21 March 2008


For me 1998 was a great year for discovering music. Actually, 1998 was a great year for discovering familiar music. Ten years on they still hold true.

Blink 182 was in the process of recording their mega-hit album Enema Of The State, which is truly a technically brilliant album. There is no finer drummer than Travis Barker at that point (say what you will about Neil Peart, Barker was a refreshing new sound to the familiar and intricate riffs we all grew up with, not to diminish Peart).

Bic Runga, New Zealand chanteuse and all around goddess of all she vocalizes released her first single (Sway, which is mostly known by the American audiences as the sex song from American Pie) and the brilliant debut album, Drive. I say 'brilliant', but that stands because we are talking about 1998. Her albums have progressively gotten more and more amazing, piquing with 2005's transcendent Birds.

And finally, also from New Zealand, a man who needs no introduction but will get one. He assumed the lead guitar role and eventually headed New Zealand's top band and musical export of the 1970s and 1980s, Split Enz, and wrote some of their biggest hits including the 80s international staple I Got You; he founded the international hit band Crowded House and penned one of the most recognizable pop ballads even today with Don't Dream It's Over; he frequently collaborated with his older brother Tim in almost every musical endeavor the tow of them have ever participated in; he is father to Liam who's band Betchadupa has also received international recognition in the past few years; he has drawn the likes of Eddie Vedder, Johnny Marr, members of Radiohead, Wendy and Lisa of Prince's Revolution, Sheryl Crow, Sinead O'Connor, and Lisa Germano among the many into his backing band; he co-wrote hits for other people including Every Day Is A Winding Road by Sheryl Crow (on which he also sings back up) and Silent House by the Dixie Chicks; and his most recent role has been fairly low key touring pianist and backing vocalist for Bic Runga's band.

Of course, he is the great Neil Finn.

Neil Finn at age 22 changing pop music history
with Split Enz and I Got You.

5 years later with Crowded House
and an even bigger success.

With friends (see the list above)
and her first solo hit.

The unassuming piano man and perfection herself
in 2005.

After 21 years as a professional musician (not counting when he would open for his brother Tim's band Split Enz at age 13 as a solo act) Neil Finn finally decided to release an official solo album. The result was 1998's beautiful Try Whistling This. The album is incredible. It begins like a railway station and ends with a dream. In between he dabbles in undying romance(Try Whistling This), the carnal (King Tide--I swear to this day this song is about oral sex), redemption (Sinner), the perfect pop song (She Will Have Her Way), and barren, wind-swept emptiness of the soul (the eerie yet enrapturing Astro). The dreaming begins around track 9 (Truth) and ends with track 14 on a moving dream train to other places ('feels like this train might never stop...', Addicted).

It would be another 3 years until Finn would continue the journey with 2001's One Nil (and the American version, 2002's One All. In a strange note, the track Turn And Run was an chilling lyrical premonition of the events of 9/11 that didn't go unnoticed by the Frenz (Split Enz and all related music fans), though nothing was ever mentioned officially about it. The song itself was written months, even years prior to that tragic day.

Whatever the case, I've decided to include the last track of Try Whistling This, Addicted. You can hear where the journey ends. This is an album I highly recommend you go out and find for yourself and get keyed in to how it all got to this point.

Thank you, Neil Finn.


Neil Finn - Addicted

17 March 2008

"Mary Had a Little Lamb"

When I set out to my own apartment and college life, my parents opened up with a stream of memories from when I was a baby. I heard stories I never knew before. It was as if my impending absence resurrected the past in their minds, and from that came a song. In a tiny nursery with yellow and green butterfly wallpaper, my Dad sat in a rocker holding a little me and sang Wings' version of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Who knows why he picked that song? He was quick to qualify that he never really followed Paul McCartney's work outside the Beatles. But because he picked that song and sang it to me when I was just a tiny helpless thing, the song became precious to him. And when I finally found the song (he never had a copy) and listened to it with that picture in my mind, remembering the emotion in Dad's voice when he related the story to me, the song became precious to me as well.

It's not a groundbreaking version of the song; there are no new lyrics or altered rhymes, but the thing that Dad remembered setting it apart was the la la las, and they do add something almost imperceptible to a familiar tune.

I've made sure that Dad has a copy of the song now--the internets is an amazing place that way. One day maybe I will share it with other tiny helpless children like he did.


05 March 2008

'This Means Anything'/'I Was In Chains'

Last night I was in a migraine haze, sitting on the couch and watching Tivo'd episodes of Chef Stories, No Reservations, and Bizarre Foods, and trying to read my Apocalypse 2012 book. I had just taken a small handful of pills that I hoped were Ibuprofen, though I couldn’t be exactly sure since my girlfriend tends to throw all her meds into the same bottle for when we travel and this was one of the bottles, and washed it down with the last 32-ounces of the 5-gallon drum of tea that I had nearly single-handedly put away over the past 2-and-a-half days. (At least I had the sense to make sure all the pills matched.) The laptop was on and I was ready to be creative and post amazing new things.

I woke up a few hours later in time to hear V’s key turning in the lock, be on the receiving end of claws as the sleeping cat on my chest sprang to life and leapt to the door, and having Bullet Tooth Tony yelling at me from Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels on TV. So suffice it to say, little got written. However, I did jolt awake with a song still ringing in my brain. It was something that was left over from the unconscious state, the soundtrack to my dreamless-dreaming. It seems to be a song... rather ‘songs’ that transition from waking to sleeping well. From the 1985 LP Secret Of Association, it’s This Means Anything/I Was In Chains by the spiky haired hero of my youth, Paul Young.

For those who need a refresher:

Everything Must Change

Yes, this was his big album with hit singles like the cover of Every Time You Go Away, Tomb Of Memories, and Everything Must Change. Chock full of blue-eyed soul the album was about as close as the Luton-born Mr. Young ever got to being a fully fledged Detroit soulster. It had the definite sway from three male back up vocalists, the funkiest organ riffs heard in those days, and—one of my favourite tricks of the 80s—the warm, mournful cry of a well played fretless bass. Much like a Vegas crooner Mr. Young’s career depended a lot on cover songs (Love Will Tear Us Apart, Love Of the Common People, I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, Oh Girl, Wherever I Lay My Hat Is Home, A Soldiers Things, Don’t Dream It’s Over, etc.), though that’s not to say that he was in any way sub-par. In fact, he has a beautifully gruff voice. But towards the end of this soulful album there are two tracks that bleed from one to the other. And one is, surprisingly, an original.

This Means Anything is a sad, sweet song with still that plaintive soul edge that made Every Time You Go Away such a huge hit. Of the two I’ve always preferred this song because of its simplicity and earnestness. Perhaps it's because Mr. Young is singing something that he wrote and can express it with deeper conviction than the lyrics of another. Jangly, reverb-drenched, and shiningly 80s, the song fades with the repeating roundelay I'll be with you again, words without credence, oh and segues into windchimes and a sparse rhythm. Enter I Was In Chains. His Eastern take on the Sutherland Brothers classic conjures images of deserts, ships, open skies, and travels. Lonely deserts, lonely ships, lonely open skies, and lonely travels. I was in chains and bound for Australia... Though it creeps up on you the instrumentation is full. The lyrics and delivery compliment the sentiment of This Means Anything, the natural progression. It is not until the last ambient 20 seconds of the track do you become aware that it's over (and for the full effects listen to it through headphones, panning-o-philes, but I have to admit that I was much more impressed when I was 15).

As I mentioned, this is a drowsy pair of songs. Songs for the heartbroken, the traveling, and those of you who have hopefully taken only Ibuprofen.


Paul Young - This Means Anything/I Was In Chains

"Highschool Stalker" Hello Saferide

"I've been looking for you baby
any way that I can find
I've been searching for your sweet name
'cause you never leave my mind
I've been on the Altavista
I went twice on the Yahoo
And every where I go
There is always a clue
Always something about you
That may help me get my hands on you."

Hello Saferide was one of those awesome Myspace discoveries for me when I was so bored the only thing I could think of to fill the time was to friend hop band pages. When I heard "Highschool stalker" I was hooked. Annika Norlin's cleaver lyrics and sweet voice make the somewhat disturbing, but infinitely familiar message in "Highschool stalker" all the more poignant. Who hasn't searched the internet for a high school crush, accidentally walked down the street they live on the weekend, or changed their dental records? Ok so maybe not the last one.

"hacked into the school computer
changed all of your Ds to As,
broke into the dentists office,
no you never needed braces"

I have been informed, by a friend, that this song is creepy; and I have to agree that imagining a person really going to all this trouble under the weight of their obsession is a bit much, but there is a feeling there that reminds me of me. Am I admitting too much? Aren't we all prone to fall prey to the crazy obsessive first hints of love and infatuation? Where some people stay up into the night staring out on to their back yard wondering what the object of their affection is doing--some other people prank call, and walk by their house, and start eating the foods their crush likes the best. The all permeating feeling underneath either reaction is the same and indescribable. Judging by the vast popularity that the song enjoyed from its internet debut--I cannot be alone in thinking so. And somehow the self effacing blurb by the band about the song makes it all the better.

"'Highschool stalker' was an instant Internet hit with all of your favorite twee elements: handclaps, a Shangri-Las ask-and-tell chorus, a scrunched-up trumpet, and a weak guitar. Hello Saferide immediately got a record deal..."

Listen to it and other awesome songs by Hello Saferide.


03 March 2008

Storm & Stress

Disdain. That was the look on my friend Mike Fusco’s face when I showed him my purchase. In my hands was Storm & Stress’s 2000 album, Under Thunder And Fluorescent Lights, and I couldn’t have been happier. Being a huge Don Caballero fan, this side project was the next logical step for me. I try not to let people’s gray faces sway me when I’m making musical purchases. I’ve discovered a few friends who are gaga over Storm & Stress but they are few and far between. When I approached my future bandmate, Nafa, back in 2001, Storm & Stress was one of the things I passed along as one of my influences.

I quickly backtracked to 1997 with Storm & Stress’s self-titled album and was fairly confused at first. This is not easy listening. It took a while for this album to sink in but once it did, I could be found wasting away, with headphones on, in my local library. The constant absorption of this stuff (which I could barely understand) probably did irreparable damage to me but I doubt I’d be the same without it.

The last track on the self-titled album (not to ruin the finale for you or anything) is called “Orange Cone Made No Noise”. The rambling vocals let me know I’m in trouble. Then the eruption of instruments makes me shake and I get nostalgic for good old days that never happened. Deceivingly alienating, this is actually the warmest and most loving music in the world.

If you can make it to 2 and half minutes then you’ll be rewarded with a soft, soaked, and sinking life preserver. The guitar (played by Ian T. Williams) and the bass (M Eric Topolsky) spend a great deal of this song turning around too quickly and bumping into each other. And I wasn’t aware that drums could tease, rumble, sputter, and romp before I heard drummer Kevin Shea. I am in love with the 8 minute mark.

It just dawned on me that this track is over ten minutes. For some reason that’s funny to me. Ian Williams mentioned in an interview I read somewhere that there is a great deal of humor and tongue-in-cheekiness to Storm & Stress. Pretentious? Sure. Why not? I feel surprisingly levelheaded about this positive noise and it still reels me in and destroys me with smiles.

Tuba City interview with Ian Williams

"Orange Cone Made No Noise"