Monthly Music Roundup: June 2011
Welcome to Big Hollywood's monthly review of all things notable in the world of music.
This is Vintage Now, released a few weeks ago, is a retro music compilation that isn't designed to cash in on nostalgia-- rather, it's a harbinger of a growing movement to revive not only the style but the values of classic culture. Featuring 10 songs from artists of all ages and nations, This is Vintage Now embodies the sound of classic jazz, rock, and pop music but doesn't come off as pure nostalgia. Producer David Gasten, who appears on the record with his band The City Kids, explains the reason the disc doesn't sound like a cynical ploy preying on older generations' memories:
The Vintage Movement is a new social movement of people who are essentially trying to escape back to the 1940's, 1950's, and early-to mid-1960's. Many times attempts at bringing a period back have been short-lived (e.g. the Nineties Swing Revival) because they were not rooted in a inside-out, values-based way of doing things. People come to these older styles because they want to escape. They want to visit an alternate world where class and quality are the rule, not the exception. They want to be excited about life and culture instead of slimed by the same old garbage over and over again. And they want to get along with others, have good conversations, flirt, dance, enjoy great music and movies, etc. The ladies want to be treated like ladies, and the gentlemen want to be able to be gentlemen.
Spanning a wide range of styles, from Beverley Kenney's whimsical '40s-era piano ballad to Big Jay McNeely's raucous boogie-woogie to The Necro Tonz's edgy jazz to Caro Emerald's catchy neo-swing tune "Just One Dance" (see the YouTube Video below), This is Vintage Now is a well-paced, engaging listen, and its intent is exactly the type of culture-changing media we need to combat the values-destroying narcissism and nihilism of the world's currently dominant "artists." TIVN is available from iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, and other online retailers, or you can order it directly from the compilation's home website to get extra tracks from a special Release Party edition.
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Lady Gaga's relief efforts in the wake of Japan's giant earthquake and tsunami have come under scrutiny from a Michigan legal network. The entity known as 1-800-LAW-FIRM has slapped Big Hollywood's favorite singer with a lawsuit claiming that she has pocketed some of the proceeds from the sale of $5 wristbands bearing the words "We Pray for Japan," though she claims all proceeds have gone to tsunami victims. A Gaga spokesperson claims the lawsuit is "without merit," so we'll see how it goes. In the meantime, I think we can at least agree one must exercise caution buying charity products "designed" by celebrities. I mean, really-- is Gaga really "designing" by choosing four words to stamp on a piece of rubber?
The Arcade Fire's short film with Spike Jonze (poser indie director of the truly atrocious Where the Wild Things Are), "Scenes from the Suburbs," has been released as a companion piece to the group's Grammy-winning album. The film follows the lazy summer days of a group of teenagers whose neighborhood-- wait for it-- is under martial law... because of Iraq... or something. The facepalm-inducing trailer gives us a good understanding of why the music community was so willing to give this middling record the Album of the Year award.
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Weird Al Yankovic has finally released the music video for his Lady Gaga parody "Perform this Way" which almost didn't see the light of day thanks to his deference to the egos of his parody target. Fortunately, after news of Gaga's apparent snub went viral on Twitter, the alleged Lady changed her mind and allowed Al to sell the song on his upcoming LP Alpocalypse and produce said music video. It's slightly NSFW, not so much for partial nudity as for how disturbing it is to watch Weird Al's head digitally grafted onto the body of some lithe young woman.
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Big Hollywood's own Seth Swirsky has released a new album, As Far as Yesterday Goes, through his band The Red Button, a delightful pop collaboration with Mike Ruekberg. Though Ruekberg's voice isn't quite as distinctive or velvety as Seth's, the pair share the mic quite liberally, and the same strong songwriting that defined Swirsky's 2010 solo work is on full display here. It's a brighter, bouncier, less melancholy record, and while it may not ultimately have the staying power of Watercolor Day, As Far as Yesterday Goes is definitely worthwhile summer entertainment. Pop it in your car and take a long, leisurely ride, and you'll forget how much money you're burning away with your gas.
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Album of the Month: Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Justin Vernon, a folk songwriter from Wisconsin, exploded into the indie music world with a self-produced album titled For Emma, Forever Ago in 2007. His music stood out for its stark, lonely atmosphere, stacking multiple tracks of acoustic guitar and soulful, falsetto vocals which Vernon would sometimes heavily auto-tune– overcoming the stereotypes of the digital tool by using it as an artistic statement rather than a crutch for lazy singing.
In 2008, he released an EP, Blood Bank, which caught the attention of pop superstar Kanye West, who collaborated with Vernon on his bestseller My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, pulling the singer-songwriter further into the national spotlight and increasing speculation about what direction his sophomore LP might take. Well, here it is: Bon Iver’s self-title new album, released June 21st, is not only the best album of June by far; it's certainly jockeying for first place come 2011's best-of lists.
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The highest compliment I can think of is that Bon Iver sounds like Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz semi-unplugged. That magnificent record (the best of 2010, if I may say so) fully blended aggressive synthesizers, rock instrumentation, and a full orchestra. On the much more muted Bon Iver, we hear more acoustic instruments ringing over a far emptier space. There’s a thread of hushed synth saws weaving in and out of the songs, electric guitars swooping from lonely, single-note noodling to even sadder, full-chord strumming, and a revolving cast of characters including low-register woodwinds, pianos, banjos, string quartets, and the most magnificent use of electric piano ever. Ever. Equipped with better recording equipment, we don’t hear his signature auto-tune as often; Vernon sings louder, more confidently, even dipping into his lower register a few times.
All these elements are arranged and recorded perfectly; whereas Age of Adz pulls its listener into an intimate, emotionally wrenching personal drama, Bon Iver sweeps one away to a waking dream, surveying the beauty of the world through wide-scoped views of its landscapes (all the song titles are or are related to the names of various North American towns). Though they differ in their particulars, both albums are significant in that their respective artists attain complete control of the orchestration and engineering of their music, fully utilizing the potential of the recording studio to create transcendent works which stand wholly apart from the comparatively banal conventions of their contemporaries. Lightning has struck once again, folks; this one is not to be missed.