Thursday, August 20, 2009

Megafaun Box Score

I decided to take a blind stab at what's become Charlie T's trademark here: the album box score review. It took me forever and I still have a lot of kinks to iron out as much in the layout as the approach, but it was very nearly enjoyable and I gained a new respect for Charlie T.

I picked Megafaun's Gather, Form, & Fly because I thought it'd be easy to bust out the box score for an album that I love. I was kind of right.

First of all, let me break Charlie T. Protocol and say, right up front, that I love this album because it is just that: AN ALBUM. In a world of disposable downloads, singles, mp3 giveaways, and all that, Megafaun makes a gorgeous, family of songs, coherent case for the album. It all sits together, segues, congeals so that listening to it becomes an experience. Sure, you can experience Megafaun on a song-by-song basis, but part of the strength of this record is listening to it as a whole. Soundscapes, noise interludes, found sounds and more populate the cracks of this beautiful collection of indie folk (if they must be filed) songs.

Second, I have to admit to having a certain inadequacy in this format. Some songs I love suffered because of the categories I chose. "Sleep in the bed that you made" is quite applicable. Some songs that aren't my favorite were bolstered favorably. "Darkest Hour" for instance isn't my favorite, but it heavies up on some of my criteria, so it came out beaming. But, worry not, I will calibrate this system and eventually have it running like a finely tuned 8-track.

Third, in honor of Megafaun's love of the Lakers, I've used purple & gold as well as highlighting some franchise favorite #s. I went so far as messing with "Bella Marie"'s score to get to James Worthy. I won't say if I raised or lowered, but it took some doing. I originally had some of the "highlight categories" symbolically scoring at a peak of 31 (a nod to Kurt Rambis, who, like Megafaun, was a bespectacled rambler in his heyday), but 31 was bumping the overall score into the thousands. Again, calibration will occur. So I lowered it to 21 (Michael Cooper, underrated defensive stopper and 3-point specialist in the 80s heyday). Good enough.

Fourth, the review:

A brief-ish explanation of my categories:

GOLD IN THE LYRICAL HILLS: The neo-backwoods sound of this album lends itself to some lyrical simplicity and straightforwardness. Like a great Gillian Welch song, you can mine these lyrical hills for some beautiful, simple truths and great lyrical moments.

PURE BEAUTY: the x-factor.

FOUND SOUNDS: Part avante garde art project, part Smithsonian Folkways field recording.

singalong/SHOUTALONG: Sing (or shout) alongability. Can you see/hear yourself singing/shouting along at a show? Can you resist? There are lots of moments where I wanna just jump in, even if I don't know the words just yet.

HARMONY (FRATERNAL, ETC.): Megafaun features two brothers, rawer than the Everlys or Louvins. The mix is undeniable, especially when you add a third non-blood part to bond it all.

PATIENCE: For all the shouting and singing and revival-style music, there are moments of pure patience. Of letting the cocoon simply do its thing, of stop motion photography, of just sitting til the light is just right.

FOLKSINESS: Looking for elements of traditional folkie songwriting and the prominent featuring of traditional folk instruments like banjo, field organ, etc.

cacoFAUNy: For all the reverence towards traditionalism, Megafaun also has a foot in the world of noise- beautiful, deliberate, unapologetic cacophony. Noise soundscapes create tension bridges at several key points in the journey of this album.

BRIAN WILSON/SUFJAN STEVENS ARRANGING: As much for the beachy (albeit on a different coast than Mr. Wilson) harmonies as for the inventive arrangements. Look for big thematic jumps, unorthodox percussion, and more.

BON IVER-ATION: You probably know, because no one (myself now included) will let you forget, that Megafaun made up the band Justin Vernon left to do Bon Iver. Can you spot the overlap? Gratefully, these boys don't have to worry about the shadow because their own thing stands on its own. (This coming from a massive Bon Iver fan.) I can't tell you how happy it made me that J. Vernon didn't do some big, shrinkwrap-sticker-featuring guest stint.

I love this record. It'll be top 10, maybe top 5, at the end of the year. GUARANTEED. "Gather, Form, & Fly" and "Longest Day" are two of my favorite songs of the year.


Album Box Score Report



So far we have made it through 5 albums in the current album box score experiment and this is how they stack up.

One is a graph of how the albums progress in relation to the other albums. The other graph shows the average song score per album, the defining trait of each album (the highest category total) and a comparison of the two best songs per album.

The way it stands, Wilco the album has the highest individual song but the Harlem Shakes are the most consistent top to bottom. I never thought I would hear myself say that.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Unlike Favre, Woolridge Sticking To His Guns

"Still fresh out of damns," Woolridge tersely offered when asked for a comment on this pile of recycled fecal matter. "Perhaps you can get more out of Charlie T."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Harlem Shakes Box Score

Its not often you can find an album that is overly energetic and enthusiastic and still want to listen to it without being completely annoyed. Technicolor Health is just that album. Maybe its just me, maybe its the residue from a presidential campaign, but this year in music seems to be filled with optimism and fun. I got into this album in the spring shortly after it came out because of the attractive album art and I wasn't disappointed with what I found behind it.

Allow me to explain some of the categories.

Fun-da-mentals - The songs are not very inventive, but they are very fundamentally sound and it works for the upbeat-ness of the album. Thus, its the rudimentary nature of the songs that make them fun. This category measures how well that all works.

Appropriately Garnished - Each song has some sort of weird synth sound, guitar tone, drum beat, harmony or other eccentric addition. This category measures how well the "garnish" works with the song itself.

Melange Infused - There is a wide variety of musical styles infused into each song. The different beats and different sounds sometimes add a lot to the song and sometimes don't add as much. This measures that.

Beat-ing the Mood - This measures how well the drum beats add to the happiness of the song.

Selling the Song - Lexy Benaim has a unique voice and delivery. But he is committed to the songs and the lyrics. This commitment makes me believe in the songs, like he is selling them to me. This measures how well the songs are sold.

John Starks Reference - Listen closely to see if you can pick it out. It has to do with a Starks Poster. Or just Google it.

[Total Score : 826]

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dirty Projectors Box Score

This was the toughest box score to date if only for the category creating alone. So allow me to break it down a little more for you.

Longstreth's Cat - This is a play on Schrödinger's cat where the cat in the box might be dead or alive based on a random previous event. Its a weird theory that I don't fully understand (just like this album) except that the cat might be dead or alive. Longstreth's cat is taking that idea and applying it to the song. If the song represents a series of random events (which if you've listened to the album it is just that) and at the end of each song it is determined if it worked or not. This is an all or nothing score, just like the cat being dead or alive.

Gestault Songcraft - This is the idea of looking at the song as a whole and grading it as such based on how well the parts fit together. This is not an all or nothing score and is slightly different than the previous category in that way. Some of the songs have brilliant moments and in a way bring the song into a cohesive whole, or at least they start to. The song is given points based on looking at it as a whole and how the parts work together.

Brooklyn in a Blender - This is a rating of all the weirdness you might get if you took the brooklyn music scene, Brooklyn diversity and the Brooklyn Art Museum and put it in a blender. Sometimes it might come out edible/listenable with a nice range of diversity, other times it might not really capture a very diverse sample.

Wheel of Sounds - Imagine if you took the Wall Of Sound idea and put each sound on a wheel (like the one Pat Sajak has been spinning for years) and then you spun it during the song. You would get a little of one sound here and a little of another there but rarely would they all be mixed together throughout. I think thats what this album does.

Ivy League Education - Apparently Longstreth went to Yale. I couldn't tell.

[Total Score: 674]

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Mysteries of the Pacific Northwest Uncovered

The Northwest remains shrouded in mystery, even after seeing it all first hand. There are two mysteries that did slightly clear themselves up. They both hang on the hinges that are Stone Gossard.

The first one is Pearl Jam's new single and faded grungeness

2001 marked the coming out of Pearl Jelly (the smoother, more polished, less grunge Pearl Jam). Stone decided to release a solo album. Call me crazy but I don't think an upright bass and a Kenny G stand in count as positive points on a grungeness scorecard. I don't think its gotten much better. Now, the only scent of grunge on him comes in the form of some faux fraying on his feet. Target actually was the most logical step in this progression, but to everyone who missed out one Stone's solo album (which was pretty much the entire world) it seems like a complete 180. Time to party like its 1999 in 2009.

The second mystery is Shawn Smith

Here is a guy that was at the heart of the biggest music movement in the 1990's. Stone split time between Pearl Jam and Shawn's band Brad. He was the anchor of recently reunited Satchel. He was a part of Andy Wood's Mother Love Bone. He had his hands in as many things as Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. He could do no wrong. I won't speculate as to how or why he fell off the radar because I wasn't there. But I will say where he is now. He is still writing as good of songs as ever but is obviously no longer at the forefront. But he is still the guy the artists look up to. I have always been intrigued by the artists that my favorite artists look up to. Dylan loved Woody Guthrie. He admired Hank Williams. The Beatles and Brian Wilson had a mutual admiration. In fact, Paul McCartney's favorite song is "God Only Knows" off of Pet Sounds. Sometimes the artists that get admired have a lot of commercial success. More often that not however, they get surpassed by the admirer and end up disappearing from the public eye. This is the city where Shawn Smith lives. He wasn't so lucky as to pass away at a young age and shroud him in mystique. Instead he is still playing to tiny, star studded crowds, continuing to be the guy that the other artists look up to. Its not the most glorious place to be, but it is perhaps the most respected. If you go to one of his shows you are likely to see Stone there being the first one to clap after every song.