David Bowie

Bowie LazarusWhen I saw that David Bowie had passed yesterday morning, I at first thought what I normally think when a celebrity passes unexpectedly – well, that is sad. And then during the drive into the office and listening to Bowie favorites and reading tributes and social media eulogies, I got sad. It takes time to wrap your head around the importance of David Bowie to music lovers. You think for a second that yeah, sure, he had a few hits. …and then you realize that those few hits are YOUR few hits, your microcosm of his career that spanned decades and genres. Bowie created genres.

I first learned of Bowie in an odd way. I saw, now this was a long time ago, on a Christmas special the Bing Crosby and David Bowie version of “Little Drummer Boy”/”Peace On Earth”. It was mesmerizing. Here was this guy with funky eyes adding something so different and loving to the traditional Christmas song with a fifties crooner. …and that is how I choose to remember Bowie.

He was the greatest collaborator ever. Let’s take a look at a short list I rattled off in the break room at work: Bing Crosby, Brian Eno, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Trent Reznor, Nile Rogers, Luther Vandross, Iggy Pop and so many more. Look at that list. Blues, glam, disco, electronica, post-punk – name an artist that has his name on records in more areas on the floor of Waterloo. I mean, I don’t know if anyone COULD love ALL of his catalog due to his unabashed recreations.

How was one person so giving, yet inspired? How can someone be at the same time a creator and contributor in so many genres with so many personalities? That should be his legacy, more than any one song or lyric. The people he worked with that he elevated and the people that he was elevated by, always a positive, always moving forward.

Now I have to go listen to the last album he gave us again and read into every lyric what none of us wanted to admit we heard at first listen; it was goodbye.

Future Islands – On the Water

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Although established in 2006, Future Islands seem to be a band that haven’t really been able to get their footing—be it in what kind of sound they are going for, or in the number of full length albums they have put out. Regardless, after a listen or two, On the Water is the album that changes things for this band; it’s a solid synth-pop album with some jams that will have you either bobbing your head to the beat or basking in the glow of their dramatically emotional musings.

Future Islands is composed of three men with synthesizers, vocals and guitars, the combination of which makes for an interesting sound combo. You have these groovy synthesizers that fuse with the passionately gruff vocals of Samuel Herring, which makes up the crux of their sound. Herring belts the words to his songs in his mesmerizing style, pushing every ounce of emotion into every syllable he sings, which drives the sonic interest behind this band and makes the sound more than just some synthesized beats.

On the first song, which is also the title track, you can hear such passion emoted in Herrings vocals. Some atmospheric noise starts things out softly, but then the drum beats and synths roll in and it feels like a beast is crawling over your ears. This image is completed with the entrance of Herring, whose vocals feel strained with raw feeling, even turning into a growl-like state at some points. I’m reminded of a cross between David Bowie and Patrick Wolf in that the throat emotion is the main focus of his style, which may feel melodramatic to some, but proves to be my favorite part of Future Islands’ sound. If you detest it after the first song, I don’t think it would be wise to attempt to pursue this band any further—it is the driving force behind the synth.

There are some standouts on this album that seem to propel it past their last release. One of these comes third and features Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak for some male/female duality in the vocals, and the result is a lovely combination of power. Another highlight comes later on “Give Us The Wind,” in which you can jam to the deep bass of the song and feel the cathartic weight of the lyrics; “We don’t want your blessings/ Give us the Wind.”

While not all songs are exactly the most explosive of numbers, there are enough high points to outweigh the mediocre ones. On the Water serves as a good synth-pop record that will surely warrant further listening.

Friday Top 5: Unusual Collaborations

Artists don’t always make the best decisions. Perhaps they just get bored. Reinventing themselves after every album must get tiresome. I guess that’s why some musicians choose to collaborate with people from other genres. Leaps of faith, even if they are doomed to failure, are more interesting than repeating the same old song and dance. Finding out the hard way that something is a bad idea is more exciting than going through the motions of what has been done before. Oftentimes though, it’s best to stick with what you know. Otherwise you end up with the kind of collaborative catastrophes listed here. Let’s take a look shall we? See the Top 5 Unusual Collaborations below:

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Friday Top 5: Blue-Eyed Soul

According to Wikipedia, “Georgie Woods, a Philadelphia radio DJ, came up with the term blue-eyed soul in the 1960s to describe white artists who received airplay on rhythm and blues radio stations.” In reality, blue-eyed soul is kind of a made-up genre. And it’s kind of total bullshit… I mean soul is soul right? But alas, I wasn’t the one to coin the term and I thought it would make for a fun list. I do find it difficult to compare male and female vocalists, so to make the list a little more manageable I stuck with the guys and only selected artists that mostly made their living in the soul/blues/r&b world. There were probably lots of others that would qualify (Elvis Presley & David Bowie come to mind), but they tended to be more readily classified as rock or country. So follow the jump and I’ll share with you my top 5 male blue-eyed soul singers.

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FT5: Music Fashion Accessories

We here at ATH hope that all of you had fun over the past 3 months soaking up the Vitamin D, getting wasted, and subsequently wreaking havoc across our city, but now it’s time to get back into the dreaded educational mentality. One of the truly great things about going to school is the first day. You’ll be meeting new people and making a good first impression is all it takes sometimes to get an excellent shot at a get-together with that certain someone you’re sure to see that day. Well, if music has taught me anything, musicians usually know how to dress to impress. I’m sorry to say it, but summer is over. Get some style for the new school year after the jump.

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FTC: David Bowie

bowieWhile perusing some of our old From the Closet features I realized that we have never given a shout out to David Bowie, until today!  So how does one choose from such a vast discography when dealing with one of the legends of rock?  Easy!  Easy you say?  Yes, easy!  Just stick with his best album and the best representation of the glam rock genre: Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars.  I wish I could drop the whole album on our site for those pitiful few who haven’t heard it, but that’s not allowed, so I’ll stick with title track “Ziggy Stardust”.  Can you even imagine what it would’ve been like to be around in the early 70s and see Bowie during the height of his Ziggy alter-ego?  Many have tried to imitate, many have carried on the torch, some have even mocked, but we’ll just never get another Bowie.  Never.  Be sure to pick this one up on vinyl so you can experience the true mind blowing power of putting this on the record player back in 1972.  Enjoy.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/09-Ziggy-Stardust.mp3]

FT5: Collaborations

0918top5coverSolid collaborations seem to come around only once in a blue moon. On the other hand a FT5 of horrible partnerships could go on for 52 weeks straight without repeat. Eminem and Elton John come to mind, Bowie and Crosby creeping me out, and We Are the World as the gold standard of awesomely bad group efforts. Apart from these, there are plenty out there that have me wishing I had never heard them. Fear not, music lovers follow the jump to read about the best collaborations that won’t make you want to hang yourself; in fact, you might enjoy them.
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Little Joy – s/t

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Most will recognize the percussionist of Little Joy, the newest offshoot made up of Strokes drummer Fab Moretti. Toss in Rodrigo Amarante and Binki Shapiro, and you have the line-up for LA based Little Joy.

Those in search of the upbeat pop specialties that Albert Hammond has thrown our way will surely not find what you are looking for in these songs, but instead you will find an entirely different genre, what one will call beach-influences crooner tunes. It would suffice to say that this group has created eleven perfect lounge tracks for your favorite smoky dive bar.

“The Next Time Around” is the album’s opener, which contributes the first of many island infused tracks. Guitars and percussion lie in the back of the song, as Amarante croons, not entirely like Julian Casablancas, but not too far off. It’s easy to see why Fab chose to work with this fellow; in the middle of the track there is an influx of Portuguese lyrics, which add to the Latin appeal of the album.

Listening to this album one should recall quiet moments spent on beaches with their friends, much like the members of Team Zissou. In fact, if you recall the soundtrack to the Wes Anderson movie Life Aquatic, you will find that this album is very reminiscent of the guitar work done by Seu Jorge, although the majority of the music here is in English; none of the songs are Bowie covers either.

“No One’s Better Sake” is the fourth track on the album, and it’s one that has the largest resemblance to The Strokes. The progression sounds strikingly similar to a few of the songs off Room on Fire, but a little organ work gives it an entirely different feel. Once again, Amarante croons in that very familiar tone. Even the progression of the song sounds too familiar to dismiss as mere coincidence.

Be sure to listen to “Don’t Watch Me Dancing.” This song features the female vocals from Binki Shapiro, and it’s one of those perfect little songs that creeps into your head as the day passes into the by and by. It’s a mellow little ditty, but most will appreciate the emotive number, possibly one of the strongest tracks on the album.

One thing missing from this album is a substantial pace. The lack of pace, and the organization of the songs on the album makes it a tad difficult to immerse yourself completely in the album. Even good beach parties have a few rollicking moments that move the crowd; this album seems to lack that pace and emotion entirely aside from one or two brief moments.

At the end of the day, listeners will have a decent debut album from Little Joy to attach themselves to for evening listening. If anything, this album is the perfect conversation starter as your friends try to figure out why the songs sound so familiar, yet so much like their last trip to Cancun. You’ll enjoy the album too; it just won’t make your top albums of the year list.