Everybody Gets Sump’n with Sump’n Claus

Saturday Night Live Sump'n Claus

Since this is the season, I figured I would spread some Christmas cheer. Saturday Night Live has been having a sneaky good season this year that may lack the super star like Kristen Wiig or Will Ferrell, but is one of the most consistently funny casts in a while. In the post Digital Short age of the Lonely Island, Saturday Night Live has continued to put out on a bunch of funny, catchy songs mostly penned by Jay Pharoah and the female cast members like Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong, including “Boy Dance Party“, “(Do It On My) Twin Bed“, and “28 Reasons“. Here’s the latest unshakable tune from SNL, including a Santa that doesn’t care if you are naughty or nice, but gives cash to everyone.
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The Art of the Tribute: Strand of Oaks “JM”

Strand of Oaks "JM" Review

Tributes to fallen artists seem to come and go almost instantly. Most of the time, there is a benefit concert, a tribute album with bands covering that artist, or just a social media mention about what an impact that person had that works as an acknowledgment of that person’s impact. While all of these things are admirable, they seem to come and go without any lasting artifact about that artist. Then there’s the tribute song, something that can stand the test of time, but when written about another artist/celebrity, rarely does.  Rock history is littered with amazing tributes to friends and family, whether it’s Neil Young remembering is fallen friend and roadie Bruce Berry from the damages of heroine in “The Needle and the Damage Done” or My Morning Jacket’s haunting tribute to a friend that took his own life in “Dondante”, and those can truly move hearts and minds, but good tributes to artists are hard to find.

Of course, that’s why we hear Puff Daddy/Faith Evans “I’ll Be Missing You” (written for Notorious B.I.G.) and Elton John’s “Candle In the Wind” (written originally for Marilyn Monroe, then rededicated to different people time and time again) so often. There are a few better ones like U2’s “Angel in Harlem” written about Billie Holiday and R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon” written about Andy Kaufman, but they are few and far between, especially since they rarely have a personal relationship with the artist. When the personal relationship is missing, the song seems to be lacking something true and moving.

Strand of Oaks aka Timothy Showalter, an indie rocker hailing from Goshen, Indiana, has written an absolutely pitch-perfect tribute song for this sort of situation. “JM” is written for late fellow Midwesterner Jason Molina, best known for his work as Magnolia Electric Co. and Songs: Ohia. The Midwest indie legend died from organ failure related to alcohol abuse late last year at the tragic young age of 39. Like many tribute songs written, Showalter was not friends with Molina having only met him once, but the impact his music had on his life was indispensable. “JM” is the centerpiece of his stunning new album HEAL and serves not only as the absolute perfect tribute to Molina but also an ageless listen for any fan dealing with the loss of one of their favorite artists.

“JM” really succeeds on two fronts. First it shows the influence of Molina’s music, as it’s an epic, confessional guitar jam like Molina’s best work, one part the soaring garage rock of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse and one part the fragile honesty of Elliott Smith. It’s one thing to cover an artist, and another thing to show their essential influence with a song that is your own, but also showcases how that artist impacted you musically.

But what makes this song truly perfect and will help it stand the test of time for really a tribute to any artist is its lyrics. Like any artist/fan relationship, the artist may not have been a personal friend, but the music itself has been a friend and companion to us in times of need. Sometime a certain song is exactly what you need when you are hurting and can be balm for the soul. Showalter talks about how when he was lonely, bored, aimless, or even suicidal, he always had Molina’s music to play. So Showalter goes through all sorts of specific times in his life where he was feeling down and then follows with the refrain “I had your sweet tunes to play.”  Here is the second verse for example which runs through all sorts of personal moments with enough personal detail to make it real but not too much where you couldn’t read your own story into it.

“I was sitting in the bath, cleaning off the ash

I had your sweet tunes to play

And I hated all my friends, and wouldn’t let them in

I had your sweet tunes to play

On a long desert train, with a knife in my bag

I had your sweet tunes to play

Under the Market Street Bridge, burning one in my hand

I had your sweet tunes to play, Your sweet tunes to play”

The song speaks to the power music has to be a real pick me up in times of need, and for that, I’m so grateful “JM” was written. Beyond the tribute concerts and albums that come and go (and there was a pretty good one for Jason Molina), “JM” is an enduring testament to the power of Jason Molina’s music and more importantly the perfect words for a fan trying to properly mourn and commemorate the loss of an artist who has made a personal impact on their life.


Mark Ronson “Daffodils” Review

Mark Ronson

“Daffodils (featuring Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker)”

Mark Ronson and Kevin Parker's "Daffodil"


My latest obsession comes from one of my favorite producers and one of my favorite singers, but with the producer (Mark Ronson) as the main artist and singer (Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker) as the contributor.

For those unfamiliar, Mark Ronson is a retro-leaning producer that has played a huge role in a number of hits and hit musicians in the past two decades, namely being a big reason for the late Amy Winehouse’s success as well as responsible for hits by Adele, Bruno Mars, Lily Allen, Christina Aguilera, and many others. Mark Ronson also produced my favorite album from the Black Lips in Arabia Mountain, bringing some much needed pop sensibility to the Southern punks. Mark Ronson has released three of his own solo pop records, including the wonderfully fun Record Collection, released in 2010.
Kevin Parker is the voice, guitar, and brains behind my favorite psychedelic rock band, Tame Impala, who released my favorite album of 2012 in their sophomore effort Lonerism. Parker and Tame Impala have been paired with David Fridmann, the producer known for the psychedelic and wild sounds of the Flaming Lips among others, so the idea of pairing Parker’s voice with more of a hit maker producer is pretty intriguing.

Parker is set to add vocals to three songs off of Ronson’s upcoming 2015 album, Uptown Special, which also features Bruno Mars (with the instant hit “Uptown Funk”), Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt, and others. “Daffodils” is a propulsive disco track which is too catchy to deny. The four-on-the-floor disco beat and the funky guitar riff pushes Parker’s voice along through a field of psychedelic noises, both inviting and disturbing.

Considering Ronson is known for a more hit-ready production, it’s actually a bit surprising how effects-laden this song is. The leading funk riff and the falsetto vocal of Parker make this sound like it’s coming out of a jukebox in a warped dream. The song builds with synthesizer freak-outs that threaten to detour or derail the song throughout, but actually just provide another facet of this song to explore. You can enjoy this song strictly on a pop/disco level, and also on a deeper level, digging into what effects are being added, taken out, and how the song advances so wonderfully.

Mark Ronson, like you, puts on his pants one leg at a time, but like Bruce Dickinson, when his pants are on, he makes gold records! “Daffodils” is Ronson applying his pop knack to the psychelic rock world, and I can’t wait to hear more.


P.S. If you missed it, Mark Ronson is coming off a dynamite SNL performance with Bruno Mars and the long-awaited return of eccentric rapper Mystikal. See the performance of “Feel Right” below.

Father John Misty “Bored In The USA” Review

Father John Misty "Bored In The USA" review

Satire is easy to find in visual mediums like art galleries and movie theaters, but it’s difficult to find in music. Generally we want music to be emotionally honest and expressive, and satire can certainly throw that off, but not in the case of Father John Misty. Joshua Tillman aka Father John Misty grew up in a religious, conservative family and even played in a Christian-leaning post-rock band in Saxon Shore before making a clear and defiant departure from his religious upbringing. You can hear more about Father John’s background and artistic vision on his WTF podcast appearance, but Father John certainly has something to say about the ugly underbelly of American culture.
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Shovels & Rope “Bad As Me” Review

Shovels & Rope

“Bad As Me”

Shovels & Rope "Bad As Me" Review

Covering Tom Waits is a bad idea (ask Scarlett Johansson), but Carolina duo Shovels & Rope get it right. I wrote about Shovels & Rope recently, when I talked about the music of one of my favorite shows, Rectify, and have been taking in their new album Swimming Time lately, but unfortunately haven’t been able to give it enough listens in time for a review (I usually try to listen to something at least five times before discussing it). However, I wanted to cover the rising duo somehow, and having crept back into their catalog, I discovered their two-sided covers single they released for Jack White’s Third Man Records of Bruce Springsteen’s rockabilly “Johnny 99” and Tom Waits’ diabolical “Bad As Me”. While I love their relentless version of “Johnny 99”, their cover as “Bad As Me”  is the 2nd best cover I have heard all year – next to the Bryan Ferry-sung  cover of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary” Todd Terje put out this year – and deserving of a write-up.
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