Smalltown Poets – Christmas

In lieu of updating this thing 12 times with 12 different Christmas albums in a theme I like to call “Chris is starting to show OCD tendencies”, I decided to update 3 times this week with 3 different Christmas albums. They will represent the Good, the Bad, and the Twisted*, and believe me, there is nothing I’ve needed more this year than something Good in Christmas music, which is why today’s entry is about an album that I still can’t believe exists, Smalltown Poets Christmas:

I get it now! Smalltown Poets was his SLED

Why would a Smalltown Poets album about Christmas be such a surprise? Well, as I might have mentioned before, the band has been on hiatus for 7 years. That’s longer than I’ve even been in bands (well, good ones anyway), so it’s like being visited by the ghost of Christian Rock past.

Still, the thing that finally brought them all back together after so long was making a Christmas album, so it stands to reason that it wound up being a pretty good Christmas album, right?

Yeah, try the best Christmas album ever.

Now, you may have heard from somewhere that I am decidedly NOT a fan of Christmas music. Without going back into all the nasty opinions I have about the institution (I’m saving that for tomorrow), I will re-iterate that  Christmas music has a habit of being very cheeseball and almost incoherent in the face of the rather broad cultural changes that occurred between the 50’s and today. I am almost sure that at least 3 generations grew up wondering why Jingle Bell Rock doesn’t actually rock (because that’s what they HAD for “rock” back in the 50’s).

In the glut of overdone Bing Crosby hits, hideous novelty songs, and the rank odor of popular artists “cashing in” on the holiday with their own take on Christmas, one may begin to crave, even ache for, some piece of genuine Christmas love that touches the soul and reminds us, as a TV special once did, what the true meaning of Christmas is. Luckily for you, Dear Reader, I am about to tell you about an album that does just that!

Christmas opens up with guitar feedback, which may seem unsettling, but don’t worry, they’ve got this under control. You then hear church bells (how I love church bells in music), and just as this seemingly epic song starts to swell, it all simply goes away, and in its place, a piano starts playing “The Carol of the Bells”, but immediately after that, a voice starts singing “O Come O Come Emmanuelover the tune to Carol of the Bells. It almost seems unfair that a Christmas song can be that awesome, but that floored me about this recording, and we’re not even a minute into the song.

As if that wasn’t enough, all the OTHER instruments burst into the song and give it a full rock band sound for like a second, and then mostly disappear for another verse, comes back in again, and then disappears entirely so that Michael Johnston’s amazing voice (which sounds just as good if not better than it did in 1997) takes a chorus entirely unaccompanied, then suddenly the song becomes a verse of “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, which gave this old Calvinist chills.

In listening to this album, expect amazing moments like this to pop up with absolutely no warning. On top of these smooth and introspective interpretations of classic hymns, Smalltown Poets took it upon themselves to refer to other songs within the songs, and you’ll find yourself wishing that these parts were actually longer, which is surely the sign of a good recording.

Speaking of good, the second track of the album is “In The Bleak Midwinter“, which, while listening to the album without looking at the CD liner notes, I was SURE was a Smalltown Poets original, as it’s a beautiful poem contained in this heart-breaking melody, but no! It’s totally a hymn (based on a 19th century poem, no less!) from 1906! How did they find an awesome Christmas hymn that I have somehow never heard before?

Still, there is no shortage of well-known hymns given the modern rock treatment. In particular, “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” and “The First Noel” (the latter featuring a really cool drum part from Byron Goggins) are given the full rock band treatment, but certainly not to their detriment; in fact, the backing parts doing an amazing job reminding one that these old familiar melodies are actually still really strong, and nothing is going to get in their way.

I will say this, however, the backing parts and re-arrangements (many of which are credited to Danny Stephens, SP’s errant keyboardist, boy am I glad he’s back) actually help some of the hymns that I feel don’t really stand on their own otherwise. I’ve never been a big fan of “Good Christian Men Rejoice” with its traditionally bouncy 2/4 brashness, but Smalltown Poets slow it down, add some tasty Kevin Breuner guitar goodness and a cool groove from bassist Miguel DeJesus and drummer Byron Goggins, and then throw in an almost secret taste of “Silent Night” to make this song a real stand-out on the album. My heart grew 3 sizes that day.

In fact, speaking of the “Silent Night” interval, one of the most interesting things about this album is how satisfied it seems with simply reminding us of certain songs without actually playing them all the way through. “We Three Kings“, “Angels We Have Heard On High“, and others are only introduced briefly before giving way to something else. I am fascinated by this, because it seems to me that, instead of being this showcase of the band saying “Look what we can do!” by making a huge production out of every song, the album is just this kind of fluid journey through these beautiful yuletide melodies, and even without singing the words, you understand what is being said here. Then the band gets back into the full-form songs and they just become  all that much better.

Possibly my favorite hymn to receive a much-needed rearrangement is “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” (especially after Dylan’s version, yeesh). I am not kidding when I say I may have been cutting onions during the first 4 or 5 listens of this song, but the lyrics to the song are incredible, and the Poets even include my favorite verse that seems to go unnoticed in other versions, so kudos to the boys for that one.

Another great thing about this album is that there actually are original songs to be heard. They’re given almost no spotlight (and, in fact, you may mistaken them for the traditional songs like I did), but are nonetheless excellent. “On Christmas Day” is kind of a reworking of Ave Maria (which I’m not too familiar with, being Protestant, but it’s a good tune) that has some great lyrics, and the penultimate track is “His Delight“, which is a great kind of folky song that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

Speaking of wrapping one’s head around something, there is an almost uncharacteristically bouncy track close to the middle of the album called “St. Nick Is Alright” which evokes both memories of SP’s second album (which I need to get on here soon) and The Beatles during that magical mystery era (at least at the end). It’s a sweet song, and it’s always interesting to hear a Christian group essentially singing about Santa Claus, but they handle it so gracefully that it then becomes something to ponder further, which is something I’ve almost never done with a Christmas song, much less one about St. Nick. As impressive as this album is, I am not surprised in the least to find myself hearing the songs multiple times to find some more hidden ideas and meaning, until I think of it as a Christmas album again and notice that Christmas will be over next week.

Thus, Smalltown Poets have performed what I can only describe as a Christmas Miracle; they recorded a Christmas album that I am going to sorely miss when the season is over. From beginning to end, this is a superior album by any standard, and is a bright spot in anyone’s existence, especially if they find themselves brought down by what Christmas has become thanks to modern culture, which I will get to soon enough, but for now, thank you, Smalltown Poets, for bringing Christmas its soul back.

I seriously can’t wait for these guys to record another album of originals, and if this recording is an indication, they may be able to outdo even their earliest work, which would be awesome. Until then, please check out Christmas and give it a purchase or two, and make it part of your Christmas antidote for yet another rendition of “White Christmas” or “Rudolph The Red Nose-I can’t even finish that title”. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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*Note: I never did write this third entry. There’s always Christmas 2012 I guess! 

King Crimson – Lizard

Greetings, fellow persons!

Sorry about the delay in updates, but this whole week was spent doing some awesome stuff like “modding” my Mp3 player to do amazing things like play video game soundtracks and Bejeweled on top of its already awesome audiophilic capabilities (I’m totally a FLAC fiend now). Also I had to do holiday shopping, attend parties and, oh yeah, finally obtain some gainful employment, since this blog doesn’t pay for itself unfortunately.

Thus, it’s been a hectic, confusing, yet ultimately rewarding week for me, so I have decided to top it all off with an album that… well ok I selected this at random, but here you go, King Crimson’s Lizard:

Yeah keep telling me you miss the olden days of album covers. I'm listening.

While looking back at old entries of this here blog, I was surprised at first that I never wrote about this album, but then I remembered the very important reason why: I had no idea what to say about it.

All I could remember about my first listen to Lizard was NOTES and then NOOOOTES (Notes). I really don’t think any coherent thought entered my mind in the 42 1/2 minutes of the album’s run-time, which is odd because this blog might show you that I have a lot of thoughts about music usually.

Fast-forward a year or so, and something magical happened: a guy from a prog group called Porcupine Tree decided to work with Robert Fripp to painstakingly remaster, from the original master tapes, ALL of the King Crimson catalogue. Despite this being a very good idea, since master tape remasters are practically the only way to get these ancient albums to sound good on modern mp3/vgm/Bejeweled players, it was also kind of a predictable idea, since King Crimson had already issued 30th AND 35th Anniversary remasters of their old material. Still, from the master tapes, maaaaan.

Among the first albums to be remastered, quite mysteriously, was Lizard, so this is where I gave Lizard what I would consider my first true listen. Then again. Then again. Then again… to be honest, I’m not done listening to it, but at least I’ve finally formulated enough opinions to write a blog entry!

Fact is, I had so much trouble coming up with a single coherent thought about the album because there isn’t a single coherent thought IN the album. I have now listened to the album dozens, possibly hundreds of times, and I know every single note by heart, but I can’t begin to try and guess why any two of them are put together the way they are.

Of course, the 40th anniversary re-issue of the album comes with some  pretty interesting liner notes (penned by Fripp himself) which, when paired with the Internet, paints a rather interesting story about the album’s production.

Without going into too much detail about the band’s personnel problems in those early days between 1967 and 2009, I will say that King Crimson were basically like watching a typical teenage garage band go through the motions of getting together, going nowhere, and breaking up, except instead of that middle bit, you’ve got “becomes the biggest rock band in the world for a while”. Despite having the world in the palm of their hands through a combination of VERY quickly cultivating a uniquely complex sound the likes of which had never been heard, showcasing extraordinary musicianship with even more extraordinary focus on music rather than image, and as Fripp put it himself, being in the right place at the right time, King Crimson simply could NOT get started on that crawling thing before they were already running.

At the time that Lizard was being recorded, they had already lost vocalist/bassist/donut fiend Greg Lake to a little-known band whose name escapes me at the moment, and that was after losing everybody else as well. Basically, Fripp was a man without a band (but his non-musician lyricist remained, more on that later), so he decided to rebuild from scratch.

Apparently Fripp didn’t get the memo that you’re not supposed to include a jazz pianist and four woodwind/brass players in your hard rock band, so that’s exactly what he did. Still, if you were the only member of a garage band that left you and the only other musicians you know from school are in the marching band, are you going to say no?  Also joining the fray is, not kidding, his actual highschool bandmate/roommate Gordon Haskell on bass and vocals, and the only drummer he could find who would take part in this mess, a hero by any standard named Ian McCulloch.

With this motley crew of masterful musicians, Fripp finally had a force to be reckoned with; a band that would record an album that, maybe this time, would not sound quite so much like a repeat of In The Court.

Well, it sure wasn’t a repeat of In The Court, in sound or amount of success, but the fact that the album even happened is perhaps even more a miracle than the huge success that was the band’s first album. Basically, let’s just say that collecting such an assorted cast of kids did not lead to a lot of civilized agreement of ideas, and when your vocalist/bassist is only good at one of those things and doesn’t even like the music, well… let’s talk about the music!

It starts off with some synthy kind of harp strumming sounds, which is not bad, and then Haskell’s voice kind of staggers into the door spilling cough medicine (the type that they ban in most countries) all over the place, and your first thought might well be “Dude, do you need to lie down or turn on a humidifier or something?” And then he punches you and you can hear the wail of ambulance sirens as the paramedics revive you and, oh wait, that’s just Fripp’s guitar playing brash, diminished bits on his guitar as Gordon’s voice comes back in with all the clarity of a wet shoe.

Still, it’s hard to tell what’s more congested, Gordon’s voice or Peter Sinfield’s lyrics. The first track is called “Cirkus” (back before Mortal Kombat made it decidedly un-cool to replace c’s with k’s willy-nilly), and is full of rather obnoxious words strung together by pure pretense, which would seem like faulty songwriting if not for the fact that the same can be said about the music itself.

The material gets even more ridiculous afterward, in fact the song “Indoor Games” ends with a genuine burst of laughter from Haskell as he attempts to figure out how best to emotionally deliver the line “Hey ho”. An understandable bemusement, to tell the truth. Add to this some rather intriguing clean guitar riffs trading off with the saxophone, and you’ve got a song that is by no means bad, if bad songs are something you like.

The next song, “Happy Family“, doesn’t feature any corpsing, but does contain some thinly-veiled allegorical statements about The Beatles, a somewhat well-known rock band from whom Fripp apparently derived the idea to make an entire band around recreating the musical shock that was the ending to Sgt. Pepper. To be honest, the lyrics might be terrible in this piece as well, but Gordon’s voice is so well hidden behind a rather tasty synthesizer effect (plus his own natural store of phlegm and wintertime nuts) that, mercifully, not a word can be understood by humans.

After all that fun nonsense, we go into WHOAH WHERE DID THAT FLUTE COME FROM… I mean, “Lady of the Dancing Water”, a song that calms the storm of weirdness either to prepare the listener for what is to come, or to try and make up for the rather melody-free events that had previously transpired. It’s a very pretty song, but I wish anyone other than Gordon Haskell had sung it, because seriously somebody give him a shot of adrenaline; I think he’s had some kind of reaction.

Finally, the fifth and final track of the CD (or the entire B side to the record) is a 23 minute opus called “Lizard”, wherein Gordon Haskell was kindly shuffled off the roster to make room for a real singer, Yes’s own castrato sensation Jon Anderson. Funny enough, after several songs’ worth of passages go by, Gordon breaks back into the studio to sing for a bit before disappearing forever and ever, missing and presumed eaten by bears.

So I have written all of this to kind of give you a sense of the chaos that has unfolded in this album, but did you see that bit up there where I said I listened to it again and again? That’s because I completely love this album.

Seriously! Sure I may idolize strong melodies, and some of my very favorite songs can be played within a single octave on a piano, but something in my brain simply becomes obsessed when weirdness, the abstract, obtuse, endlessly and needlessly complex musical ideas come into play, and boy do they come in with this album.

Your average music listener, even one who otherwise enjoys King Crimson and their razor’s edge approach to pushing the envelope into the seat of their pants, will probably detest Lizard for any number of good reasons. It sounds out of tune, it hunkers down into rather long passages of go-nowhere note tinkling, hell, it sounds like Jazz in places, but the confusion and befuddlement is what keeps me coming back for more. The anticipation of another sequence of bewildering notes is a rush to me, and thanks to the amazing remastering job in the most recent re-release, the textures and tones really sing out in a good set of headphones. All 23 minutes of the album’s ending track keeps me thoroughly entertained, which turned out to be really good training for becoming an actual Yes fan, turns out.

I truly can’t knock this album for what it is, because it really shouldn’t have been, and I am so glad it was anyway. Apart from being musically one of the most interesting things I’ve heard, it’s also a rather clear window into a band that was falling apart before it even came together, and sure enough, only 1 member of the band remained to help Fripp through the next album, and it was the damn flute player.

Also, in true garage band fashion, when drummer Ian McCulloch left the group, he was immediately replaced with his ex-roommate, who could also play the drums. God bless King Crimson.

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Armcannon – Armcannon 2: Return Of The Attack Of The Legend Of Pizzor + Interview!

Today, one of the truly awesome bands in the Video Game Music “scene” released a super cool video of their newest song, a mash-up of music from the game Gears of War and the Tears For Fears song “Mad World”, (specifically the REM version) which the company that published Gears of War famously used in their TV advertisement:

Watching this video (which I suggest you do!) tells you almost everything you need to know about Armcannon; they’re clever, adept at their instruments, metaltastic, funny, and they do music from video games.

They are easily one of my favorite groups to have run across at various points in my own doings.

Let’s talk about their almost-second-newest album, Armcannon 2: Return of the Attack of the Legend of Pizzor!

Get equipped with: Mega Pizza Boots!

It’s almost unfair to call the band a “VGM band” (in fact, I am not even sure the band calls itself that), because while this album is MOSTLY about video games, it’s bookended by two covers of ultra-famous themes from anyone’s 80’s childhood.

The first is the theme to the original “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” (titled “Morty Miphon” in one of MANY spoonerisms used by the band when making titles). I guess it COULD be argued that it COULD be a cover of the theme from the Super Nintendo game based on the TV show, but let’s be realistic here.

On top of being sped up and metal’d up to be the kind of kickin’ rock anthem that makes the perfect beginning to an album/show/birthday party, it features something you don’t often hear with “Video Game” themed albums: mighty vocal work! Guitarist Mike Willard does an awesome job impersonating the show’s antagonist, Rita Repulsa, while simultaneously holding down those sweet guitar riffs and those timeless lyrics.

After everyone’s favorite TV theme, the video game tunes start, interestingly enough, with one of the creepier tunes to ever come out of Nintendo’s flagship composer, Koji Kondo: the “fortress” theme from Super Mario World, titled “X-1234” here.

This track is an excellent reproduction of one of my favorite moments in 16 bit gaming*, and really showcases keyboardist Chris Dlugosz, as it should.

Keeping the Mario going is a lovely medley of one of my favorite video game soundtracks, Super Mario Bros. 2 (“Two Excellent Italian Brothers“), which shows the band’s affinity not just for metal, but other styles as well. This song also draws attention to something else Armcannon does a little differently from other bands in their area of music: original solos and breakdowns. The solos are quite good and avoid deftly the trap of being too laborious (unless you just don’t like solos at all, in which case, shame on you).

Half-way through the album, the band pays tribute to the unquestionably American (and questionably awesome) songwriting of Rick Derringer with the Hulk Hogan theme “Real American”, which then gives way to Shawn Michaels’ theme song “Sexy Boy”. I don’t know much about wrestling (though I know enough about Hulk Hogan’s songwriter), but one only needs to love INSPIRATION to enjoy this song.

Now for my favorite part of the album! After the wrestling montage (I always picture a montage with that song) comes the band’s tribute to one of my favorite video games, Rygar on the NES (titled here simply “Rygar Medley“) which includes one of my favorite VGM songs ever, the Sagila’s Cave theme, and DOESN’T include one of the worst VGM songs ever, “Palace of Dorago” (seriously try keeping that melody from turning into the “Meow Mix” song in your head).

The band also uses this part of the album to cover music from Contra, Mega Man 2 (A really funky version of the Crash Man theme, and the first Dr. Wily stage theme, which is like the “Brick House” of video game bands), Castlevania 3, and perhaps best of all, Kid Icarus, the very best video game in which you can turn into an eggplant because of magic (and was originally composed by my hero, “Hip” Tanaka).

The band finishes out with a very spirited version of one of the best movie themes ever, Huey Lewis I MEAN Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters”, which let me tell you, really brings down the house, whether in an actual house or just nice headphones like what I’m wearing.

After the band stuff and cover stuff is over and done with, the 12th track on this excellent album is an original chiptune composition by guitarist and VGM-jack-of-all-trades Dan Behrens, who moonlights as “Danimal Cannon” in the VGM inverse universe of “Chiptune**”.

As for Armcannon, their second album is about the most fun you can have with a video game band, and the best part is that they branch out of that and into all kinds of areas of artistic and rocking, and even have plans on evolving their abilities into something entirely original, which has this blogger all kinds of excited. You would be a fool not to buy this album immediately and tell all your friends, so I will leave you to that…

…but not before showing you an interview I conducted with Armcannon’s co-founder and keyboardist, Chris Dlugosz!

Chris Taylor: Firstly, thanks to Chris Dlugosz from Armcannon for answering these questions that burn in the hearts of music lovers everywhere. My first question is: How did Armcannon come about, and how will it all end?

Chris Dlugosz: There was a particular lounge room in college with couches and a TV in which dozens of people regularly hung out between classes. Many were so regular that they all just became well acquainted friends over time. this included myself and Danimal [who had hair back then haha]. During a typical day of lunch-hour-esque chatter, he and I discovered that we both held a particular love in our hearts for the Kraid theme from Metroid ever since childhood. Naturally, that sparked all kinds of hyperactive discussion of the playing of videogame music. This was around the time where only the minibosses existed. Another friend in this lounge was our guitarist Mike, who had pretty much zero interest in videogame music, but infinite interest in anything to do with playing guitar, as he is indeed virtuosic and still laboring hard at all of the disciplines to this day. Soon enough, the three of us found ourselves in my dad’s house, and we hammered out a sketch rendition of Kraid, the official first Armcannon song. We felt the energy of potential, so we nabbed the closest bassist and drummer at hand, and practiced in a freezing cold dirty apartment attic for months. Armcannon will not end, but the trend of videogame music might be past its prime. I can see us keeping our name but morphing into an original prog music band.

CT: In my own opinion, you guys are made up of some of the most individually talented musicians in the VGM community, and the recordings definitely showcase that. Was it a conscious decision from the start to include things like original solos and breakdowns within the structure of the original material?

CD: It was 2005 when we formed, and during that time, the word “remix” was huge in the budding world of video game music. We kept calling our songs remixes, and intentionally stayed away from “covers.” Naturally, the word remix demands insertion of new content, and not just crappy techno beats over midi files. Our goal was to wrangle down our flood of original content into something that appropriately amplifies and celebrates the covered melody. We are not even fully successful at that, as I consider some of our original content too superfluous. Thankfully, part of our mission is to make the music enjoyable to non-VGM listeners as well.

CT: Something that kind of sets Armcannon apart from other VGM groups, as far as I can tell, is a very obvious sense of fun when it comes to the material, such as the vocal parts added to the music of “Tecmo Super Bowl” and Crashman’s Theme. Is there any kind of planning behind this, or is it a spontaneous thing?

CD: Much of the time at practice, we all act like idiots, intentionally make glaring errors in the middle of a song for the distinct purpose of making the rest of the band crack up at the absurdity. There are times when entire songs are played intentionally wrong by every member of the band and we are just cracking up endlessly. It’s only hilarious because of its mis-behavior, similar to a 5th grader writing the number 5318008 on a calculator and turning it upside down. Naturally, scraps of this behavior have survived into the final cut of some songs. Some stupid gimmick ends up being hilarious every single time, but gradually gets less hilarious, and eventually becomes literally as normal as the rest of the song, but at that point, removing it would be like re-writing the song.

CT: Another thing that sets Armcannon apart is the emphasis on puzzles and intellectual references. The secret track on Leg Vacuum has to do with note sequence algorithms and most of the tracks on both albums are titled with spoonerisms and anagrams. My question is: who is the professor of the group responsible for this chicanery and why?

CD: That would be me. My instinct was to fill the entire album, both in audio and art, with easter eggs, or secrets to be discovered. That goes hand in hand with the spirit of old NES games. Invisible mushroom blocks in mario or bomb-able cave entrances in Zelda. Meanwhile, I have been literally addicted to spoonerisms over this last decade, and the addiction has spilled forth to the rest of the band, to the point that it’s almost our signature mannerism, as we constantly interrupt conversations to insert a half amusing, half belabored, spoonerism of something that was just said. We take our music very seriously, but we never once cared what the titles to our tracks are, so the only things guiding me on what to call them was our tomfoolery and addiction to word play.

CT: I want to give some big props to whoever decided to cover Rygar and Kid Icarus on Armcannon 2. What, if any, is the criteria for VGM material selection?

CD: Rygar came from our guitarist Mike (Willard) who never actually played the game, but watched someone else play through it enough that the music permated him as a child, and he brought it to the table at band practice. Criteria for song selection is [1] based on if myself, Danimal, and Mike happen to all know the music already, and [2] a process of one person knowing the piece, and selling it to the rest of the band, usually in the form of plugging in a laptop or smartphone into the amps and just playing the source material. There have been many times where we just sit there for an hour and a half listening to song after song of source material from one entire game, cherry picking what we would love to play, and mashing it together into a medley. That is precisely how we did Tecmo Super Bowl, Rygar, and Ninja Gaiden, among others. It’s extremely helpful that I have every NES and SNES audio rom file on my droid.

CT: Being that this is an album blog, what is your favorite album?

CD: Particular favorites changes constantly. but I can tell you that the only thing we all listen to together is pretentious over-composed brain-bending prog-metal and jazz-fusion. Musician’s music.

CT: Being that you guys are mostly a video game group, what is your favorite game?

CD: Mine was always Super Metroid for a myriad of the usual reasons. Mindblowing at the time. Perfect establishment of amazing moods. Music that will never be matched. One of the pinnacles of sidescrolling action.

CT: Separate from favorite game, what is everyone’s favorite VGM soundtrack and/or composer?

CD: Danimal and I are complete suckers for every single note written by Tim Follin. Our bassist Ian, who is much younger than us, treasures SNES the way we treasure NES. He loves every bit of the music to A Link to the Past, and I cannot say I disagree with him there. Also, I consider Koji Kondo’s arrangement of the castle music in Super Mario World to be one of his most delicious and audacious works, probably because it is decidedly dastardly in mood compared to the rest of his work.

CT: How do you feel about the recent news that Nobuo Uematsu is going to be rocking out at MAGfest, a festival normally reserved for VGM bands that DIDN’T write all their own material?

CD: I consider his attendance utterly appropriate, and impressive that the Magfest staff, all of whom I know personally, managed to swing this. However, I fear that his presence might suck up too much focus of the convention. It’s like God coming to a Jesus camp. I would not be surprised if the guy gets overwhelmed with rabid fans and does not want to return. Also, get ready for every band there to bust out every Final Fantasy track they got, because obviously Mr. Uematsu will be watching every band perform, right?

CT: Any plans for Armcannon 3?

CD: MANY! The core of the band is myself, Danimal, and Mike. We spent the last few years wrestling with securing a bassist and then a new drummer. They are finally in place and practiced up, and we are back to the writing phase. We all feel that if we do not kick out a new album, one that blows our other work out of the water, then we are just wasting our time. Armcannon 3 is mandatory and is already happening.

Thanks again to Armcannon for their awesome albums and to Chris Dlugosz for giving this interview. Go buy their stuff!

Hey all, Chris Taylor here. Liked this article? Why not “Like” Album Du Jour on Facebook! Also, should you be interested, I have a Video Game Music project of my own, also on Facebook.  

*The realization that, holy crap, the Super Nintendo can do 3D-looking transparent effects when you punch the doors on the inexplicably-placed fence.

**If you don’t know what “chiptune” is, it’s basically a song written and played entirely on 8-bit soundcards, so it’s kind of like Gameboy meets modern song, and Dan actually just released an entire album of this awesome stuff on the Ubiktune label (check it out here!)

Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave

Well, to some of you who may have read my entry on the “final” Johnny Cash album toward the end of the 2009 project, you may remember me saying something that “that closes the book on Johnny Cash”, but it looks like I was wrong! American Recordings put out an album for Cash’s 78th birthday this last February, and wow did they ever save the best for last. Think “Hurt” is the best he could do*? Think “I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now” was the best “farewell” song to a performer’s life since “Keep Me In Your Heart For Awhile”? Well think again, because American VI: Ain’t No Grave blows all of those out of the water!

And if you believe that, I’ve got some swamp land in Florida I’d be interested in showing you, to borrow an old idiom.

Speaking of borrowing something old:

Man he wasn't looking half-bad for a man in his 70's.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, American VI is a fantastic album, and one of the highlights of 2010 for me. I can’t knock this album on any level, but there’s no use trying to hide the fact that it’s an album for a certain kind of Johnny Cash fan, which is what I would consider myself. I’ll explain.

There is this company called Bear Family out in Germany who, for folks like me, are a God-send; their main thing is to collect every Cash studio tape they can get their hands on, and come out with these amazingly comprehensive (and equally expensive) box sets of everything Johnny Cash recorded in a certain time period. Are you the kind of person who would purchase such a set and revel in the lost studio recordings that never made it onto the properly planned albums, just because it’s Johnny Cash singing a song you hadn’t heard him sing yet?

If so, congratulations! You owe it to yourself and your creepy obsession with The Man In Black to buy American VI, so go do it. 

For the rest of you weirdos, I’ll explain what there is to like about the album, and I’ll try my best to empathize with those of you who aren’t totally into everything Johnny Cash ever did as best I can, and tell you what you might NOT like about the album.

As you turn the album on and the acoustic guitars gently weep out some sad minor chords, you may be struck with a sort of sense that you have heard this before, and indeed, as soon as the 2/4 stomp comes in (complete with chain rattling foley!), you realize that “Ain’t No Grave” is basically the same structure and mood as the single off his previous album, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” (only thankfully without the modern pop stars and celebrities goofing up the thing with their stupid mugs). Not only do those songs sound pretty close, but you may notice the video, a smattering of old archival videos and photographs, seems pretty similar to the video for “Hurt“, only without the emotional appeal and the subtle story being told by the mix of old imagery with new.

That video and song pretty much represents what you might not like about this album. It’s less of a cohesive story or collection of songs meant to convey Cash’s emotional state, but really more of a collection of stuff put together in such a way as to pass the requisite time and give people who want to hear Cash a little something more to hear. Now, since the man has been dead for almost 10 years, having any new content is something to be thankful for (and trust me I am thankful), but if you are expecting the same tear-inducing melancholy from any of the other American albums (especially IV and V), this album may come up a bit short at best and, at worst, derivative of Rick Rubin’s much better production work on the other albums.

Man, even WRITING that seems harsh to me, so I am going to cut that out and talk about the good stuff on this album, as there is plenty of that.

For one, the minor chord weepy guitars don’t end at “Ain’t No Grave”, in fact they continue right on into one of the stand-out tracks, “Redemption Day“, which is one of those kind of songs I probably would not like if it wasn’t Cash singing it, since it’s actually a Sheryl Crow song and is by far the “youngest” song that Cash covers in this set of songs.  As it stands, it’s a very good song, and conveys very well Johnny’s life-long message of sin vs. redemption, plus the instrumentation that accompanies the song is quite appropriate, as it is for the rest of the songs, really, so you’re off the hook this time, Rubin.

Another essential part of this album is in its lone original track, which Cash penned based on the Bible verse “Corinthians 15:55“. While it’s not nearly as original as “Like The 309”, in some ways I like it better. I think the main reason is because it sounds like an authentic old Baptist hymn, and I love those songs a lot. As the verse goes, Cash begs the question “O Death, where is thy sting?” which is his old-religion way of fearlessly recognizing the end of his life, and to those of us who may have a ways to go, it’s quite an inspirational number.

Speaking of inspiration, I was happy that the formerly-Kill-Bill-exclusive “A Satisfied Mind” wound up on this release, because I quite enjoyed that song but don’t dig those kinds of films.

Something interesting about that song (originally a Porter Wagoner song) and indeed the rest of the album is that it’s actually the most “Country” of the later American albums, which is something I definitely count as a positive in this album. Although I definitely concede that Cash could make his own any song he was interested in, but his love for Country music was quite obvious, and definitely comes out in the performance.

One thing that kind of surprised me, however, was that Cash re-worked an old classic he had taken on years ago with “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream“, which serves as the penultimate song on the album. It’s a rather cute folk-ish song about the author dreaming that war had ended, and it’s quite the classic (according to my SECRET internet sources, it’s been translated to over 70 languages around the world). The interesting thing about the song’s inclusion is that, despite it being written in 1950 (possibly in response to the Korean War), Cash covered it in the early 70’s while he was protesting the Vietnam War, and indeed using it in 2002 (when he recorded it) can be seen as a response to the “War on Terror” or war in Iraq or whatever you want to call it (“Overseas Contingiency Operation”? Anyone?), and indeed, when the album came out in 2010 and even as I write this, that war is STILL going on, and the song takes on a new meaning and urgency with every moment that passes. Just think, if the war had ended, it’s possible that song might not have been included on the album, which would be a shame because it’s such a beautiful song.

Speaking of, the album ends with a song that is equal parts beautiful and mystifying. “Aloha Oe“, also known as “The only song from Hawaii that anyone knows”, finishes out the album in a sweet but rather puzzling way. It’s kind of interesting, when one looks at “We’ll Meet Again” or “I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now“, the closing numbers on the previous American albums, both songs are eloquent and meaningful in their own little ways, but then you get to the final Final album and Cash sends himself off as if he was going home from a cruise or something. In a way, it almost seems fitting, especially when one considers that he spent most of his later years in a home in Jamaica, and thus was rather used to island living by that point, but it’s still something I’m trying to wrap my head around.

I guess, despite how seriously one can take life, it’s almost never worth it to do so. Indeed, as seriously as someone can take Johnny Cash, some people (myself included) should more fully realize that the man was an entertainer, and despite being a fantastic American hero, was really just a guy who really loved songs. Why should we be all morose when thinking about Johnny Cash, just because he’s gone? His music is still here, and will always be here, and we should be thankful to everyone involved that it happened that way.

For that reason and more, American VI is a fantastic album and you should definitely pick it up. It may not be a Bear Family Box Set’s worth of lost treasures, but at least it wasn’t lost.

*Apparently, NME thinks so; they voted it the number 1 best music video of all time. Not too bad!

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Daniel Tidwell – Versus Video Games 2

My afore-mentioned travels with a band that exclusively plays music from video games has granted me two things: A. a new-found appreciation for video game music in all its forms and B. a rather healthy knowledge of most of the other musical acts out there doing something similar. Really early on, one of the first acts I became aware of was the internet sensation Daniel Tidwell and his really solid Metal covers of video game tunes, seen here in all its green screen glory:

Now, my first reaction was “So… much… cheese…”, and rightfully so, but as I got to watching more and more, I could tell this guy has a real sense of fun that you don’t often get from Metal performers, plus the covers were quite good and getting better all the time.

I eventually met Daniel at an event called MAGfest and it turns out that he is the nicest man (and yes, completely aware of how cheesy his videos come off, in fact he relishes in such things, as we all should).  We traded CD’s and that’s where I got to hear his fantastic debut album, Versus Video Games, which I will talk about another day. Today, I want to fast forward a year and talk about his brand new album, Versus Video Games 2, and at the end, you can check out a conversation I had with “The Daniel Tidwell”! For now, let’s get cracking:

Seriously, does it get any better than this?

Now, the first thing to know about this release, and indeed all Tidwell releases up to this point (2 full length albums and 1 EP, we’ll get to that in a bit), is that “The DT” works alone. The drums are all programmed and the instruments all passed through the mighty hands of this metal maestro. While one may indeed miss the dynamic of a “full band” in this release, it is more than made up for by the two things I think make for a fantastic VGM (Video Game Music, for you “nubes” out there) cover album: Superior arrangements, and song selection.

As far as the arrangements go, VVG2 is both solid and varied, which is so rare for a metal album and even rarer for a “genre” VGM album.  The opening track, “The Vengeful Frog“, which is a reworking of the infamous “Frog’s Theme” from the Super Nintendo game Chrono Trigger, starts with a quiet acoustic rendition of the normally brassy ballad, then lets in a sort of mock-up of the game’s original synthesized sound, which is quickly blasted apart by the Metal version, which rings out for just enough “loops” to give you a good sense of the song without lingering long enough to trigger your ADD and click “next” in a huff.

While the Tidwell COULD have kept that solid enough arrangement theme going throughout the album’s 20 tracks, you won’t hear another acoustic intro until track 8, which is his loving tribute to that masterpiece of a horrible game, “Wizards & Warriors“.

Some other interesting arrangement choices actually see the album taking a much needed (depending on your preferences) break from the Metal. In fact, the Legend of Zelda-based “Ordon Village” theme features not only an entirely acoustic backing, but a guest Ocarina player, which is a first (as far as I know) for the Tidwell.

The biggest and perhaps best change of pace in this album is the rather climactic “The Planet’s Dyin'”, a medley of songs from the wildly popular Final Fantasy VII that is simultaneously rockin’ and epic to the core, which is a good thing because the song pushes 8 minutes like nobody’s business. Still, if ever there was a good choice for an ending song, that would be it.

Speaking of song choice, the thing that struck me with this album is that it varies rather nicely between eras, platforms, and genres of video games (and, naturally, of music), which is actually a lot rarer than you might think among the groups/artists that cover VGM. While the games I mentioned so far are all songs derived from adventure/RPG games made in the 80’s and 90’s, Tidwell brings in obscurities like Beetlejuice on the NES, Werewolf (a fantastic game where you not only play as a Werewolf, but a Werewolf with prosthetic blades for hands), and even the almost unheard-of classic Legacy of the Wizard (which features a soundtrack composed by one of my favorites, Yuzo Koshiro, but this isn’t about me).

Despite being a Metal album, all kinds of music is represented, and then promptly filtered through Metal. I already mentioned the almost madrigal-sounding Frog’s Theme, but there are also some jazzy numbers from platform favorites Super Mario World and Sonic The Hedgehog. Perhaps most surprisingly, one of the peppiest songs to come out of the NES, the theme to Tecmo Bowl, is represented, though the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV track “Sewer Surfin’” certainly provides a worthy challenge in the pep department. It almost seems that the more un-metal the original song was, the better Daniel Tidwell can make them sound through his use of power chords and crazy lead scales. I say ALMOST, because I haven’t even touched on one of the best parts of the album: the actual Metal songs.

Starting with the very second track, a very spirited tribute to the grandaddy of perverted, crass, and completely awesome one-line-spewing gun-happy anti-heroes, Duke Nukem, Tidwell really shows his roots with his re-interpretations, and he even included voice clips from the game to give it a nice level of authenticity, which makes for a very satisfactory tribute. He also tears the roof off the Iku Mizutani co-penned classic “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” game on the Super Nintendo (I have always loved that song), and the incredible afore-linked-to cover of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest’s Boss Battle Theme.

All in all, Versus Video Games 2 is a must-have for VGM enthusiasts, Metal enthusiasts, or just music fans with a curiosity for these kinds of things. The album is thorough, cohesive, and most of all, a lot of fun. It’s to be hoped that Tidwell will continue cranking out those cheesy green-screen videos, and in fact he just started a regular video chat channel (he’s just so cute), so make sure you check out both his channels on the ol’ Youtube.

Oh, also make sure to buy his album(s), you fool! 

And now, live via Facebook messaging, an exclusive (?) interview with The Man Himself and your own Chris “ADJ” Taylor!

Chris Taylor: Daniel Tidwell, internet metal god legend, thank you for joining this humble blogger for an interview. My first question: As anyone just getting into your music will no doubt notice, you operate as essentially a one-man band, how has the experience of being a one-man force been so far? Any plans to pursue a Daniel Tidwell Band?

Daniel Tidwell: The pleasure is mine man, it’s cool to be a part of your blog! I’ve also seen what you’re capable of doing to a bass guitar and you’re far from a slouch in that department, my humble friend. The one man band thing sort of just happened after getting sick of having to rely on and deal with others to get anything done. If you are lucky enough to get a group of people together that get along and work well together then it’s undoubtedly a great thing. While I do enjoy having complete control on projects it’s sometimes hard to get perspective when you’re responsible for every aspect of what’s going on. The DT live band concept is definitely not far-fetched and I’ve been considering making it happen for awhile now. Also I am working with a live band now on an entirely separate original metal project.

CT: From what I can tell, both of your “Versus Video Games” albums feature a very broad range of different games from different eras represented. Is there a set criteria for the music you choose to cover?

DT: Not at all. The only criteria is basically it has to inspire me, of course. But I don’t exclude songs from games that I may have never played or even heard of before. There’s a greater nostalgia attached to games I grew up with but many of the songs are thanks to requests in which I heard and fell in love with the tunes on their own.

CT: Your Youtube channel, which boasts over 40,000 subscribers and a total of over 10,000,000 views, seems to be a hub not only for your unique “green screen” music videos, but also videos specifically made to interact with your fans, which you do on a regular basis. How has the experience with Youtube been?

DT: I don’t think it would be hyperbole in the least to say that YouTube changed my life. About 5 and a half years ago now I posted a video of me playing my version of the battle theme from Final Fantasy VII. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, just randomly felt like doing it on a whim. I didn’t even realize it was something that people did or people would care about. Well – long story short that video is what made me realize that I’m far from the only one dorky enough to think that this could be a really cool thing to explore. And exploring the concept has been a huge part of my life ever since. I definitely love the impact websites like YouTube are having on the music industry.

CT: I just mentioned the “green screen” videos, I wanted to ask how that idea came about?

DT: Basically just wanted to make the videos more entertaining and be able to do funky things with backgrounds or relate it to the songs. At the same time, I think there is a certain charm to being able to see my bedroom in the background, hahah. I prefer not reminding the audience that’s where I am though – I’d rather be on the goddamn moon or some shit like that! I’m definitely not much good when it comes to the video editing side but I guess it’s mostly about being able to transport myself and the audience to somewhere other than my bedroom!

CT: Your newest album is “Versus Video Games 2”, the sequel to your debut album, and it features 19 tracks of single songs from various video games and one big ol’ medley of Final Fantasy VII music. Was there a reason (besides it just being awesome) behind going for a full-on medley with FF7, and can we hope that such a thing will happen again?

DT: The main reason behind that track is that, at the risk of seeming like a cliché fan boy, it’s probably my favorite game of all time. And definitely one of my favorite soundtracks from a game as well. Beyond that – a big portion of the people who enjoy my stuff are big fans of the game as well and first found me via the battle theme video. So while I wasn’t pandering that’s also a bonus to know that much of your audience will have a similar connection to it.

CT: Being that you’re a Metal guitarist with a penchant for covering video game tunes, I have to ask, which came first: the Metal or the Video Games?

DT: For me? The video games. I never realized how goddamn metal some of the tunes were until later on after I got into the metal! When I was younger I liked the game tunes but didn’t give them much thought.. After I had played guitar for awhile and started to hear those old game tunes again I heard them in a totally new glorious light.

CT: Going back a bit, you also released a very cool EP of classical tunes turned up to 11 with “Echoes of the Elders”. How did that come about, and are there any plans to expand further on the classical covers?

DT: Kind of just one of those things that I had an idea to do and ran with. I love classical music so it just felt natural to pay tribute to some of the greats in my own way. There are a lot of folks out there who whine about recreations of classics. Y’know the rolling in their grave stuff yada yada. Seems silly because the original composition is still there – nobody is trying to replace it. It’s also worth noting for some people that there are no “original” recordings from Beethoven or Mozart or Pachelbel. There are people playing and recording their compositions the way they were (most likely) intended. And of course I can’t speak for them but even if someone was to “butcher” something I composed in an attempt to recreate it in a new way I would still be happy they thought enough of my work to do so. End rant. Yes I will continue to do classical stuff! Hahah.

CT: What are your favorite video games?

DT: Oh man… I hate the favorite questions but since I love you so I shall rattle some off: Final Fantasy VII, IX, Chrono Trigger. Of course classics like the old NES Mario games, Sonic games from the Genesis, Donkey Kong stuff on the SNES. I loved the old TMNT games too! I know I’m leaving out so many favorites. I hate to even start listing! Oh well – let’s end it with etc. Heh.

CT: Kind of a separate question, but what is your favorite video game song, soundtrack, and/or composer?

Overall I would probably have to go with Nobuo Uematsu for favorite VG composer. I mean there are so many amazing composers that I love but if I had to pick one who had the biggest influence on me it would be him. Again – hate favorite questions! For soundtrack I’d probably go with FFVII or IX. Again so many amazing ones I love so much and it changes with my mood so favorites are hard for me to pick.

CT: What are the future plans of Daniel Tidwell? Anything in the works at the moment? You don’t HAVE to answer in the 3rd person… 

DT: Daniel Tidwell likes his chicken spicy. Right now the DT is working on original compositions for a separate project and also some to be released under the DT banner. Some cool live show opportunities have been popping up too which I definitely want to start doing more of it’s just a matter of practicality and figuring out the best way to put on a live DT show.

Again, my thanks go to Daniel Tidwell for the interview and for his fantastic music. If you’d like to follow him on Facebook, he has one of those! While you’re at it, you might consider “Liking” the official Album Du Jour page or maybe even my video game band’s page, where we love to interact with VGM fans on the topics of video games and video game music. Thanks for reading! Rock on!

They Might Be Giants – Join Us

Hello everyone! Well, let’s go for a blog-time.

I wracked my brain trying to figure out what album would make a good re-entry into the world of making updates, and as I sorted through all the various comeback or re-entry albums I have in my possession, it soon became clear that I already wrote about most of the ones I could think of, so I decided to heck with it and did my usual thing: write about an album I have been listening to lately that’s not really connected to anything! Here it is, They Might Be Giants’ kinda-newest album: Join Us!

It's SPANISH rice, I don't care if it's not made in Spain, that's what it says on the Rice-A-Roni box!

A Tonka hearse, oh Johns, you never disappoint.

If, like me, you didn’t concern your daily life with albums for a couple of years, you may not know that 2011 has been an interesting year for albums. I’d hate to spoil future entries, but Radiohead came out with an album that sucks, Johnny Cash came out with an album that more or less proves he didn’t record any more hits, Sia went all dance-clubby, and Warren Zevon, unfortunately, remains deceased.

It hasn’t been looking all that good for my musical heroes, which makes it all the more fortunate that They Might Be Giants released an album that can best be described as a catharsis of musical ideas and probably the best album that’s come out of this decade so far. Too glowing? Well it HAS been a long time, hasn’t it.

What separates Join Us from about 2 full decades’ worth of TMBG material is pretty evident from the first track, the wonderfully egotistical and dickish “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” (with a video featuring Rip Torn in one of the best “WTF” associations TMBG has ever made). Though the joyous guitar/keyboard/something arpeggios that open the track have that oh-so warm and inviting pop music sheen, you soon realize that the song contains no more sound than a 5 piece band can make. The sound is clean, dry, and devoid of electronic filling that most bands, even the Johns themselves, have been pumping into the mix for at least 2 presidential administrations.

Yes, “minimalism” is the key to Join Us, a stripping of all extraneous musical ooze that would otherwise cloud the extraordinary ideas behind the songs.

Of course, musical ooze is something we have grown to accept and even love about modern music, and honestly there are some recordings where I would have it no other way, but when approached by the unhindered ideas behind a They Might Be Giants’ song, suddenly the world becomes this animated place where anything can happen and probably should, and I have to say that I’m hooked. The last album I can think of that has that effect, indeed, would be TMBG’s Flood, from 1990.

Now, this being a TMBG album, most of the songs that come the closest to sounding like radio hits (in an ideal world where music is played on the radio based on the quality of its melody, but we’ll end that parenthetical diatribe here) are right in front of the album, but the amazing wordplay surrounding those brilliant “Why didn’t *I* think of that” ideas come right on through the solid, elegant melodies.

The first song to really nail that point is the second song on the album, “You Probably Get That A Lot“, which, just reading that title, seems like it’s going to be a ho-hum pop song. However, just a cursory glance at the lyrics reveals that familiar yet always exciting John Linnell lyrical twist:

Do you mind, excuse me?
I saw you over there, can I just tell you,

Although there are millions of cephalophores
That wander through this world
You’ve got something extra going on
I think you probably know

That is correct, ol’ J.L. built an entire catchy pop song around the idea that a cephalophore (go ahead and pretend you didn’t have to look that up) would be such a common thing that a special one would have to deal with constant praise from skeezy strangers. I could have turned the CD off there and declared this my favorite album ever, but there are 16 more songs where that came from. If there’s one thing the Johns have kept since day one, it’s the almost overwhelming amount of songs on their albums, which is one of the bigger reasons why I keep buying them.

John Flansburgh, not to be outdone, has some amazing contributions to the album, and even (I think) matches the otherwise unmatchable John Linnell in cleverness, especially in a song called “Protagonist” which goes something like this:

She stole my day dreams
She stole my air guitar

(Exterior, man on lawn, alone at dawn)

Packed the typewriter
And drove off in her car

(A battered automobile drives past state line sign)

And now I know that I’ll rue the day
I let her get away
I need a haircut, I’ve got myself to blame

(A gloved hand spins a combination dial, quickly opening a large wall safe)

The first part of the verse is Flans singing in a kind of weak, poetic falsetto (with this one melodic move in the line “I let her get away” that just kills me), and the parenthetical lines are kind of barked out by what sounds like a chorus of stage hands, and indeed the whole song is constructed to look like a “spec script”, which you’ll need to look up and then hear the song to fully appreciate what’s going on with the song. It also helps that the tune is reminiscent of the kind of acoustic-y sentimental jazz that forms the core of “Reprehensible”, one of my old favorites of theirs. The fact that the “real” story is told in the narration lines rather than by the protagonist is such an awesome idea, I really can’t describe how golden this song is.

Still, as with any TMBG song, the strongest and best stuff features both Johns carrying out these amazing ideas; my two favorites being right next to each other toward the end of the album.

The first is “The Lady And The Tiger“, a song that immediately sailed right to the top of my “Favorite TMBG songs EVER” list. Starting with a very bored-sounding tuneless rap (man do I love when the guys incorporate ennui into their humor), it becomes this funky minor-chord arrangement of horns, guitars, and beats that sounds so very synthesized, yet a closer listen reveals that they are simply that good at arranging real instruments. The lyrics are a bizarre retelling of an old short story that incorporates some really tight rhyming schemes, but like all my absolute favorite TMBG songs, what pushes this one to the top is just the overall *sound* of it. This song hits every musical pleasure center in my brain, and yeah it might not be YOUR favorite, but I’ll be damned if I don’t dedicate the entire paragraph to how much I love it.

The other song is based on an idea that is so insanely clever that I had to stop everything to give it a second, third, and however many more listens before being able to move on. The song is called “Spoiler Alert“, and it’s basically 2 songs in one. Each John is in a different side of the mix (take out one ear of the headphone or turn your speaker mix entirely to the left or right to hear what I’m talking about), and they are both telling stories about driving and being distracted that are independently different and alarming, all leading up to a climax that reveals that… well… I’ll let you figure it out for yourself, but I urge that you do so while enjoying the smooth, smooth sounds of the backing band.

Honestly, I can’t dedicate an entire paragraph to each of the 18 songs on the album, so instead I will tell you that the Johns came out of a period of making somewhat awkward recordings (though still amazing) and have really come home to a sound that, while rather familiar to old fans, is also a unique entity unto itself. On top of all that, Join Us shines with a philosophy that music doesn’t have to be tethered to a style or central idea, and that a great album doesn’t even have to be cohesive, but rather music has to be free to roam and say whatever it has to say, and if it’s done honestly, people will connect to it with their hearts. Bravo, Johns, this album is a modern masterpiece.

Go buy it, you fools!

Hey folks, Chris here, thanks so much for coming back to Album Du Jour or discovering it for the first time. If you didn’t know, you can now like the blog on Facebook and be kept up-to-date with all the happenings on this blog, plus it’s a great place to interact. Come be the first on board this exciting internet experience!

Album Du Jour – Returning Shortly!

You heard me!

That’s right, after 2 years of abandonment and focusing on other projects like playing video games, I have unanimously decided to bring back everyone*’s favorite blog about albums!

There will be a few changes, however!

1. It will no longer be an album every single day, in fact the frequency of posting is tentative! Thankfully, “every single day” is not implicit in the phrase “Du Jour”, so just think of it as “Album of the day”.

2. I’m planning on adding a few more elements to the whole “album review” formula, such as interviews!

3. I’ll probably be cross-promoting with other blogs I collaborate with on occasion such as FemPop (I’m not a feminist however).

4. I’m now accepting submissions for material to review! Thus, if you would like your album talked about on ADJ, you can now contact me and perhaps get some free publicity out of it!

5. Since this is no longer a writing “project”, I am not going to follow the 1000+ Word rule of ADJ from the past. If something can be said better with less words, I might just do that (but probably not).

Of course, as always, I’ll be writing very quickly about albums I like and listen to, and maybe even post some re-iterations of some of the posts I made in the past, especially the really bad ones. Either way, happy to be back! Stay tuned for more content!

*The people encompassing “everyone” may vary, check your local listings.