August 10, 2007

As of August 10th, the Stypod will no longer be actively publishing content. Thanks for reading!

Todd Burns | 9:00 am | Comments (15)

August 9, 2007

Ambition in music comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be a different approach on your sophomore album (like the Killers and their unfortunate Springsteen appropriating), or a complete makeover of your sound and image (Talk Talk’s incredible transformation from New Wave also-rans to ethereal jazz-rockers). One of my favorite exercises in ambition is also the simplest—Gillian Welch and David Rawling’s magnificent closer to Time (The Revelator), “I Dream a Highway.”

Clocking in at fourteen and a half blissful minutes, “I Dream a Highway,” on the surface, does not seem to break any new ground. Built around three simple chords, the song never changes its tone or its tempo the whole way through—two acoustic guitars wind their way through the verses and choruses, with Rawlings occasionally firing off one of his trademark fantastic acoustic solos as punctuation. What really raises the song to a height not often reached in acoustic folk music are two factors—the extraordinary length of the song (it doesn’t feel like 14 and a half minutes, but it’s most assuredly no Motown single in length), and Welch’s startlingly beautiful mind-pictures, sung in her wearily gorgeous voice.

Building the verses around both historical metaphors (Johnny Cash’s famous drug-ridden destruction of the Grand Ol’ Opry’s stage sits side by side with the resurrection of Lazarus) and marvelous wordplay (“Drank whiskey with my water, sugar in my tea/My sails in rags, with the staggers and the jags”), Welch constructs a glorious, heart-breaking chorus (“I dream a highway back to you, love / A winding ribbon with a band of gold / A silver vision come and bless my soul”). The song gently, blissfully floats its way through Americana, as heartsick as a Leadbelly song, as poetic as a Dylan song, and as riveting in the last verse as in the first.

Time (The Revelator) has been described by Welch as her “rock and roll” album, meaning that she deliberately wrote songs for a full band, but performed them acoustically with her partner Rawlings as sole accompanist. I’m glad she did—this song could never work with a full band. It deserves its sparse, run-down glory, quietly carrying you on the kind of journey only a truly ambitious song can take you on.

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Tony Ling | 9:00 am | Comments Off

August 8, 2007

There comes a surreal time when the records you purchased or traded in your wary days of teendom, are launched into the upper echelons of classic status. Such is what happened when Decibel magazine constructed their own ivory tower for the likes of Deadguy, Botch, and Dillinger Escape Plan. One of their most recent Hall of Fame inductions was none other than their controversial peers, Cave In for their album Until Your Heart Stops.

There were plenty of CDs that got me through high school, but this is the proud cultural and emotional artifact that made my teenage years. To put it simply, this album was, to me, the perfect storm of unbridled chaos and unbridled creativity that I had been waiting for. The album is an imaginative and powerful meshing of thrash, Deadguy-era hardcore, Failure-esque prog rock and a lot of pent up energy that can only be exerted by nineteen year olds who are good at guitar. Stephen Brodsky cut his teeth—and scarred his throat—as the frontman and chief songwriter and does rather well despite his struggle to maintain his voice. People can scoff all they want about Cave In’s recent tribulations under a major label, but those hecklers didn’t make one of the greatest metal and hardcore records of the ’90s and ’00s, hence there is no argument.

I can go on and on about how much I love this record. Again to put it simply, it’s a record that, after hundreds of listens in the seven years that I’ve owned the CD (actually the actual CD wore through some time ago, now I have a burnt copy), it still proves a moving, challenging, and fun listen. If this does nothing for you than just listen to “Juggernaut.” Good night.

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Chris Morgan | 9:00 am | Comments (1)

August 7, 2007

Our first morning together was during our final days in Amsterdam. Our elation at a new-found connection was mixed with the dark reality that our time was limited. Weeks of metaphorically dancing around each other—coy looks, soft touches—had finally come to fruition, but wrenchingly it all seemed too late. In seven days we would be gone.

But that morning I was trying to ignore those thoughts. At her behest I put on some music, first Cat Powers’s The Greatest in a rather vain attempt to look suave and sensitive. She didn’t seem impressed, so instead I placed my favourites playlist on shuffle, as we tried to soak in our first and ultimately final minutes together. Some Supergrass, followed by Camera Obscura—she approved of their upbeat flavor. Success.

Next was Ryan Adams’s “New York, New York.” Although this derivative classic has become synonymous with the power of New Yorkers to rebuild, at its heart is a tale of a mixed up lover trying to find meaning amidst a metropolis. “I’ll always love you though New York” is as much a paean to lost love as it is a potential tourism slogan. Nevertheless, my girl wasn’t paying that much attention to the lyrics, attracted more by the song’s relentless acoustic strum. I however felt a bittersweet tinge in my gut as Adams sung “Had myself a lover who was finer than gold / But I’ve been broken and busted up since.”

That joyous morning soon ended and we tumbled recklessly through our passionate final days. There was an intensity to our shared experience, spurred on by our mutual affection and an eye on the clock.

My little flame quickly became fascinated by Wilco, curious about my glowing comments to friends and strangers about the new record Sky Blue Sky. In true Wilco fashion, she had actually downloaded the new album. All because of me. I’m always eager to pontificate about music, but in this case her interest melted my heart. Lying together on her bed, the beautiful melodies of Sky Blue Sky provided the backdrop to our infatuation.

By this stage, “Side with the Seeds”—the record’s peerless triumph—had already come to signify my half-year in Amsterdam: the cathartic instrumental crescendos were a musical evocation of my most intense adventures, whilst the gorgeous verses matched the poignant memories of new friends in remarkable places. The song is a powerful experience. The best music, much like the best moments in a life actually lived, will leave you in a tailspin.

I was utterly, irretrievably, smitten with this girl. However, I was unable to forget the bitter truth that time was short. Each ecstatic moment spent together would eventually throw me further into the abyss. Rationally, I knew that I should back off to avoid the future heartache. But the idealistic, romantic, side of me—the part of me that I like—knew that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Jeff Tweedy’s final words in “Side with the Seeds” are “I’ll side with you / If you side with me”: I took a similar chance. I’ve never regretted the move.

Fast forward to now and I have returned to the dark reality of Sydney. I miss my sweetheart terribly. Just like Ryan Adams, I am struggling to “say farewell to the city and the love of my life / As we left before we had to go.” I look upon the world through a different paradigm. The future seems less certain than it did before. I have learned to survive with the reality of our separation, but surviving is not living. Moreover, suppressing my sorrow also confuses me. If the pain diminishes, have my feelings for the girl similarly faded? This question does not remain unanswered for long, for when I am engulfed by moments—waves—of sadness, they come with the welcome realisation that I still feel for her.

There are other truths in my life: the most important being that this girl and I will be reunited. I am not sure of when, or how, or where, but we will be together once more. This realization is liberating. As Tweedy sings, “embracing our situation is our only chance to be free.”

Another certainty is that the stunning music of “Side with the Seeds” will forever remain a part of me. I will never forget its effect. The song will encapsulate my time in Amsterdam and the gamble I took with that amazing girl. The song’s payoff is damningly short, just as was my time with my little flame, but this makes the experience no less wondrous, passionate, or unforgettable.

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Michael Tran | 9:00 am | Comments (1)

August 6, 2007

It’s August. In a few days, I’ll pick up my inevitably erroneous schedule. A week after that, I’ll walk into the fiery pits of hell; this will quickly lead to a long state of depression. No more sleep. No more time for art. No more life.

But sulking isn’t getting me anywhere. I might as well celebrate with (Shirrelle C. Limes’) “A Toast the Month of July,” my only month of complete freedom. This July, I spent most of my time working for a local film festival. I also reconnected with a few of my old friends, saw a couple movies and…SHIT!

Looking back on it, July was a complete and utter failure of a month, filled with fluffy ideas and terrible boredom. I dreamt big for 31 days. I wanted to make a huge film. I wanted to get into Sundance. I wanted to record an album. I wanted fame or something… recognition of any kind. Hell, I wanted to volunteer and make a difference. But what did I do? Nothing. I played on the internet. I jacked off for 31 days and got nowhere, absolutely nowhere. I’m not happy about July. Why the hell should I toast to it?

As Shirrelle C. Limes (aka Shannon Diaz, a spunky video store clerk from my hometown of Columbia, MO) puts it, July was just another month filled with “all the noise you made in your head and regret.” But as Diaz also points out, I can overcome it. I can toast to my failures, learn, and move on.

I’m going to try her advice, but as everyone knows, it’s a lot easier to say something than it is to do it. And boy, does Diaz say it sweetly. Sure, she’ll call you a motherfucker, but she’ll say it in the sweetest of keys. Even better, she’ll throw in some gorgeous harmonies and memorable hooks, offer it for free online and only ask for donations. Nice message, nice tune. Look for the forthcoming album in the fall.

So, to recap: I’m “Movin’ On.” Hey! That’s Elliott Yamin, one of July’s few bright spots. Lots of people remember Yamin from Idol, where he placed third. I’ve been a huge fan since he reached the Top 24; for me, he was always like the little engine that could. I mean, yeah, it was quite obvious that he had the best voice, but he didn’t seem to be receiving a huge amount of fan support, especially compared to frontrunner Daughtry and future winner Taylor Hicks.

After the show ended, I didn’t expect him to have much of a solo career, but this past month, he proved me wrong, just like on the show. Slowly but surely, his generic R&B single “Wait for You” climbed the charts, eventually reaching a surprising number 19. I’m ecstatic every time it comes on the radio, which is quite often. Congrats Elliott!

But FYI: “Movin’ On” is better. If you’re smart, you’ll make it the next single. With its smooth chorus and fantastic, rapid-fire verses, it’s bound to impress even more radio listeners. And even better, it’s really ironic to follow-up a song called “Wait for You” with one called “Movin’ On.” That brings me to another point: these lyrics.

When I listen to them, they start to make me sad. “You better not move too slow, ‘cause I’m movin’ on.” It sounds like a response from July. “Hey Chris, you screwed me over. Why did you waste my time? I had so much to give. Goodbye! And enjoy August, you stupid asshole!”

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Chris Boeckmann | 9:00 am | Comments (1)

August 3, 2007

Stylus contributor Nate Deyoung presents a mix of recent dance tracks…

01: Otterman Empire - Private Land [buy]
02: Black Leotard Front - Casual Friday [buy]
03: Studio - Life’s a Beach (Todd Terje Remix) [buy]
04: Kelly Polar Quartet - Rhythm Touch [buy]
05: Phantom Slasher - Lasagna for 10 [buy]
06: Runaway - Ain’t Afraid to Beg [buy]
07: Map of Africa - Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys [buy]
08: Harry Nilsson - Jump Into the Fire [buy]
09: Etta James - In the Basement (Theo Parrish Re-Edit) [buy]
10: Lq - Lies (Theo Parrish Re-Edit) [buy]
11: Lee Douglas - Our Song 99 [buy]
12: Giorgio Gigli - Circle [buy]

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The styPod | 3:00 pm | Comments Off

If you asked people on the street what they feel constitutes a good cover version, you’d better prepare yourself for a lot of different answers. Some people like faithfulness to the originals, others like hearing familiar songs in unfamiliar ways. Some enjoy tongue-in-cheek, others ask for deference to the song’s creators. Some want stripped-down arrangements focusing on the song’s meat, others like massive arrangements that exploit any melodic underpinnings. But, most of all, people just want the cover to be good.

Almost unbelievably, one of the best cover versions ever released came from a little-known Australian alternative band, Frente! The group’s sound is nothing special—pop music with a great lead vocalist—and the group only made inroads in Australia with one album before splitting up. But they achieved eternal fame with their stripped-down cover of “Bizarre Love Triangle,” New Order’s classic single.

The idea isn’t particularly extraordinary—take an electronically-driven dance song, strip away every instrument, transcribe the melody into an acoustic setting, and take it from there. Sounds simple, right? But, as any inventor will tell you, the plan means nothing without the execution, and the execution is what takes this song to its beautiful heights. Accompanied by a finger-picked acoustic that suggests Gillian Gilbert’s famous synth lines without directly copying them, singer Angie Hart gently croons the lyrics in her off-beat, accented voice, focusing attention entirely on the words of the song. This is one of the song’s great strengths—Bernard Sumner was rarely better at writing than this song—and it serves Frente!’s version well in lieu of any other music to distract from Hart’s vocals. Without any of the instrumental breakdowns of the original—Stephen Morris’ flashy drum mini-solo, Gilbert’s keyboard washes—the song clocks in at a punchy 1:59. But that adds to the song’s charm—by stripping the song to its basic elements, Frente! discovered its intrinsic beauty and charm.

When it comes to bands that haven’t built a strong legacy, you can go many different ways. And, it can be argued, the worst possible legacy for an also-ran group is to be known primarily for a cover version (just ask Orgy). However, when the cover is as good as “Bizarre Love Triangle,” it makes things a lot easier to swallow. Frente! may be gone (more or less), but their legacy remains.


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Tony Ling | 12:00 pm | Comments (3)

OK, so I haven’t seen Sparks, but I’ve certainly listened to them a great deal this past week. For the unfamiliar, Sparks came into being during the 1970’s, and their most recent endeavor, Hello Young Lovers (2006), marks their 20th studio release. The duo composes songs often employing several vocal tracks (think Queen). Their lyrics not only often cut straight to the point but also, and quite suddenly, straight to the heart.

They’re tricksters; they write songs meant to be fun until that moment/lyric that indicates how jaded they truly are, which by no means causes the enjoyment to cease. Instead, it’s that wince-inducing line that makes the brothers all the more likable. They’re experienced, they’re wary, and they’re intent on making you shake, stop, and thus shake even harder.

Perfume,” a seeming laundry-list of women and their scents of choice, becomes much more than a catchy synth/jazz/rock number about a man wanting to spend his life with a woman who doesn’t “wear no perfume” upon the confession “The olfactory sense is the sense that most strongly evokes memories of the past / Well screw the past.” And that’s why Mael wants to spend his life with this woman; there’s comfort in knowing she’ll never haunt him. After 20 albums and 30-some-odd years of making music I can scarcely blame him.

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Rahawa Haile | 9:00 am | Comments Off

August 2, 2007

Every week I say to myself, “Give them something breathtaking to hear.” Well not this week. This week is about charm, childhood, and charisma.

I was recently introduced to the world of Muzzy, the BBC Language Course for Children. Clearly, I’m a lost cause as far as the program is concerned, but one track in particular struck a nerve: the French version of the “A-E-I-O-U” song.

Honestly, it’s too endearing to be educational, and this allure is what keeps me from blinking twice at nonsensical lyrics such as, “A-E-I-U-O. A motorbike. / I-O-U-E-A. Let’s go!”

Because Muzzy is a bear. He is an alien-bear-thing—with a penchant for devouring clocks—here (this time) to teach French. On y va!

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Rahawa Haile | 9:00 am | Comments (5)

August 1, 2007

Has it really been a decade? After “Creep” had torn through US radio like a comet, I’d mostly lost track of Radiohead (I wasn’t alone, of course) save the occasional play of “High and Dry” on my local rock station or something. Then the “Paranoid Android” video hit MTV, my brother bought OK Computer, and I became a monster fan. I scoured the Internet for mp3s of unreleased songs, traded bootlegs with kids in my high school, and bought copy after copy of the import singles I found at the HMV in Georgetown. And that’s how I came upon “How I Made My Millions,” one of my favorite Radiohead songs, a truly sentimental favorite if there ever was one.

What really gets me about the song is just how unpolished, how off-the-cuff, how unplanned it feels. After all, OK Computer’s leadoff single was “Paranoid Android,” a studio achievement on par with “A Day in the Life” or anything on Loveless for sheer grandeur and technical brilliance. It was stunning to go from that to this—Thom Yorke alone, playing a simple and affecting piano line, accompanied only by his magisterial voice. You can hear clicking noises in the background—legendarily, one of the band member’s girlfriend loading some laundry in a washing machine. And the lyrics, sparse and lovely (“I was stronger / I was better / Picked you out…Let it fall / Let it fall”), were rather obviously made up on the spot—there are certain lines I still haven’t figured out the words to. None of this matters when you let Yorke’s vocals wash over you, just like any other great Radiohead song.

Listening to the other OK Computer b-sides really puts this track in sharp relief—the blistering electronic-laden rocker “Palo Alto,” the weird instrumental “Meeting in the Aisle,” and the sample-laden, molasses-slow “A Reminder” all show off Radiohead’s impressive in-studio capabilities. But “How I Made My Millions,” improbably, is the b-side that best shows off Radiohead’s impressive abilities to write a song, plain and simple. Like many great artists and bands, Thom Yorke manages to be great when you’re not supposed to be listening. And songs like “How I Made My Millions” make me glad I’m a Radiohead fan.

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Tony Ling | 9:00 am | Comments (4)

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