Recently, someone commented on my review of the Beatles album Revolver, which I posted a few weeks back.  In it, I had mentioned that prior to Revolver, the majority of Beatles songs had been “songs about love”.  Apparently, this guy had been researching “songs about love” on the Internet and as a result, stumbled upon this particular blog.  Here is the comment he decided to leave:

Hey!!

I just wrote a song about love for my girlfriend and I thought I would find lyrics on your blog so that I can compare my song 😛 but anyhoo…you’re blog is wayy nicer than mine that’s for sure! If you have the extra 3 minutes to listen to the song I wrote that’s on youtube nd don’t forget to rate and comment the song! 🙂 thanx SOOOOOO much!:D

Just so you know, I’ve left in all the typos to support the authenticity of his message.   Although his reply was totally unrelated to the album which I reviewed, I am damn pleased he posted it.  This young man happens to be a rapper that goes by the name of J-Skillz, and the YouTube video is indeed a music video for a song of his called “A Song About Love For Butta Bee”.  Butta Bee is apparently his lady friend, and the music video was obviously created in Microsoft PowerPoint.

Observe this video for yourself right here!

Um…………………..what was that?

I’d personally like to thank J-Skillz for sending me this link.  It’s my sincere pleasure to help him with getting this piece of crap out there.  I hope as many people as possible see this so that everyone can be reminded that as long as we have the Internet, we’ll have absolutely pathetic shit like this floating around!  Look out rap world!  Here comes J-Skillz!

Rating: 3.5/5

I first heard the music of Beach House in September 2007 when I saw them live at the London Ontario Live Arts festival in my hometown of London, Ontario.  At that time, my opinion of them was that they had a great sound but their songs were very boring.  That basically remained as my opinion of them up until two weeks ago when I gave Teen Dream its second and third listens.  At that time, it became clear that great sound that I loved so much had finally found some great tunes to go with it.  Beach House really haven’t changed their sound on Teen Dream.  However, I can easily say that I enjoy any one of these ten songs more than anything they have done in the past.  I’m not exactly sure what it is I like so much about these songs, but there is a very dreamlike quality that sucks me in.  This is such a breezy, relaxing album.  It’s hard not to enjoy.  There are a few moments on the record that seem to lose me, but it’s never long before I’m right back into it again.  I’m sure now I will revisit some of their past material and find things I like about it.  Whether that will be the case or not, Teen Dream has brought me to the Beach House camp either way.

Rating: 4/5

This Book Is Broken, written by Toronto-based music journalist Stuart Burman, is a first-person account of the roots, formation, and evolution of the great Broken Social Scene.  Built upon piles of interviews with all the people involved with the band from day one (and if you’re familiar with the band, you know that is a TON of people), the book starts off in mid-90’s Toronto and gradually explains how the many members came together over the next few years, climaxing with their excellent 2002 release You Forgot It In People and the messy-but-good Broken Social Scene in 2005.  The book explores each band member’s recollections and thoughts on the band, along with explanations on how such an ambitious and huge project has remained on its feet while maintaining success for such a long time.  With so many people involved and revolving line-up, one can see how it would be easy to blunder.  Speaking from personal experience, it’s hard to play in a band with more than 4 or 5 people at once.  For about a year I played in a band called Our Nation, which was somewhat similar to Broken Social Scene in that in our relatively short one-year span, 15 people were involved.  Whoever could make it out to play the show could play the show.  However, as the songs took on a life of their own, it was kind of hard to keep it together with so many people involved, and for that reason, Our Nation imploded into itself.  This Book Is Broken shows how you can make it work.  The book also goes into great detail on how the band and its label, Arts & Crafts, revolutionized the Toronto music scene, transforming it into a thriving musical community recognized globally.  When you think about it, before 2003, not a lot of Canadian indie rock bands had achieved much success out of Canada.  Obviously, Broken Social Scene did not make this happen singlehandedly, with the Internet making it easier for these bands to be known outside of their own radius.  However, because BSS is a band that incorporates so many people who have bands or solo careers of their own, it’s that element of cross promotion that has made it work on such a large scale.  This Book Is Broken ends on an uncertain note.  Stuart Berman admits he has no idea where the band will go from here and if it will ever be the same as it once was, as BBS was becoming more of a vehicle for founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning’s solo material.  Well, he wrote those words in 2008.  2009 saw Broken Social Scene-proper come out of its shell once again.  It was announced they were recording a new album.  In July, I saw them play in Ottawa as part of Bluesfest, where they performed several new tunes.  The night before, they performed a show in Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre in which almost everyone who has ever been involved with the band showed up.  So the future looks bright for Broken Social Scene, and in another 10 years, Burman might have to write a book entitled This Book Is Still Broken.

Rating: 4/5

Heartland is the first album that Owen Pallet has made under his own name, rather than the Final Fantasy alias he released his previous two records under.  The dropping of this alias has nothing to do with his music, as Pallet had to do it due to copyright issues related to the long-running video game series.  However, it does seem to coincide with a growth in Pallet’s music, and for that reason a change of name does seem rather fitting.  Heartland is a very rich and full record, especially when compared with his first two releases, which although do contain many very intricate arrangements, seem rather stripped down when placed next to the huge sounds of Heartland.  Front to back, the music on this album jumps right out at you.  It’s not a surprise Heartland is such a step forward, as it comes fours years after his last release, He Poos Clouds.  Within this time, Owen Pallet has developed strongly as both a songwriter and an arranger.  Considering how young he is, I think it’s safe to say that with a record like Heartland, his presence will be strongly felt in the years to come.

Rating: 4/5

After a strong, consistent debut album, the key to a making good sophomore album is not losing sight of what you have done in the past, making sure that you push things forward, and finding a good middle ground in between.   One can think of the Stooges’ Fun House, Pavement’s Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, the Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, and now Vampire Weekend’s ContraContra does very much resemble its predecessor at times, but it never sounds redundant.  One thing that definitely remains the same is the excellent song craft.  These songs are just as catchy and as anything on Vampire Weekend, not to mention another impeccable production and arrangement job by guitarist/keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij.  What’s different is that the album doesn’t sound as organic as the last, with the use of electronic elements increasing, such as the use of Auto-Tune on “California English” and the synth sounds on album closer “I Think Ur A Contra”, which recall Sigur Ros’ ( ).  There is also a heavier influence of reggae/ska, heavily clear on “Diplomat’s Son”.  Overall, what Contra does suggest is that Vampire Weekend are moving forward with their music, and if they can continue with the kind of gradual progression found between this and their debut, Vampire Weekend will be making exciting music for years to come.

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January 17, 2010

As any of you who have followed the news will know, what has happened in Haiti over the last week is an unthinkable tragedy.  When you consider the amount of people who have lost their lives, it’s the equivalent of the population of many cities, and some small countries.  Picture yourself in that situation for just a second.  Even if it’s just a few bucks, a donation almost seems like an obligation.  Living in a country like Canada, we are not really in a place to experience a natural disaster of this size, and a small donation is the least that any of us can do to help those whose everyday reality can be changed forever in the matter of seconds.

[A few months back, The Beatles UK catalogue was finally digitally remastered properly, since the first CD reissues back in 1987.  Over the next few months, I will be reviewing each of these albums as I get them.]

Rating: 5/5

By the time the Beatles recorded Revolver in 1966, they had already changed the face of the music industry forever.  They had already managed to capture the attention of millions of people around the world, young and old, and made an impact that had not been made before them.  They had already booked sold-out arena shows globally and scored 10 consecutive number-one hits in row.  I presume that at this point, since they had already done all that stuff, they decided they might as well start to change the way rock and roll had been viewed before and turn it into an art form.  After Revolver, The Beatles were no longer just teen idols or a great band with unthinkable success; they were spokesmen for a new, exciting generation,  and godfathers to a new era of rock and roll.

From 1962 to 1965, the Beatles had experienced massive success and made music that was evolving at a rate that was previously unseen.  They seemed incapable of writing a dud single, and each LP signaled a whole new level of growth in their songwriting and in their chemistry as a band.  In 1965, the Beatles released Help!, which in my opinion, is their first album where you can hear the sound of a band that is growing up and extremely willing to try new things.  They were dabbling with other genres, broadening the topics of their lyrics, and smoking pot for breakfast.  It seemed the Beatles were getting tired of what they had done for six to seven years and seemed more comfortable while trying new things.  Then came Rubber Soul later that year.

Rubber Soul began the process of bringing out the matches to burn their earlier reputation as a peppy, happy rock band that sang songs about love.  Almost every single Beatles song from 1962 to 1965 was about love.  One can only gather that they were getting tired of the love songs.  However, Rubber Soul was merely getting out the matches.  By early 1966, it seemed all they really wanted to do was throw on the tape loops, bring in the orchestra, and sing about acid trips.  Hence,  with Revolver, they set a fire to their previous image that would be impossible to put out.

Keen to explore new ideas and methods of recording, the Beatles made an album that seemed to break rules that a lot of people didn’t even know existed in pop music, and they made it seem so simple.  They seemed more determined than ever to work within genres of music they either hadn’t delved too deep into in the past, or hadn’t delved into at all.  Revolver offers classical (“Eleanor Rigby”), Indian (“Love You To”), funk (“Taxman”), soul/Motown (“Got To Get You Into My Life”), baroque (“For No One”), and musique-concrete (“Tomorrow Never Knows”).  The way the Beatles incorporated these other musical styles into their brilliant songwriting would permanently affect what could and could not be considered rock and roll.  A song like “Eleanor Rigby” wasn’t something you heard on what could be called a rock and roll album before Revolver, but from that point onwards, all kinds of rock bands, particularly all the upcoming prog-rock bands, would be using full orchestras to colour their music.  The full-blown raga sounds of “Love You To” had never touched a slab of rock and roll vinyl before Revolver, but they could be found on more psychedelic albums in the following years than there were hippies doing acid.  The meandering, swooping tape loops of “Tomorrow Never Knows” were only in common use by the likes of avant-garde composers like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen before Revolver, but afterwards, the tape loop became one of the common sounds heard when bands wanted to create spacy, weird sounds…at least until the Moog synthesizer came around a few years later.

Revolver is not all manic experimentation.  There are still some pretty straightforward rock songs on Revolver, but they seemed to build upon all the other straightforward rock songs they had written before.  A large part of this growth had to do with the instrumentation.  For starters, John Lennon and George Harrison had never played guitar together so well before.  On songs like “And Your Bird Can Sing”, “She Said, She Said” and “Doctor Robert”, it sounds like Lennon and Harrison are trying to make their guitars sound like airplanes flying together, creating works of art in the sky with their exhaust.  McCartney began working out incredibly inventive and prominent bass lines, which seem higher in the mix than ever before.  Ringo’s drumming seemed just as simple as it ever was, but he seemed to be getting more creative in his simplicity.

What about the songwriting on Revolver?  Let’s just say the subject matter took a sharp left turn.  The love songs that were so plentiful in the past are scarce on Revolver.   There are more songs about drugs on this album than there are ones about love.  “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a guide to LSD tripping.  “She Said, She Said” was about something Peter Fonda said to Lennon while they were on LSD.  “Dr. Robert” was about a doctor who gave LSD to some of his patients.  You get the idea.  They did tackle the topic of love on occasion.  “Here, There, and Everywhere” is one of the most beautiful, moving love songs they ever recorded, but “Love You To”, with its relatively dismal vision of love, isn’t exactly romantic.  It seemed that whatever they were singing about, they hadn’t even came close to singing about it before.

Revolver is the kind of album that can only come once.  It was the first album to really press completely new territory for the Beatles and rock and pop music in general.  Proof of that is in the fact that when you listen to this album today, it still sounds incredibly original and it will still send shivers down your spine.  I wonder what people were thinking when they first heard it in 1966, especially those who were used to “She Loves You”, & “Yesterday”.  There have been many albums since Revolver that have pushed a lot of new ground and broken a lot of rules, but it seems that none of them have or will match its originality and influence.  There is probably a good reason we always see Revolver at the top of “best albums ever made” lists.  It’s probably because there are very few albums that seem so deserving.