Optiganally Yours is one of the few artists I'd never heard of on this thread
Who were the others, if I might ask? Not to put you on the spot, but I like to know my audience.
Everyone else, too: which of these artists are ones you already knew of or liked? Some of them I'd be truly surprised if anyone at all knew who they were, and some of them I'm surprised people HAVEN'T heard of. It's not my goal to show how many bands I can come up with that nobody knows about, my asking is just another fact of my cultural curiosity.
Post by Horned Gramma on Dec 14, 2010 9:57:17 GMT -8
Duplex! - Ablum
Today we are stepping over the line we nudged up against with our discussions of 'Happiness Island' and the Powerpuff Girls. It should be no secret by now that I kind of love children's music. I never grew out of cartoons and I never grew out of my Muppet Movie soundtrack or my Sesame Street records. Duplex! is kind of children's music; kind of. The ages of the eight members of the band range from 3 to 40, and on 'Ablum', all of them play instruments, contribute original songs and sing.
I noticed two interesting things while doing a little bit of fact checking about Duplex before starting this article. One is that apparently within the last year they released a follow-up to 'Ablum' without me knowing anything about it; I hate when things like that slip by me, but I can't wait to hear it. The other is that sometime after 'Ablum', any information regarding one of the most notable members of the band - A.C. Newman - was excised from the band's biography. It's weird, I'm certain he's on 'Ablum' - you can hear him - but now I'm second guessing myself about that.
No matter. 'Ablum' is one fucking goofy record. It opens with a track called 'Yr Mama' and closes with a track called 'Pooing and Peeing', and in between there's everything from homages to the Ramones ('Nucat') and Schoolhouse Rock covers ('Figure 8') to weird Biblical songs ('Heatin Up the Milk' and 'Bethlehem'). The input of half a dozen songwriters makes for a real grab bag, but the idea of a grab bag isn't so bad when you know that everything inside the bag is made out of candy.
Based out of Vancouver, B.C., Duplex! is the project of Canadian singer Veda Hille. That name doesn't mean anything to me outside of the context of Duplex!; maybe it has significance to you some of you Canadians. She calls Duplex! "Indie rock for small people - songs for kids and their adults." Any other TMBG faithfuls on this board know that it's possible to write songs for kids that are equally interesting to adults on repeated listens. Honestly, I think Duplex! manages it better than They Might Be Giants do, but Duplex!'s checks aren't being signed by the cryogenically frozen head of a Nazi so they have a little more freedom.
So yeah, there are songs written by a three-year-old. There's a couple songs written by a pair of fourteen year old girls. But these are mixed in with some really catchy, clever chunes that only sound like children's music because they are in context of the album. For example, 'Hanu' is just a song about a really happy, carefree guy:
"He's got the new philosophy, that's Hanu He achieves serenity, that's Hanu He lives a life of leisure, it's been said He only seeks the treasure of his bowl and his bed..."
It's all major chords and handclaps. This is the kind of song that can make the sun come out. This guy Hanu has got his shit figured out, to the extent that my wife and I are probably going to name one of our sons 'Hanu'. That's not weird, though, ok? Because a name is a powerful thing; in my experience, a personality will grow into the name it's given.
Other highlights include the Tom Waitsian tango of 'Mr. Slim', a skankin' science lesson about DNA and 'Freaky Rhesus', a song about a monkey that rhymes 'rhesus' with 'treeses'. It's so unabashedly dorky that you just can't care. I guess that is what might make you consider these songs to be children's songs - what they capture is a lack of self-consciousness or shame, which is something we lose once we hit puberty. A kid will sing a song about anything, and a lot of times a kid will have a completely unique, uninformed sense of melody. If humans were born with an innate ability to play the guitar, probably some of our best and most unique songwriters would be small children - free from influences or taste or style.
If you're not ashamed to listen to She & Him or the cutesiness of Sufjan's state records doesn't turn you off, then you're not too cool to listen to Duplex. I won't lie to you, maybe two or three of these songs are annoying as hell (it sounds like those fourteen year old girls drank one too many cans of Pepsi), but the majority are wonderful, lighthearted little chunes.
I'm coming up with nothing in terms of Youtubes or anything else for a sample track, which is particularly annoying in this case because I know to a certain extent that I can't really 'sell' this one and that to believe me you'd have to hear it for yourself. I did find a media player over at Veda Hille's site which will probably play a couple chunes for you; which ones, I don't know, but check it out.
Post by Friendly Destroyer on Dec 14, 2010 11:51:15 GMT -8
I like how you pointed out the fact that it is "actual human beings" twisting the knobs and making the sounds. Initially I heard this album on my shitty computer speakers, eventually I heard it through a friend's stereo system and was pretty blown away. Seriously, some of the best music is the stuff that seems normal or chaotic on its surfaces until the stars in your brain align and your jaw hits the mat.
Post by Friendly Destroyer on Dec 14, 2010 11:55:54 GMT -8
The books were like this for me too. I thought it was more or less just cut and paste stuff, and also dismissed their talent. Until the same friend (who this guy is often my personal tour guide into the depths of albums, many many wonderful memories) told me they play most of the instruments (is he right?). I don't care cause it framed things differently and it all clicked together in a hurray to now see that everything was masterly orchestrated. Not just in the instrumentation, but the pacing and spaces are genius.
Post by Horned Gramma on Dec 14, 2010 12:05:46 GMT -8
Yeah dude, those guys are real musicians. Fucking incredible musicians, actually. I kind of knew this, but I saw them perform for the first time about a week and a half ago and I was completely blown away. For the current tour they added a third musician, a multi-instrumentalist who performed a lot of the more percussive elements with some kind of keyboard and who was able to play those manic arpeggios from 'Tokyo' flawlessly. And few times in my life have I been as impressed by a live musician as I was by Paul De Jong on cello. They did 'Be Good to Them Always'; he played that clicking, sawing cello part like it was nothing. Fucking incredible, no lie.
Post by Horned Gramma on Dec 15, 2010 10:09:15 GMT -8
Crash Test Dummies - A Worm's Life
Like we did with Chumbawamba, I'm gonna ask that everyone put their preconceived notions about Crash Test Dummies in the back seat for a minute.
Crash Test Dummies is one of those bands that determinedly redefined their sound with each successive release through the 90's. What else can you do when you are Brad Roberts, and every time you open your mouth the sound of rolling thunder issues forth from your gullet? Without the benefit of constant stylistic overhauls - and unfortunately for CTD, even WITH that benefit - you get pigeonholed and you are on your way to One Hit Wonder status, and that's where you stay.
Crash Test Dummies' Celtic-tinged debut, 'The Ghosts That Haunt Me', contained lots of beautiful if not terribly exciting music and yielded the Canadian hit 'Superman's Song'. It's not a great record, but 'Superman's Song' is one of the greatest songs about the Man of Steel ever written. Their follow-up, 'God Shuffled His Feet', is an end-to-end fantastic record of pastoral rock songs in the vein of XTC's 'Skylarking'. Of course 'God Shuffled His Feet' contains the US hit 'Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm', which, being the only CTD song most people have ever heard, understandably would give the impression that Crash Test Dummies write novelty songs, and not terribly exciting novelty songs at that. The plodding lugubriousness of 'Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm' actually covers some mildly subversive lyrics and actually I really love it, but it probably didn't make many life-long fans.
'A Worm's Life' is totally different. 'A Worm's Life' is Crash Test Dummies' alternative rock album. It is still very heavily influenced by XTC, especially lyrically, but it is much more in the style of late 90's FM radio. It suits them surprisingly well. More than on any other of their releases, Brad Roberts here sounds comfortable with his peculiar voice rather than seeming burdened by it.
This is a weird, definitely kind of creepy album. It opens with the wryly cynical 'Overachievers'. A sprightly 4/4 and a chugging guitar that sounds like a car that won't turn over are the foundation for the story of three cursedly driven people, including an aspiring astronaut who finally achieves his dream of being launched into orbit where he promptly vomits inside his helmet and a religious woman who "Prayed that her suitors be/Repelled so she might serve God and be his Only." So God obliges and the woman grows a full beard.
And then there's the song they selected as the radio single, the absolutely perverse two-step of 'He Liked to Feel It'. It is explicity the story of a little boy who loves the sensation of pulling his own teeth. Wiggling his tooth loose, tying it to the doorknob and slamming it loses its thrill, so he moves on to more exciting methods like tying his tooth to his dog's tail before starting a game of fetch. The music video for this song was even more graphic than the lyrical content and only a heavily censored version of it ever made it down to the US from Canada.
The rest of the album continues along the same lines, mingling the twin fears of mortality and failure. Brad Roberts, as a lyricist, has a real sarcastic streak and a great gift for extended metaphor. And only he, with his Donkey Kong bellow, could sing these songs and tease the intended meaning from those lyrics. Much like God's bearded woman, Roberts' musical gift is a gnarled monkey's paw: his sense of melody and even his traditionally beautiful baritone constantly undermined any success his band might have had.
When I was in eigth and ninth grade, for me it was the Beatles, Harry Connick Jr. and Crash Test Dummies. There is more shared spiritual DNA there than might seem apparent. And although in the intervening 15 or so years my tastes have matured and expanded my opinion of Crash Test Dummies remains unchanged. Theirs is a singular world view, and I borrow more than a little bit of my sense of humor from the ironic defeatism of songs like 'I'm Outlived By That Thing?', which points out that everything from paperweights to vicious lies have a longer shelf life than I do.
I enjoy some bands - Spacehog, some Our Lady Peace, Better Than Ezra - because of a sense of nostalgia and a pretty normal longing for simpler times. I enjoy Crash Test Dummies entirely on their own merit, and even though it reminds me of tromping around high school in a trench coat and a porkpie hat like I was on my way to Madison Avenue I still come back to their records often.
It may be different for Canadians, as they are a Canadian band, maybe they mean something different to you guys. In the states, it is generally the case that 'Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm' constitutes a person's entire opinion of the band. Choke down the backlash and reappraise.
Post by Friendly Destroyer on Dec 15, 2010 11:07:35 GMT -8
There was a strange duality to canadian pop music in the 90's. In Canada there are Canadian Content laws that require radio to play a specific percentage of canadian music. In the 90's that percentage increased to 35%. Most of the percentage could be filled by canadian artists that made it mega-big with U.S companies (Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Alanis Morrissette...). Making it big and staying in Canada was not so easy. To many radio stations it was also not good business as most were not that popular. Instead they continued to hope for canadian talent to rise to the masses through the U.S market and then kill two birds with one stone by satisfying audiences with a hit and "the Man" with canadian content. But the increase to 35% could not be satisfied no matter how many times "Everything I Do, I Do it for You" was played in an hour, big problem. Another big problem was that no one was really itching to throw their monies into making radio friendly canadian music. Canada never had a real hit generator because super mainstream artists would always move to the U.S and matching studio money with advertising was hopeless with so much U.S media mixed into magazines, tv, and radio. So the majority of bands that were recording and making music in Canada were very ambitious people who were excellent at music and did it largely for the love. This was the stuff pressed to wax, this was the stuff that could be used. Soon enough top 40 count downs on radio and Much Music were littered with Moxy Fruvous, The Odds, Barenaked Ladies, 54-40, Age of Electric, The Tea Party, Crash Test Dummies (Pre GSHF), ect. Ambitious and slightly off-kilter bands began showing up in the top 10 out of lack of a major pop hit machine with canadian artists.
Now back to the strange duality. Most canadians are not even aware of Canadian Content Laws. So when you start to see "Enid" next to Montell Jordan or "Stuck in the 90's" following Mariah Carey you become brainwashed into thinking it's all the same stuff. Couple that with the idea that they were playing them all in heavy rotation in order to meet the Can-Con laws. The fact that most of these artists were making mind bending sounds and lyrically insane chunes became unnoticed. An outsider might have thought, "wow look at those canadians, they have decent taste in music, I mean look who they have showing up on the pop charts." Unfortunately it was not the case. These amazing bands became lumped into the same category as "Cotton Eyed Joe", Boys II Men, Sheryl Crowe and every other mainstream musician. They were on at frat parties, hockey games and high schools because it was (perceived as) popular, not because the majority of canadian music listeners had REALLY good taste. So the duality became that, incredibly talented and weird musicians made the top ten, but were not actually appreciated because of their talents and creativity. Their musical merit was out-shined by their forced proximity to Blackstreet and Puff Daddy.
Post by Horned Gramma on Dec 15, 2010 11:17:02 GMT -8
Fascinating; that really is fascinating. And articulated very well. Do I understand correctly that if a Canadian band achieved success in the states and relocated, the material released after the move no longer satisfied any perecentage of the content laws? I had never heard of this before, although it does answer a lot of questions I've always had about why and how some pretty weird shit got big in Canada.
The upside, I guess, is that you guys got Fruvous on the radio. Incidentally, 'Bargainville' was on my roster for the week but I may push it back now.
Post by Friendly Destroyer on Dec 15, 2010 11:27:51 GMT -8
As long as the artist is Canadian (or producer), they count as canadian content. It may seem like there was enough big canadian talent in the US to cover the 30-35%, but needing to meet that requirement each and every day would have been hard. Another thing to remember was that perhaps mainstream stations could count on the Bryan Adamses, but you also had rock and alternative stations who needed to fill the same quota. The, in many ways, easier rise for canadian artists on the "rock" and "alternative" stations also contributed to the cross over factor on canadian top 40 stations.
This is copy/paste from wikipedia, but it's still pretty interesting( fuckin' Bryan Adams):
How the MAPL system works
To qualify as Canadian content a musical selection must generally fulfil at least two of the following conditions:
* M (music) — the music is composed entirely by a Canadian. * A (artist) — the music is, or the lyrics are, performed principally by a Canadian. * P (production) — the musical selection consists of a performance that is: o recorded wholly in Canada, or o performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada. * L (lyrics) — the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian.
There are four special cases where a musical selection may qualify as Canadian content:
* The musical selection was recorded before January 1972 and meets one, rather than two, of the above conditions. * It is an instrumental performance of a musical composition written or composed by a Canadian. * It is a performance of a musical composition that a Canadian has composed for instruments only. * The musical selection was performed live or recorded after September 1, 1991, and, in addition to meeting the criterion for either artist or production, a Canadian who has collaborated with a non-Canadian receives at least half of the credit for both music and lyrics.
This last criterion was added in 1991, to accommodate Bryan Adams' album Waking Up the Neighbours. Adams had collaborated with British record producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, and as a result, neither the album nor the worldwide smash hit single "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" qualified as Canadian content under the existing rules. After extensive controversy in the summer of that year, the CRTC changed the rules to allow for such collaborations. Other Canadian artists with long-time international careers, like Anne Murray, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne and Shania Twain, have used recording studios in Canada specifically to maintain Cancon status. 
Post by Friendly Destroyer on Dec 15, 2010 11:36:35 GMT -8
To fully answer your question it can actually get pretty complicated. What counts as canadian content is based on a point system. I can't remember the scale, but basically the artist and producer were a full point. From there the points confusingly splintered as they were divvied up amongst "contributing musicians", sound engineers, and maybe even the studio custodian (maybe). So the loop holes were abundant in many ways.