SONG OF THE DAY: August 13th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Regina Spektor, “Us”

Regina Spektor has recently taken on added significance in light of the release of her second album, Far, and prominent positioning on the critically acclaimed soundtrack to the latest indie darling, Rhombus-approved (500) Days of Summer. This Russian songstress was greeted with open arms by critics on her debut album, embodying a substantive alternative to the female pop of the day (Britney, etc.) I won’t say Regina Spektor is the world’s greatest artist; She’s not. But she does create perfectly adequate pop music for the thinking set — and sometimes that is just good enough.

Listen to: Regina Spektor, “Us”

SONG OF THE DAY: August 12th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Animal Collective, “Who Could Win A Rabbit?”

Rhombus loves Animal Collective. You should love Animal Collective too. These Brooklyn psych-folkers have made one of the three best (if not the best) albums of 2009 in Merriweather Post Pavilion. However, Animal Collective has been making great music for much longer than that, beginning with 2004′s Sung Tongs. “Who Could Win A Rabbit?” comes from that masterwork; it was the album that heralded the band’s arrival as a legitimate force on the music scene. Since that time, Animal Collective has been responsible for creating some of the decade’s most original, groundbreaking music — and you should probably be listening to it.

Listen to: Animal Collective, “Who Could Win A Rabbit?”

SONG OF THE DAY: August 10th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

The Avett Brothers, “I and Love and You”

You may be skeptical at first, but you just need to embrace the country harmonies of the Avett Brothers. Okay, so only two of the three “brothers” are actually Avetts, but the way these boys’ voices blend, you wouldn’t know the difference. (Definitely better than the Brothers Jonas, that is for sure.) The Avett Brothers basically play country music for the indie set without crossing into the alt-country sphere of Ryan Adams, Wilco, etc. In reality, they play Americana, the current indie genre du jour. With contemporary “folk” artists taking on an increasingly more expansive sound, this larger folk-mixed-with-a bit-of-country sound has fallen under “Americana” out of convenience. Regardless of what you label it, the Avett Brothers do “it” well. Just listen to “I and Love and You,” the title track off their forthcoming Rick Rubin-produced major label debut. From the gorgeous piano accompaniment to the tasteful strings to the aforementioned harmonies, the track is luscious and listenable in every way. Give it a try: I guarantee you’ll be instantly pining for I and Love and You‘s September release. I know I am.

Listen to: The Avett Brothers, “I and Love and You”

SONG OF THE DAY: August 9th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Grizzly Bear, “Two Weeks”

Now that Covers Week has come to a close here at Rhombus, it’s back to the original stuff — and music doesn’t get a whole lot more original than Grizzly Bear. No one’s quite sure what genre these Brooklyn boys fit in, but whatever it is, it’s good. Blending folk rock with four-part harmonies, eclectic instrumentation and just a tinge of Radiohead-esque something-or-other (still can’t put my finger on it), Grizzly Bear is one of the best and most exciting acts in music. Following up their excellent 2006 debut album, Yellow House, with this year’s phenomenal Veckatimest, the band is positioned somewhere on every critic’s “Best Of” list, if not at the very top. “Two Weeks” is by far the most catchy and accessible of all the album’s tunes: it will steal your soul and refuse to give it back for weeks — in a good way. You’ll find this song and its escalating, wordless hook stuck in your head for days, and it’s a beautiful thing. This is what great music sounds like.

Listen to: Grizzly Bear, “Two Weeks”

SONG OF THE DAY: August 7th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

COVERS WEEK! Day 6

The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back”
Discovery, “I Want You Back”

This is not (I repeat: not) an attempt to add to the effusive list of tributes to the late Michael Jackson. He was a weird guy at the end of his life, he died, we’ve moved on. However, the song contained here hearkens back to a much earlier day when young Michael was poised to take over the world. Of all the sugary hits Michael and his brothers had in the 1970s, none is better than I want you back. It’s pop perfection, which is something I appreciate immensely. Michael flat out rocks it on this track, making it hard for me to believe he was, like, ten years old.

Discovery makes respectable R&B for the next generation. Heavily engulfed in electronics and swirling synth lines, their cover of this Jackson 5 classic is pretty awesome. I am no fan of AutoTune by any stretch, but it works for me here. Perhaps it is because the digitize vocals are surrounded by so many other machinate bleeps and blips that they seem right at home. Regardless, Discovery gets their second Song of the Day honor for being the only band I’ve ever heard cover the Jacksons successfully. True, the instrumental droning does go on a little long at the end, but hey, that can be forgiven. After all, it’s a Michael Jackson song. Everyone seems to be in a forgiving mood with him recently. Why not extend the courtesy?

Listen to: The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back”

Listen to: Discovery, “I Want You Back”

SONG(S) OF THE DAY(S): August 5th and 6th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

COVERS WEEK! Days 4 and 5

Radiohead, “High & Dry”
Bilal, “High & Dry”

(My apologies for yesterday’s absence. My mind and my pen were elsewhere. Anyone who’s ever written a 20-page paper on American regional free trade agreements will understand. I have included two covers today as an attempt at reconciliation.)

Radiohead is one of our generation’s great bands. Completely under appreciated (or even unknown) by many, these British lads have grown immensely with each successive album, transforming themselves from the standard Britrock of their early Pablo Honey days (a sound which Coldplay subsequently aped for millions of dollars) to the boundary-pushing experimentation of their more recent work. “High & Dry” comes from Radiohead’s excellent second studio album, The Bends, which represented a huge creative step forward for the band. Boasting vocalist Thom Yorke’s ungodly falsetto and gorgeous melody, the original recording is beautifully restrained compared to its fellow Bends tracks, which tend to rock a little harder.

However, regardless of how much I love Radiohead, Bilal’s cover of the track just about blows the doors off the original. Recorded for a 2006 tribute album, this jazzy cover features the American neo-soul singer turning the song into a bumping lounge jam. Matching weird, depressing British rock with smooth American soul is perhaps the strangest match-up in the world — but works oh so well.

Listen to: Radiohead, “High & Dry”

Listen to: Bilal, “High & Dry”

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Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”
Greg Laswell, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”

In honor of the death of 1980s teen movie master John Hughes earlier today, we’ll throw in this melancholic cover of Cyndi Lauper’s hit song of the same era. Although he was not involved with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in any way, the Sarah Jessica Parker flick embodies the type of movie Hughes perfected: the ’80s teen comedy. After writing and/or directing so many of the classic films of the decade, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, John Hughes and his lovable, very human characters will always live in the hearts and minds of an entire generation of moviegoers. I will confess that Ferris Bueller is one of my all-time favorite films and, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, I felt like a lost a little piece of my childhood when I learned of Hughes’ passing. Hopefully he is in a better place. His wit, humor and humanity will be missed.

Here’s Greg Laswell to play out a movie legend. Rest in peace.

Listen to: Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”

Listen to: Greg Laswell, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”

SONG OF THE DAY: August 4th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

COVER WEEK! Day 3

The Smiths, “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”
She & Him, “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”

The Smiths are enjoying a resurgence of sorts due to their prominent role in the excellent new film, (500) Days of Summer (Rhombus review forthcoming). In a nutshell, the movie’s romantic leads initially bond over a shared love of the British mopers, seemingly exposing an entirely new generation of young moviegoers to Morrissey and his melodic mastery of melancholy. (A sidenote: Any film that features a non-ironic fantastical dance sequence set to Hall & Oates‘ “You Make My Dreams” get eight billion thumbs up from me every single time. This is Reason 1A why you should buy your ticket to (500) Days of Summer immediately.)

This comma-averse ditty should already be familiar to many moviegoers, although most were almost certainly unaware of the Smiths connection: the music to “Please Please” was featured in the iconic scene at the Art Institute of Chicago from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Of course, the original track included here features Morrissey’s harrowing tenor: you can almost feel the depression dripping off every word. Accompanied primarily by a simple chord progression on an acoustic guitar for much of the song, “Please Please” is a study in the misery inherent in much of pop music, effectively raising the timeless question of John Cusack’s Rob Gordon in the film version of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity: “Do I listen to pop music because I’m miserable, or am I miserable because I listen to pop music?” (We shall probably never know — and perhaps things are best this way.)

She & Him‘s ramshackle cover of the track, featuring the always lovely Zooey Deschanel (co-star of (500) Day of Summer) doesn’t stray too far from the original, except to add some trademark M. Ward electric guitar noodling. The cover is a little rough around the edges, which almost makes the track feel like it was cut in a single take (although I have no evidence to corroborate such a notion.) Regardless, She & Him do an admirable job covering all of Morrissey’s bases: Deschanel’s sultry croon adds an unexpected dimension to Moz’s original performance that is, unsurprisingly, uniquely feminine, and Ward’s ragged guitar work on the song’s infamous interlude is less polished but seems more heartfelt than that of the Smith’s maiden voyage. Altogether, a sufficient effort from one of indie’s most likable acts.

Which do you prefer: Morrissey’s original mope or Zooey and M. Ward’s scruffy re-do? As always, we’d love to hear from you in the space below.

Listen to: The Smiths, “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”

Listen to: She & Him, “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”

And just to get you psyched, imagine the always exceptional Joseph Gordon-Levitt dancing to this classic Hall & Oates tune, complete with a color-coordinated mob of commuters, a marching band and an animated bird. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome:

Listen to: Hall & Oates, “You Make My Dreams”

SONG OF THE DAY: August 3rd

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

COVERS WEEK! Day 2

Oasis, “Wonderwall”
Ryan Adams, “Wonderwall”

Now that we’re solidly into Covers Week here at Rhombus, it’s time to break out the heavy hitters. ’90s Britrock phenomenon Oasis charted high with “Wonderwall” off their excellent 1995 album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? The song became an international sensation that inspired singalongs the world over. However, the song’s author, Oasis lead guitarist Noel Gallagher, recently told Spin Magazine that he feels American alt-country hero Ryan Adams is “the only person who ever got [the] song right.”

Adams’ version of the song is as beautiful as it is melancholic. Accompanying himself on a supremely understated acoustic guitar, his vocals reverberate throughout the track and create a sense of genuine despair (as opposed to Oasis’ angst.) The listener gets the feeling that Adams truly believes the song’s subject could have “been the one to save” him, whereas Liam Gallagher comes off as sneering and indignant on the original. It seems that Adams truly longed for the aforementioned salvation and now stands brokenhearted over what he’s lost. Which do you prefer — the snotty noise of Oasis or the quiet despair of Adams? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the space below.

Listen to: Oasis, “Wonderwall”

Listen to: Ryan Adams, “Wonderwall”

SONG OF THE DAY: August 2nd

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

COVERS WEEK! Day 1

Modest Mouse, “Float On”
Ben Lee, “Float On”
Goldspot, “Float On”

Modest Mouse‘s 2004 smash hit “Float On” kicks off Covers Week here at Rhombus: We’ll provide a great song as originally recorded and as interpreted by another of our favorite artists every single day through Saturday. In honor of the event’s kick-off, we’re providing two versions (in addition to the original) of today’s selection.

Many Modest Mouse purists felt the band sold out when “Float On” crossed over and began blaring on every Top 40 radio station during the spring of 2004. The song is certainly a departure from Isaac Brock’s usual fare, because it deals primarily with optimistic themes as opposed to his trademark gloom. The song was a massive hit for the band and — despite your thoughts about the state of the group’s musical souls — introduced numerous individuals to a great indie band and, by extension, to indie rock itself.

The song has been prominently covered by two great artists in very different ways. Ben Lee‘s version is stripped and spare, with very little accompaniment. It provides a stark contrast to the soaring guitars of the original recording and presents the listener with another perspective on Brock’s words. Lee envisions the song’s events as a series of almost tragic occurences; The chorus’ refrain about floating on and everything being alright seems more like an attempt to convince himself than a confident declaration.

Los Angeles-based Goldspot‘s version of the track is as different from Lee’s as is humanly possible. If anything, it is ever more upbeat and peppy than Modest Mouse’s original. With extremely happy-sounding chimes and a bouncy acoustic guitar augmenting the driving beat and reverberating electric guitars, Goldspot makes you feel like you really are floating for an entirely too short two minutes and 41 seconds. It’s pure happiness and optimism in musical form.

Three versions of one great song. Which is the best? Well, I guess that’s really up to you. Let us know what you think in the space below — and check back tomorrow for Day 2 of Covers Week!

Listen to: Modest Mouse, “Float On”

Listen to: Ben Lee, “Float On”

Listen to: Goldspot, “Float On”

SONG OF THE DAY: August 1st

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Black Kids, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You”

In honor of the beginning of August, I’m digging into the vaults. A year ago, when I returned from serving an LDS mission in Florida, this song immediately penetrated my brain and refused to relinquish its hold for the entire month of August. Black Kids certainly possess a number of Smiths/Morrissey-esque qualities (androgynous gender confusion being chief among them), although they seem to be a little less depressed. Despite the somewhat downbeat subject matter, “I’m Not Gonna” is a blast of pure pop fun set to throbbing synths and jangly electric guitars — and it doesn’t get any better than that. So, in short, this song provided the soundtrack for my August 2008; Perhaps it will do the same for you in 2009.

Listen to: Black Kids, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You”

P.S. Tune in tomorrow for the first installment in a week-long series: Covers Week! All next week, Rhombus will be featuring great songs as interpreted by some of our favorite artists, including Ryan Adams, Ben Lee, the Killers and many, many more. It should be great fun, so be sure to check in every day this week, beginning tomorrow!