Friday, May 30, 2014

Band Review: The Relationship

I first got interested in reviewing The Relationship because of Brian Bell, also of Weezer. I enjoyed listening to their album, but I now have doubts that the review was a good idea, because their web site only has a video you can't watch, and most of the features aren't enabled on the Facebook side, which made me wonder if it was worth promoting the band. However, they seem to post on Facebook regularly, and played a gig in Los Angeles recently, and there's never anything wrong with listening to a good album.

Weezer is not the only related band, as The Relationship also features Anthony Burulcich of The Bravery, Nate Shaw of The Huns, and I may not know what other bands Jon LaRue has been in, but I do not doubt that he has past musical experience. They know what they are doing.

The songs have a mellow sound, showing influences from earlier bands like Buddy Holly and The Beatles. "You Rock My Heart" especially demonstrates that - the crooning and juke joint piano invokes guys with slicked up hair in matching white shirts, blue jackets, and black string ties. "Master Plan" with its hints of brass and building chorus, reminds me of Yellow Submarine-era Beatles, but "Thought I Knew" sounds fairly modern.

My favorite, though, is "Please Help Me". The textures and rhythm are interesting, but mainly for me it had the highest emotional impact, pulling me down into it.

At this point I feel like the web site is a weakness - it might be better to toss it and focus on Facebook - and the only purchasing option I could find was a limited number of import CDs on Amazon. (They are on Spotify, which is how I listened.) Those things can be frustrating for fans, and they can hold back the band. They are not reflections on the music, however, which is of course the most important thing.

Check out the music.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Band Review: Slim Wray

Slim Wray is an alternative rock band based in Brooklyn.

Initially I was thinking they were English, because there are spots where they felt very British Invasion to me. Maybe it was because they covered "Gloria", but the band also lists the Animals and the Kinks as influences, so it kind of makes sense. There's a pair of pants in their video for "Bear" that certainly looks like they could come from the '60s.

Some of that is the willingness to incorporate other sounds. The intro to "Bear" sounds a little bit Eastern influenced, whereas "I Gotta Girl (With a List of Needs)" is more reminiscent of surf music, but fuzzier. They have some interesting combinations, but always solidly rock.

The benefit from simplicity. Pared down to drums and guitar, the instruments come through strong. Sometimes rhythm and percussion seems to dominate, like on "Cutout", and other times there are more complicated melodies, as on "Long Long Way." Still solidly rock.

Their album, Sack Lunch, is available via Amazon and iTunes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sexist music videos

With yesterday's post, I had some videos in mind, but I did a Google search to see if I was missing anything, and that's how I find Sky Ferreira. I tried to do the same thing with today's topic, but all the results were for "sexiest music videos" instead. I am now a little impressed that I did not get any hits on "raciest music videos" for the previous search.

Searching on "sexism in music videos" worked a little better, but did not turn up much, so this will pretty much be about "Blurred Lines", "Wrecking Ball", and the unholy union of their performers at the Video Music Awards.

I don't think I can link to anything. I linked to some awful videos yesterday, and one really stupid one Monday, but these are just so ugly and degrading and not even well done.

Like with the VMAs, I suppose the point of all the teddy bears was to do that thing where we put symbols of childhood innocence with symbols of sexuality, which many find titillating, but they were such ugly teddy bears! And I get that all of the stuff with the foam finger and the tongue and the humping was about sex, but it was sorely lacking in sexiness. There are valid reasons for not watching erotic things, but this had nothing to do with that. There are so many problems with it, I don't even know how to begin. Fortunately, I do have a chance to compare a bad video with a better video, so that's where I will start.

Cyrus claimed Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" as part of her inspiration for "Wrecking Ball". She wanted to have something that personal and powerful. Both songs are about grief at the loss of a relationship, so that makes sense.

O'Connor's video consists mainly of a close-up of her face, dressed in black and singing against a black background. This conveys mourning, and there is a starkness to it that is compatible with the expression of emptiness. Cyrus has a similar close-up, though it is not as harshly focused and the background is white, which can also be associated with death, and can convey emptiness. Both have tears at times. So far, that's not really a problem.

O'Connor's other footage is her walking through Parc de Saint-Cloud in Paris. Every shot seems to contrast vegetation (like grass or trees), with stone. There is a hardness to the world, despite its beauty. Everything stays stark.

Cyrus also has footage of a wrecking ball crashing through walls and reducing them to rubble. That imagery works with the song, and the sense of being destroyed by the loss. The footage is not quite as good as the Paris footage, but is reasonably well done.

So far the videos are reasonably equivalent and they make their point, but that's not why people talk about "Wrecking Ball". There is also footage of Miley barely dressed and licking a sledgehammer, and both barely dressed and naked riding the wrecking ball, and looking turned on against the rubble.

Oddly, this undercuts the message. It distracts from the grief, and frankly is a little weird especially licking the sledgehammer part. Technically that should be her own instrument of destruction, so if she wielded it against the wrecking ball, that could be futile attempts to fight it, but instead she tongues it?

I know they say the nudity is to show how vulnerable she is as she comes clean about this breakup, but also it seems to me that the breakup was only official at the time of the release. Maybe the relationship was emotionally over, but if you are able to maintain the public semblance of the relationship until the ideal announcement time from a PR angle, I suspect you may not be completely destroyed. Perhaps I am too cynical.

The way the nudity is shot, the video can still be shown on television, but I could not help but think that director Terry Richardson got to see it all. I don't think that it's a coincidence that the man who executed this concept has a reputation for inappropriate sexual behavior, of leaving his models feeling uncomfortable and dirty, or actually being abused.

There is something else that strikes me about Cyrus, though, as she cuts short and bleaches her gorgeous hair, sticks out her tongue instead of boring smiling, and puts on clothes that are revealing but not pretty, that maybe she is not just rebelling against her former Disney image. Maybe she is rebelling against a world where she is supposed to be ornamental, and sexually available enough to not be icy, but not so much as to be slutty, and where you actually can't win. She just may need some coaching on how to rebel effectively, rather than being filmed by Terry Richardson and grinding on the singer of "Blurred Lines".

"Blurred Lines" is not a particularly well-done video. There doesn't seem to be any attempt to put the choreography with the tune, props are pretty random, and sometimes there is a jittery effect that doesn't seem to serve any purpose. Basically, it is clothed men ogling naked women who enjoy the attention. In that sense, it does serve the song perfectly.

I know people have given different interpretations of the song; I have a friend who thinks it's about someone hitting on a married woman. It is certainly true that there is a double standard in place where there is a stigma on women for having sex that men do not face, and that is unfair. If you don't believe in chastity for anyone, then encouraging women to play around just as much as men sounds reasonable. So I get that, but I can't help but think that a song going along those lines might be more likely to ask "Do you want it?" rather than outright declaring "I know you want it."

Sure, liberating sounds better than domesticating, but both the singer and the previous guy are taking the view that she is an animal; why isn't it that "We're both animals?" That imbalance is reinforced by the clothing in the video, where the men are fully dressed and the women are naked, even though presumably if they were going to have sex, both sides would undress.

It has been rightly pointed out that "I know you want it" is the language of rapists, and putting those together, other red flags pop up. There are hints at violence, and echoes of things Pick Up Artists say. There is a reference to drugs, as a way of loosening resistance. I've got someone else, but she is not as bad as you, so let's do this, and multiple times calling the subject of the song "bitch". And it's never asking a question; why would she get a say?

Another Google search I had done recently was sexualized images in advertising, which I looked up after reading a chapter about advertising, and the descriptions sounded really bad. Looking at actual images, yes, those descriptions were accurate, but I had never thought of it like that because that kind of imagery is so prevalent, and it is all women. The only male images that came up were some salad dressing ads that had made everyone uncomfortable, but when a woman is reduced to her body, or parts of her body, we're used to that.

Again, I will be spending more time on sexism and beauty and objectification later; this blogging segment is about music videos. I maintain that what we watch and what we propagate matters, and maybe it's more timely after last weekend.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Racist music videos

This week I am watching and listening to a lot of stuff that I would normally avoid like the plague. I will be glad when it's over. I do it though, because I believe that it matters. The representations we make and popularize matter. The choices are not always made consciously, but they are still choices. If you're new here, I'm pretty much all about consciousness and thinking about what you do.

The videos that were foremost in my mind were "Hard Out Here" by Lily Allen and "Hello Kitty" by Avril Lavigne, which naturally reminded me of Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls, although I did not know of a specific video for that; it was more that she made them accessories for her life.

Doing some searching, other things that came up were Sky Ferreira's "I Blame Myself", as well as "Royals" by Lorde and "D.R.U.G.S." by Iggy Azalea, but more for lyrics than video issues.

One thing that both Ferreira and Allen said in their defense was that they just picked the best dancers, and wouldn't it be wrong to pick other people based on race? This is leading us into the same area where people argue that Affirmative Action is wrong because it involves discrimination, and I want to see if I can deconstruct that.

First, remember that thing about the writing staff for "The Colbert Report" being 100% white and almost 100% male. Colbert said it wasn't deliberate, and that he only looks at writing. That's just how it worked out.

That also ignores that in terms of networking and getting doors opened and knowing where to ask, white males are at an advantage. By not casting a broader net, you can miss excellent writers. The other factor, and possibly more relevant one, is that the white males are probably going to be more similar to him in their points of view, and appear more desirable.

That doesn't have to be conscious. It's possible that if you dug deeper you would also notice some similarities in geography or marital status or educational background -- there are many factors that contribute to our worldview -- but when you surround yourself with people who think the same way, you miss out on other relevant thoughts. The humor can get kind of repetitive, and every now and then you get a bit that is appallingly tone-deaf.

So let's look at "I Blame Myself". Ferreira appears to be a drug dealer, working with other dealers. She is white, but the other dealers and their customers are all dark-skinned. The cops are white. She is arrested, and apparently tries to use sex to evade the charges, or at least to profess her self-loathing.

The dancers are fine, as far as that goes, but I suspect there was also a feeling that the final configuration that came with that looked right, and part of that feeling that it looked right was because the drug dealers were black.

Perhaps I am being somewhat influenced by a picture posted of Lebron James recently where it was said that he looked like a Jamaican drug dealer, and no, I think he looks like he is going on vacation. I am not sure what part of the picture says "drug dealer" other than his race. I'm trying to imagine someone white in the same outfit getting the same comment, and I can't. They might get mocked for the shirt, but not for looking like a drug dealer.

The sad thing about this is how far the belief is from reality. White Americans are as or more likely to use drugs as the black population, and they deal too. Most buyers buy from people of the same race and economic status. However, people of color are much more likely to get arrested, and that image does not help.

(You can find some information at, but anyone who has not yet read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow should.)

I in no way mean to imply that this was a deliberate choice, but I do think it's a good rule of thumb to step back and take a look at these things. Oh, all of the drug dealers and users are black, that's interesting. Is that really what I want to say? This brings us to Lily Allen.

(I'm not sure I can say anything about Avril Lavigne. Yes, she is using them as props, yes they are dehumanized, but I'm having a hard time getting past how vapid it is. Here's further reading; have at it:

So, "Hard Out There", immediately followed by "for a b*tch, which seems like it must be inspired by "Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from Hustle & Flow, which, for what it's worth, I believe was actually more racially balanced than Allen's video. Once again the defense is that these were just the best dancers, and the reason she is more covered up than they are is only because their bodies are better, and she is in no way putting them down when she says that she does not need to shake for you because she has a brain. Just because you hired these women specifically for the purpose of shaking, how could that possibly be construed as any kind of comment on them?

The thing is, there is a spark of something valuable in the beginning. On an operating table, facing rejections without cosmetic surgery, being criticized for letting herself go after having two children by an old guy whom no one expects or needs to be attractive, yes, there is a point there that people can relate to. You then go on and reject the image of the black women, when they were never your competition. They're not getting liposuction; they have padding and that is what they are shaking. Best yet, you are rejecting them after putting them through the same poses and moves and objectification the average video does.

There are different options for making the same point. She could have compared herself to ridiculously thin mannequins and watched them come apart, or fall over and shatter, triumphing in substance over appearance. I don't know if there was some previous image she had, but maybe she could find herself not fitting into that, and then being welcomed by the twerkers, and accepting their warmth and embrace of a larger size while still being vibrant and desirable. She could have walked past display cases of various stereotyped women and freed them all, allowing them to be real humans. Instead, she went with a resolution that while it may have been empowering for her plays into anti-blackness.

And here, I may be unduly influenced by recent comments about Lupita Nyong'o and Rupert Everett's comments about Beyonce.

It is somewhat interesting to me that of the various women mentioned here, only Sky Ferreira is from the United States. New Zealand, Australia, and Canada all have their own experiences with colonialism and aboriginal issues, and oddly, all via England. There may be other differences where when they criticize hip hop culture it is coming from a different place, and so they make the wrong criticisms, but without knowing why.

We will spend more time on racism later, beyond music videos. The point I want to make right now is that we need to think about it. It's common with accusations of racism to either deny it, or to say "Well everybody's racist." Neither of those is really thought out, and both of those are for ending the discussion. That leaves us where we are, which is not good enough.

In other words, while it is obvious that if you are openly promoting racism you suck, you can also suck by upholding an existing bad structure. Don't suck.

Monday, May 26, 2014

You wouldn't recognize the best song ever if it punched you in your stupid face!

And I hope it does!

About two years ago I had a spell of listening to pop music, and I really came away hating One Direction. I also came away realizing that they are important to many people I care about, and that can be okay, so I usually don't say anything.

I still hate them so much. I know it goes past logic. Just being in the mall once I caught the beginning of "Kiss You" and was filled with rage at them pretending they were even capable of riding motorcycles; I did not feel this way about the Go-Go's pretending to water ski in "Vacation".

In July 2013 my Twitter timeline was full of exclamations and gushing about One Direction's new release, "Best Song Ever". Not only were teens gushing in their own tweets, they were re-tweeting the praise of other fans I did not follow, so the volume of the comments was quite high. That was its own level of annoyance, but nothing compared to actually watching it.

I kept silent then, but now I am writing about music videos -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- so this is my time. There could be some hurt feelings, but they don't usually read my blog posts unless I point them to a specific one, so I am going for it.

Here is the link if you wish to see for yourself:

And it's okay if you don't want to watch it. It sucks, and I am going to describe it for you.

The video opens with an establishing shot of the Hollywood sign and goes into the office of two executives blathering, and praising the band as they come in. This is "funny", because the two executives are played by two of the members of One Direction. The other three play the sexy assistant, the publicist, and the choreographer.

They talk about the movie and how big it is going to be, again praising the band a lot, but the boys object to the costume concepts that other boy bands have worn, and the choreography. "Never in a million years." They then proceed to, while perhaps not being dressed identically still wearing hair and clothing typical of a boy band, dance around wrecking the place. They point their fingers all tough at the executives, throw papers into the air and turn over desks of other employees, and then they spray paint "THIS IS US" over the bottom of a poster of them.

The video has several things wrong with it, but I think what really killed me was the excessive praise. It was Twilight all over again.

One bothersome thing was how derivative it was. The one executive seemed to look an awful lot like Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. Hey, you know who else has done fat executives who act cooler than they actually are? David Lee Roth.

Actually, playing multiple roles in music videos is not that unusual. We could talk about Fall Out Boy playing regular and nerd versions of themselves in "Dance Dance", but we will be spending about two weeks on Fall Out Boy videos later.

"Holiday" by Green Day is sometimes mentioned. There are some funny costume changes. The actual role-playing feels less prominent, but I mention it anyway because it has much better green screen antics than "Kiss You", which in addition to ripping off "Vacation" also rips off Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock".

So let's just call the best music video for musicians playing multiple roles "Learn to Fly" from the Foo Fighters. They don't just take on other selves; they take on every featured face in the video other than a cameo from Jack Black and Kyle Gassner. This includes surprisingly nuanced performances by Dave Grohl including, among others, a star struck young girl and a flamboyant steward. Plus, the band saves the day due to their preference for alcohol over coffee, which seems pretty plausible.

Even the intro, once the music started, was heavily derivative of the Who's "Baba O'Riley", which, incidentally, was the last interesting thing about the song. Normally I hate this type of music because of the focus on beautiful girls who don't know that they're beautiful and are therefore ripe for use and abuse.

This song spends less time on the twisted view of women and instead disrespects music. While I will acknowledge that you might like a song more after it becomes associated with a memory, like dancing with someone you are attracted to, when that does happen it should not be possible that you will then forget how the song goes. Yes, the song they describe is quite vapid, which makes forgetting it more likely, there should just be a higher regard for music, and higher expectations, than evinced in this song.

With all of that, I still believe the worst part is the pretense of rebellion. They say "Never in a million years" to the described dance routine, but in fact it takes less than two minutes for choreographed dancing to occur. Maybe they were specifically saying "no" to the pirouettes, but what does that say? We will do dance numbers, but they shouldn't take any talent or skill. I don't normally like playing up gender bias, but if that's what they're hinting at, then I think it's fair game to say that what they are doing is not terribly masculine.

Yes, they might act a little shirty with executives, but they also make the movie and release the records and completely toe the company line. In fact, when they start getting really "destructive", it is out disrupting the rank and file's workplaces. How typically corporate.

I believe they are trying to summon the image of bad boy rock stars trashing their hotel rooms, but even if that behavior were admirable, merely pretending to emulate it while still being overproduced pawns is the opposite of rock and roll.

Graffiti has a long history with a lot of meaning. We could talk about trying to establish some ownership and some permanence, and how hard authority has fought that, and we could talk about the value of artistic expression. There were girls saying that the "This is us" was One Direction's way of saying that they would not change with success and they were still them. No! It's the name of the movie!  If they wanted to have some meaning they could have painted over their faces - they just turned a regular poster into a movie poster. What an artistic triumph.

Going back to my title and opening, I won't try and define a best song ever, because I think it's more productive to just enjoy the wealth of good songs out there. A lot of those good songs can have an impact where it is like getting punched in the face. Music can release your feelings and change your mind.

I don't understand how anyone can get so excited over this tripe, as shallow, uncreative, and blatantly commercial as it is. I guess it is triumphantly mediocre, and there can be worse things. The next two posts will go from being merely banal to being evil.

For now, it's just, hey, One Direction, irritating me ever since I found out that were a Saturday Night Live guest instead of a skit, like 2Gether. They could have been okay as a skit.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Band Review: SkyBurnsRed

SkyBurnsRed is an Alternative/Rock band from Swindon. One of the first things you may notice listening to them is that they have a violinist. That might seem unusual, but have just reviewed Before Cars two weeks ago, and Andrew Joslyn's work two weeks before that, it feels like a trend. I have no problem with an increase in violins.

That is not to say that the various bands sound alike. In the case of SkyBurnsRed, they remind me most of Led Zeppelin in Kashmir, especially on "Paralysed Lullabies". The classical instrument infuses the rock with some theatricality and elegance, but there is nothing soft about the sound, because that violin is with guitar and it is punctuated by strong percussion. "Lost At Sea" and "Pens Down" are some good examples.

Tracks can be purchased via Amazon, iTunes, and Bandcamp. There are links to a home page that seems to be currently under construction, but the Facebook page has a good offering of dates and information, so is probably the best bet right now.

They're worth checking out.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Band Review: Oceanborn

Oceanborn is a progressive metal band from Chicago.

As a genre, progressive metal is a new one for me, but Oceanborn was a good introduction. I would say they have some of the weightiness of sludge metal, though generally with a faster tempo.

The progressive side seems to be their willingness to pull from other influences, like classical, jazz, and Latin. This allows them at times to be more dramatic or delicate, and to find more moods. I have at times been surprised by, and admiring of, the intricacy that comes through in other metal (Crow Black Sky comes to mind), but here it is brought to the forefront, and easier to hear without making the music at all soft.

That innovation continues with the addition of an web comic loosely based on the album concept.

The album itself, Hidden from the World, is available to stream from Soundcloud or Spotify, to purchase digitally from iTunes and Amazon, or a physical copy can be purchased from their merch page:

They are really worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reasons to be optimistic about music videos

As I've been remembering and looking up music videos, I found something that I loved.

One of the songs on No Country for Old Musicians is "37", about monsters coming to take James away for their own band. I already had in mind an idea of how the video should look, which would be James surrounded by Muppet-type monsters swaying back and forth on the chorus. I don't know what they ended up doing, but it appears that a video was filmed, and as a way of celebrating that Alternative Press filmed this:

Okay, you would not use this as an official video, but it is delightful on its own. I feel like Billy basically getting drums has him more relaxed, so it may be an unfair advantage, but then I enjoy how intense Zach and Cory seem. It's just fun.

At this point, I don't think the official video is out yet. Reggie and the Full Effect is not great at monetization, so I could be missing it. The only video on the ReggieFullEffectVEVO is "Take Me Home Please". "Get Well Soon" is on Vagrant Records Channel, the No Country songs are primarily on the Pure Noise channel, and everything else is kind of randomly posted by fans.

There is probably a lesson in that, but the reason I bring up the toy performance at all is because  an idea that you would not think of automatically is magic. There are lots of ways to present songs, lots of ways to connect with fans, and thinking about the possibilities can be exciting and full of wonder.

I keep referencing the unofficial videos because that brings home the point. Yes, there is a lot of good filmed material and a lot of good recorded music out there. There are also a lot of people who are passionate about this material. Even more than that, the technology just keeps getting better.

You can get good video and audio quality for a much less significant cash investment, and editing is easier than it ever was. You still want someone with a good eye and some know-how operating the camera, and you still need a strong vision of what you want before you start, but there are many things you can do, and it is not dependent upon budget. Money is no guarantee of quality, and lack of money is less of an obstacle than it used to be.

One innovation we touched on with the All-American Rejects "Walk Over Me" was animation on top of film (do some practice cels before you commit to that) but there is another option that I think is also worth looking at:

Dark Horse comics has done some animations based on comic books. Smooth high-quality animation can be quite expensive, but taking a few pages and slightly altering them, filming around them, adding some motion, this can work too. And I have an idea for a video I would like to do for "Disenchanted" whenever I move past writing and drawing to filming.

Believe in your band's options. Right now the video I would like to see most is Farewell My Love's "My Perfect Thing" with footage of the band performing and being on the road, thus becoming a love song from the band about being in the band. This is very doable; they tour a lot! Yes, you probably need to get releases from fans if you include footage of posing with fans, but who wouldn't sign that?

If you have a song about political strife, news footage can work, and is often public domain. If you need animation or a cinematographer, well, bands are full of artistic people, and it is not uncommon for some musical people to have some visual aesthetic sense as well. Believe in the possibilities.

So, yes, I am very optimistic about the ability to do great things when marrying music and video, and hold on to that, because next week will be about the trite and horrible.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Unofficial videos

Building on some of the previous concepts of what makes a good video, and having the video fit the song, I have another case where an unofficial video is superior to the official one.

There are a couple of differences between this and the videos for "Just What I Need". First of all, I suspect that the Rufus King version of the video was made as an afterthought, either while they were broken up, or reconstructed several years later from existing footage. In addition, the fan videos for that are primarily using professionally filmed footage.

This can be where we get into a tricky area. Some of my favorite videos are fan videos where they combine a good song with footage from movies, television, or video games. This means that they can be removed for copyright violations on either the sound or the images. Sometimes the images will be left up without the sound, which does not work at all. Sometimes the whole thing is pulled down, but may reappear later.

Most people are pretty good about including disclaimer information that they do not own the properties involved, but I am not sure that it helps. While on the one hand it is good advertising, and I have become interested in many of the shows and songs used, it is normal that the content owners are going to want page hits and views to go to them.

Because of that, I am a little reluctant to draw attention to this one unofficial video, but it's just so good!

Here is the official video for "Summer In The City" by Freedom Fry:

And here is the unofficial one:

I think the first point in it's favor is that it has a much stronger vision. I suppose it captures the song better in some ways merely by taking place in the city rather than at the beach, which tends to be out of the city, but otherwise the official one is very flat.

The lips thing they have going on doesn't really make sense. It feels thrown in to have something different going on, but that's the kind of gimmick you use to compensate for insufficiency.

To be fair, I don't love the end of the unofficial version when she is lying face down, because that feels kind of thrown in too, but they were apparently just making the video for fun, and under those circumstances people can get a bit silly.

(If I were making something like this as an official video, I think I would just have the camera cut away and return, but she is gone - suddenly disappeared like a summer storm.)

However, before that you have visual interest with different textures. I especially love the use of water. There are very mundane things like the bus and the sign listing tacos and pastrami, and there are more fanciful things like the house that she gazed at through the bars, and the flower petals. Mainly I am impressed by the sense of joy that comes through, especially because on reflection, being wet and barefoot was probably physically uncomfortable at times.

The micro lesson from this is that the people involved in the unofficial video -- Mike Dempsey, Jess Dunlap, and Colleen Allison -- are absolutely people that I would hire if I needed some filming done.

The broader lesson is, I guess, not to shoot a video just for the sake of shooting a video. Deciding that you are releasing a song and need a video is legitimate, but find a concept that really works for it. This may mean waiting for the right idea, listening to different pitches, and it can take a lot of improvising, but videos are not mandatory the way they used to be. If you are choosing to do it, then care about it. It's an extension of your song. Make it something that works.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Songs with multiple videos

Getting back to the idea of finding a video that really works for a song, I wanted to drive home the concept that multiple things can work. Given that, it made sense to go over some of the songs that for one reason or another have multiple videos available. The potential problem with that is that usually one concept is much stronger than the other. I don't think this means that you can't have multiple strong versions, but maybe it just reinforces that it does take some effort.

Let's start with "True Blue" by Madonna. The first version I saw was the winner of a Make My Video contest. The winner, Angel Gracia (along with Cliff Guest), was a film student at the time, and is a professional director now.

When I saw the other version, I thought it was something they threw together quickly because the contest was through MTV, and VH1 needed something to show.

That was not the case. The video featuring Madonna was shot earlier, and the contest came later. Maybe it was still a little thrown together.

I remember thinking about entering the contest, but how could you have a good video without the musician in it (which we discussed a little bit when talking about the Police). It may seem like even more of a question when you are talking about a performer like Madonna, who is as much personality as musician. Gracia's video still works. There is a sweetness and innocence to it, that would be hard to convey with the Material Girl in the shot.

There is a definite doo wop and girl group vibe to the song, and while both versions interpret that differently, they do incorporate that. Madonna appears in a diner set with a classic car, with pedal pushers and Douglas Sirk style saturated color. Gracia uses black and white photography and full skirts instead. Both have girlfriends playing an important role (though only Madonna has Debi Mazar in hers.) It's interesting looking back 28 years later.

I don't know specifically why there are two versions of George Harrison's "Got My Mind Set on You". Both are by the same director, Gary Weis, so it does not appear to be anyone hating his work in one.

I do know the concept for the one version. Harrison did not want to move around that much, so he plays guitar in a chair while objects around him move. I won't even say that he gets up for one brief dance sequence, because that is just not him.

Possibly because there was some input from the musician here, I believe it is stronger. The arcade version, while illustrating the determination spoken of in the song, feels much more generic.

I should also note that Wikipedia says there are three versions, referencing one where Harrison plays against a background of cogs, which is clearly the footage that the girl in the arcade is watching. That's not to days that there might not be a version out there that is only the performance footage, but it's odd they didn't make the connection, and if there is, does the ballerina still pop in?

(Wikipedia still gets great credit for letting me know that the guy in the arcade is Alexis Denisof, which is fun to know.)

Now, I can think of one other song where I have seen two videos, and where one is clearly superior, but only one is authorized, and it's not the superior one, and that will lead us into fan videos. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Free Write Jail Arts & Literacy Program

I thought about calling it a "Music" review instead of "Band", but a lot of it is spoken word. This program is about more than music.

The Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Progam leads formal creative writing and poetry workshops inside the jail school. I became aware of it by seeing a reference to Louder Than a Bomb 2014. Louder Than a Bomb is a Chicago youth poetry festival, though it looks like other areas have adopted it:

Free Write has some submissions for LTAB for multiple years, but that is not all they have. As I said, there is spoken word, some that is more poetic, some that is almost rap, and there are pieces that are set to music.

It is worth thinking about all of the forces that go into making this happen. There are people working on youth poetry outside of the jails, and there are people working with jailed youth. There is some natural overlap, but there are multiple things going on, and I have only listened to a small segment. Listening has been profoundly moving.

They are not all smooth. Some are. I tend to think Flocaine could go professional. "Street Law Commandments" by Ethan & Fredo, is excellent. I like that it has more of an old school vibe, but it is so clever and so practical and so cheeky, actually. A lot of people should listen to it.

Others may not have as much commercial potential, but are still incredibly valuable. Maybe they are stumbling over the story of a parent's death, or more confidently talking about becoming a parent, or maybe they are exploring concepts like allegory, but they are being given a voice. They are being given a chance to state who they are, and what they feel, and the history that led them there. This is so important.

It's hard to hear some of the vulnerability and know that this is the jail school. They are at a disadvantage, and I can only imagine the obstacles that they will still face. I know that finding a voice is important though, and so I have to hope that this is something that will help for them, not just so they get a chance to speak, but so they get a chance to be heard.

I need to hear them. People who make policies need to hear them. People who find it easy to forget how much of the population has been locked away need to hear them. The sound is out there.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Band Review: Lock Up Laura

Lock Up Laura is very rock. Axes are slung, drums are pounded -- it sounds stupid saying it that way, but yeah, basically they are rock, and it is refreshing.

Their own description refers to melodic vocal lines. I wouldn't have thought that on my own, because I think the accompaniment is more powerful than the melodies, but the vocals are actually sung instead of shouted or screamed, and that's appreciated.

They were recommended to me by Dan Tanglewood, an excellent guitarist himself, who has played in a previous band with bassist Liam Giles.

Lock Up Laura's debut album, Running In The Dark, is currently available from Amazon. There are probably other sources, but the I have not been able to get the band's main web site up after several tries. Other links are listed below.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's not just the music videos

I have learned a lot from following Summertime Dropouts.

One part of that was seeing frequent status updates about their video for "Full Time Cutie" getting accepted by different channels. I don't even remember how many there were, but a lot of it was getting into channels in local markets. There were updates about internet radio too, I think - I know I didn't see every single tweet - but what it reinforced is that there is a lot of work to be done in getting your music out there.

That leads to just one way that the music industry has changed. When I was a teenager, it was very common that I would learn about a band by seeing their video, and then if I liked them, and especially if they had multiple songs that I liked, I would try to find their music at Tower Records, and maybe see them in concert.

Fans may still find a band via seeing and liking their video as seen on some music channel or program, but then they are going to go online. It will not be to buy the music often enough, but sometimes it will, or they will watch the video on Youtube, which you can earn some money on, or listen on Spotify or some of the other music services that pay some money, but most earnings come through shows and merch. These are some other areas where Summertime Dropouts does really well.

On their Youtube channel there are chances to get a feel for the band beyond the music. There are crafts, dog videos, footage of transportation videos, and people walking like storks. Honestly, I believe it was the Sean Jhorts video that cemented my love for Joshua Stoll.

In addition, both on the main landing page and on their "About" there are links to their main page

Here you can see that they have done a great job of creating fun merch that fits them. The "Cheap Crappy Lotion" refers to their song "Getaway", if you get attached to the dog from his videos, you can buy a Siku shirt, and based on a Twitter conversation with fans, it has led to their book, 100 Things To Do With A Potato.

That sounds like fun, and it is, but it is not merely fun. It is also a lot of hard work, a commitment to connecting with fans, and thought about how they want to be and what they can do.

Getting your video on MTV Argentina is good, and you may gain some fans from that, but in most cases it's not going to be enough. So you follow people on Twitter, and maybe they click on the link and try you out, and you have content there with appeal. Maybe some of them wear your T-shirts and wristbands, and that gets some of their friends interested. And, ideally, you get to open for other bands, and you win their fans over.

This is more work than having a label do it for you, but you can do a lot of it without the label deciding you are worth it, and therefore you can do it without them telling you how to be. There is some freedom with that. It seems to work best for bands who love what they do, and know who they are.

The Summertime Dropouts are good at that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Two videos, Police Edition

I'm not sticking exactly to the schedule I thought I would, because I realized that even the issue of how a band presents itself can be separated into how they do in music videos versus in general. One question with that is whether the band even needs to be in the music video.

That is a question that comes way back from my memories, thinking of the Police. I seem to remember an interview with them talking about the video for "Invisible Sun", where they wanted to do something different because not every video could be them goofing around in the studio.

It sticks in my mind because that felt like they were embarrassed about "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic". What I hadn't realized is that those songs were from the same album, and how old they were.

Both tracks are off of Ghost In The Machine from 1981. MTV launched in August, and "Invisible Sun" was released in September, so music videos were still relatively new, and it is reasonable that there was some uncertainty about what to do, and how to do it.

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic:

"Every Little Thing" is a combination of some performance and some fooling around in the studio. In a way it reminds me of the awkwardness of Rufus King in "Just What I Need", but they do seem to be having more fun, and to have better direction. I enjoy it when Sting and Andy Summers are dancing and trading hats, while understanding that someone probably told them to do that.

It does work for the video. The song is kind of rare in that it is a pop love song that is more fueled by how wonderful things are than by how much everything hurts, so the playful vibe that complements the song there is appropriate. It would be disastrous for "Invisible Sun".

"Invisible Sun" is about how people in terrible circumstances find the will to go on. It is positive in a way, because they do go on, but there is the content about war and poverty and a darker musical sound as well. Footage of the conflict in Northern Ireland was relevant enough to get the video banned by the BBC.  

(And, on watching it again, the band kind of is in it as outlines behind the images.)

A lot of this relates to what we have previously covered about serving the needs of the song via the video, but looking now at the larger issue of how the videos reflect on the band.

With the Police, I don't remember many of their videos having plots. Instead, they tended to focus on performance, but with different atmospheres. They're most effective was probably "Every Step You Take", though "Wrapped Around Your Finger" was a cooler set, and the biggest wasted opportunity was "Synchronicity II", all from their 1983 album, Synchronicity.

Wrapped Around Your Finger:

After that they disbanded, so there was never really a chance to branch out into other types of videos. That may be okay. Some bands probably should not act, in much the same way that Billy Squier should not dance, or at least should not have danced like he did in "Rock Me Tonight".

The "Rock Me Tonight" video failed because it didn't really represent Billy Squier, even with him in it, but there can be multiple accurate representations of a band. In the case of the Police, there is socially relevant, happy pop, and several moody songs about twisted love, and even though they certainly could be more creative and memorable, none of the videos feel drastically wrong.

However, these are also happening at a time and place when it was expected that every single released would have a video, and releasing singles and getting radio play was something handled by your label, and it was kind of a different world, at least for the bands that I'm interested in. I think for that tomorrow we will spend time with one of my favorite new bands.