped in saran wrap (to cut down on the time and cost of removing stickers and posters), while pretty much every official showcase is “hosted” by someone. And whether it’s Sony handing out free breath-mints and koozies, or Taco Bell hooking up with MTV, you’ll be hard-pressed to close your eyes and remember an object that wasn’t covered in ads.

And while Gray hit the nail on the head with that one, he got me thinking about how the music industry, not just SXSW, has changed in general.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to make it out to the entire festival this year, but I did get to go to the showcase that fun. played at Stubb’s on Friday night with Delta Spirit and The Drums. I saw crowds come and go for each band, but I distinctly remember getting irritated with the hundreds of people that cleared out as soon as their latest single, “We Are Young,” finished.

To some, the fickle crowd might have been caused by something many would call “selling out,” but in my eyes, it only furthered my growing resentment for those people who chew bands up and spit them out.

When “We Are Young” debuted in September 2011, it entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 53, but quickly became just another great song by fun. that I would appreciate alone in my car. However, the cast of Glee covered it on an episode in December, and people took notice of it – including Chevrolet, who used the track on their Superbowl commercial.

In 2008, fun. was formed by lead singer Nate Ruess due to the demise of his former band, The Format. He asked partners Jack Antonoff of Steel Train and Andrew Dost of Anathallo, two bands he’d toured with, to embark on the journey.

The group’s debut (and only other release), Aim and Ignite, featured “Walking the Dog” – which was later used in an Expedia commercial. For Ruess and Antonoff, it was the first time that a band they were part of had seen any kind of commercial success.

So while Gray might not have intentionally suggested this in his article, it got me thinking about how often the term “sellout” is thrown around by fans, critics and musicians alike. Perhaps it’s my inner-optimist, or the fact that I love to see people find success doing what they love, but I tend to avoid the word at all costs. More importantly, I would never say that a band like fun. wasn’t deserving of their single making it to #1 on the Billboard charts, no matter how it got there. Then again, I’m only one person.

So now I’m left wondering what exactly makes a band deserving or undeserving of their success. Is it simply because their music is played on the radio, or used by outside companies? Is it any group that signs a recording contract that will allow for their music to be licensed out, or is it something else entirely?

In recent years, I’ve noticed more and more indie bands being used for things like movie previews and promoting sales at Old Navy. Maybe it’s just a trend, but can we really get mad at a band if their record company requires bands to license their music in exchange for money to record their album? Or what about the fact that we’re in a recession, and indie artists might be cheaper than Top 40 artists? And have you ever stopped to consider that indie film-makers are more interested in bands from Barsuk or Saddle Creek than Warner Music Group?

The truth is that indie bands can license their catchiest tunes for years and go completely unnoticed. If you don’t believe me, you must not be a big Mates of State fan. They’ve been featured in commercials, movies and TV shows over the last ten years, yet they’re still only playing in small-to-medium sized venues.

Then there are bands like Matt & Kim. Six years ago I was telling everybody they would blow up (and getting laughed at in the process), but I won’t lie when I say that their success surprised even me when they won an MTV Woodie award for their “Lessons Learned” video in 2010. I’m just happy to admit that they’ve never changed, and I doubt they ever will.

Truth be told, they were the only reason I went to SXSW in the first place, and now I couldn’t get into their shows if I tried.

Sure, I could hang my head and mope about how I’ll never get to chance to see Matt & Kim play to 50 people the way I did in 2008, but I’d much rather see hundreds of people smiling and dancing then walking away shouting that they deserve more credit.

Music isn’t a selfish thing. And as both a journalist, fan, and rational person, I can’t find a better word to describe people that complain about “selling out” than “hypocrite.” If you like a band enough to support them, you obviously like them enough to tell people to listen to them. If you’re telling people to listen to them, you can’t really be surprised when word gets out and they’re climbing the charts and suddenly playing sold-out shows in Europe.

I stand with Gray when he openly expresses hope that bands aren’t writing songs with the intent of being featured on commercials, but in this day in age, bands are lucky to be heard at all. Sure, local music scenes will always support their own, but the truth is that attention spans have diminished to the point where listening to an album in its entirety is virtually unheard of. Instead, it’s cheaper and easier to consume one song via iTunes for .99 cents than it is to splurge for the entire album, that is, if you’re lucky enough to get people to pay for your music at all.

I’m glad that I’ve got men and women like Gray on my side who refuse to let the music industry fold to corporations looking to hawk off their latest inventions, but I will say that we need to re-evaluate how we view and value success.

The concept of being a rock-star isn’t new, but if bands are constantly waiting for daggers to be thrown at their backs every time they do something that gets even whisper of attention, what’s the point of making or listening to music? And conversely, if they’re expecting fans and critics to start name-calling at all, what’s stopping them from embracing that stigma and slapping their music to any and every ad they’re offered?

Sure, we can argue that art is made to allow the artist to express oneself, but like paintings and sculptures in museums, the best bands will find their way into the public’s eye whether they’re trying to or not. And if someone could tell me how a 30-second clip of a song is “less legitimate” than the entire track being played on a radio station, I’d love to hear it.

So here’s my advice: if you like the music someone’s making, then enjoy it, recommend it, sing and dance along to it. If you’re making music, take advice from Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.

The duo, which also includes Patrick Carney, once turned down $130,000 that would have allowed for their song to be featured in a British mayonnaise commercial, and they say they’ll never turn down money again.

“That would have paid my rent for two years,” Auerbach told Spin. “It’s almost insulting to my mom, who works every day teaching kids and doesn’t get paid shit. As long as your art is pure, who cares where it is?”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

From karaoke bars to record companies: Why indie musicians won’t ever get above ground.

12 Feb

On Friday night I was casually speaking to a friend via text, when the subject shifted to the karaoke bar he was at.

After a little while, he mentioned that someone was singing “Don’t Stop Believin’,” to which I responded that it was a choice boring people make when they karaoke. Sure, it’s a classic for a reason, but when he said “Who are we to judge?” The only answer that I felt adequately expressed my annoyance of karaoke joints was that most people don’t notice how many songs are those binders. In all of those hundreds of pages, and thousands of song choices, how do people overlook classics from Ramones or Velvet Underground?

Unless of course, they’re not there.

It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the reason why indie and punk fans stray from karaoke bars is the inability to choose songs that they like. We can choose to live in alternative cities where recycling is a choice, bikes get their own lanes and Wal-Marts don’t exist, but we can’t find a decent karaoke bar that allows the Regular (Alt) Joes to become rock stars for a song?

But what’s even worse is that women are usually getting the shit end of the stick. While I love Fiona Apple, she is one of the only women in the book that provide an alternative to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Did people not get the memo that (shocker!) women who don’t listen to Britney Spears can sing too?

Instead, “alternative chicks” are forced to listen to people who don’t know a thing about us chime in on who they think our new “Queen” should be. (Yes, I am talking about Lana Del Rey.) While I understand that not every artist is going to fit into a specific genre or category, I find it humorous that us opinionated women suddenly shock the nation when we don’t like an artist that has been shoved down our throats.

To anyone that’s reading this, here’s my take on this: some people might get their rocks off to Del Rey’s “style” and how she’s so “artistic,” but the truth is that it shouldtake a lot more than homemade videos capturing your own self-indulgence to land you a recording contract. Instead, the pretty girl wins again, pouting her way to the title of “Indie Queen” – a title that was never earned. In fact, the only thing Del Rey has taught us is that record companies still think they can force us into liking this singers that are less talented than the ones we choose to listen to ourselves.

Del Rey might have a great bod, but more than anything, she’s a one-trick pony whose video for “Born To Die” made much more sense when paired with the song “Video Games.” I can’t be the only person who noticed, and I’ll be damned if she makes it into karaoke books before Jenny Lewis. Then again, the Lana Del Rey’s are a dime a dozen while Lewis is a diamond in the rough.

Maybe if these executives and high-paid critics spent less time trying to find the next big thing and actually gave struggling musicians a chance, piracy and DIY-methods wouldn’t be the most talked-about subjects on music blogs. And I know you might cringe from the thought, but if more musicians were “making it”, maybe blogs could stray away from the go-to format of lists. Besides, do we really need another journalism major stuck in a cubicle writing lists that do nothing more than help us win trivia night at the bar? I didn’t think so.

My Favorite Albums of 2011: Better Late Than Never

27 Dec

We all know it’s coming — the almost-dreaded “Best of” lists that flood magazine covers, blogs and other entertainment sites that revolve around music and music culture. While I’m sure a lot of outlets genuinely enjoyed the artists on their lists, I’m finding myself wondering why it was that some of the albums that made it on these lists actually did. Was it popular opinion? Money? Level of Fame? Or perhaps, did some of them actually deserve those spots?

Rather than waste anybody’s time on repeating the names of every band on every other list, I’ll be honest and tell you that these ten albums are the albums that I can’t stop listening to, and why I think you should listen to them as well. Some of them might be on the Top lists of every other outlet, but I doubt they’re in the top ten.

From my favorite bands to bands that I never listened to before this year, this list can also be named “Listen and Fall in Love with 2011” or “Ten Reasons Why 2011 Didn’t Suck for Music!” They were hard to put in

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Girls – Father, Son, Holy Spirit
Like most of us, an eclectic taste in music has spawned an appreciation for things that go beyond the realm of simply liking “rock” or “pop”. And if it weren’t for Girls’ third album, Christopher Owens might have never been able to show the world how Dwight Yoakum could positively influence the surf/chill rock genre. The album is a hit from start to finish, tackling issues of love and life on tracks like “Honey Bunny,” “Vomit” and “Die.” Other tracks, such as “My Ma” and “Forgiveness” help Owens find closure in his tortured past, while the album’s closing track, “Jaime Marie,” is easily one of the year’s most beautiful.

Chad VanGaalen -Diaper Island

Okkervil RiverI Am Very Far

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Mates of StateMountaintops
The mates of Mates got experimental with Mountaintops, earning them a place among the ranks of albums to be praised. The album flirts with sounds across the spectrum, and even pays one hell of an homage to Motown on “Total Serendipity.” However, what the band hasn’t been commended for often enough since the release of this is taking risks with their music and finding success in them. Songs like “Palamino” and “Maracas” flaunt Kori Gardner’s ability to ditch the organs and experiment with sounds found on synths and pianos, while vocal performances from both Gardner and drummer/husband Jason Hammel seem to have improved (although I admittedly love their voices no matter what.) The two slow things down on “Desire” and “Mistakes,” but all ten tracks on the album are unforgettable and catchy in their own right.

La Dispute Wildlife

DodosNo Color

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Bright EyesThe People’s Key
Conor Oberst is known for many things, but his unpredictability might be the one that keeps commentators on the edge of their seats. Previous releases left fans floored at changes in sound, and for the most part, people weren’t even aware that The People’s Key was being written until information on its release were publicized. However, perhaps the lack of pressure laid on Oberst are what allowed him to move forward and find ways to both get back to Bright Eyes, and seek out a new dimension to the music. Taking notes from Cassadaga, the album begins and ends with a deep, almost satanic voice before flowing into “Firewall,” setting a tone for Bright Eyes’ most mystical album to date. Still, songs like “Shell Games” mesh prior releases, while “Jejune Stars” drives the band into new, harder territories. However, the album as a whole feels more like an idea than others bring to mind. Where Oberst once felt like a sheep looking for his flock, songs like “Ladder Song” and “One for You, One for Me” make him seem like he’s tackling a single concept versus using us as his fleet of therapists. If you didn’t like Bright Eyes before, this is definitely recommended.

Peter, Bjorn and John – Gimme Some

Black Keys -El Camino

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Wild Flag Wild Flag
In recent times, a new wave of feminists are erupting into the public’s eye. Whether it’s from faulty politics or not isn’t really clear, but I’ll be damned if any of the ladies of Wild Flag aren’t given due recognition for bursting through the glass ceiling before Sarah Palin. Basically, Wild Flag is a supergroup that pulled members from Sleater Kinney, Helium and The Minders, and they’re reminding women what it’s like to rock the fuck out. Opening track “Romance” is an anthem for dancing around in your panties with a bottle of your favorite beer, while tracks like “Something Came Over Me” and “Glass Tambourine” are like a kiss on a busted lip – it’s punk with a slice of charm. However, the ladies travel from that fast, loud sound on “Boom” to an almost-Americana approach on “Racehorse” with guitar parts that require more than some simple chord progression. Crooning or not, Wild Flag proves that if you want a damn good rock album, sometimes you’ve got to hike up your skirt and bang it out yourself.

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