Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why People Have Missed the Mark on Taylor Swift and the Grammys (and Just Who Should Be Blamed)

So, here's what I think about this whole Taylor Swift at the Grammys thing:

I mean, it goes without saying that her vocals were less than stellar. I'd like to put up a video of the performance, but her record label, Big Machine Records, has taken down all copies of the performance from YouTube, citing their ownership. I found this one last video (after the jump), and it'll probably be gone soon. Sad. But only kind of.  You can't even find the performance on the CBS website. So, if you didn't see it, you missed it. Take it from me, it sucked. She was off key. Stevie Nicks could barely mask her contempt. But that wasn't the worst thing. Oh no. The worst part of Taylor Swift's trainwreck of a performance was Butch Walker. Yes, Butch Walker. That Butch Walker. The Butch Walker that wrote songs for Dashboard Confessional, American Hi-Fi, Hot Hot Heat, and SR-71. The Butch Walker that produced albums by the aforementioned Yorn, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, and Weezer. That Butch Walker was the featured banjo player with Taylor Swift and he didn't sink the ship, but he was the man who made the hole bigger.

Walker might be a passable banjo player, I don't know. My knowledge of banjo playing extends as far as Steve Martin's ridiculous banjo solo on Comedy Is Not Pretty. That's about it. But what I do know, is if Steve Martin (himself a Grammy recipient...for AN ALBUM OF BANJO MUSIC!) played with Swift the world would have been a better place. No, Walker's problems arose not as a result of his banjo playing, but as a result of his banjo performance. The problem with her entire band, as exemplified by Walker, was they played with too much damn conviction. Nobody cares THAT much about "You Belong With Me." I don't care how much traction amongst country fans you got with your cover of it. There is no excuse for any of the musicians to look like they care as much as these guys do. No excuse at all. So, why do they all look like they're playing at Live Aid?

In the end, Taylor Swift has about as much artistic integrity as Lady Gaga's sunglasses, which is to say, a small portion of the population care, but they don't care enough to look like they're part of the most important rock ensemble of all time. Stop pretending you care! Butch, you look stupid. Drummer, you too. Violinists, what the hell are you doing there? Academy of Recording Arts and whatever the hell your entire organization is called, why are you celebrating this song for being catchy? You can celebrate "What's My Age Again?" Since when did catchy give rise to celebration and false conviction on the part of the performer. Is it that good? No. So why are you pretending it is?

I think this is actually pretty exemplary of why Swift's music is as disposable as it is. It's fluffy, tactless, and  juvenile, but get's away with it because it pretends really enthusiastically. The enthusiasm masks the  infantilism of the lyrics, heavy handedness of the music and unoriginality of the pretense that is Taylor Swift. Do I think she's perky and cute and catchy? Sure. Do I think she should be paraded about as some sort of child prodigy that is the embodiment of originality, musicality, and all that good and right with the American Dream? Hardly. I'll take piano ingĂ©nues Alicia Keys and Fiona Apple over this piece of manufactured Nashville mediocrity.  (music after the jump)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Song of the Day: "Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys

So, I'm thinking about starting this new thing. It might make me write here more often, hopefully everyday. Just going to toss a song I like or have been listening to a lot up with a bit of discussion what makes said song so great, or why I've been listening to it a lot, even if it isn't so great. Hey, sometimes we all listen to songs that aren't so great. Even me. 

So, recently I've become fascinated by The Beach Boys' album that only kind of was, their follow-up to Pet Sounds, Smile. The legend has it that Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown trying to make an album to top The Beatles' Revolver. Well, that's sort of true and sort of misleading. It is true that Wilson did care very deeply about topping Revolver and creating an album that could stand alongside it as a great album, but he was also in the throws of some heavy heavy psychadelic drug use and innerband turmoil. The truth was, a lot of the band members didn't particularly care for the music they were making on Smile. But the song now in question, while intended to appear in some form on Smile, was actually released as a stand along single in 1966.

The creation of "Good Vibrations" is a crazy story. Brian Wilson recorded 26 different takes of the song, which took up a reported 90 hours of magnetic tape, at four different studios. These different takes had wildly different instrumental parts. Wilson then, over the course of a few months, took the different takes and created layer upon layer of instrumental and vocal parts, using bits and pieces of each take from each instrument. It took nearly 9 months to finally complete and cost as much as 50,000 dollars. It was worth every penny.

It's such a strange song. It went to number one in the U.S. as well as the U.K., but it doesn't really sound like you'd expect a number one single to sound. The organ that begins the song is eerie, and this is underscored by the theremin that runs underneath the chorus. It is a chorus, by the way, that sounds like a train that's about to run off it's tracks. The cellos and guitars are chugging and sound as if they're about to spin out of control. It is a testament to all the players involved, but especially the rhythem section, they they were able to keep the whole thing under control as the time signature and tempos change several different times throughout the song. It is a masterful song that really captures how extraordinarily talented Wilson was, and also what a pity it was that he was never able to fully complete Smile in 1967 like he would have hoped. Who knows what kind of impact it could have had on the world of pop and rock music had it seen the late of day around the same time as Sgt. Peppers. Our conception of the Beach Boys would have been very different, that's for sure.  After the jump is a link to the "Good Vibrations" single/EP that is available at MySpace music. I'd definitely reccomend listening to the alternate versions of the song as well as the single. You really get a good idea of where the song came from and how it was made.  Great stuff.