Sunday, June 30, 2013

Post 18 Part 2: A Clever Title About Harmony, That Being The Topic Of This Post

   Hello all you beautiful people reading this! I love all three of you, I really do. But moving to the topic at hand, I'm writing this post as a followup to yesterdays piece about songs with good harmonies, because there are lots of them and I feel like talking some more. I said yesterday that today's post would mostly be relatively recent artists, but before I start talking about them I want to mention a group that I forgot to talk about in a near criminal display of negligence: The Mamas and the Papas

   I feel particularly bad about missing the Mamas and The Papas, because I also failed to mention them in my post on folk music, and they're one of my favorite bands. Apparently I'm just really bad at remembering them, somehow. Anyway, they they were a four piece folk group in the sixties, and they had both great harmonies and great arrangements, and just delightful music in general. They were also fronted by the supernaturally talented Cass Elliott, who in my opinion still stands as one of the greatest female vocalists of all time. In other words, me not talking about them is a thought crime, and I stand before you all as a thought criminal. If any of you have the misfortune of not being familiar with the Mamas and The Papas, you should definitely check out California Dreamin' and Dream a Little Dream of Me, but I would also recommend Creeque Alley, Glad To Be Unhappy, No Salt On Her Tail, and Words of Love. Really, if you don't know them go listen to their greatest hits collection, and then go listen to the rest of their discography, because they're fantastic.

   And now, launching into the meat of today's post, let's talk about how great Uptown Girl by Billy Joel is. I both hope and expect that everyone reading this agrees with me, because it would honestly be pretty shattering to my worldview if I ever found out that someone didn't love this song. I know that I make frequent blanket statements regarding the heretical state of people who disagree with my taste in music, and generally when I say those I'm kidding to an extent (no I'm not. If you don't love Hey Ya, you are wrong, and that is all), but I am being completely honest when I say I can't imagine someone not loving Uptown Girl. It's just so clearly such a great song. Also, I want to mention For The longest Time. So... yeah, he also wrote and recorded For The Longest Time, which is also great. Fun fact: Billy did all the singing for all the parts on it, so all of the delicious doo-wop that you hear in there is Mr. Joel singing in unison with himself unto the nth degree, and it's awesome. Apparently he did 14 voice tracks in total for it; that isn't really important, but I've always felt that it was interesting, and I wanted to share the good news. Also, YOU KNOW I CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY HER PEARLS

   This next group is probably less well known than anyone that I've talked about up to this point, but they were a pretty massive staple of my childhood and I want to share them with all of you. The Nylons were a four piece A Capella group that formed in the late seventies and technically still exists today, but will actually always remain a magnificent reminder of both the best and worst of the 80's. They were very, very 80's. However, in spite of having some of the worst looking outfits of any band in a decade that had some of the stiffest ever competition in that field, their singing was impeccable. I should probably state for the record that when I was six or so I got my hands on a Best Of The Nylons CD and played it basically nonstop for a full summer, so I'm not exactly objective when it comes to them as a group, but they did have truly phenomenal harmonies and melodies. My personal favorites by them are their cover of Kiss Him Goodbye (originally by Steam), Grown Man Cry, and Drift Away, but  honestly I adore almost every song on their Best Of collection. They had a lot of campy songs, but they balanced that with absolutely perfect vocals. They are worth setting some time aside for. (By the way, it's hard to find studio versions of their songs on Youtube or Spotify hence the lack of links, but that last link goes to free streamable versions of the greatest hits album, which is FANTASTIC)

   And now I'm going to skip forward about 20 years, and talk about some current bands. To start off with, I want to talk a bit about the Avett Brothers. I'm not entirely sure I can justify putting them on here, because most of their songs that I like only use harmonies for chorus lines, and the harmonies themselves tend to be fairly simple, but I don't care to much because I really like them, and as simple as the harmonies they use are, they're also very effective. I'm particularly fond of Murder In The City, Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, and Live And Die.

   The next couple of bands I'm going to lump to together, but they're not really related in any way. Both have singles that I'm in love with, but I haven't spent the time in either case to find out what other good stuff they've made. I have no doubt they have other good songs, but I don't know them. Fleet Foxes are an indie band that made a song called  White Winter Hymnal, which is just a lovely song. I'm not sure how else to describe it, really. It's all big echoey choruses with wall of sound harmonies and booming drums in the background, and they all tie together to create a short but beautiful song that always makes me feel slightly better about the prospects of the world. The other band is called Steam Powered Giraffe, and they're a steampunk themed group that dress up as robots and have a whole background story set up around their act. They also make music, including Honeybee, which is basically a robot love song. Hopefully it won't surprise anyone when I say that it uses some very solid harmonies, and I like it.


  And last of all, Alt-J is absolutely fantastic and everyone should listen to them. I can understand if not everyone likes them, but if someone reading this checks them and has a knee jerk reaction  to dislike their stuff, please give them a second listen. Their songs are definitely strange on a lot of ways; the lyrics tend to be basically indecipherable on the first listen, the melody often shifts around when you aren't expecting it, and if you're the kind of person who likes to pay attention to the meanings of lyrics, tough. Their writing is generally completely opaque, especially if you don't have context to help explain the meaning of the song. I want to to stress though, I am not listing these as negatives; once you start to appreciate it, the music is absolutely hypnotic. The shifting sounds just make it more enjoyable to listen to, and as lyrics and their meanings fall into place the songs sort of gradually unfold in a really satisfying way. I first mentioned them as a bonus last week, and I've been listening nonstop ever since. If this sounds tempting, I particularly recommend Breezeblocks, Matilda, Fitzpleasure, Something Good, and Bloodflood. Also, Dissolve Me is the song I recommended last week, and it's still one of my favorites.

   Finally, here's today's bonus song! I found this remix of Virus by Bjork a few days ago, and have not gotten it out of my head since. This would be a problem, except it's one of the best things I've heard in recent memory, so having it constantly in my head is really more like a bonus. I don't know how many other people are going to like it, but I hope it's a lot because I don't plan on shutting up about it any time soon.

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