Sunday, August 10, 2014

Second Time 'Round

The other day, an idea hit me. I do a lot of music reviews on here - almost entirely of older songs - and that's it. I review them once, usually grade them, and move on. But what if, after a year or so of not really listening to a song anymore, I listened again and reviewed it all over again? It's like a test of how 'timeless' a song might be.

I'm going to try that. Normally a song will pass through a heavy rotation with me, where I'll listen to it every day, more than once. Every song tapers off at different consistencies - one song might stick with me a for a couple of months, another might be around for half a year to a year, ranging from being played more than once a day to at least once every few days. I'm going to do very short write-ups of ten songs of the past - my past in listening - and do a sort of "half-grade." I'm making a reference there to how radiation has a half-life. It could be the same as "depreciation" - the longer you have a vehicle, the more it depreciates (lowers in value). The longer you listen to and know a song, the more it gets boring or predictable, depreciates, half-lives, etc. I'll listen to each song once before re-reviewing them below.

1. Our House
Madness, 1982
This is the oldest, longest-listened to song for me. I hardly ever listen to it these days, if at all. What started in something like 2001 or 2 as heaven while riding home with my maternal aunt blossomed into a decade of very slow tapering off for my listening ear. When my mother downloaded the five-minute remix of the song for me around 2003, I virtually listened to it every half-hour. I know.

Hearing it today, it has its old charm, but I'm well-attuned to it. Still, the trumpet/sax chirps gave me a gentle smile, the piano still sounded warm, and the strings flowed throughout. In my 2010 review on here of it, I'd described it as "clever." It still is, and those seven guys (and their producers) really nailed it hard, but (my 11-year-old self would gawk at this) the thirty-second version of it I hear in those Bell wireless TV commercials is good enough for me. It's still good - but my excitement is long, long gone.
Music: A
Lyrics: B+

2. Der Kommissar
After the Fire, 1982
This was a song I heard in bits and pieces via TV commercials and a one-hit wonder program. The guitar riff was always around, and then I heard the chorus and became hooked. That was 2010.

If you want to listen to it, I'd recommend the music video version. The actual length of the song is 5 and a half minutes - I almost gawked at it when I listened to it just before writing this. The introduction and post-chorus lead-in is multiplied so that it repeats twice with very minor instrumental changes or introductions (like keyboard melodies or riffs). Basically you get the same electric guitar riff over and over. Also, I find the singer sounds kind of funny - his voice just sounds overly excited with the gossipy-sounding tale he has of the girl he met. "They're rapping here and rapping there but she's climbing up the wall!!" Boy. The organ melody/riff during the final choruses brings back some synesthetic memories and people, and the little keyboard solo in the same final half of the song is still great, but otherwise it's an overlong musical with a singer who sounds darkly excited and silly.
Music: C+
Lyrics: B
I never wrote a review of it on here - I can't find one anywhere - and all I can say is that it was only ever good for its choruses. I'll take Falco's much shorter original easily. Wha-oh!

3. E=MC2
Big Audio Dynamite, 1985
Like 'Der Kommissar,' watch the music video version. The proper song is four seconds shy of six minutes.

I don't think I ever did a review of that on here either, but it was another song for the spring of 2010. I originally first heard it on one of those Galaxy music channels, which my mother often listened to. I liked it for its keyboard sound, which gave me the impression of cellos and other low string instruments, which itself led to me thinking about academics and the snobby. Combined together, how smart we have proven to be as a species. I realize that's an extremely optimistic point of view - but that was the cumulative, overall thought that helped my interest in the song four years ago. The title and apparent lecturing of 'relativity,' etc. in the chorus also helped.

In reality the song is an interminable list of call-out references to some old movies the songwriters liked. The Wikipedia articles lists a few of them, all of which I've never heard of. The song goes on like this forever - Mick Jones makes a reference to a character or his/her circumstances, and in each verse makes at least three or four references to different characters/circumstances whether they're connected or not. Maybe the song is his way of celebrating what he likes to watch in a fun way via obscure references. The music plays the same way the entire time, with a few breaks, and only three different variations of guitar riff. The drums sound generated. There isn't any musical direction or change, and Mick Jones spiels out reference after reference in quick mention-call style. Eh.
Music: D+
Lyrics: C
The funny thing is how interested and constant I was with the song only four years ago. Inspired by its video (which just cuts from movie scene to movie scene) I did my own 'clip video' using the song, substituting almost every video clip I had from over the years from my camcorders/cameras and using voice recordings of my own over the film voiceovers in the song. If I reviewed it here originally, I probably would have given it something like a B+ on both lyrics and music. But that was then.

4. Ah! Leah!
Donnie Iris, 1980
When I first heard this song, it was briefly while at that SFY thing I participated in four years ago (wasn't that a time). I just heard the chorus, and it stuck in my mind while never thinking to listen and hear the artist/song name. Then, months later, by coincidence, it appeared on that Galaxy TV thing my mother was watching, and I had it figured out. It gave me almost the same excitement as 'Our House' did - I was listening to it several times over three hours the first night I found it on YouTube.

I got an old-fashioned feel-good reaction when I listened to it again. It isn't long an interminable, it isn't the same progression played from beginning to end, it's a good ol' rock-oriented song that sounds refreshing. The high-end vocals in the chorus sound almost heavenly like they used to, like they're announcing a presence that's to be bowed down to.

My original review on it here (May 2nd, the day I finally heard it fully) states "It's really an amazing song, chorus-wise, but also verse-wise, even if it tends to be all about happy memories or thoughts of sexual encounters with someone who is absolutely amazing in bed, which most songs seem to be about. This one gives a bright, positive feeling to it though, which helps it be so great." While I wouldn't listen to it every day now, it still gives me a slight smile. It's those backing vocals, the chorus. That feeling of happiness and adoration when you see the one you love when you get in the door - that's how I interpret the intonation of the voices in the chorus. Just nice. In 2011 I gave the whole song an A+. Today, it gets a B+. Not bad.

5. Freeze Frame
J. Geils Band, 1981
The song with the very identifiable organ introduction. Hearing it again, it doesn't really give me much of a rise. It just sounds like it always did. The brass is kind of good, and the song sounds catchy, but it doesn't get any better than it did when I first heard it properly, which was out of curiosity. I could play the entire song minus brass on each instrument to a relatively okay degree - I wouldn't be perfect on the guitar but the chords are simple and expected. I downloaded a .mogg file of it fairly recently and listened to each instrument; for the first time I realized that the bassist does a sort of punchy-sounding slap pick riff between the C and A# parts. I can hear it within the rest of the song now, but it was something I never picked up on originally because each slap is so isolated from the others, and quick. In my original review I noted how most of the lyrics related to photography terms or phrasing but didn't particularly praise it; I just said it was 'engaging.' I'd given it a B & a B+ for its music and lyrics. I'd give it a B & B- now because it just sounds routine and not particularly refreshing for the over-used progression it uses.

6. Message to my Girl
Split Enz, 1983
This is the only one so far that gets better with age than worse. Listening to it again, I enjoyed all of it - the music, the lyrics, the tone, atmosphere, everything. The lyrics are sweet, even the music video is pretty neat. There's an essence and what sounds like a sighing sound throughout that's just appealing.

I first reviewed the song in 2011. I put a lot of interest into the music video (as that's where I first heard it). I didn't really include a lot of synesthetic scenes in my reviews back then, it seems - like, for instance, how the bass sometimes makes me think of one walking in high spirits along a street in New York City. The bass line changes and works its way around its procession instead of playing the same notes over and over, which keep it interesting and unpredictable. The whole song starts in and relies on C#, and probably its major scale as well. I gave it an A- back then. I'll give it an all-around A this time around. It's great.

7. Around the Bend
Asteroids Galaxy Tour, 2007
This would be the only song out of all the ones here that comes from the last decade. I liked it when I originally listened to it for its horns and guitar riffs. The girl singing it was all right. I wrote about it in 2011 and described the guitar as sounding like someone in the background originally being cynical about everything, but ending up pleasantly surprised and cheering.

These days I wouldn't listen to it with a high volume thanks to the woman's high-pitched voice, but it's all right. It still sounds pretty good, and brings back certain synesthetic memories or thoughts that the music gave me. Otherwise the vocals sometimes sound a bit childish and the music repeats the same progression the entire time. It's not a big deal to me anymore - but still lightly catchy. The music was originally an A-, the lyrics a B+. Today - A-, B+. Nothing really changes.

8. Misunderstanding
Genesis, 1980
We're coming into recent times now - I really got into this in late 2012, early 2013. I loved the progression and sound, and in particular, the 'whoo' vocal response at the end of each verse during the chorus. It became, at some point, a small outlet for my frustration at failed relationships with girls (mostly on my part but also on the parts of some of those girls, particularly on the long-distance one, plus two others). The big thing for me then was the piano moving to a reactionary F minor chord (from G minor). I say reactionary because that chord is hit as a reaction both musically as well as to the lyrics. It sounds surprised and dismayed.

I listened to it earlier today and yesterday. It made me smile all over again. It's another song that continues to stay as good as it was awhile ago. I'd give it the same grade as I did in my original review which went in-depth with the F minor chord on the piano. I noted that the song, from the vocals to even little things like open hi-hats, really exudes hardship and emotional turmoil. Then and now: A-/B+ (Music/lyrics).

9. Rasputin
Boney M., 1978
I really enjoyed this song throughout the spring and summer of 2013. The entire thing is in B. Literally. From bass to strings. I thought it was ridiculous at first, and funny, and then I grew to just enjoy it for what it was.

It was fun to listen to again, but not something I would put on every day, or even once a week. It's a bouncy story that's sensationalized like crazy and sounds very European. Not that that's bad, it's just a specific sound that I've grown used to. It doesn't really depreciate in my mind, but it also doesn't raise in value; it just sounds generally good, brings back some synesthetic memories and faces (thanks to the preponderance of Bs being hit) but it otherwise doesn't stir any greatness in me.

10. I Love L.A.
Randy Newman, 1983
This is the most recent song I've gotten into, in spring this year, so I'm just at the point where I'm hardly listening to it anymore. When I first heard it, and wrote my first review, I was enamoured of the keyboard introduction - not the mellow, quiet piano intro where he's complaining about New York and Chicago, but the jaunty, bright keyboard synth thing that follows right after. I liked the way the song was set up.

Now I'm just simply bored of it. That's how I start tapering off its rotation with my ears. It gets boring. It sounds overly American in some kind of way. Look at that tree! That mountain! Have backing singers ooh and aahh in certain parts to build up a climax, make it all shiny and finely-produced. I still like Newman's piano progressions throughout the song, but it sounds kind of decadent otherwise. The music video took that over the top with the shots of chrome grills and bikinis. I think it was written as a comment on both ends of the spectrum - the amazing scenery and backdrop of L.A. behind that bum "on his knees." Anyway, originally I graded the song as A for the music and B+ for the lyrics. By now, I'd give it a B+ for music and a B for lyrics. It's pretty good - just a little too decadent and polished. But I still like the "big nasty redhead at my side" line quite a bit. I can really relate to his taste. I read a quote by him that goes "The open car and the redhead, the Beach Boys... that sounds really good to me."

Sounds good to me too. Anyway, up to now, that's my updated, second review on ten of the larger songs I've listened to (larger meaning higher/longer rotation of listening to) over the past four-five years. Maybe I'll come back in a few years and do it again for ten new songs I end up getting into in the future, or maybe doing ten all over again. We'll see. At least not all of them depreciated - 'Misunderstanding' and 'Message to my Girl' survived the test of time here. For now.

Red Cloud

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Great Bridge

Last month, that Strandherd-Armstrong bridge opened up to the public, months ahead schedule. It was greatly anticipated, and when I read the article about it in the local paper, it described the opening as a beautiful thing as families walked across it, the first cars drove across, and a councillor also went from one side to the other. Like it was a bridge to a whole new world of possibilities. Like two cities, having feuded for centuries, finally had a harmonious connection. It was a monument for the future, for generations to come. I'm pretty sure words along those lines were blithely put forward by the couple of city councillors, and mayor no doubt, upon completion of the bridge.

So, a week or so after, with it on my mind, I put my GoPro on the front hood of my car (via a suction cup mount), drove down Strandherd, and crossed the amazing bridge to meet these new possibilities - all in HD.
In approximately six seconds, I met them.

On the other side, there was an Independent, a bank, and a small host of other retail places in the strip mall around it. Otherwise, houses fairly new, and houses just finished construction made up the rest of the landscape, houses that were identical to the ones in Barrhaven, mostly. What a new world.

In the following weeks, I tried using the bridge over the Huntclub one to get to or from South Keys. Earl Armstrong to Limebank Road; Leitrim to Bank Street. Being dusk both times I went, I hadn't recently seen such a lonely, forlorn route. The roads are all small country two-lanes, with some forest, and at one point you pass the southern boundary of the airport, which gives one a slight alien feeling as you pass all the low-rise light towers, atop which sit glaring alien-like red lights. I'm sure it's a good place for photographers to gather to capture images of low-descending airplanes as they come in for the runway.

Coming to the bridge from the Riverside South direction, you don't actually see the road. The bridge has a downhill angle as the east bank is higher than the west bank (which is also true for the Huntclub bridge) and because the bridge is so short, the downhill angle is enough to make it look like you're not even crossing a river at all.

This bridge, I read (in the paper and later on Wikipedia) was first conceived in 1993. Twenty-one years ago. Then it just beat around the bush in the far corners of municipal government bureaucracy for years until the eastward development of Barrhaven really started fuelling congestion in between the Manotick and Huntclub bridges over the last ten years. When they finally started going forward with plans, it went through a year of consultations and environmental impact statements like usual before finally going forward - before the contractor then went bankrupt and delayed the bridge's construction for another two years. The fact it was finished months before its September opening was a huge miracle, apparently.

This really just goes to show how stupid silly little things can go. It's a tiny bridge. I counted the seconds - it really takes six seconds to cross it at the speed limit. It's 143 metres long. Gee. They narrowed the river over where it crosses. It should have been a no-brainer. Instead it was brought up and talked about and planned and bankrupted a contractor and sensationalized and ultimately glorified until everyone was throwing confetti just to spend six seconds driving to Riverside South or Barrhaven. Where was the fireworks?  I didn't read about those. There's nothing fancy about it other than the eye-catching trusses they built into a nifty pattern. I think those trusses are what made everyone focus on it, while meanwhile Jockvale Road just got its bridge replaced and doubled with virtually no notice or comment or "oh my god!" I wonder what the reception was like when the Huntclub bridge came along in the late 80s. It's much longer by comparison and while it might not have a fancy arch design or special bus lanes (that's another thing - Strandherd has cycle and bus lanes!) it's roomy and accommodating.

I personally think that this bridge, while it does have its definite merits (a co-worker who lives in Riverside South had his commute cut down by forty minutes) was howled about and sensationalized and written about and delayed quite literally to the stupid point for such a little bridge. Compared to any bridge crossing the much wider Ottawa River, or bridges like the Heron Road one which is divided into two and crosses two water channels and a road, or the Huntclub bridge, this should have been a piece of cake. Six seconds. Boy, oh boy. The most ironic thing about it is when I tried the old way, via Huntclub; that route actually felt, amazingly, shorter than the winding country/airport route. I live in Barrhaven. I'm further south than South Keys. Yet the old way felt shorter.

It's a great thing for people living in Riverside South, but otherwise, everyone - the municipal government, city councillors, media, Prime Minister, whatever - stop taking such trivial things to the stupid level. The Jockville bridge replacement added a second bridge for the northbound lanes. Heard about it maybe once or twice. I bet that one was easy. It was the fancy arching truss design overtop that had everyone focusing on it. That future look. That and the fact it connected Riverside South directly with Barrhaven.

Red Cloud

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Evening with Red Cloud

Two weeks ago, I put my musical skills out there, and played in a jam at the Clocktower Brew Pub on Bank Street.

It might be unusual that I never really mentioned this nor did I ever say a word about it until now, two weeks later, but eh, I've just been putting it off. I had to write about C#. I've been procrastinating quite a bit.

Growing up, my father and his brothers/sister naturally had neighbourhood friends. Quite a few of them are still around, and have since become something like surrogate uncles to me, ever since I was very little. One day in his apartment on Frank Street, my dad came up with the name "Red Cloud" and the nickname permeated the consciousness of every member of that social group around my paternal relatives. That's who I was to them. It was affectionate.

Then of course, one of the closer people, James, went out to stupid Calgary. He's the kind of rare person that I can talk to instantly with ease, and about anything, on an equal level. Once a year he drives across the country to Ottawa, and this year, he included me on the big get-together/jam session he arranges upon his arrival.

It wasn't really a concert or anything as much as it was a place for a lot of old friends and relatives to meet up and hang out, with the music and jamming a common interest and focus the majority of them, including myself, my uncle, and my father, lean towards. Turns out the Clocktower pub has a basement bar. After almost one hundred e-mails were exchanged between James, myself, and a host of other people, "An Evening with Red Cloud" was born.

Admittedly, it was me who suggested it - but it was a suggestion buried within about twenty other names I'd written down, including "Celtic Slavics," "Staged Artists," "The Band with Miche in it" (Miche has actually toured in the past) and many others. It was mostly a joke, but it was decided over "Blueberry Douche." As a result I was apparently the MC (though the only MCing I did at all that night was at the very end, when I thanked everyone for coming).

I provided the majority of instruments - my entire drum set, my keyboard + stand, my guitar and my bass, plus an amp which, it turned out, was actually owned by one of the other musicians, who took it home with him.
Nothing is too much for the Chipmunk.
Unfortunately there aren't any images of me as I was the only photographer with a good camera; my father is behind the drums.

A P.A. system was also set up, and line-outs, so it was almost like a concert except the majority of it was people just playing around. On bass, I contributed my generic ska song thing - the D A C C thing - and James and Miche took their guitars and somehow re-created the predictable, simplistic tune I had into something else completely refreshing and catchy in a new way. By contrast I was playing the simple bass line. Wow.

James brought an African piano teacher with him from Calgary, who was moving back to Montreal in the process, and he played some awesome stuff on my keyboard, stuff it won't likely see again played on its keys (definitely not by me!). Later, an obviously accomplished guitar player, also African, joined in. Using his fingers for everything, he was pretty awesome. Most of the time I played the drums, particularly filling in for one of the couple of real bands that played at their request. At one point I took over from the child banging on them while the professionals played (because I had a good rhythm idea) and as I played they both glanced over a few times with encouraging, pleasing smiles. It was a pretty neat experience altogether to play along with really good, competent musicians, and contribute alongside them to a harmonious sound or beat.

The only thing the night lacked was some good images; the room was so dark I couldn't take any image unless I used a stable surface and took a long exposure, or used flash, which I didn't want to use (my mother, who attended, could have picked it up and taken some images with it otherwise). It was an unusual, rare instance where both my parents were both watching me at the same time (the only other instance being last year's photography exhibition). Even my 8th grade homeroom teacher from Sir Winston, Riaz Mohommed, came along and enjoyed the whole thing despite knowing no one but me and my mother. He's another rare person I can instantly talk to about anything, with ease of conversation, on an equal level. Both my parents were happy and encouraging and obviously proud - which is, like I said, rare to see at the same time for the same thing, together.

I hope to do something like that again in the future. While I do like the idea of getting to a point where I'm my own one-man band save for singer, it really is fun, comfortable, and rewarding playing with others. I felt perfectly comfortable behind the drums, and almost just as so on the bass. Which is unusual, because I tend to think of myself as a natural bass player - and only adequate on the drums.

Anyway, 'An Evening with Red Cloud' was definitely a success, musically, technically, and in bringing people together and creating great things like memories and music.

Red Cloud