Sunday, September 13, 2015

LINER NOTES: Madison Ave

AMC's Mad Men came to an end in May, so our June 11 session, LINER NOTES: Madison Ave, focused on music used in notable commercials. Nate isn't too familiar with the show, and my interest gassed out around Season 4, but we both recognize the show's masterful ability to showcase fashion trends and consumer culture. Along with a consistently remarkable soundtrack, linking a costumed modeling session with the show is a no-brainer.

We opened with a nod to the show's end, the 1971 "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" ad. Our model, Aubrey, dressed in a flowing, floral dress that matched the hippie nods of the Coke spot. She moved quickly as we warmed up to a set of pre- and proto-television ads and jingles. The two Dinahs -- Shore and Washington -- led the charge with spots for Chevy and the Armed Services.

Perhaps it was the Drink in Drink-and-Draw talking, or maybe simply the Mad Men connection, but the night was heavy on vice ads. Early on, we heard the earworm-y Winston jingle and the Brooklyn-name-dropping Rheingold spot. Later, we moved to the malt liquor tip and ran through a handful of the early '90s St. Ides hip-hop spots (the connection between hip-hop and television commercials -- particularly Sprite -- deserves its own session). Less explicit was one of my favorite recent commercial 'crate digs,' Marcos Valle's "Estrelar' which found its way into a slightly jarring Southern Comfort ad (kinda hard to top the mystery drink's prior "Whatever's Comfortable" ad which featured the classic break, Odetta's "Hit or Miss," but "Estrelar" deserves its own shine).

Modern commercials tend to license existing recordings (or, when desperate, the publishing rights to a song and commission subpar covers), which is a shame because today's customers are deprived of gems like Lou Rawls's Sings for Cold Power Powder, an entire 10" of jingles the singer recorded for the laundry detergent brand (make sure to read the reader comment in that Soul-Sides post; Mad Men fans will appreciate the parallels with Pete Campbell's interest in pushing Zenith to market to the same "ethnic" demographic). So, Cotton, Inc. tapped that boomer aesthetic when it commissioned Zooey Deschanel (and Kate Bosworth) for a twee take on the brand. To this day, I'm unsure if Cat Power's cover of "Hanging on the Telephone" was expressly recorded for that 2006 Cingular commercial (a complete recording is one of my white whales), but the synergy (ugh) is remarkable.

For our longer poses, we turned to recent examples of memorable advertising soundtracks. Nick Drake's "Pink Moon," which has become widely-known for its use in the 1999 VW Cabriolet ad, summarized the aesthetic of this set: indie 'anthems.' Chanel's use of Nina Simone is one of numerous examples of VW not being first in the Hipster Commercial Race, but the car manufacturer's marketing campaign seemingly opened the floodgates to other Pitchfork-friendly songs. In 2003, the Lincoln Navigator drove Mr. Scruff's Moondog-sampling "Get a Move On" into our consciousness. Sony took the edge off The Knife for its 2005 Bravia ad with José González's cover. And, in peak convergence of tech and auto hipster d-baggery, VW and Apple used indie supergroup Polyphonic Spree's "Light and Day" in 2004.

Of course, we had to do a quick survey of the Mad Men soundtrack. When I think of the first season, Don Cherry's "Band of Gold" sums up the worldview of its characters. The conventional view of masculinity, the syrupy sentimentality, and the whiteness all help peg the identity of the show and its main drivers. "Early in the Morning" is a bit of an outlier, considering Colin Hanks's appearance in the series had little to do with the daily life of Sterling Cooper. However, it is also an important reminder of the moral and spiritual borders Peggy Olsen had to work through, in addition to the professional and sexual ones. "Bye Bye Birdie" was spun simply because of Sal (#neverforget). I mix up the scenes over which "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" were used, perhaps because the Beatles track sounds like a frenetic trip gone haywire and the Beach Boys ballad perfectly sums up Don's aging disconnect from the times. Another white whale is a clean copy of Robert Morse tapping his way through the Broadway standard "The Best Things in Life Are Free." And, well, "Zoo Bisou Bisou (aka Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo)" speaks for itself (New York has a brief history of the song's recording history, which is hardly remarkable, but worth a read if you really must know).

A few ads were not available on the youtubes. I couldn't track down the correct version of Pepsi's "Come Alive," but you get the point hearing the older version of the jingle. The most glaring spot is the Victoria's Secret's Ipex bra ad from (March?) 2006 which featured Portishead's Roseland NYC Live version of "All Mine." I thought I saw this spot in the early '00s, but the internets message boards don't lie, right? In any case, here's the original video, for your pleasure.

One more disclaimer. There isn't much point in making a Spotify playlist, because a) so many of the commercial references were from television; and b) Spotify just doesn't have a lot of these tracks. That said, if you're fine with a heavily edited version of the playlist, here's one for y'all.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015



Beach playlist.

This one-off night was done in conjunction with the 92nd St Y's Spring Fling! open house, which was a night of free events. The Y staff generously asked us to participate, and suggested the 'beach' theme. We were surprised we hadn't visited this theme before. Some of the music styles were covered in a previous 'spy' theme, but we hadn't tackled this whole-hog. Needless to say, there was an abundance of options.

The structure of the session was a bit different, because we had two one-hour sessions that were meant to be samplers for new participants. We decided to loosen up the proceedings and just performed a series of five to seven-minute poses. The music reflected this approach with an emphasis on short, punchy songs with a clear connection to the theme. In other words, Neil Young's On the Beach didn't make the cut. Next time, folks!

Admittedly, much of the soundtrack was pulled from my high school days when I absorbed anything with fast guitars. Hence, Dick Dale and the Pulp Fiction-related cuts. Full disclosure: the Americanas were high school-era buddies. Our bands played shows together. That said, I still stand by the statement that the band could easily go head-to-head against vets two or three times their age. One of the Takeshi Terauchi cuts ("On the Beach") used this evening is not on either YouTube or Spotify, so you'll have to do some independent digging. My favorite deep cut was the nod to Nate's roots, Euclid Beach Band's "There's No Surf in Cleveland." The promo clip in the YouTube playlist seals the deal.

Thanks again to Allison and the whole gang at the Y for inviting us.

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LINER NOTES: Blockbuster

Blockbuster playlist

We've visited the film soundtrack theme before, so it's important for us to find new ways to revisit this idea. Nate brought the word, "blockbuster," to the table, and that really shaped the evening. In the modern era of cinema, summer films are synonymous with 'blockbuster' or big box office smashes. Hence, we chose songs from summer films.

The framework was helpful because automatically a number of award-winning films (which, these days, tend to be released later in the year) were excluded. What remained were comparatively airy films, like Despicable Me, Superbad, and Guardians of the Galaxy. It helps that soundtracks in the modern era have become respectable commercial mixtapes, so mega-movies can reintroduce slick cuts like the Bar-Kays's "Too Hot to Stop" or the AM-nugget by Redbone, "Come and Get Your Love." Despicable Me and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World were two notable exceptions in that the films featured original soundtracks written primarily by Pharrell and Nigel Godrich, respectively. That said, these artist's pop background shines throughout the score work as they both wrote punchy, memorable songs that captured the mood of their respective films.

We took a broad approach to 'blockbuster,' allowing plenty of art house and, frankly, more obscure film soundtracks enter the mix. Buio Omega is a cult horror classic, but hardly mainstream like Anchorman. That said, we tried to include notable music moments from recognizable art house films, like the seemingly custom-written "Mao Mao" from La Chinoise, or Mulatu Astatke's hypnotic "Yègellé Tezeta" which repeats over the driving sequences in Broken Flowers.

Special consideration goes to our model, Rose, who has been incredibly inventive in her choice of costumes. For this night, she went for the Risky Business look, which was simple, instantly recognizable, and fun to draw from.

Rest assured, the well has not been tapped yet! We'll revisit soundtracks again soon.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Still Wild After All These Years

Saw Charles Lloyd last night at the Met. A few thoughts:

  • I first saw him fifteenish years ago. Just Billy Higgins and him in a tiny back office of a shopping mall in Baldwin Hills. One of the most breathtaking music experiences of my life. Back then, sat in a folding chair inches from Higgins's feet. This time, sat in a folding chair about 100 feet away with a shit sight line. Still sounds dope as all hell.
  • It takes an egoless man to roll up with a band of smoking players and allow them the soloing spotlights. Cymbalom player Miklós Lukács absolutely Crushed it. Jason Moran had a number of funky and stellar moments. Sokratis Sinopoulos channeled Lloyd's ethereal sensibilities perfectly. And Eric Harland is a beast of an accompanist. 
  • The band consists of Lloyd 'vets,' but its performance felt like a series of floating spotlights. The first half of the night's material had a cohesive texture with no one personality really dominating; the performance felt in service of the songwriting. The back half switched to more conventional rhythms and modes, which offered space for individual players to leap to life. The night felt like an old school music revue with the material serving as a foundation for individuals to show and prove.
  • New York crowds continue to un-impress. At least a third of the crowd gave a polite O at the end of the main course, then promptly bounced. Wasn't even five minutes before the group sat back down to play an encore, yet folks were still walking out.
  • And, yes, he closed with "Sombrero Sam." Aren't you tired of that joint, Chuck? Thank goodness he continues to abstract it further and further. It's such an oddly, funky mutant now.
Brother Charles' new record Wild Man Dance is out now.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Ownerz

Primo said that we should just lock it all down
See the bigger picture, so we can profit all around
I regularly hear the comment, "I need to have that song" (no humblebrag, RIP Harris).

My response is to share setlists. I have used a few methods: a list with purchase links, a YouTube playlist, a Spotify playlist, etc. The assumption is that the listener will use the information to purchase a physical or digital copy on their own.

Since I started posting the Spotify playlists, I realized that listeners are more than likely streaming the song or songs in question. And the vast majority are probably content. In this sense, 'having' a song is really just another way of saying, 'listening and checking off the list.' Access to consumption has become enough.

I know there's nothing revolutionary about this observation, but I mention it mostly because I occasionally feel it's not even worth mentioning a purchase link (unless there are no mainstream streaming options). Which seems irresponsible, because a number of musicians clearly value the purchase revenue (whether it makes any real business sense or not). It's an odd time where the perceived needs of the audience are being met in considerable disproportion to the needs of the artist.

I'll continue to push purchasing music from the artist, or at the very least from the artist's label, but fuck if this doesn't feel like swimming upstream.

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