Song of the Day: Welcome Home by Radical Face

Radical Face’s Ben Cooper is a talented and inspired musician from Jacksonville, Florida.  Cooper chose the name Radical Face after seeing these words written on a flyer; he liked the ring to it and the name stuck.  Cooper later found out that the flyer was for a plastic surgeon and the text actually read “Radical Face Lifts.” Cooper is also one-half of Electric President and Iron Orchestra and one third of Mother’s Basement.  Cooper began exploring the arts as a young boy through drawing and painting, and by middle school he was creating short movies with his friends and later, discovered his interest in music.

“Welcome Home” was featured in a Nikon commercial that replicates a montage of sentimental and memorable videos that define people and who they are.  I really like Nikon’s use of this song and the visuals they set to go along with it.  The personal value that is associated with photographs and videos, as crude or professional as they are, captures the essence of “Welcome Home,” which allows this commercial and song to seamlessly mesh together.

Cooper’s style can be deemed as acoustic and alternative rock, although it is difficult to label Radical Face’s style, as it is very dynamic.  “Welcome Home” is song filled with emotion, both lyrically and instrumentally.  You can tell Cooper’s soul is put into this song from the very beginning as the chimes blowing in the wind create a dramatic and ominous effect.  The delicate vocals that are introduced after the short musical overture gently build as the song progresses.  The introduction of the strumming guitar creates a tender dynamic to this song that is repeated in each verse.

The chorus of this song is by far the most intense part, and my favorite.  A crescendo leads to the introduction of a deep, bold piano melody.  Cooper’s lyrics are poetic, which adds to the emotion that this song portrays.  You can tell he is singing about a passionate matter, but it is difficult to completely decipher the situation Cooper is trying to depict through his articulate lyrics.  There are many meanings to “Welcome Home,” and it is left up to the listener to interpret this song as they wish, which is another aspect of this song that makes it so enjoyable to listen to.

 

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Song of the Day: New Slang by The Shins

The Shins are an indie rock band formed in 1996 from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Band members James Mercer, Joe Plummer, Jessica Dodson, Yuuki Matthews, and Richard Swift never fail to create instrumentally rich tracks tied together with expressive and animated lyrics. The many elements The Shins are able to incorporate into their music showcase each member’s musical talent.

The Shins are able to do something with their music that is becoming a rarity these days; they are able to captivate the listener and pull them deep into the song, allowing the listener to develop a personal connection with the music. The enthralling nature of their track, “New Slang,” which came out as a single in 2001 for their debut album, Oh, Inverted World, leaves me in awe every time I listen to it.

“New Slang” holds emotion behind each chord, and vigor behind each lyric. The strong and steady guitar strum that sets this song’s pace evokes a tranquil tone, while the bold and upbeat tambourine spurs a cheerful feeling. I like this song because I find it to be very versatile. It doesn’t have an overbearing sound to it that dictates your mood; instead, you are able to see the elements you want in The Shin’s subtle musical tones.

It is no wonder why The Shins have yet to fade off the music scene. Their delicate approach, deep sound, and musical ability will always be appealing to listeners who enjoy their indie rock foundation and diverse musical talent.

Music in the Movies: (500) Days of Summer

In the last segment of Music in the Movies, I focused on Quentin Tarantino’s use of music and his penchant for presenting songs as diegetic sounds. In (500) Days of Summer, the music is presented as non-diegetic but it still effectively serves the filmmaker’s goals. (500) Days of Summer is a quirky, clever, and incredibly honest romantic comedy that was released in the summer of 2009. Very witty, often quite humorous, and paced extremely well, the film was lauded by critics and landed on a number of “Top Ten” year-end lists of 2009.  It starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom, a hopeless romantic, and Zooey Deschanel as the oft-distant Summer. It featured a soundtrack filled with the best that the indie rock, alternative rock and folk rock genres have to offer. More important though, instead of just being thrown into the movie randomly, these songs were employed extremely effectively, enhancing the emotionality of a number of scenes. The soundtrack fully captures the “hipness” and offbeat postmodernism that (500) Days of Summer so embodies.

The entire track listing of the soundtrack is below, but there are a number of songs that were featured in the movie which were not on the soundtrack. Belle and Sebastian’s “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” which I wrote about here, was featured, as well as Spoon’s “The Infinite Pet,” The Black Lips’ “Veni Vidi Vici,” and “The Music” by Paper Route. Several of the songs were used particularly well to increase the sentiments of a number of scenes. Regina Spektor’s “Us,” during the opening credits in conjunction with the home movies on the screen helped set a cautiously hopeful tone for the entire movie. “There Goes the Fear,” employed with a well-shot montage, also stood out to me as it almost symbolized Tom falling for Summer.

The use of “Sweet Disposition” on the train to the wedding also worked well as it reflected Tom’s hope for a second chance with Summer and instilled similar hope in the audience who at this point is already rooting for Tom. Feist’s “Mushaboom” in the very next scene was utilized similarly and it continued to echo Tom’s hopeful sentiments. The extremely clever split-screen shot that compared Tom’s expectations to reality was accompanied by Regina Spektor’s “Hero,” a perfect complement as the song starts out hopeful but ends in a dizzying disappointing tone, mirroring Tom’s feelings. “Vagabond” was utilized flawlessly, probably the best of any of the tracks. Tom had just hit rock-bottom and he was slowly recovering and picking up the broken pieces of his life. “Vagabond” conveys an inspiring feeling of re-creation, and its involvement in the scene completely enhanced its effect. “She’s Got You High” was played during the closing credits and really almost tied up the loose ends of the story, instilling confidence in the audience that Tom has truly found love this time and is happy.

(500) Days of Summer is a perfect example of effective use of music in a movie. Never overshadowing the action unfolding on screen but always providing a boost, the music helped communicate both the ecstasy and the heartbreak that Tom experiences over the course of the movie. While there were good performances and an extremely witty script, an impeccable use of music was one of the integral reasons why (500) Days of Summer was one of the surprise movies of 2009.

  1. “A Story of Boy Meets Girl” – Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen
  2. “Us” – Regina Spektor
  3. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” – The Smiths
  4. “Bad Kids” – Black Lips
  5. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” – The Smiths
  6. “There Goes the Fear” – Doves
  7. “You Make My Dreams” – Hall & Oates
  8. “Sweet Disposition” – The Temper Trap
  9. “Quelqu’un m’a dit” – Carla Bruni
  10. “Mushaboom” – Feist
  11. “Hero” – Regina Spektor
  12. “Bookends” – Simon & Garfunkel
  13. “Vagabond” – Wolfmother
  14. “She’s Got You High” – Mumm-Ra
  15. “Here Comes Your Man” – Meaghan Smith
  16. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” – She & Him

Music in the Movies: Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction

I find the personality of the piece through the music that is going to be in it… It is the rhythm of the film. Once I know I want to do something, then it is a simple matter of me diving into my record collection and finding the songs that give me the rhythm of my movie.” – Quentin Tarantino

The soundtrack is often one of the most overlooked aspects of a movie. Songs have this powerful ability to often say more than dialogue. Music can communicate emotions much more effectively than actors can. With that said, music in movies shouldn’t tell us how to feel, but rather enhance the sentiment of the scene. Trainspotting, which I mention previously in a previous post, is an example of an excellent movie soundtrack. Boyle’s use of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” during Renton’s overdose is simply on point. Quentin Tarantino is a master of using song, more specifically popular music, to convey messages, often presenting them as diegetic sound. His attention to detail in compiling his soundtrack is unparalleled. In Pulp Fiction, there a number of examples of Tarantino using songs as diegetic sound allowing the music to naturally complement the action unfolding on screen.

As the opening credits roll, Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” plays before suddenly transitioning into Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.” It’s then revealed that the song is actually coming from Jules & Vincent’s car radio and as Jules and Vincent discuss Amsterdam, you can still here “Jungle Boogie” but it’s at a much lower volume. Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” is playing in Jack Rabbit Slim’s as apart of the dance contest. Urge Overkill’s “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” is only included when Mia turns on the stereo in her house. “Flowers on the Wall” by the Statler Brothers is playing on Butch’s car radio and the lighthearted nature of the song creates a perfect contrast as in only seconds, Butch will proceed to run Marcellus over. As Butch enters the pawn shop, Maria McKee’s “If Love is a Red Dress” is playing on a small portable radio. By incorporating songs as part of the narrative sphere of the film, Tarantino supports and enhances the emotion of the scenes without disrupting the natural flow of the story.

“Although the story is very much present day, it has a ’50s feel but I used music from the ’70s. In one scene, the audience learns that a local radio station is hosting a Super 70’s weekend and that’s why I am using and referencing the bubblegum music that was popular during that period. I found that the music was a terrific counterpoint to the action on screen” -Quentin Tarantino on Reservoir Dogs

In Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino uses a mock radio show, “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of The Seventies” as means of distribution of the number of “bubblegum pop” songs included in the movie. The up-beat sound and innocent nature of the songs seems like a peculiar pick for a movie noted for its copious profanity, stunning ferocity, raw power, and strong violence but as Tarantino notes above, it creates a stark counterpoint and contrast to the action unfolding on the screen. None of the uses of song are as memorable or distinguished in Reservoir Dogs as the use of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” during Mr. Blonde’s torture scene of Officer Martin Nash.

“If a song in a movie is used really well, as far as I’m concerned, that movie owns that song, it can never be used again” –Quentin Tarantino

You can no longer bring up “Stuck in the Middle With You” without someone bringing up this iconic scene. Once again Tarantino presents it as diegetic sound as Mr. Blonde, played by Michael Madsen, goes over to the radio, turns it on, and then increases the volume. “Stuck in the Middle With You” comes on, and its cheery and happy-go-luck sound seems to clash with the seemingly psychopathic Mr. Blonde. He starts dancing and singing and the upbeat nature of the song is almost contagious. As the viewer you start tapping your foot and almost want to start dancing too. Tarantino is making the audience choose which emotion they want to feel. The disgust, horror and sympathy for Office Marvin Nash or the foot-tapping, lighthearted ecstasy inspired by “Stuck in the Middle With You?” After cutting off Nash’s ear, Mr. Blonde steps outside to his car to get gasoline and leaves the music in the warehouse. Suddenly, silence and the sounds of a sunny afternoon. As a viewer you get a bit of break and you begin asking questions, wondering what’s next. Mr. Blonde walks back into the warehouse and the music returns. Mr. Blonde is dancing maniacally, Nash is pleading for his life and Stealers Wheel continues to confound and conflict the viewer. Classic Tarantino, a truly iconic scene, magnificent directing, squirm-inducing action, and all set to the backdrop of a”Dylanesque, pop, bubble-gum favorite” as described by the K-Billy  DJ voiced by Steven Wright.

Song of the Day: Night on the Sun by Modest Mouse

There is really nothing quite like old Modest Mouse. The rawness of it is almost overpowering, and some of their newer stuff, while being more refined, seems overproduced and lacks some of the rough almost desperation you hear in some of the early tracks. “Night on the Sun” is the title track of Modest Mouse’s 1999 EP, which was released only in Japan. It’s a lengthy track, over 9 minutes long, but once again Isaac Brock proves his poetic prowess and as all the instruments seem to flow together so perfectly, the resulting instrumental segments are truly enthralling.

Despite a ridiculously expansive discography, Modest Mouse never quite gained the full notoriety they deserved. I’ve heard them compared to The Velvet Underground, as they seem to expand guitar-centric rock music to levels most have never heard of and frankly, most aren’t ready for. Like The Velvet Underground, I think Modest Mouse will come to be appreciated much more in retrospect. The Lonesome Crowded West to me is one of the best and most ambitious albums released in the last 20 years. It represented the band’s breakthrough, a creative masterpiece and was so incredibly diverse. The emotional shift from one song to the next is remarkable as the conveyance of sentiments from assured to susceptible is seamless and as such, breathtaking.”Night on the Sun” was just one of a handful I could have chosen which is a true testament of the depth of Modest Mouse’s arsenal.

Song of the Day: Furr by Blitzen Trapper

Blitzen Trapper is a Portland, Oregon based band comprised of five talented musicians. ”Furr” was one of their two singles from their 2008 album entitled Furr. This was the band’s fourth album, but first album released under the Sub Pop Records label. Blitzen Trapper reached a high point in their career with the release of the album, which earned itself a two-page feature in Rolling Stone, and sat at number thirteen on Rolling Stone’s Best Albums of 2008 list, while the title track and Song of the Day, “Furr,” was ranked at number four on the magazine’s Best Singles of 2008 list.

Despite the media boom Blitzen Trapper experienced for this track and album, the band started out by self-releasing their first three albums, and Furr really held onto the eclectic personal, alternative style that was heard in those albums. The band’s leader, Eric Early, wrote every song on Furr, infusing the band’s genuine passion for music into each track.

Blitzen Trapper’s strong country and folk style is heard from the very beginning of their track, “Furr.” Early’s defined voice tells a story through his lyrics, as the guitars and harmonica, which comes in around the first chorus, bring his words to life. “Furr” has an upbeat tempo and the swift pace of this song keeps the listener attentive from start to finish. This band’s sound has a very refreshing feel to it; no matter what kind of mood I am in, I can always listen to Blitzen Trapper’s, “Furr.” Take a listen for yourself through the video above, hope you enjoy.

Levon Helm, The Band and The Last Waltz

With the passing of legendary drummer Levon Helm, I began to reflect on one of my first true obsessions in music, The Band. Helm succumbed to throat cancer two weeks ago leaving Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson the only two remaining members of The Band left. Helm was known for his country-accented voice and creative drumming style and he remains one of my top 5 favorite drummers along with Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell and of course, the timeless Keith Moon. My earliest memory of The Band was on a family trip to Canada coincidentally, given that four-fifths of The Band was Canadian. Also ironic was that a band made up almost entirely of Canadians can so perfectly embody the idea of “Americana,” although admittedly that has so much to do with the sole American Helm, his presence and his Soulful-Southern voice.

From left to right, Dr. John, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Rick Danko, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson

I heard the song “The Weight” on a CD and every time it finished I just kept asking my dad to play it again and again until everyone else in the car wanted to kill me. The simple but soulful track almost overwhelmed me and from there I was hooked. When I got home, I bought their Greatest Hits and I just kept uncovering more gems. The Band remain one of the most underrated performance artists of all-time and despite a number of accolades including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, a Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award and being named the 50th greatest artists of all-time by Rolling Stone, it seems like they are remembered more as Dylan’s backing band on the legendary Dylan goes electric European tour. There was something incredibly admirable about the band and their simple roots and uncomplicated lifestyle living in upstate New York. They didn’t live the excessively lavish lifestyle of many of their contemporaries although it should be said, they did indeed party and party hard. According to Helm, the multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel was consuming eight bottles of Grand Marnier per day in conjunction with an exceptional cocaine addiction.

Levon Helm during The Last Waltz

In truth, I wasn’t aware of The Last Waltz until a friend’s dad introduced me to it. For those who are unaware, The Last Waltz is a music documentary directed by Martin Scorsese that chronicles the final concert of The Band at Winterland in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. The movie tagline, which so perfectly captures the essence of the night, is “It started as a Concert. It Became a Celebration. Now it’s a Legend.” The concert, while fantastic musically, sticks out to me for its almost unfathomable collection of legendary talent on one stage. When The Band performed “I Shall Be Released” as its closing number, on stage was all five members of The Band, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Ronnie Hawkins and Neil Diamond who always seemed out of place to me. Think about that, try to get your head around it and let that sink in for a little. While Rolling Stone is obviously not the end all-be all, if you take their 100 Greatest Artists of All-Time list just as a matter of reference, on the stage was the 60th (Joni Mitchell), the 53rd (Clapton), the 50th (The Band), the 42nd (Van Morrison), the 34th (Neil Young), the 17th (Muddy Waters), the guitarist of the 4th (Wood, The Rolling Stones), the 2nd (Dylan) and the drummer of the 1st (Starr, The Beatles). As they all join together singing “Any day now, any day now, I shall be released,” you can’t help but get chills as it perfectly captures that end of an era feeling. This night was a once in a generation kind of thing and one that I feel lucky that someone recorded so at least I can feel a bit part of it. A fitting final performance from one of the more underappreciated groups of all-time and the special guests complemented The Band perfectly, but never overshadowed them.

Song of the Day: The Girl by City and Colour

Dallas Green, a Canadian singer-songwriter, goes by the alias City and Colour, which comes from his own name; Dallas being a city, and Green being a color.  Green is proficient on the guitar and combined with his smooth, melodic vocals, he creates a dramatic acoustic sound.  His talents have been recognized by the Juno Awards, where he has been nominated seven times, and has won three – one win going to “The Girl” in 2009.  This song, “The Girl,” from the album, Bring Me Love, is one of my favorites because of its unique “layout,” so to speak.

The song begins with slow, yet upbeat guitar chords and soft lyrics about his affection for a girl who spreads herself thin to keep their relationship going.   He recognizes and appreciated her outward portrayal of affection and the efforts she puts into the relationship. At around the halfway mark of this song, the pace really speeds up, and the song goes through a transition of sorts.  City and Colour really let’s his folk roots emerge after his second count off, while harmonizing beautifully with the various instruments in the background.  The last minute of this song takes on a more somber tone driven by the bold piano in the background.  The diversity of sound in Green’s “The Girl,” forms such a catchy and unique piece of music. With all of its appealing attributes, it has rightfully earned itself the title of Song of the Day.

Song of the Day: The Boy with the Arab Strap by Belle & Sebastian

“Color my life with the chaos of trouble”

The album cover for The Boy with the Arab Strap (1998)

“The Boy with the Arab Strap” is a song from Scottish indie pop band Belle & Sebastian’s 1998 album of the same name. While it wasn’t played in the film (500) Days of Summer its mentioned as Summer’s high school yearbook quote which was “Color my life with the chaos of trouble,” lyrics from this song. In 2011, English music magazine NME named “The Boy with the Arab Strap” the 130th best song of the last 150 years. The name is inspired by the Scottish band Arab Strap and this song almost seems to trash their lead singer, Aidan Moffat although Belle & Sebastian have refused to acknowledge this publicly. The name Belle & Sebastian is derived from Belle et Sébastien, a 1965 French children’s book by Cécile Aubry. While constantly lauded by critics, Belle & Sebastian have been a bit of a commercial disappointment as their music, which has often been described as”wistful pop,” hasn’t quite caught on with the public. Nevertheless, I really enjoy their work and this song in particular.

Song of the Day: Spanish Sahara by Foals

“6 minutes plus to drift away to. And you will”

Foals are an English rock band comprised of five members, four of which dropped out of Oxford University to pursue their ambition. The song “Spanish Sahara” was the promotional single on their second album Total Life Forever. English music magazine NME voted “Spanish Sahara” the Track of the Year for 2010 and named it the 14th best song of the last 15 years.

While it starts off laid-back, soft, and slow, “Spanish Sahara” utilizes amazing build-ups in its transition from calm to chaotic, eventually resulting in a magnificent final section with the help of a brilliant solo. The deathly chilling, restrained track features delicate and somber vocals building in intensity with carefully crafted rhythmic assaults. “Spanish Sahara” is 7 minutes of zoned-out perfection, an experience of sorts that when it ends, leaves you wondering what exactly just happened. Directed as a 7 minute crescendo guided by a gentle bass kick, it tantalizingly teases listeners with a mellow beginning and then releases into an unrelenting splatter of guitar rhythms and haunting vocal melodies.

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