Friday, May 16, 2014

Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart - 2013

I guess I was late showing up to the "Frank Turner is cool" party, but Frank Turner is cool.

Frank Turner started as the frontman for a hardcore band, but found that after a while, he just wanted a change of pace, so he put out an album of songs like a troubadour - him and his acoustic guitar talking about life after hardcore. And damned if it hasn't been great stuff.

Some of the earlier albums were a bit shaky, sometimes getting too lost in his balladeering, but "Tape Deck Heart" is Frank's fifth album, and it's lock-solid from start to finish, mostly because it's gotten the balance down between bitter bluesy tracks and more upbeat catchy swinging songs. Frank's also willing to pick up the occasional electric and let it dance among the sounds, but doesn't ever let it overwhelm anything.

In many ways, Frank Turner's filling the space that Dashboard Confessional seems to have left - someone talking about their own life with a brutal bit of clarity, sometimes to their own detriment. Songs like "Good & Gone" include lyrics like "So fuck you Hollywood / For raising us on dreams of happy endings / In postcards of the prom kings and the prom queens / For teaching us that love was free and easy" and you can tell Turner's had a rough go at life from time to time, but he's right, and it's understandable, how frustrating life can be in comparison to the views of Hollywood.

Then you have a song like "Tattoos," where he talks about his love of tattoos and what they say about him: "Some people have one and  / Some have one that they're ashamed of  / Most people think that we're fools / Some people don't get it and / Some people don't care /And some of us we have tattoos..."

For me, though, the song on the album that really brings it all home is "We Shall Not Overcome," the anthem of, well, someone just like me: "We're all awkward understudies wearing comfortable shoes getting comfortable with doing it wrong / Missed the dress rehearsals and we had to rush a drink before the show but now it's show time and we're singing our song! /Because the bands I like, they don't sell too many records / And the girls I like, they don't kiss too many boys / Books I read will never be best sellers, yeah / But come on fellas at least we made our choice..."

The single that caught everyone's attention, though, was "Polaroid Picture" and I'll leave you with that...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Kavinsky - Outrun - 2013

It'll be a short couple of days, as I've got a concert tonight, and I've been making significant progress on a writing project I've been working on, so I want to keep my forward motion on that. That said, I do want to give you music to listen to. So today, I give you Kavinsky.

Kavinsky doesn't work fast, having only put out one album and a handful of EPs since starting making music almost ten years ago, but what he does make is incredible stuff.

His style is electronic music that's heavily influenced by early 1980s soundtracks and the synth-pop of the same era. It's for people who like Daft Punk and Justice, although Kavinsky definitely has a sound that is all his own. It tends to shift back and forth between sleek/fast and slow/slinky.

His first album, "Outrun," came out about a year ago, and is full of all sorts of tracks that will burrow their way into your ear and stick around forever. Here's "Protovision," one of the singles from the album.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

VHS Or Beta - Diamonds And Death - 2011

VHS Or Beta are a band clearly out of time. One quick listen and you'll be immediately greeted with sounds that are clearly more influenced by disco, house and the electronic scene of the early 1980s than anything you'd normally hear today.

They have a dance-y feel to them, but it's seemed like they've been an underground band for a long time, much to my sadness. I suppose it's hard because it's difficult to hang a hook on their tracks. The lyrics aren't catchy and don't often draw you in, so on first impression, they can come across as a less memorable Duran Duran, but the instrumentation is so good, the longer you listen to it, the more it works its way into your brain. The songs are perfect for grooving to, and they're absolutely spot on for a warm summer evening.

"Diamonds And Death" is their third album, and probably their most accessible, particularly the catchy "I Found A Reason," but "Breaking Bones" actually got a video, so I'll leave you with that.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Scott Pilgrim - 2004-2010

Some of you may have seen the awesome Edgar Wright film "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe," but didn't know it was based on a comic book. Some of you may not have even seen that film. In both cases, you should correct your mistake, because Scott Pilgrim is all sorts of crazy awesomeness.

Scott Pilgrim is a series of six graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, which were originally done in black and white but are being colorized now (in addition to having a few extra scenes put back in). They detail the story of one Scott Pilgrim, a Canadian slacker and part-time bass player in the band Sex Bob-omb, who's trying to get his life together and win the heart of the beautiful American trans-dimensional delivery girl Ramona Flowers. To do so, however, he must defeat her seven exes, who have formed a league of sorts. (Because, y'know, bad guys tend to hang out together.) Oh, Scott's also sort of dating a high school girl when he meets Ramona, so there's that whole mess to figure out as well.

Scott Pilgrim is probably only targeted for people between the ages of 21-40, simply because a lot of the pop culture references will be lost on everyone else. That said, it's highly improbable than anyone will get all the references on their first time through, even someone as popped out as me. There's band references, comic book references, video game references (a LOT of videogame references), television references... it goes on and on. I mean, bad guys turn into coins when they're defeated. How can you go wrong with anything that has that in it?

O'Malley's art style is a blend of manga and traditional comic book art styles, and in what seems to be the default for the book, O'Malley just takes whatever works and folds it in, so you'll see things like screentones (which haven't been used in American comics for a long time now), exploding panels, full page spreads, caption jokes... it goes on and on.

Scott Pilgrim's greatest strength, however, is its characters, and not just Scott and Ramona. There's also Wallace Wells, Scott's "cool gay roommate," who often steals the scene in almost any scene he's in. (And props to actor Kieran Culkin for getting the role pitch perfect in the movie. And, y'know, also stealing the scenes he's in...) And there's Kim Pine, Scott's high school friend (and his first girlfriend), the band's drummer who's angrier than most people would believe. Also, Knives Chau, the high school girl who's referred to as "Scott's fake high school girlfriend" early on in the book. And plenty others. Not to mention the evil exes, who are wildly diverse and mostly insane.

There's something wonderfully stop-and-start about Scott Pilgrim as both a character and a book. When it's moving forward, it feels like forward motion is the only possible thing that could be happening right then and there. When it's dwelling on a moment, you almost want that moment to last forever. And Scott as a character is the exact same way - he doesn't seem to have any 1st gear, only neutral and 4th.

And, if you haven't seen the movie "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," you really should. It's from Edgar Wright, who's brought you such pop classics as "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," and who's directing "Ant-Man" for Marvel. (He also did a marvelous TV show called "Spaced," but I'll talk about that another day.) I've never understood why the film wasn't a monster hit, but maybe it was just too clever for its own good, a distinct possibility considering the film makes fun of hipsters more than a little bit...

The whole series is out in black and white now, and the first four volumes are in color, with the fifth one coming in June and the sixth one probably the end of this year or the beginning of next (although it could be next summer. Who the hell knows.)