Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Champion's Chariot

It's been a little while since BLH has served up an offering, and for that, I apologize. I got lazy, experimented with Tumblr, did some other important stuff. Now I'm back, more or less forced to respond to NME's picks for "Greatest Music Videos of All-Time."

It is, at most, an OK list. Respect is paid where due. But they got off to a bad start by dumping "Billie Jean" at #100. I figure this is a consequence of "web strategy." NME probably figures that a sizeable chunk of their readers might not bother to go beyond the top fold of the first page if the very first video doesn't draw them in. "Billie Jean" would serve that purpose, but then you start comparing it to the next 90 videos or so and the anger creeps in. This is better then "Billie Jean"? Seriously, this? There is a Coldplay video which is better than "Billie Jean", so declares NME.

Besides being a great video, "Billie Jean" was a shared experience for millions, an introduction to the new, adult Michael Jackson. I didn't exist at the time, but I'm not young anymore. I've experienced the awe felt at a new artist with a killer song and an incredible video. You never quite shake it.

Artist: Tyler, The Creator
Song: “Yonkers”
Rating: A+

I was at my temp job when I loaded Tyler onto my screen. This was at a time when I was still learning about OFWGKTA, feeling a little dismissive of most of the stuff that I had piled onto my iPod with the exception of Earl Sweatshirt's "Earl," which I kept listening to even if I didn't quite understand what I liked about it. I didn't like the one single I had heard off of Tyler's album and didn't bother with the rest.

I watched this video and then watched it again a little while later, threw it up on my friend's Facebook wall, watched it on his wall, then finally started doing some work. Today, I'm obsessed with Tyler and Earl and a little ashamed that it took a visual aide to make me appreciate the artistic deviance at work with this rap collective.

When Tyler turns from his Thinker pose, the menace on his face is instant and unexpected. His eyes suggest sociopathic tendencies; he's not quite there but still in total control of the situation. The aggression dissolves just as quickly as it came, but it still lingers on unseen, abetted by that sickly shrill beat.

This video aims to entertain with unease, which can be said for the song and the artist as well. The camera focus won't settle, Tyler stops lip-syching at curious moments and we're left with an uncomfortable final shot that doesn't go away when we want it to.

Tyler is a great actor here, conveying "evil" without actually doing anything.
Now, think about that: "evil" is not an emotion. How can an actor convey that without looking foolish, or at least believable? I'm not sure, honestly, but Tyler pulls it off. For his part, I credit the eyes.

I guess his presence loses its' effect once you "get" Tyler and OFWGKTA, and the video does get a little cartoony, but does so without having to comprimise its original intent.

That first view stuck with me like few videos ever have - or will - do. I think the video will end up being the very best of year among the bloggers, and the track should rank high on the year-end singles lists too.

In case you were wondering, "Yonkers" didn't make it onto NME's list. Neither did "Thriller." Draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

B.B. from The A

Artist: Big Boi
Song: “Shutterbugg”
Rating: B

Outkast was, in my belief, the best hip-hop group of the last decade. Andre 3000 and Big Boi were the perfect duo, the pop and the bass. They played pop, but their roots were in the rhyme.

All good things must come to an end, but I was pretty excited when it became clear that Big Boi was prepping a solo debut. Now that it's out, I'm sad to report that it's merely decent. I've always been a fan of the heavy rhythm of Big Boi's voice, but I suppose it wore on me ten tracks in. Blame it on the short-attention span, but I'm in need of someone new.

“Shutterbugg” is similarly good, but not great. It ties together the hip-hop video staples (curvy and pretty young things, the posse shot) with sharp, creative visuals: a puppet band, a flipbook head and the biggest red cup pyramid anyone's ever seen.

Oh, and a little product placement at the very beginning. That seems unprecedented to me. Has it always that obvious?

Friday, July 9, 2010


Artist: The Chap
Song: "Even Your Friend"
Rating: B

Here's a video for the young at heart. Remember those triple flap books, where one could mix and match various eyes, noses and mouths?

Even at age seven, I recognized these books to be nothing more than a cheap thrill. Time hasn't made them anymore appealing, even with a decent soundtrack and a few amusing match-ups (my favorite is "surprised glasses" meets "chimpanzee grin.")

Fun, this video is not, but it is "cute." Am I really using that word?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Scary Noises

Artist: HEALTH
Song: "We Are Water"
Rating: A

I really like Los Angeles' HEALTH. I really like director Eric Wareheim, the TV comic also of the City of Angels who doubles as visionary music director. Doubt it? Click here, here and here. Then try the video above.

Wareheim's videos usually have a lot in common in with his TV show, "Tim and Eric, Awesome Show Great Job!" There's the peculiar pacing, cast with slightly-beneath-average looks and bright colors galore. "We Are Water" doesn't differ (except in terms of palette) but this is the first to ambiguously toggle between funny and disturbing, another important characteristic of his TV show.

I can't bring myself to laugh at the makeup-smeared "damsel"-in-distress flee from her tighty-whitey assailant. At least, not at first blow. It's only funny from a post-viewing perspective, long after one's initial nervous smiles have faded. If you do find this video funny at any given time, congrats; you're likely living in the more bizarre side of life. This is a weirdo litmus test.

The technical aspects are impressive in their own right - degraded colors, excellent cinematography (the superb second-to-last shot will be the most unsettling thing you see in music videos this year.) The creeping motion of the video aligns perfectly with the fast paced track.

I can't say this will be the weirdest thing you see this year, but it'll definitely make "Best Of" lists all across the blogosphere.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunn O))): Droners That Do It

Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, the duo known as Sunn O))), don’t play songs as much as they craft noise, piecing together immense dreg-tone guitar chords one after the other. On Metal’s family tree, they exist on a branch opposing the earth-blistering riff-freaks like Motorhead and Metallica; Sunn O))) is simply a purveyor of Drone-Metal, with an approach disposing of just about every convention of composition.

Sunn O))) tracks truly are open for interpretation. Most fans praise the duo for peeling Metal back to its most intrinsic elements and presenting it as music, of which they enjoy for what it is: sustained distorted chords with a variety of overlaying druidic noises ultimately shaping out a dark minimalist trance. On the other hand, naysayers typically sum it up as pretentious, preposterous or just out-and-out bland.

The two, longhaired harbingers met in inner city Seattle in 1991. Sunn O))), named after the amplifier brand and pronounced simply as “Sunn,” came about in 1998 after both played separately in a handful of underground Metal acts across America. Since then, they’ve released seven studio albums under their self-owned Southern Lord label, the latest being 2009’s Monoliths & Dimensions, where a worldly cadre of experimental collaborators bring strings, horns and a choir of sirens to the ambiance.

In a 2006 interview with The New York Times Magazine, Stephen O’Malley summed up the three types of attendees of any given Sunn O))) show: the music lovers, the spectacle seekers and then the “people who are more interested in the physical aspect of it … the people who are just like, I'm going to stand at the front of the stage for an hour and a half – can I take it? Will I wet my pants? Will I puke? I'm going to be at the very front, in front of these amps for 75 minutes, and then when it's done I'll feel liberated, or I'll feel like I've beaten the band or whatever, no matter how torturous it is."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Singer-songwriter Danielle Ate the Sandwich takes a bite out of YouTube

Originally published in The Rocky Mountain Collegian, April 30, 2009

Alongside a few million Americans, Danielle Anderson is looking for work.

"I got a call back from K-Mart," she says. "It's like, 'Really? K-Mart?' But things are getting a little grim. I really have to think about this."

Customer greeter might be the best option for the singer-songwriter during the downturn. It's not exactly easy turning a living playing gigs and selling albums, even if her fanbase is in the thousands. Most of those fans don't know of her financial worries, let alone her real name. To them, she is simply Danielle Ate the Sandwich, a bespectacled goofball with a golden voice and evocative lyrics.

They visit her MySpace page, buy her songs off iTunes and watch her YouTube videos. When she does get out of her apartment to perform for them, be it in New York City, Los Angeles or Fort Collins' The Alley Cat, they come to watch.

Danielle represents a new breed of musician, the kind who utilizes the constructs of Web 2.0 to establish herself on a national scale. Her popularity is measured in page views (over 160,000 each for her MySpace page and YouTube channel), and her indie cred is bolstered by blog posts (Boing Boing, Westword's Backbeat Online, Anti-Gravity Bunny.)

The internet fame is starting to spill out into reality; the Fort Collins Musician's Association recently named her the city's Best Female Singer-Songwriter, and she's lined up what'll be her biggest gig yet at Denver's Monolith Festival this September. It's all happened for her over the past four months, a speedy succession that likely never would've happened for any young artist 10 years ago. This CSU grad just happens to be in the right place at the right time.

But for now, a day job might help.

Raising bread
The biggest musical influences for Danielle have been the "older songwriters who said really complicated things in really simple ways": Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell. Looking back at her earliest days, one must wonder if Raffi played his part, too.

He was, after all, among the first artists she listened to in the Nebraskan household run by her music teacher mother, Sally. Danielle would learn to play piano, violin and clarinet within the span of elementary school, taking up choir in middle school. She moved to Colorado in the eighth grade, attended Arapahoe High School for four years and then enrolled at CSU.

She kept at music during her college years, even started up a band -- Backdraft: The Musical. Bandmate Brandon Wright gave her the ukulele she plays as Danielle Ate the Sandwich.

The instrument is a quaint aspect of her persona. Danielle says the uke is her ideal musicmaker, its tuning and clean-toned sound much to her liking. It's present on most of her recently released second album, "Things People Do," yet she says she's always been adamant about not being pigeonholed into the role of "Girl Who Plays The Ukulele."

Considering her warm, soulful alto, developed over years of school choir, that's unlikely.

"Not only does she have the fundamentals down, but she's got a unique honest voice, not manipulated at all," Greta Cornett, FoCoMA president, says. "It's got that kind of indie feel to it, like you'd expect to hear it on the 'Juno' soundtrack."

As far as lyricism, Danielle tends to write from her own life. Each song is injected with personal experiences, sometimes crossing a certain boundary into sensitive subject matter. Like most songwriters, the characters of her songs are nameless -- not that those close to her don't pick up on who's who.

She's written about family members in ways that can be (and have been) interpreted as negative portrayals, as well as the on-and-off relationship she's had with her so-called "manfriend" over the past two years. He's not the type to take things the wrong way, though, she says.

"A lot of the songs I've written about him, it's not necessarily the truth. It's more about my interpretations, my insecurities, my emotions," she says.

However: "It must be weird for him to hear songs about other boyfriends."

Double layer
Danielle says there is no story behind her stagename.

"I didn't want to call myself Danielle Anderson because people just pass over a name like that," she says. "I would. I just made something up."

She was surprised when the name wound up on the front page of YouTube last December, her video performance of "Conversations With Dead People" under the Featured Videos tab. For about a year up to that point, she'd just been using her friend's webcam to make her own videos.

"I love it," she says. "Combining acting with singing is like heaven in a burrito for me."

She's nearly made 30 of them. The most popular include her 4 a.m. performance of "Ode to Optophobia" and a refrigerator-backed cover of "Dream A Little Dream," in which she gives shout outs to syrup and cheddar-melt topping. Her jokey antics contrast the more serious tone of her music, and Danielle has come to find that some fans would rather see her acting silly then singing a song. She pokes fun at them in her video for "Born in the Wrong Body" with a pre-song skit, imitating an acronym-spewing browser in search of a quick laugh.

"Danielle Ate the Sandwich is more of a performer," she says. "Danielle Anderson is kind of a loner, antisocial, would rather be doing arts and crafts then out drinking with my so-called friends." She adds: "But at the same time, it's given me what I want, gotten me where I've wanted. I'll take it."

The Internet's judgment of Danielle hasn't gone without the occasional rude or lewd comment. Danielle isn't bothered by it -- but her mom is.

"It's like, why would they even say that?" Sally Anderson says. "But I also see that some people, they love her. I've told her that what she does gives so much to so many people -- some an escape, some an opportunity to reflect on their lives. To be able to give that gift is a pretty great thing."

Danielle received her degree in apparel design and production from CSU about a year ago. She's always been a fan of craft making; she sewed the cloth pouches that case the CD versions of her self-titled debut. She'll be selling some of her craft items -- as well as performing at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. -- at Everyday Joe's craft fair this Saturday.She's thinking about moving to Washington in July, citing a need for change. But people tell her she ought to stay in Denver, a budding music hot spot, so she feels conflicted.

Wherever she may go, she says she'll still be making songs. And videos.

"I want to be well-known but not quite famous," she says, adding with a laugh: "I think I'd sell out quick."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The rich joyous song of Paean

Despite inclusion in the list of genre labels that seem contradictory or downright dumb (a list that starts with Afropunk and ends somewhere around Wizard Rock), Folk Rock really just might be the best label to stick to the sound of Paean.

To describe Paean (pronounced pee-en, named after the ancient Greek term used to describe a joyous song) in greater detail would be to remark on the rich orchestral flavoring of their sound and literary lyrics. Frontman Dave Maddocks (who, by the way, is just fine with a two-word description) has been playing music since his days at Fort Collins High School where he played straightforward Rock ᾿n Roll.

But it wasn’t long before he strayed from the track into Acoustic territory, writing and recording songs at his home recording studio, The Barn. Shortly thereafter, the project snowballed, bringing on instrumentalists Marty Albertz and Jonathan Alonzo, as well as Dave’s high school friend and bassist Andrew Hendrickson. Paean has also grown into something of a Maddocks’ family affair: Dave’s brother and sister, drummer Tim Maddocks and violinist Anna Maddocks, as well as his brother-in-law Adam Delorme on banjo.

Paean dropped its debut, a split with fellow FoCo act Sour Boy Bitter Girl, last summer to some acclaim (Scene critic Matthew Azrael Martin deemed it “the summer 2008 soundtrack.”) Next up is a full-length, due next month. This year’s Paean is much like last year’s Paean as far as musicality, but in terms of songwriting, the band has shifted into a democratic collective as opposed to Dave writing for each instrument as he did early on. “Even if I plan everything and try to write parts for everyone, I’m not good enough,” he says. “Everyone has strengths that I don’t.”