Audio Lore

A Positive Music Blog

Monday, December 19, 2011

My 2011 Listening Pleasures, In No Particular Order

The end of the year is coming on fast. Now is the time for every magazine, website, blogger of whatever to come out with their “Best Of 2011” or their “Top 10 of 2011”. One thing about these “Year End Lists” that always made me wonder was the variation of types of music. I could never figure out how a person’s list would have an artists like the Black Keys at #6 followed by Lady Gaga at #5, then Bon Iver at #4 and Kanye West at #3. How do the people writing these lists decide which act should edge the other one out of the higher position? Obviously they play TOTALLY different types of music, probably at the best of each of their genres too. At anytime during the year these two artist’s names will most likely never be uttered in the same sentence much less in the same magazine article or blog posts.
Plus when are these artists going to come out with bad albums? (Most of them at least). If the Black Keys put out an album this year, chacces are it’s going to be pretty good. Why not just assume that it is and let another artists/band who releases and album way better than any they have released before? 
So now that I have lifted that off my chest I bring some of my 2011 picks but not in any “Top Ten” or “Best of”. These are just my favorite releases, which some people may have missed, that I have been “Rockin’ Out” too over the past twelve months. Some of these may look failair since I have been praising many of them all year round.

In no particular order:

SMITH WESTERNS – Dye It Blonde – a little bit of Pop, a little bit of Glam, but all Rock and Roll
THE VACCINES – What Did You Expect? – Pure Pop mixed with a slight surf sound. Toss in a bit of The Who ("Think I Can See for Miles"). Great debut album
BARE WIRES – Cheap Perfume – Power Pop rock and Roll chock full of hooks. You just know they have smiles on their faces while playing.
GIRLS – Father, Son, Holy Ghost- Vocal focused laid back heartbreak rock with great guitar solos.  Not one girl in the band but all the songs are about them.
NIGHTBIRDS – Other Side Of Darkness -  This band makes me very nostalgic for those times when I was 14 and discovering skate punk bands like J.F.A., The Faction, The Crucifucks and many more.  Also make me dance down the street.
FORMING – s/t 7” Ep – Restored my faith in Punk N Roll. Early Replacements vibe. Lots of beer and hooks. Get it free here:
TY SEGALL – Goodbye Bread – Very young but a veteran of a dozen Bay Area garage bands. On this album Ty becomes a bit more focused. (Full Blog entry on this album in the near future)
PUNCH – Push/Pull – Female fronted, very sincere hardcore band. Imagine a younger Kat Bjelland (from Babes in Toyland)
PSYCHIC BLOOD – Demo, Leaves (cassette) and Strain Ep – It’s good to see a new noisy yet controlled band. They are from Mass but could fit right into Pacific Northwest rock history. Can’t wait to see what they do with a real studio and release. Download all three releases for free here:
CEREMONY – Covers Ep – Usually covers collections wouldn’t make the cut but these tracks really are incredible. Best Pixies cover (“Nimrod’s Son") I have heard. Plus Wire, Crisis and more. Can’t wait to see what CEREMONY does this year now that they are on Matador Records
MR. DREAM – Trash Hit – Heirs to the Big Black, Shellac, Jesus Lizard, Tar and the rest of the (now defunct) Touch and Go Records roster’s throne. Totally ruled opening for Archers of Loaf last July.
MILK MUSIC – Beyond Living – BEST ALBUM  RELEASED THIS YEAR. ‘90’s era Boston fuzzed out rock and roll but these guys are from Olympia, Washington. Nice salute to their heroes in the album title. Vary  hard to find a physical copy but you can get it digitally here:
MALE BONDINGEndless Now – This UK band made an album leaps and bounds over their debut album last year, which was one of the best. A bit of a Ned’s Atomic Dustbin vibe. “Channeling Your Fears” is my favorite song of the year.
WILD FLAG – S/T and The Corin Tucker Band 1000 Years – Two ex-Sleater-Kinney bands that don’t sound too much like their old band. Wild Flag (Carrie Brownstein, also of the TV show “Portlandia”, and Janet Weiss) get a little WIRE-y. Corin Tucker Band (Corin Tucker) gets a little introspective. Both albums incredibly catchy.
VOID – Sessions 81-83 – Compilation of all this very influential hardcore band’s pre Dischord records stuff. Sounds a bit more human then the classic Split album with The Faith. Vital music here from this Columbia, MD (My hometown) band
ROZWELL KID – s/t –Remember when Weezer was in their garage listening to Buddy Holly records and trying not to destroy their sweaters? These guys do. Download it free on Band camp here:
THE DUM DUM GIRLSHe Gets Me High EP– Fuzz Pop at its finest with singer Sune Rose Wagner’s dreamy voice up front. My favorite Smith record gets covered at the end. Not telling which one, you'll have to go find out yourself. Get this but be cautious of the WAY too Pretenders sounding album that followed.
COLD CAVE – Cherish The Light Years – Wes Eisold’s (ex-American Nightmare, XO Skeletons, Some Girls and many more) second album sounding straight out of 80’s post-punk/dark wave/industrial dance/almost Goth England. Much improved over the 2009 debut
HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL – Mergers and Acquisitions – Is the new Wilco album too boring for you? Check out this young Florida band’s fresh sound. I love the band’s name too.
TOTAL CONTROL – Henge Beat - Guitar noise with definite pop hooks lurking underneath. Throw in a bit of Kraut Rock and you have this Australian band’s album.
SUNDIALS – Never Settle – very J Church inspired catchy  pop punk. Also check out their earlier stuff on their Band Camp page

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Zombie's - Odessey and Oracle - A Perfect Album

 A few days ago  I was knocked over by a person entering large appliance store. As I dusted myself off the security guard at the door said to me, "It's the time of the season". When he spoke those words to me I was remnded of a song I had not heard in quite awhile, and it wasn't a Christmas song.

When I was 15 years old I went through a “British Invasion” phase. Of course it began with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones but soon it evolved into other lesser known but still awesome bands. The Animals, The Yardbirds and the Zombies were my favorites. I was eager to get my hands on any material by these groups. Since the local record store only carried basic completions by each band, I decided to place an ad in the “Wanted” section of the local paper looking for actual individual albums by these artists. Maybe there were people out there who had a few of these records and did not want them anymore. At 15 I did not too much money and figured this may be a good way to purchase a few of these bands records at a very low price. The day after the ad appeared in the paper I received a phone call from a woman a couple towns over. She had a few records by two of the bands I had listed in the classified ad and said she would sell them to me for $5 each.

 The next Saturday my father and I took a car ride out to see which records she had. When I got there she went over to a large cabinet filled with records and pulled two of them out. There was one by the Animals and one by the Zombies. We paid her the $10 bucks and headed home. As my dad drove I looked over album covers, reading every word, studying every picture

As I examined up the Zombies record. There was something different about it. The cover did not have the basic band photo cover which most of these British Invasion albums I had run across usually possessed. This one had weird psychedelic designs across it. There was a drawing of a couple dancing, next to a flower and a few other strange figures of people scattered here and there. But was even stranger was the title of the album was spelled wrong! Although my computer’s spell check keeps wanting me to change it now, the title on the record was spelled as Odessey and Oracle. It would not be until much later when I learned the spelling error was a mistake made by the album cover’s designer. I put the record on. Although at this point I was familiar with some singles by The Zombies such as “She’s Not There”, “Tell Her No” and “Time Of The Season”, only the later was on this album. As soon as I put the needle down I knew this album was leaps and bounds over those early singles. The songs coming out of the speakers were incredible. The whole album did not have a note out of place.

20 years later I am still amazed by this perfect album. An album which if you are a fan of music, any kind of music, you owe it to yourself to give this album a listen.

The first track on the album ,“Care of Cell 44” kicks off with a few notes from a harpsichord, probably the first time I had ever heard one present on a rock song. Then lead singer Colin Blunstone’s smoky smooth vocals come in. The song, relaying a letter from a guy to a girl in jail. He talks about her imminent release and how happy he is to have here returning home. His joy is shown by the raise in volume for the chorus “Feel so good. You’re coming home soon”. The vocals return to the regular volume and tempo before the chorus with the volume raised as the guy can’t control his enthusiasm any longer
One thing about this song that always struck me as rather a little strange, maybe even bold, was how in 1967 the Zombies would put out a song about a women in prison and the guys waiting outside. You would think the opposite would have seen much more acceptable. But also this was a band named after a return from the dead creature whose sole purpose to seek out and eat peoples brains.

Track #2 “A Rose for Emily” for me brings to mind a grown up version of the character in Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play” which I had just heard for the first time a few month before Odessy and Oracle. Now she is all grown up, growing flowers to sell to people buying them to give to their loved ones. Yet she never finds someone to buy a rose to her. Almost all acapella, the song features only Blunstone’s vocals with writer/keyboardist Rod Argent backing vocals and keyboard adding to the songs sorrow. Like so many other songs on Odessey And Oracle, the vocals supply the hook.

Track #3 “Maybe After He’s Gone” relays greatly the feeling of losing a girlfriend/boyfriend, perhaps your first, with them moving on to someone else. Feeling you will never find another, your only hope like the chorus says, “Maybe after he’s gone, she’ll come back and love me again”.

Track # 4“Beechwood Park” is a song telling about remembering a time in the summertime when you are just getting to know each other. When listening to the song, close your eyes and the guitars and keyboards bring images of the character walking on a beach with an off season wind swaying the trees around you.

Tracks # 5 and #6, “Brief Candles” and “Hung Up On A Dream”, continue in the style that is already making  Odessey And The Oracle such a great album. Both songs sounding like the Zombies had a whole orchestra in the studio with them. Later I learned the group did not possess enough money to hire more studio musicians. To create the sound of a backing orchestra, a mellotron was used.

Track # 7, “Changes” I always feel is best heard with headphones. Blunstone singing the chorus of “I knew her when summer was here crown and autumn sang how brown her eyes” sounds unbelievable coming into your ears from all around you. Track #8, “I Want Her, She Wants Me” tells how the heartbroken person of “Maybe After He’s Gone” did eventually find someone new.

In Track #9 “This Will Be Our Year” Blunstone sing how things have been tough but with the help of the person he is singing to, they managed to make it through. “And I won’t forget the way you held me up when I was down. And I won’t forget when you said ‘Darling I love you’. You give me faith to go on. Now we’re there, and we’ve only just begun” before showing the hope of the future with “This will be our year, took a long time to come”. From the first time I hear this song at 15 years old to the the present, this song has always been somewhere among my top 10 all- time favorite songs.

When track # 11 comes around the album finally allows it's self to become a tad upbeat. "Friends of Mine" is a very positive (almost) closing song. During the song many of The Zombie's friend's names are mentioned and you can tell the band is having a ball in the studio together. 

The song that once again reminded me of how great this album is comes appears as the albums last track.. After the single “She Not There",  “Time of the Season" was the first song I ever heard by the Zombies. The song fills me with images of a soul, a little psychedelics and even a touch of hippieness. When the end of the chorus says, “It’s the time of the season for loving you”, maybe it’s not what Colin Blunstone, Rod Agent and crew were saying but I always took it as for loving this album.

In Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 Albums of All-Time, Odessey and Oracle was ranked at 80. For my 15 year old ears back then as well as my 38 year old ones today, this album without one single note out of place, definitely rests nicely in the Top 10.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Four Parks, Many Sounds Part 1 - Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios

For a  while my eyes were feeling a little strained and things were also appearing a little darker. Almost like seeing static.  A few years ago a doctor prescribed a special contact for my left eye. It seemed I have Corconia , a condition that causes you cornea to slightly bend. The  lens was very expensive and would probably have to be adjusted over a few months before getting it exactly right. Two years later and with my eyes feeling  strained and things seeming slightly darker I was scared my eyesight may be fading. Maybe even leaving altogether. The first thing that crossed my mind was “Do blind people still go to Disney World”?
Then I thought about all the sounds and music of Walt Disney World which add so much to the magic. The music is an important part to many Disney attractions but some of the music will stand on its own without the visuals. With my Disney trip just a few weeks away I was sure to find out.
My next day off I had the eye doctor appointment, this time to see a new Ophthalmologist. The doctor who prescribed the contact just was not working out. Three hours in the waiting room before the doctor seeing me was just not a way to spend another day off. When I made the appointment for this new doctor the receptionist promised me I would not be there for more than an hour.
Arriving at the doctor’s office I checked in, picked out a magazine in the waiting room and began to get confortable. As I was about to sit down the doctor called me in. He dilated my eyes, took a few tests and then asked me to come back to his office. No hour long trip to the waiting room in between. He asked me to have a seat in the examination chair while he went to get something.  As I sat there I thought about how this was it. The doctor was going to come in and inform me my eyes were going to become worse and worse until my vision was gone for good. There goes that idea of beginning a music blog.
When the doctor returned I braced myself for the negative diagnosis. Thankfully I was wrong. The doctor told me my eyes were in pretty good shape. The right eye was still seeing 20/20 and the left one had remained the same as it was two years ago. There had been no more worsening. The doctor then told me he was surprised my eyesight in that eye was as good as it was. The contact lens for my left eye was not really necessary.The contact is only required if I  want to see perfectly. He also said the straining and static is probably caused by migraines. It is not really his area of expertise so he referred me to another doctor to treat it. He said otherwise my eyes were in good shape.

After this eye scare I focused my sights on Disney and decided I would appreciate every sight and sound that comes with the experience.

In a series of FOUR posts I am going to talk about all the important audio, with an emphasis on the music, of all four Disney World Parks. The order will probably go Disney Hollywood Studios, Epcot Center, Disney’s Animal Kingdom (including our hotel, the Animal Kingdom Lodge) , Epcot and finally The Magic Kingdom.
 The reason this is going to be spread out over FOUR posts is partly to give myself the chance to post about other things.The trip was an awesome week but now we have returned and back at work. We are grown-ups again. Well at least until our Disney Cruise in July.

At Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, or MGM as some still refer to the theme park, there are many different rides and attractions, all themed to various movies or television shows. A few of these attractions are the Star Wars based Star Tours, The Great Movie Ride and Indiana Jones Stunt Show. For the purpose of time and space I am going to concentrate on the three main attractions of the theme park.
 The Rock N Roller Coaster- For the readers who may not visit Disney World or may have not since 1999, the Rock N Roller Coaster is an inside Roller Coaster. Unlike Space Mountain over at the Magic Kingdom, The Rock N Roller Coaster goes upside down. The ride is also the second fastest ride in Walt Disney world, second only to Test Track across the lake at Epcot. When the ride begins, your limo shaped car is shot through a tunnel at 60 MPH. Pretty fast even for a rollercoaster. There are a few loops, a corkscrew and some other fun stuff almost entirely in the dark. The only thing you can really see are street signs marking upcoming interstates and exits. This may not seem too different from any other “Extreme” roller coaster except for one thing: This one has Aerosmith. And it has Aerosmith really loud. Even though I had grew tired of Aerosmith a long time ago there is something fitting about hearing “Sweet Emotion”, “Love in an Elevator” and all those tired old songs blaring full blast as you are tossed through loops and drops in the dark while you car drives at high speeds to get you and Aerosmith to the gig on time. Aerosmith possesses the semi corniness to make them the perfect fit for this ride’s scenario.
When Aerosmith broke up a few years back the first thought to cross my mind was what about the Rock N Roller Coaster? Even though the beginning part of the ride where you see Aerosmith in the studio (and Dana Carvey as the sound man) becomes rather  annoying the more times you go on the ride, it is still part of the overall attraction. Would that part be eliminated? Possibly even redone with a newer Disney act. “The Jonas Brother’s Rock N Rollercoaster”. Just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
I don’t think the scenario of the ride would have worked if Walt Disney World had featured either U2 or R.E.M., their first two choices ahead of Aerosmith.
Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror – Right across from the Rock N Roller Coaster sits a 300 ft tall structure designed to look like a 1930’s Hollywood Hotel. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is the second major attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The story of the ride is you are staying at the famed Hollywood Tower hotel- a hotel where a family and bell hop disappeared on a night in 1939.When you are about to enter  the hotel elevator, a TV comes on by itself. On the TV is a mock up of the old Twilight Zone television epsiode. The sound of that recognizable Twilight Zone theme music followed by Rod Sterling’s introduction coming from this TV is pretty bad. It is made to simulate the sound quality that appeared on the original show. When you sit inside the elevator the real audio begins. The elevator goes up and makes its first stop. Here you can see the ghost image of the  family and bellhop who disappeared in the elevator all those years ago; there is also a perfectly pitched thunderstorm brewing through the one window. The ghosts wave to you. For fun, most people wave back.
Then the elevator climbs another floor. When your car emerges from the elevator shaft you are greeted with life sized  size images of the starfields, a few strange sights and even stranger sounds. It is here where Disney’s perfect sound really makes the ride scare me.

 Every New Years Day I watch the Twilight Zone Marathon. Every episode has the beginning with the strange star field, hourglass etc. When you are in this part of the Tower Of Terror, the “Fifth Dimension” room, you are right there IN the beginning of all those Twilight Zone episodes. It is basically a nightmare I have had many times over the years. But then the whole purpose why this ride is being included in my Music blog happens, the glass breaks. The audio is so real the sound cuts right through you. Then the oh so familiar Twilight Zone theme music comes on (music you should not listen to while grooming a dog. A story for another time) and this time it does not sound like its coming from a 50 year old television set. It is all around you in totally flawless surround sound.
Then the elevator car goes down. Not only does it drop, it is actually pulled down. Then up, then down. Then up, the down. A computer randomly picks three drops for your car to complete. Each time you go up the doors open and the whole park is laid out in front of you. That is until you once again here that perfect sounding Twilight Zone theme. This time the music is welcomed. You know you are back on solid ground.

The third major atraction of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a new attraction called Toy Story Midway Mania. The only problem with the Toy Story ride is the wait. The standby line is usually past the two hour mark. Even with a Fast Pass your chances are slim your turn to ride will be anytime soon. Two years ago we arrived at the park around 9:10, just a minutes after the park gates were opened. Figuring this maybe the only shot at the ride we made our way straight over to the brand new Toy Story Midway Mania and picked up Fast Passes. When the passes where done printing, the time listed on them was 3:30-4:30. Not wanting to wait around the park all day for the one ride we gave the fast passes to some people who had just tried to get some fast passes themselves. At that point all the passes were already sold out.
We figured the ride was brand new. Next year the hype will be over and the wait not so long. We were wrong. I guess word how great the ride was had gotten out. The standby wait was just short of three hours with Fast Passes for the day long gone. This year we didn’t even try.
Luckily this year we were there for the Christmas Season. This meant Disney’s Hollywood Studios had something going on I had never experienced in my 5 visits to Walt Disney World. Something going on that my wife hasn’t see in her 9 visits. Something which just would not been the same without music.
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights- Unlike I believed before we arrived at Disney Hollywood Studios, the “Osborne Family” does not have anything to do with Ozzy Osboure, his wife Sharon or any of the other characters who appeared on that family’s “reality” show. At first I was disappointed. I had already seen the Joy Division Mickey Mouse shirt so an attraction named after the “Godfather of Heavy Metal” would not have been so shocking. When I read the back story of the Osborne family the attraction was named after I was a great deal more interested.
Without going into too much detail about it, the lights were originally owned by an Arkansas resident name Jennings Osborne. The idea to display Christmas lights began when Jennings’ daughter was 4 years old. Her one wish for Christmas was to decorate the outside of the house. Jennings made his daughter's wish comes true. When the next Christmas came around Osborne decided to add more. The next year even more. Little by little over the years the Osborne’s light grew so much that Jennings decided to purchase the two lots on either side to make room for even more lights.
The town began to tire of endless traffic around their homes- a result of visitors driving by to take in the awesome display. In 1995 the Arkansas State Supreme Court shut it down. Jennings would no longer be allowed to display his lights.
After entertaining the idea of selling all his lights to various different sources, Jennings was ready to give up. Then Disney put in an offer. Every year since, the lights have been on display in Hollywood Studios. First they were decorating the “Residential Street” of the faux Hollywood back lot. When that was destroyed to make room for “Lights, Motor, Action!” Extreme Stunt Show, the lights were relocated to the “City Street” and remain there to this day.
However you may think these lights look just go ahead and scrap that image right now. These lights are incredible! Every little detail is not overlooked. When you turn the corner on to the “City Street” of the Hollywood Back Lot you are greeted with two simulated lines of building on either side of you all encompassed with color changing lights. The movie theater. The department store. Everything is covered from ground to roof with a lit up banner strewn across the street declaring “The Osborne Family’s Spectacle of Dancing Lights”. Continuing down the street there is a 70 Ft Christmas tree consisting of 80,000 color lights. Lights in the shape of tins soldiers line the foot of the tree with Mickey in the middle. If you make a diagonal left halfway down the street there is extremely large canopy consisting of over 30,000 lights. Further down two rotating carrousels with reindeer shaped lights and a humongous illuminated globe  sit high on either side of even more buildings, The globe, as my wife pointed out too me, has a special lighted arrow pointing to Arkansas. A nice salute to the lights originator.
Considering Walt Disney World’s reputatation about their attention to detail and how everything there is larger than life, this grand display may seem expected. But think how every single light, including the large carousels and globe, presented on the “City Street” were once displayed on the property of one family from Arkansas, the only change being a burnt out bulb here and there, 
If the lights were the end of the story it would still be breathtaking but some people may not be too impressed. Everyone has one of those houses up the street who goes overboard on the lights. Although these lights are very awesome someone may look at them as just an even further over exageration of that house up the street illuminating the neighborhood.
It would also mean there is really no reason to include this attraction on my music and sound based blog. But these lights are something more than just a striking display. They do more than just change colors and twinkle. These lights change color to music. These lights dance too music.
Every 10 minutes the lights will go down before Christmas songs by groups ranging from The Trans Siberian Orchestra to Jose Feliciano kick in. All songs very loud with that perfect Disney Sound. The tin soldiers at the foot of the tree dance around the tree to the various pieces of Tachovsky's “Nutcracker Suite”. All the lights turn waves of blue as Elvis belts out the classic “Blue Christmas”. Just like the tired old Aerosmith songs on the Rock N Roller Coaster, new life is breathed into these songs.
The whole experience was so breathtaking to both my wife and I, we made sure to allow time for a return to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to experience the “Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights” one more time before the trip home.
Now that we have covered some of the major music and sounds of Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios theme park, in a few days we will take a ride across the lake to the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Most of the time known simply as EPCOT,