Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mixtapes Mean Love

It is thirty-two minutes past eight o'clock. The entire house is dark, since I am the only one in it -- this also means that Forever Halloween is turned up a little too loudly for the neighbor's comfort (but when did I ever care about the bloody neighbors?). I have to say, since that album came out, that is where my time has been devoted. Lack of posts? Blame Forever Halloween. Lack of general productivity in life? Yeah, Forever Halloween. "What are those dark circles under your eyes?" That's also Forever Halloween, but at sunrise. Burned the dinner? Sorry, Forever Halloween. That record is like aural heroin to me right now. How do I know this? Back in July, my sister and I had a lengthy discussion, which gave me this little epiphany.

We were on our way back from Dallas, and I somehow got talking about the fact that I was grateful that I didn't make a fool of myself two nights previously when I met Jared Monaco (oh, don't worry, we're going to talk about that at an annoying length very soon, because I need to fangirl about this event in the worst possible way). It all started innocently enough. We had somehow gotten around to talking about Katy Perry; this, however, is a subject I have limited breadth in. She married Russell Brand, divorced Russell Brand, and did this video...

Yes, you saw Miles Kane, Dallon Weekes, and The Maine -- that was not an illusion.

I quickly exhausted the Russell Brand angle, and frantically turned to the video for some kind of support. I didn't know what I would be met with, considering I pointed out that all of those awesome people are in it. I know my sister reads this blog, so I figured she might at least recognize a name or two that I mentioned. I was shocked and appalled to read her response text (I only just got this stupid iPhone, I don't know how to screencap anything, suffer with me, OK?): "Yeah... That text had a lot of people in it I've never heard of... Who is The Maine?"

That was where I proceeded to creep both of us out by not shutting up. She even sent me this photograph to illustrate how I need to learn to shut my damn pie hole.
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This exercise proved two points to me. While the minor point is that I need to stop acting like the Energizer Bunny when it comes to my hobbies (let's be honest, here, that isn't going to happen), there is a major point here, too. I always just assumed that, if someone was reading my blog, they would either know who these people are, or would look into it themselves. Just because I have a psychotic need to research things does not mean the rest of you do, and I took that fact for granted.

Let's go back to that psychotic-need-to-research thing, though, because that brings up another good point regarding the whole reason this post exists: I have done your research for you! You can thank me later. Before you back away from the screen in horror, let me explain what I have done. It occurred to me that, should you read this blog, yet remain totally clueless about some of the things I have talked about in the past (and will most likely bring up again in the future), let this be an attempt at a sort of "Beginners Guide To..." kind of thing. All you really have to do is hit the play button, and be brought up to speed.

In the same regard that I have made it as easy as one, two, play, I have also followed a categorical approach, which I think will be helpful to those who remain oblivious. Now, there is only one problem with my system: do you remember that scene in High Fidelity where the girl from the magazine comes to interview Rob Gordon, and she asks for his Top Five albums of all time, and the scene is pretty much him adding to/changing his mind about the list he gives her? Yeah, that kind of happened. I tried to keep it to a Top Five, because it is a formula that works; unfortunately, it is not a formula that works for me. Instead, there is a Top Eleven -- almost an album's worth of material from each band listed. I don't mean to scare you; I know the whole Top-Eleven-categorical-approach is a bit daunting. To make it easier, I will, of course, talk a bit about each song, because it is my blog, and I can.

The categories are:

1) What I Suggest Starting With (there is a lot of material to sort through! I get it. This category has you covered for what you need to start with if you are remotely interested)
2) What I First Heard (self-explanatory: the song I first heard from the band)
3) Newest Material Pick (a song from that band's latest album or EP which kicks ass)
4) Early Material Pick (baby bands! You know, the stuff they want everybody to forget because everyone cringes at their early work)
5) Album Cut (any album is up for grabs here; songs that don't get the love they deserve)
6) Acoustic Pick (one of their own songs, reworked as an acoustic track)
7) Compiler's "Because of Reasons" Pick (because it's my blog, and I can)
8) In Studio (you've been listening to these beautiful people, now get to know them and their material a little better. Nerd out with me, please)
9) Songs Featuring (guest spots featuring a band member on a different artist's project)
10) Covers (like the good old days, don't we all want to hear a familiar song done in another artist's style? It measures their worth, dammit)
11) Acapella (who doesn't want to just hear the vocals by themselves sometimes? I love it)

Also, note that there are some links sprinkled around here and there. Feel free to click and enjoy. You're welcome.

An important factor in picking the Songs Featuring and Covers categories was my sister. I tried to look at songs that fit more what I thought she would like than what I might have otherwise chosen for those categories. After all, I'm trying to educate, here. Since those choices are geared for a certain taste, just be forewarned.
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She never did outgrow Cyndi Lauper.

The bands are organized as the entire set of eleven for that band in one heading, with three bands in total. Since I talk about these three often, I have decided to place them in the order I have seen them live (because why not?). With that said, my love for the Plain White T's is really, really well known, and we're going to start there, because the Wonders of the Younger Tour was pretty cool.

1) What I Suggest Starting With: "Boomerang" from Wonders of the Younger (2010)

I have loved this song since before it came out. Seriously. The thing is, the Plain White T's like to play unreleased material at their shows, and they do it often. How many incredibly low-fi versions of this song did I sit up late at night in the dark trying to figure out? A few, anyway. And, they've been playing their as-yet unreleased material while on tour this summer, so we're back to low-fi madness (you will notice, though, that technology makes it a little easier four years later). This, however, is the official studio version, complete with awesome music video. Watch it in HD and try not to fall in love, I dare you.

2) What I First Heard: "Hey There, Delilah" from All That We Needed (2005)

Isn't this the first song most of the universe heard from these guys? It certainly was for me. This song was blowing up major when our little family was making our way up to Canada (which we never talk about), and fifteen year old me flipped her respective wig. It took me a while, but sixteen year old me fell in love with the band the winter of '07/'08, and my life has pretty much been on a downhill spiral since then. It is obvious you just can't stop with one band -- which, for me, my starting point was The Beatles -- without finding other people to want to invest time in, too. (Really, I haven't slept since Paul's Chaos and Creation came out in 2005.)

My problem, however, is that the version that made it big -- and, in effect, is the one played on the radio -- has added strings. Added. Strings. This song is meant to be Tom Higgenson, and an acoustic guitar. Period. End of discussion. Commercialize it all you want, but listen to the original version and tell me it isn't better. They George Harrison-ed it, man. Tom Higgenson, and an acoustic guitar: magical.

3) Newest Material Pick: "Helium" from Should've Gone To Bed (EP) (2013)

I very openly had reservations about the new EP. We all remember how I had a small nervous meltdown back a few months ago about it. Fortunately, the EP sounded nothing like the eponymous single. Four songs total, two from Tom Higgenson, two from Tim Lopez, and three of the four are fantastic (because that part of me just can't stand "Should've Gone To Bed" unless it is acoustic). "Helium", however, does, indeed, kick ass. Before I go and buy the EP, though, I am waiting to see if these songs are on the album that should be coming out sometime this fall (maybe? I mean, a partially announced fall tour, and some rumors about what they're calling From This Night On sound promising [psychotic-need-to-research crops up every time]. No one seems to be talking about this; I am inclined to blame the record label, simply because labels always promise things they don't deliver on). That is a thing that has happened in the past, but if you need these songs right-the-hell-now, don't be a bloody skinflint, buy the damn thing.

4) Early Material Pick: "Happy Someday" from Stop (2002)

It was because of Stop that I realized I had an actual valid point with the Theory of Twenty-Three. Only then did I further investigate it, and found out I have a method for guessing a male lead vocalist's age that is almost as accurate as carbon dating. As for the song, I love how idealistic it seems eleven years later, knowing a bit more about how the member's lives have changed since then; in that respect, though, haven't we all?

5) Album Cut: "Come Back to Me" from Every Second Counts (2006)

Falling in love with a band between album cycles is a tricky situation. While I was busy keeping this album on constant loop, the band was live tracking Big Bad World, which, in my opinion, is their greatest album to date. Every Second Counts, though, will always be special to me; I spent hours upon hours writing to this album, trying to figure out how to play with words. Even now, when the lights are off and the house is quiet, this is the album I put on to write to. This song in particular has always been a favorite of mine, and has spent heaven knows how long on repeat by itself (probably because the bridge is catchy).

6) Acoustic Pick: "Broken Record" from Wonders of the Younger (2010)

A few months before the album came out, acoustic versions of some of the songs somehow made their way out to the world. I don't remember much about the other songs, because I was fixated with this one. Now that I am familiar with the album version, I am amazed at how well they recreated the song acoustically. When the album dropped, though, it was a total shock to hear the studio version. I have been known to play this version as often as the album version, just because it is that good.

7) "Because of Reasons" Pick: "Meet Me In California" from Big Bad World (2008)

Because you should never love the idea of people based on the fact that you like the same kinds of books; and it only took four years to figure out.

8) In Studio: "Meet Me In California, Part Eight" (2008)

If they were able to film a making-of documentary on any of their albums, I am so very glad it was Big Bad World. The entire documentary, split into thirteen short segments, is entirely worth every moment of your time. It is somewhat hard to get hold of, though, as only the first three parts are available from the band's YouTube page. Check out the full film, if you can.

9) Songs Featuring: Ashlee Simpson's "Little Miss Obsessive", featuring Tom Higgenson (2008)

Back in the day, my sister liked some of Ashlee Simpson's singles; because we live in two separate spheres, I don't actually know if she still has a flavor for this particular sound, but I'm flying by the seat of my pants on this one. Keep an ear out for Mr. Higgenson in the backing vocals during the chorus.

10) Covers: "Jessie's Girl" from Rip Off the Hits (2001)

I have to make a confession: I don't actually know if this track is from their 2001 self-released EP. I am using common sense and the Theory of Twenty-Three. This isn't my favorite cover they have done over the years, but my sister is a child of the 80's, and has never shown an interest in acoustic Beatles covers (like this one, go look, you will be glad you did, it is beautiful, you are welcome [also, "The Beatles are one of our favorite bands"? Mr. Higgenson and I are fighting to be Paul's biggest fan under age forty, he had a remaster listening party on the release day, and he named his son Lennon. Do we even need to get into the creative process, here? He is just as bad as I am]).

11) Acapella: "Natural Disaster" from Big Bad World (2008)

This one is more of a click-the-link kind of thing. So click the link. It is absolutely magical. I had to stop writing just to listen to it; it literally took every ounce of my attention, because I had never heard this particular song acapella before. Love it, embrace it, tuck it in at night and give it a glass of water.

How is everyone holding up? Enjoying the awesome so far? I hope so, because we are only one-third finished. The next band lands in the second slot chronologically, thanks to the Rockshow at the End of the World Tour -- we're talking about All Time Low.

1) What I Suggest Starting With: "Somewhere In Neverland" from Don't Panic! (2012)

Do you ever listen to a song for the first time, and just feel yourself fall in love with it? In the build-up to their latest album, a couple of songs were released early to promote it (I don't know if they were officially singles at that point, or if they were just trying to get a feel for audience reception to an album that was recorded without a record label). Regardless, this song came out at a perfect time in my life for it to make absolute sense -- a twenty-something anthem, while simultaneously asking for a way out of being a supposed grown-up. Also, it is awesome live, and a generally nifty track in general.

2) What I First Heard: "Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don't)" from Nothing Personal (2009)

At the time, this video was the first YouTube result when searching the band name. Everything about it says "huh?", but the song is just so catchy, you can't help but love it. It's also a pretty good introduction to the band members, since they don't take things too seriously, including most of their videos (if you couldn't already tell).

3) Newest Material Pick: "Me Without You (All I Ever Wanted)" from Don't Panic: It's Longer Now! (2013)

I said it when Don't Panic! came out, and I'll say it again here: this is the kind of album that kids my niece and nephew's age are going to go nuts for in fifteen years. A kid could grab hold of this record when they have nothing else to cling to, simply because it gets them. To boot, the album has staying power because of the angsty-yet-not-adolescent theme. When it was announced, however, that their four new songs and three acoustic tracks were going to be as part of a reissue, rather than an EP, I was not the only person that got a tad bit peeved. Some of us spent rather a lot of money on the Don't Panic! cycle, and then, a super-dee-duper deluxe edition comes out nearly a year after the fact. Even though I haven't bought it yet, I probably will, just because I really like the new material (though "A Love Like War" is debatable for me at this point, regardless that most fans are loving it [keep in mind, though, that I have never been a big Pierce the Veil fan]). This material has only been out for a couple of weeks now, but this chorus is so damn catchy that it's been in my brain for as many days.

4) Early Material Pick: "The Beach" from So Wrong, It's Right (2007)

This is just one of those songs that sticks in your head for days and days, and you aren't exactly sure if it is a good thing or not (let's be honest, it is a good thing). You will also sing it in your head every time you go to the beach, just because you can.

5) Album Cut: "Return the Favor" from Dirty Work (2011)

Some fans have an issue with Dirty Work as a whole, and I never have been able to understand that. Yes, it is somewhat more manufactured-feeling than their previous albums had been, but the songs are still fun. I particularly like the harmonies on this track, and would love to hear more of what the band could do with layered backing vocals in the future. It needs to happen.

6) Acoustic Pick: "I Feel Like Dancing" from Dirty Work (2011)

I have had an unidentifiable love for this acoustic version since it came out. The song has never been one of my favorites -- though it is a great road trip song -- but this particular performance is great.

7) "Because of Reasons" Pick: "Vegas" from So Wrong, It's Right (2007)

Because everything about 2006 changed my life, including best friends and total idiots (which includes me).

8) In Studio: Recording for Nothing Personal (2009)

There is something heartwarming about watching an artist have fun with a project. It isn't incredibly serious all the time in any creative environment, and this clip is proof of that.

9) Songs Featuring: We Are The In Crowd's "Kiss Me Again", featuring Alex Gaskarth (2012)

My thing with this song is that you can tell Mr. Gaskarth's vocals were recorded in a makeshift booth set up on a tour bus. There, I said it. So much autotune for such a beautiful voice. The video is pretty fun, though.

10) Covers: "True Colors" (2012)

I don't exactly know what was going on with this: there was some kind of competition, and they had bands from different countries cover songs, and there was a car. That's all I know. That, and I kept seeing Cyndi Lauper lyrics pasted over pictures of All Time Low for weeks after this came out. Did these people never have a sister that come complete with the Cyndi Lauper "Greatest Hits"?

11) Acapella: "Dear Maria, Count Me In" from So Wrong, It's Right (2007)

Never one of my favorite songs, but the acapella version shows it in an entirely new light. Even before twenty-three, we can all agree Mr. Gaskarth has a fabulous voice. We can agree, right? Then we're all in trouble, here.

By this point, I am assuming the dear reader is either ready to smile widely as they murder me, or is wondering what took them so long to find these things (I hope it is the latter, because then I've put in this effort for nothing). Have you even made it this far, dear reader? Good on you. You are nice people, and need cookies to make your day better. While you get cookies, let's talk about the third band (don't cheer 'cause it's almost over); by order of first-tour status, the 8123 Tour brings The Maine as our closing band.

1) What I Suggest Starting With: "Misery" from Pioneer (2011)

This particular song always comes up in interviews as one that the band is very proud of; why not? It's a great song by itself, and as part of the album as a whole. Even without knowing the story behind the album, Pioneer is a triumph of a record. Seriously, buy it blindly, sit in a dark room with no distractions, and play it front to back. Start with "Misery" for now, though, because why not? Why. Not.

2) What I First Heard: "Into Your Arms" from Can't Stop Won't Stop (2008)

I was doomed from the start, wasn't I? Some folks think the video is a little much, but I never saw anything incredibly wrong with it.

3) Newest Material Pick: "Kennedy Curse" from Forever Halloween (2013)

Even before the album came out, everybody was prepared for the emotional roller coaster that "These Four Words" promised to be. It was hyped quite a bit before the release, and most people reacted with Kleenex and chocolate. Here's the problem I had: in album order, "Kennedy Curse" comes before "These Four Words". Knowing that the entire album was coming from a similar place as "These Four Words", my big reaction came from "Kennedy Curse" (which makes no sense, really, given the context of the story that's being told here). So, as much as everyone loved and reacted to "These Four Words", I have done the same for "Kennedy Curse". Keep in mind that Forever Halloween was recorded live to analogue tape, and this song is just that much more amazing. (Also, cheeky fun fact: The Maine are fantastic about putting up free material. The 8123 Tour EP has a live version of "Kennedy Curse" on it, should you decide that you need that in your life -- or, to tide you over until your copy of the album comes in the post [or, if you decide to wait, we all know something is brewing, so save on shipping].)

4) Early Material Pick: "This Is The End" from Can't Stop Won't Stop (2008)

Of all their early material, I feel like this is the best indicator of where they were headed in the future; compare, say, this song with songs from Black & White, and it's a fairly logical progression -- unlike a few singles put out for the Can't Stop album cycle (because 2008 was just a weird year for everybody).

5) Album Cut: "Untangle Me" from In Darkness and In Light (2010)

What I love about this particular release is that it's mostly just The Maine playing with Pro-Tools, but with their Black & White material. B-sides, home recordings, a short film score, and a live version, more accurately. It's almost like a sampler experiment for Pioneer in a way; another good predictor for what was to come.

6) Acoustic Pick: "Jenny" from Pioneer (2011)

"Jenny" is a fairly slow song to start with, but it's fabulous -- as all of Pioneer is, really (I am biased, OK? It's like their Big Bad World for me, don't judge). This particular version has always felt special for reasons I don't ever really contemplate, but just go with. (Also, if you haven't noticed yet, The Maine are absolutely fantastic about documenting what they're doing at any given time, which gives fans a comprehensive record of their career. Watch the track-by-track, have a good time.)

7) "Because of Reasons" Pick: "Waiting for My Sun to Shine" from Pioneer (2011)

Because, sometimes, being a human is a giant pain in the ass, and John O'Callaghan gets that. This is the song you put on when you have a huge decision to make, you pour a strong cup of tea, and you call your friends to help you out. (Skip to the 8:30 timestamp for the cheeky hidden track [unless you have the imported Pioneer & The Good Love version -- guess how I know that one].)

8) In Studio: Recording the Pioneer B-sides (2011)

I showed this video to my mother when it came out (because I am actually like this in real life, too), and now, whenever she sees Pat Kirch, she says, "that's the guy that got so happy when he ripped some paper".

9) Songs Featuring: The Arkells' "On Paper", featuring John O'Callaghan (2012)

This particular version is quite different from the album version (which doesn't feature Mr. O'Callaghan), and feels very High Fidelity to me. That's fine by me, though, because I have a certain caution regarding people that dislike that film (or anything from Nick Hornby, but we aren't here to talk about book nerdiness right now).

10) Covers: "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" from Punk Goes Pop 5 (Compilation) (2012)

It's a fun cover, but I always love how they say "sorry, Cyndi" before they play it. Like I said, this is one of those things that's directed more at my sister's taste than my own, since I don't think she would like certain things (because I would never tell you to listen to John O'Callaghan sing Paul McCartney's words, nope, never. I would never show you how they did it, either.)

11) Acapella: "Don't Give Up On 'Us'" from Pioneer (2011)

Usually the fan-made acapella versions include a bit of background instrumentation, but since this was an officially released version, it's just vocals. The pity is that it isn't on their main channel so everyone can find it.

That's it. That's what I have for you. Thirty-three songs, compiled over about two months, because I actually have no life. It's all for you, man. What a post, one for the books, I'll see y'all later.
"Hang on!" I can hear you calling...
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Yeah, about that: Paul can't play in these kinds of games -- we talked about this before. Not only is his catalog ginormous, but I can't pick Paul stuff; where would I actually suggest you begin? Everyone has already been exposed to Paul, even his solo stuff. Album cuts? Too many, couldn't possibly undertake that.
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Because God loves us, Paul is finally putting out his album.

Now that it's over, I am questioning what I thought was going to come from this post. I'm kinda over here going...
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...and you will respond one of two ways:
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It's interesting to note, though, that, in the process, I have learned a couple of things about myself.

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And, fourth, that mixtapes mean love...

Always be leery of people who don't like High Fidelity. Always.

Is It A Subscription Box, Or Something More Sinister? (It's A Subscription Box. Maybe.)