Friday, December 17, 2010

new(ish) blog

Hello there!

This is just a music blog, but I have lots of other interests! So I've started writing in this blog. It's more personal and will cover many topics: music, politics, feminism, random things that happen to me, you know the drill.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Music

I am not a big fan of Christmas music. I don't like that, after Thanksgiving, I can't go anywhere without hearing it constantly. There are several reasons for this.

1. It is obnoxious to hear the same songs over and over again. By the time the actual holiday comes around, I don't want to listen to any of the festive melodies that are supposed to fill me with unbridled holiday joy.
2. It's totally exclusionary to anyone who isn't a Christian. I was raised Christian, but now I identify as more of an agnostic. So I only feel a fraction of the annoyance that people of other religions and/or other atheiests/agnostics/whatever feel when they hear that shit piping through every speaker everywhere. It's not necessarily offensive, especially the music itself, but it is a little dumb.*

But besides that, a lot of Christmas music is just kind of ... terrible!

Take Jingle Bell Rock, for instance. Check out these nonsensical lyrics: "Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock. Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring. Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun. Now the jingle hop has begun."

Excuse me? Are there people out there who love nothing more than to DANCE to the sound of JINGLE BELLS?

Oh, and then there's this gem...

Don't even get me STARTED on "The Christmas Shoes." I hate this fucking song more than I hate almost any other song. I hate this fucking song more than I hate a lot of things, actually. I remember when it came out, and people LOVED it! Something about poverty and fatally ill mothers really brings out the Christmas spirit in some folks, I guess.

I was singing the chorus of this song to a couple friends who'd never heard it before (lucky bitches) the other day. They were laughing the whole way, and then - wait for it - there's that line at the end: "I want her to look beautiful if Momma meets Jesus tonight."

WHAT?! There's that Jesus, sneakin' in! I guess it would be quite a birthday present for him to see Momma in her snazzy new shoes.

The types of Christmas songs I like the most are old religious hymns, which I know seems weird considering what I said earlier about not being a Christian anymore and shit. It's not that I want these hymns blasting at Target. I wish there was no holiday music played at Target ever (unless it's "Monster Mash"). Hymns are just better written, and they actually make sense, considering that Christmas is actually a religious holiday.

Secular Christmas songs that are mainly about shopping and having fun kind of suck. They usually feature some kind of wild sax solo (also a personal annoyance, but I'll stop complaining). Sometimes they're just a regular song that uses the word "Christmas" and therefore guarantees the artist extra royalties every December (I'm looking at you, Mariah Carey).

There are a few exceptions to my secular Christmas song hatred, and all of those exceptions were written by former Beatles.

What's worse than a modern secular Christmas song?

A modern Christian Christmas song!

Despite my love for Clay Aiken, I HATE THIS SONG!!!! (He didn't write it at least, so he's still golden in my book).

I think this song is only thought of as Christmas-appropriate because it refers to Jesus as a baby. Other than that it's basically just "JESUS IS SO AWESOME!!!!" over and over again. I hate this song's lyrics, although I have to admit it is pretty. Maybe that's just because I'm listening to Clay Aiken sing it right now.

So, without further ado, I'm going to talk about some Christmas songs I actually DO like!

"O Holy Night"

Obviously this song is just fucking beautiful. And epic. But I love it because of the memories attached. See, when I was a kid, there was this guy who sang this song at Christmas Eve church every year. He would stand in the choir loft and just sing it a capella, and man was that lovely. It was not unlike this video; this particular church member had an operatic style similar to Josh Groban.

I also love "Silent Night," as many people do. It's the song that we would sing as we lit our candles and stood there in the darkness, faces aglow by the light of the tiny flames. Again, church memories. I grew up Methodist; we like to sing. (Christmas Eve is about the only time when I really enjoy church. Something about all that ritual, and remembering my childhood.)

Bright Eyes has a whole album of Christmas songs (appropriately called A Christmas Album, released 2002) and I really enjoy it. Want to combine your love for sadsack indie rockers with holiday spirit? This album is a must-listen!

And, finally...

I played clarinet in high school, and every year at our Christmas concert, our Wind Ensemble would don Santa hats and bust this out as our last number. This is the same arrangement we played. Good times!

So there you have it. Christmas music sucks! Happy winter solstice everyone! God bless us, every one!

*Nothing's more annoying than the privileged complaining about discrimination towards whatever privileged group they may be a member of. See: white people calling tanning taxes racist, and American Christians getting all pissy when someone suggests that it might be better to put the label 'holiday' on something than 'Christmas.' /endrant

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

new music tuesday

Shameless self-promotion:

Here's my (and several other Life & Arts desk writers') mini-review of the new Kanye West album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Spoiler alert: it's amazing, and if you don't have it already, you really should.

I also wrote a review of the new Robyn album, Body Talk Pt. 3. You can read that here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

time to set it off

Hey y'all, there's a new Girl Talk album!

Girl Talk is the musical equivalent of what I like to call iTunes Syndrome. This refers to a phenomenon in which, due to our ADHD lifestyle and technology that allows us to store months worth of music on an object the size of a postage stamp, we never listen to a song all the way through.

You know what I mean. You're driving around in your car with a friend, and by the time whatever you're listening to hits the 2-minute mark, you hit the 'NEXT' button.

Well, Girl Talk takes iTunes Syndrome to a whole new level. Gregg Gillis (the man behind the music) mashes up dozens of songs in one track to create a fast-paced, surprising, fun dance tune. The songs he chooses range from 1960s girl-group pop to gangsta rap, but the unifying factor is their popularity. Gillis is clearly a Top 40 enthusiast, a lover of pop culture.

Looking at what's popular is really interesting, especially if you think about it on a deeper level than just "Oh, there's Ke$ha again with another one of her party anthems! How annoying." Popularity has implications that extend further than merely 'what the kids are listening to these days.' Possessing the technology and the wealth of music knowledge that Gillis clearly does makes for something of a case study in society. What do we like? Why do we like it? What happens when we put two different things that we like together?

(Take, for example, Girl Talk's "Smash Your Head," in which he famously combines Biggie Smalls' "Juicy" and Elton John's "Tiny Dancer.")

If you're curious about what songs you're hearing when you listen to a Girl Talk album, someone has made a website that tells you exactly that:

He's put out five albums and two EPs. All of the albums are now available for free download on his record label's website.

Girl Talk also presents questions about how we think about intellectual property and copyrights. He samples songs without permission, which is basically a lawsuit waiting to happen, yet he's still making music. I think this suggests that people recognize his work as art in its own right, despite its complete dependence on others' art for its existence.

It's post-modern as hell, and I love it. Whether you're just dancing at a party (because Girl Talk is THE BEST party music - there's something for everyone) or recontextualizing the music you love, Girl Talk rocks.

Enjoy the new album, I know I will!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Songs That Kill Me

One winter break, I was visiting my boyfriend at his parents' house. He thinks this is one of the best love songs of all time (and I have to agree), so he put it on the stereo. We ended up slow-dancing in the kitchen. A really lovely moment that I always remember when I listen to this gem.

"If you should ever leave me - though life would still go on, believe me - the world could show nothing to me, so what good would living do me? God only knows what I'd be without you."

Such a beautiful song, there's really not much to say about it. There are few pieces of music that are just truly perfect, and I really think this is one of them.

Paul McCartney said "'God Only Knows' is one of the few songs that reduces me to tears every time I hear it. It's really just a love song, but it's brilliantly done. It shows the genius of Brian. "I've actually performed it with him and I'm afraid to say that during the sound check I broke down. It was just too much to stand there singing this song that does my head in and to stand there singing it with Brian."

This song has lots of really lovely harmonies just like "God Only Knows." I love how Paul has that sort of walking part at the end of each line in the verse. And that impassioned bridge section where John sings along just breaks my heart every time.

I really have a soft spot for early Beatles. This video has choked me up every time I've seen it, ever since I first watched the anthology in 8th grade.

I went through a phase a few months ago where I listened to this song like three times a day. The arrangement is just so wonderful. I think the lyrics really speak to truth, too. Carole King was a teenager when she wrote this song, and this is a very typical worry of a teenage girl. If I give myself to you now, will you still love me tomorrow?

Look! The first song on this list that's not from last century! I've been really into Mumford & Sons lately. All their songs are so epic! There is so much emotion in the lyrics and the way he sings them. You've gotta really reach down to the most painful parts of your intimate past to write music like this. "Tell me now where was my fault in loving you with my whole heart."

That's all for now, kids. I hope you like these songs, even though most of them are golden oldies. That's seriously what I listen to most of the time!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election 2010

Yay, America!

We now have ZERO black senators.

Oklahoma passed a law with 70% support outlawing Sharia law - Islamic law - something that is not a threat whatsoever here in OK, and only furthers Islamophobia while discouraging international business from taking place here. Wonderful!

Oh yeah, and my home state of Wisconsin replaced the wonderful, smart, progressive Russ Feingold with a man who believes sun spots cause global warming and doesn't believe the election was about "details."

I'm just tired. I've spent the past two days on the South Oval blowing a kazoo and talking about abortion. And now this.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I was a punk rocker. I wore my boyfriend's badass punk jacket, some fake tats (that's "LIVE FAST DIE FUN" on my chest, and "fuck you"/"fuck me" on either side of my neck, and "hard luck" on my knuckles, as an homage to my girl Jerri Blank), leopard print leggings with fishnets over them, sexy makeup, purple ratty hair, and my badass old Chucks.

That top picture is of me getting my groove on with my friend Kyle Lyle Caldwell. He was supposed to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer; his costume is really just a bunch of my everyday clothes. So he was kind of "Annika on a typical Thursday" for Halloween.

I love this holiday, there's no necessity to be with one's family or buy gifts for anyone. You just dress crazy, drink a lot, and dance. Hedonism!!

As for now, I'm about to finish up some homework and continue my Halloween celebrations with a Hosty show at the Deli. Goodnight Halloweenies!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

thy voice is a celestial melody

Even though instrumentals are rockin' awesome (post on that to follow, maybe) most music that people love has lyrics and vocal performance of some kind. We love to hear someone articulate feelings and thoughts in words, and it helps if that artist has a beautiful or distinctive voice.

When I was in 7th grade, I was completely and totally obsessed with Clay Aiken (this was when he was a contestant on American Idol). I filled notebooks with pictures of him, I wrote poems about him, I cried myself to sleep when he lost the show. Yes, I was a Claymate. Looking back now, I can't really see the appeal... I'm no longer attracted to squeaky clean uber-Christians... but I still think his voice is fkn gorgeous. See for yourself!

I can't make a post about voice without mentioning Sam Cooke. Cooke was an R&B singer in the early days of rock-n-roll, and he had tons of hits between 1957 and 1964. You've probably heard his songs "Cupid", "Chain Gang" or "Twistin' the Night Away" if you've ever listened to an oldies station for any extended period of time (or if you're like me, your entire childhood). This guy just floors me every time I listen to one of his songs. His voice is pure and soothing and beautiful. Unfortunately Cooke was murdered at age 33, when someone shot him at a hotel after mistaking him for a robber.

This song was released posthumously and is one of the best protest songs of all time. Listen to that sweet honey voice.

Then there's Bob Dylan, of course. Dylan is special because he has a TERRIBLE singing voice. He can hardly carry a tune. His voice is croaky, it's ugly, it's nasal, and it's one of the most distinctive voices in musical history. There is no way you can hear a Dylan song and ask someone, "Who is this?" Really the only acceptable thing to do is do your best impression along with the song. "How does it FEEEL?"

It's important for an artist to have a distinctive voice, even if it's not as obvious as Bob Dylan's. That's how you get recognition and fans. You have to sound like yourself, and preferably not like lots of other people. But there are different vocal styles that people fall into...

The Indie Girl Murmur

Sounds like Feist, Regina Spektor, Sherree Chamberlain, Penny Hill, Colbie get the picture.

The Tragic Male Introvert

Sounds like Why?, Animal Collective, Cursive, Bright Eyes

The Pop Crooner

Sounds like Bruno Mars, Drake, Jason DeRulo, etc.

You get the picture. Voice is important. Voice is awesome. Listen to music.

Monday, October 18, 2010

British Invasion

So after The Beatles got really famous in the United States in 1964, a whole swarm of other British bands who looked or sounded or acted like the fab four came and got really famous too. Here are some of my favorite British Invasion songs...

The Zombies have this jazzy, sexy sound. Another good example is their song "Time of the Season."

What a voice, oh my god. I'm sure you've heard The Animals' cover of the old American folk tune "House of the Rising Sun."

Herman's Hermits are probably the most Beatles-esque. By the time they hit the scene, their sound was almost a throwback to the early Beatles sound which, by then, was a few years old. I used to sing their song "Henry VIII" all the time when I was a little kid... that's not weird, right?

Dave Clark Five has this awesome, driving sound with the heavy drumbeat, and the way they all shout together. It's almost a Phil Spector/Wall of Sound type experience, except with rock guitars and saxophones instead of strings and timpanis.

This is Peter & Gordon singing "A World Without Love," which was actually penned by Lennon & McCartney. Paul was dating Peter's sister Jane at the time, so he helped him out with a song. Apparently back in the day, the famous songwriting duo could knock out a pop hit in 30 minutes or so, then let a different singer/band perform it, and then make money on the royalties. Genius!

Of course I have to include my favorite band of all time, The Beatles. I love this video of them on the Ed Sullivan Show performing "This Boy," a really beautiful and underappreciated song from their early days. That 'middle 8' that Lennon sings is just breathtaking.

So that's my report on the British Invasion! I'll update with something a bit more interesting later this week.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

it's been a while

Oops, sorry y'all, guess I've been neglecting this here blog for a while. Didn't mean to leave you high and dry like that, but life happens I suppose.

Part of it is that this is supposed to be a music blog, and lately my computer has been busted. Public computer labs = no music for me :(

Also, to be honest there are too many things happening in the world right now that I'm frustrated over, things that make me forget about all the wonderful music in the world. I'm very interested in politics, and I'm a big old radical liberal queer feminist, and sometimes I just get bogged down in how much I HATE EVERYTHING, ya know?

But I'm allowed to say that, this is my blog after all! Hooray!

So, tomorrow is my 21st birthday. Perhaps a playlist of my favorite drinking songs is to come in the future...

I've been thinking about concerts lately too. The other night I went to see The Avett Brothers in Oklahoma City, and they were really great. I've seen them four times now, and this was probably the best show of theirs I've been to. They always have great energy, and the crowd is usually pretty awesome. When they played "I and Love and You," everyone was singing the chorus along with them at the end while holding up fingers to count - the line is, "Three words that became hard to say: I, and Love, and You." And lots of people were waving lighters in the air, myself included. That's a great concert tradition.

Another great concert I've attended was Dave Matthews Band. I've seen them once in Wisconsin and once in Dallas. I liked the show in WI better, but it's always a great experience to see Dave. Truly a unique concert, every time.

My favorite concert of all time, though, has got to be Cursive. I saw Cursive in spring 2008, when I was still a senior in high school. My boyfriend and I skipped out of class early and drove down to Madison, Wisconsin. We spent the day shopping on State Street.

The show was at the University of Wisconsin, in this pretty small venue in their student union. There were maybe 100 people there. It was so intimate and so incredible. I got so close to the stage that Tim Kasher's (lead singer/love of my life) sweat hit my face. Yes. When they played their loud, fast and hard songs, the crowd surged and rocked. I have never had so much fun dancing with a group of strangers.

But then they played this one song. It was before their album Mama, I'm Swollen had come out, and they were playing a lot of new stuff off that album that no one had heard before. Then Tim said they were going to play this song live for the first time ever, and they launched into "What Have I Done?"

You could have heard a pin drop. It was amazing.

On the ride home, I couldn't stop talking about that song. I remember telling Damien that it was breathtaking. The next day, we skipped class again, and got in big trouble, but it was all worth it.

Here is a video of Cursive performing "What Have I Done?" This video is from the show in Madison - the very show I saw them at. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

mix it up

I have always loved making mixes. In high school, I would make a mix CD for the particular purpose of driving around with my friends, smoking cigarettes and listening to it. My boyfriend and I embraced old-school traditions after reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower and exchanged mixtapes when we were about 16. Yes, it was adorable.

Nowadays, I still love taking a bunch of songs that may or may not be related and putting them together for listening pleasure. Whether it's a gift for a friend or just intended for listening while driving my Ford Ranger around town, the mix is great.

Currently on rotation in my truck are burned CD's labeled Annika's Sexy Mix, Some Good Dave, and Some Golden Oldies. These were intended for a trip to Dallas that I didn't get to take this weekend; I was planning to see Dave Matthews Band, hence the Good Dave mix.

Anyway - there are all kinds of good mixes!

  • the Best Of mix, in which you put together the best songs from a particular band or artist, year, decade, or anything else you can think of!
  • the Totally Random mix - pretty self-explanatory
  • the Mood mix: this can go from "Autumn Leaves" (another Perks reference, sorry, but that book has one of the best damn mood mixes everrr) to just plain "Melancholy."
  • the Love mix. You make this one for the object of your affection. It is to be filled with obnoxiously cute songs that the two of you have labeled "our song." You know you've done that, so don't pretend you're too cool to claim ownership over Blink-182's "I Miss You" because it just describes your relationship SoOoOoOo well. (In my defense, it was 8th grade. and I'm still with the guy!)
What kind of mixes do you like to make? Was there a particularly masterful mix you're super proud of? TELL ME ALL ABOUT IT!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

race & doo-wop

Right now one of the classes I'm taking is "Development of Popular Music, 1954-1979." Ah, the beauty of a liberal arts education. Because of this class, some of my posts may align slightly with the material we cover in class. But! History of music is important in order to understand music of today! RIGHT???

So since the semester has just begun, my class is covering the pre-rock-n-roll early 1950s. A time of innocence, poodle skirts, and complete racial insensitivity. Case in point: until they changed the name to "rhythm and blues," the charts for 'black' music were called "race charts." RACE CHARTS! THAT'S OFFENSIVE!

Okay, I'll cool it. We all know of various white artists throughout the years doing what Eminem sums up so nicely in his 2002 hit, "Without Me."

I'm not the first king of controversy/I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley/To do black music so selfishly/And use it to get myself wealthy.
Back in the day, it was actually common for an artist to cover another artist's hit song only weeks after its initial release. I guess it was a good way to capitalize on a hit and make some money for yourself, no matter how shady. White artists would cover the songs from the 'race' charts, clean up the lyrics a bit, and release it in their own white-bread way.

I don't know if anyone is as into doo-wop as I am (probably not), but here's a good example of this phenomenon:

"Sh-Boom" by The Chords (original)

Aaaand the Crew Cuts release it in the same year (1954)

See how AWESOME the original is, and how TERRIBLE the cover is?

So there you have it. Just wanted to share some delicious doo-wop with y'all...but you learned something too, didn't you?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shameless Plug

This is Skating Polly. They're a punk-pop riot grrrl band from OKC, and they're 10 (Kelli Mayo) and 15 (Peyton Suitor) years old. I got to interview them a couple weeks ago, and they are the most awesome little girls I've ever met.

Here's the story I wrote about them for the OU Daily.

Music Discovery Sites

Although there are still plenty of us out there who prefer the gentle crackle of a spinning record to a sterile mp3, we can all use the Internet to expand our musical horizons. Here are some great sites you can use as a jumping off point on your journey to aural enlightenment!

  • Pandora is my personal favorite, though it's a bit basic by the standards some of these other sites set. If you create an account, you can create as many personal "radio stations" as you want by typing in an artist or song name. Pandora will then play songs that have similar traits. You can rate each song with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down so it can further shape the station. Downsides: you can only skip a certain amount of songs per hour, and there are a few ads.
  • Musicovery is cool as well. You can go Pandora style and just type in an artist name, but what makes this site special is the mood and decade selector. You can click anywhere on a spectrum of "Positive - Energetic - Dark - Calm" and then select the time period you want to hear from. Downsides: you have to sign up for the premium (paid) membership to skip songs, and a lot of times clicking "60s" brought up a lot of classical music. Hmmm...
  • Musicmesh employs a visual aid. Type in an artist, and it will show you a map of albums that you'd like as well. Downsides: the library seems a little limited; when I typed in fairly well-known indie acts like Tallest Man on Earth and Monsters of Folk, it didn't seem to recognize them, so you may have to stick to more famous bands - like Led Zeppelin!

Cool, right?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Music and Discovery

Hello !

This is my first post on a blog that may take several different forms as I attempt to navigate this world of narcissistic online journalism. I do know that I will be writing about music about 99% of the time. It is my favorite thing to write about; in fact, it's also my favorite thing to think, talk and learn about. (I may also veer off into territories of women's and queer issues, politics, and general pop culture, but I'll try to keep things focused.)

Since this is my first post, I'll introduce myself. Here's me gazing out onto a harbor, as I often do.

My name is Annika Larson, and I'm a Professional Writing junior with minors in Spanish and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma. I was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin (Go Pack Go!). I now live in Norman in a tiny apartment with my boyfriend and our kitten. I write for my school newspaper's Life & Arts page. I enjoy traveling, watching movies, reading books and magazines, perusing the Internet, and collecting records.

My favorite kinds of music are 1960s pop and rock, folk, and modern indie rock/pop/folk/you get the picture. Most of the music I love the most was produced before the year 1980. Lately (as in the past 3 months or so), I've been listening to The Beatles (a constant through my entire life), Paul Simon, The Tallest Man on Earth, Conor Oberst/Monsters of Folk, Robyn and The Shirelles.

On this blog I hope to encourage some discovery in the world of music; I'm going to look for new and different things, and I hope I can share something new and different with any readers I may have. I hope I can share older music in new ways, and newer music in good ways too!

Until next time,