For those of us not living in the Sunshine State, we’ve been facing some pretty harsh cold spells lately. And those of us in the Northeast this weekend, well, we’re about to get smothered in snow. When the weather is dipping below zero degrees, and you can’t leave the house without five layers and some seriously dependable thermal wear, you just might get what I like/hate to call the February blues. To help you cope, we’ve put together a Soundtrax that’s full of songs honoring this increasingly chilly month. Enjoy.
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Certain people are very mental, ” says legendary guitarist Carlos Santana, “they need to have rules and concepts and directions and scales and theory in order to play. But that’s not what music is about. Music has the same significance as beams of light coming out of the clouds and giving information to plants. Every note should be like a beam of light. You’re giving information to the listener, and you’re reminding them they also have light and significance. That’s improvising to me. The other stuff is just like going ˜da-da-da-da-da.’ It’s nothing.
-Published by Matt Blackett, Guitar Player magazine
Life on the streets can make you grow up hard. But that’s no excuse not to be good to your grandmother. Chicago rap duo GoodGrandKidz, comprised of first cousins Adrian Boykin and E.J. Wilson, manage to go H.A.M. with no disrespect to their elders. In BMF they lay down the law, saying, We the good grandkids but still some bad motherf—ers over sighing synths and a trilling Spanish guitar loop. Good as they may be, they’ve got a little devil in them, proven by lyrics like, OMG Jesus tweets? Tell him he should follow me. Midnight Dreamers has the same haunting, jazzy vibe as Lupe Fiasco’s Daydream, complete with a powerhouse soul singer. But on Much Higher it’s The Doors’ Light My Fire that provides the inspiration. Over shrill blasts of brass the duo aim high, saying I’m elevated like prayers. Even if Jesus doesn’t follow them, you should.
What do true rock & roll obsessive do in the extremely unlikely event that they get tired of listening to their favorite albums? Watch documentaries about them, of course! And even though 2012 is still young, the must-see DVDs for rock geeks are already starting to pile up, so before the stack starts to grow too unwieldy, let’s skim the top by taking a look at a few of the most memorable new rock-doc releases on video. Each of our flicks of choice for this week takes a different approach to framing music history, but they all manage to offer fresh insights and fascinating glimpses into some classic works.
Taking the straight-up band-biography approach, Days of Our Lives aims to be the definitive documentary on Queen, and succeeds through careful attention to the details of the band’s story, in-depth interviews with the primary parties and a wealth of fascinating footage. It was originally created as a two-part documentary for the BBC, aired in 2011 to commemorate Queen’s fortieth anniversary, and the DVD and Blu-Ray versions add extra material to sweeten the deal even further. We get a long view of Queen’s climb, digging into the details of guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor‘s pre-Queen band, Smile, and chronicling Zanzibar-born art student Farrokh Bulsara’s evolution into flamboyant frontman Freddie Mercury. We get a worm’s-eye view of the group’s ascent to superstardom, via candid conversations with May and Taylor, as the story moves through each era of the band’s development, from the hard-edged art rock of the early albums to the unabashed eclecticism and commercial breakthrough of A Night at the Opera, to the incorporation of dance-music influences in the early ’80s with The Game and Hot Space. The most emotional moments, of course, come towards the end, as we watch Mercury slowly succumb to AIDS and hear the intimate recollection of his friends and bandmates about the final chapter in the singer’s life. Among the extras on the DVD, a wealth of British TV performances will be particularly tasty treats for hardcore Queen aficionados.
Mr. Mojo Risin': The Story of L.A. Woman takes on the legacy of a band just as iconic as Queen, but instead of trying to document The Doors‘ entire career it takes a tight focus on the final album by the original lineup (history has kindly forgotten the two albums the surviving members made without Jim Morrison in the early ’70s). Like the Queen documentary, this too was made to mark a fortieth anniversary”that of the aforementioned album, L.A. Woman. Stories of notorious rock & roll enfant terrible Morrison’s antics are legend, but while this documentary doesn’t shy away from the singer’s talent for troublemaking, it only incorporates that aspect of the story as it pertains to the topic at hand”the music itself. Following 1969’s Soft Parade album, which was considered by many to be overreaching and overproduced, L.A. Woman brought the group back to basics”playing together in a room, with the blues as a musical foundation and Morrison’s evocative lyrics taking things further out. Today “Riders on the Storm” and the title track are ingrained in the collective consciousness as classic-rock radio staples, but in 1971, these dark, dreamy pieces combined the urban and the ethereal in an unprecedented way. For those who are intimately familiar with the album, it’s especially intriguing to hear, for instance, keyboardist Ray Manzarek reveal that his solo on “Hyacinth House” quotes a classical piece, and explain how “Riders” evolved from jamming on classic cowboy song “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” But for anyone with even a passing interest in the band, Mr. Mojo Risin’ helps illuminate exactly what made them special.
Of course, The Doors weren’t the only Southern Californians pushing the musical envelope in the early ’70s. From Straight to Bizarre stands apart from the Queen and Doors docs in that it shines a light on a little-heralded corner of rock history, but the story nevertheless involves some legendary figures, including Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper and Captain Beefheart. At the end of the ’60s, Zappa was bedeviled by label conflicts to the degree that he decided to start his own imprints, Straight and Bizarre. The latter would mainly release Zappa’s own work, while Straight would feature recordings by other artists. Bizarre boasted some of Zappa’s finest albums with and without The Mothers, including Hot Rats, Chunga’s Revenge and Just Another Band From L.A., but the focus of this film is in fact the dazzling array of artists and albums on Straight. Zappa’s intention was to provide an outlet for left-field music that might otherwise have gone unheard, and the Straight discography ultimately included such eccentric masterpieces as Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off, Baby and Tim Buckley’s Blue Afternoon and highly experimental Starsailor, as well as the first two”arguably freakiest”albums by Alice Cooper. You simply can’t half-ass a documentary about this kind of thing, and Straight to Bizarre goes all the way in, interviewing many of the principals and taking a comprehensive look at everything Zappa’s labels accomplished in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s the sort of thing that gives music geekery a good name.
So whether you want to delve deeper into one of rock’s most revered albums, chart the development of an iconic band or peer into into an intriguing, esoteric corner of the musical universe, there’s a new DVD”or Blu-Ray if you’re so inclined”that will do the job for you. And by the time you read this, it’s likely that at least twice as many more new music flicks will be floating around out there for your edification, so we may have to reconvene for another roundup somewhere down the line.
There are many great and enjoyable music biopics, from Amadeus to Ray. But it’s a tricky genre. Lots of musicians have interesting things about their lives, most notably their great success, but not enough to really drive a two hour film. So filmmakers have to stretch and dramatize, drilling down on the important aspects without just making shit up. Some films succeed wildly, some leave a bit to be desired. And then there are these:
6. The Doors (1991)
Oliver Stone’s trademark off-kilter direction is both the worst and best thing about what is ultimately a terrible caricature of Doors frontman Jim Morrison as a buffoonish alcohol and drug addict. I mean, he probably was that, but he wasn’t JUST that, right? Right? The movie also spends almost no time on the other members of the band, except in the context of Morrison’s bullshit. Anyway, Val Kilmer’s singing is pretty good.
5. Great Balls of Fire (1989)
I have it firsthand from a key member of this film’s production that it was fuelled almost entirely by cocaine. This might explain Dennis Quaid’s manic, one-dimensional, cartoonish performance as the great Jerry Lee Lewis. The man who legitimately earned himself the nickname The Killer appears here as nothing more than a backwoods hick who was in the right place at the right time. His gifted musicianship and epic performances are footnotes.
I will watch this movie anytime it’s on TV.
Bands are hard to keep together. People fight, quit, rejoin, remember, quit again, die and so forth. Sometimes that band member is so integral to the music that it’s pointless to go on”some bands realize this and pack it in. But often, the remaining members don’t want to give it up. Here is the good, the bad and the ‘meh’ of some big, post-departure acts.
The Rolling Stones
Thank you, Jeebus, that The Stones kept it going after the 1969 departure and subsequent death of band founder Brian Jones (but couldn’t they have stopped after 1981’s Tattoo You, oh mighty Jeebus?). Jones’ contributions to the band are not to be discounted, but by the time he left, he had been marginalized”for better or worse”by the Jagger-Richards power team (and by most accounts, by manager Andrew Loog Oldham, not to mention by booze and drugs). The Stones went on to produce some of their greatest work.
While some people swear by Syd Barrett-era Floyd, the mental unraveling and eventual canning of the former frontman heralded one of rock’s greatest and most unlikely metamorphoses. With Roger Waters taking the pole position (and with able assistance from Barrett’s replacement, David Gilmour), the band slowly shed their psych-pop identity in favor of spaced-out stadium rock.
It’s easy to become lost in a sea of poptarts and singer-songwriters, so we’re stoked this week’s Needle In The Haystack Sylvana Joyce and the Moment gives us a jolt of originality, if not weirdness, with their eclectic gypsy rock/blues combo of music making. Citing The Doors, Pink Floyd and “various gypsy music” as inspiration, these five classically trained musicians weave their backgrounds of jazz and opera with their own special blend of voodoo that will have you circling the wagons and breaking out the head scarves and absinthe.
Dive deeper into Sylvana Joyce and the Moment in the video below, and stay tuned for more all this week!
For fans of: Dresden Dolls, Gogol Bordello
Beyond artists, producers and bands, there is a group of music/sound creators that operate in completely different facets. Sure, it’s easy to license popular music to use in movies, commercials, etc., but there is also a viable branch of the industry known as sound design. While there are teams of people in Hollywood trained to do their part in films and commercials, for smaller projects the more aspiring composers and designers have to wear many hats. Scoring a video or animation can be quite the daunting process since you not only need to come up with themes, but also score videos with fully arranged music and even find (or record), process and sync sound effects.
Every sound designer and editor has their own set of tricks, rules and techniques. However, everyone will agree on one thing: you need the proper collection of sounds. In fact, I’ll spend days at a time walking around with field recorders or setting up mic’s around the apartment just to collect cool sounds I hear for future projects. Even though there is nothing more fun for a sound designer then setting up 5 mic’s in a room and throwing around objects to create Foley effects (the reproduction of everyday sound used in film), your scores and sound effects will probably need that professional edge.
While we’ve talked about loop libraries, we have several other libraries of sound. Aside from collections that can be personally created using field recorders, the Hollywood Edge effects are some of the best that we’ve ever used while scoring. We’re sure you’ve even heard them in action as they’ve graced numerous major motion pictures with their epic swells and powerful impacts. Even esteemed director Oliver Stone (The Doors, Any Given Sunday) swears by them.
So, if you’ve been asking yourself how you can get your soundtracks to have that real Hollywood sound, then it seems only natural to turn to the collection that Hollywood is actually using. The collections come in different themes, sizes and price ranges. However, the most famous is their complete sound effect collection. This multi-CD library comes with everything, from high-impact sounds for car crashes to heavily-processed gunshot sounds for space-age weapon emulation to low rumbles that are so common in horror movies and thrillers. They all come in extremely high quality, stereo wave files for use within any standard audio or video editing program. Whether you need ambient beds like their fluctuating, wind-sounding effects or a quick, shocking explosion, they’ve got you covered. After all, there are only so many realistic Foley effects you can make yourself. You can’t exactly record your own explosion.
The sounds speak for themselves. Check out a recent trailer for one of The Edge‘s collections to hear for yourself:
While the video gives you some great examples and is certainly a well-done montage, we’ve spent literally hours exploring the sounds on the collection we purchased. Sure, they have some electronic indexing and lists that come with the collections upon purchase. However, one minor con to the collection is these lists are a little hard to navigate, and because the collections are so extensive, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of effects. We can’t stress enough the value of being a true student of using your ears. No matter what the sound file is called, if we like it and think it can fit somewhere, we’ll use it.
Even though we’ve paid for the license to use these effects, it’s rare that we’ll stick one directly into a project. We typically use these effects (and those of any library, for that matter), as a simple starting point. The sounds have great character, epic punch and a rich spectrum, but more can always be done. Otherwise, we’d be using something everyone has access to. Therefore, in order to make it your own, we recommend any number of processing techniques to tweak the wave files. You’ll obviously need some pitch/time shifting in order to make it logistically fit into the video. However, you can use these in addition to reverb, EQ, reverse functions, etc. to give these sounds your own character. There’s really no limit.
The Hollywood Edge offers a wide array of collections for many different visual applications. Not just movies, but games and animations as well. We recommend heading over to their web site and seeing what works for your applications in your price range.
When someone like me is up to their eyebrows in vinyl, a collection of top-selling commercial LPs doesn’t elicit the same excitement as stacks of unknown rarities that received minimal distribution before fading away. In my previous “Desert Island Disc” post, I spotlighted an LP by Danser’s Inferno that is achingly difficult to find in today’s market and is finally being reissued after 30 years in hiding. This time around, a familiar voice with a slew of hit singles steals a space in my desert island suitcase. When preparing a selection of LPs to be stranded with for the rest of my life, Al Green’s enormously successful, chart-topping record Gets Next To You would be placed side-by-side with John Danser’s obscure masterpiece.