Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Special Olympics

The world's first amputee-only band, The Special Olympics are special, if by special you mean incompetent and severely limited by their disabilities. If they're expecting to be awarded a prize just for trying, they're would do well to think again. Advertising gimmicks have been a part of performances so long as there have been musicians, but the idea that people would flock to an act so hamstrung by physical defects that they could barely play their instruments is a tall order. Playing the role of the musical freak show can only take one so far.

The Special Olympics feature a one-armed violin player, a guitarist with pronounced stiffness and a lack of dexterity in the wrist of his fretting hand, and a pianist with no fingers. The singer is recovering from paralyzed vocal chords, so his raspy whisper must be amplified considerably to be heard. Each performer is in the process of attempting to find ways around his problem, but for right now the results are quite tuneless and unfortunate.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wilberforce

Armed with a Hammond organ and a gasping delivery, Wilberforce plays competent soul/funk. Desiring to look the part, Wilberforce Daniels grows an unkempt, massive Afro, which sways from side to side, seemingly under the control of its own gravitational field during performances. As a result, Wilberforce is a curiosity to the music listening public whose peculiarities alone draw a decent sized share of attendees to live shows.

The problem arises when one takes the time to observe his live performances in some detail. Most of his song are in the same key, use the same time signature, and are little more than re-writes of his best composition. He recycles lines of melody and sonic effects, and lest the audience desert him altogether, attempts to negate his limitations by flagrantly lifting ideas from other recording artists, hoping no one will call his hand on it. If he wins any degree of success, he is a lawsuit waiting to happen. It's just a matter of whose publishing companies sues Wilberforce first.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Hip Cats

Beat poetry punctuated with bongos and a stand-up double bass reached its apex in the late 1950's and though the form never completely went away, it is found in much diminished quantity these days. Still, from time to time some brave souls will try to breathe some life into the tired old genre. The Hip Cats, as they chose to name themselves, are three socially conscious, politically active college students who simultaneously recite free-form poetry of their own composition to a jazzy tempo. That's the goal, at least.

The group/performing troupe tip their hat to their beatniks ancestors by appearing on stage decked out in berets and clad from head to toe in black. It must be noted, however, that beat poetry lives or dies on a clever combination of rhyme scheme, rhythm, and syncopation. The Hip Cats can successfully manage none of these components in tandem. Instead, they engage in lengthy political rants against almost every imaginable subject, which stretch on for minutes at a time and do nothing to hold the attention of the audience. The situation is made even worse because all three performance launch into similarly expansive militant diatribes at the same time, changing what would have been a tedious performance into an incoherent and incomprehensible one.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Falconetti

Falconetti needs no introduction because he is better known for his outrageous public behavior than his performances. He is best known, of course, for personally castrating himself at the age of thirteen in order to capture an otherworldly vocal register that no male nor any female could ever reach. The procedure itself has been illegal for nearly two hundred years, but Falconetti broke the law anyway to ensure he'd have a serious chance at fame. While the effect produced is rather interesting, males attending his concerts have a tendency to cross their legs over each other, painfully contemplating what the process of emasculation must have felt like. In fact, few men can make it through an entire performance without running for the exits, since the singer's eerie ability to hit exceptionally high notes never allows anyone in the audience to forget exactly how he came upon his unique talent.

Woman, however, flock to Falconetti, impressed by his talent, and aware that engaging in a relationship with a man who lacks testicles runs no risk of being impregnated. So it is that the well-known opera singer appears at a variety of publicity functions with at least one woman, sometimes two on his arm.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sea Shaman

Conceptual performance art is, by its very nature, a bit bizarre. Those who practice it demand unique, distinct, and frequently weird sounds to compliment the equally strange goings on that occur on stage. The emphasis is not on competence or even on talent, instead the desired backing music should be obnoxious, dissonant, and grating. There is no shortage of so-called musicians eager to fill this peculiar need.

Sea Shaman certainly is up to the challenge. A five minute section in which the actors are writhing about on the floor as though inflicted with a kind of extreme motion sickness is punctuated by the sound produced when jingling car keys are scraped across cello strings. Another lengthy section of the performance which requires the cast to cluck like a chicken in sequence is backed by the amplified sound of a pair of scissors cutting through cheap canvass. The jarringly unnerving result of this effect in tandem with what's happening on stage could not be any more incongruous.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Joanie Hancock

Attempting to redefine and reinvigorate the folk confessional singer-songwriter genre by adding a healthy dollop of jazz fusion, Joanie Hancock certainly gives it her best shot. It's really not her fault that the combination sounds like an auditory train wreck. The problem rests with her parsimonious record label, who can only afford to budget a few thousand dollars to cover the cost of the production. An ambitious project like this needs money, and lots of it.

Instruments in traditional jazz are often in different keys to each other, which requires that they be transposed with one another on paper and as such compatible musically. Transposing, however, requires some degree of skill and certainly demands a person who can read music. James, although an autodidact at guitar is not up to the challenge. The resulting sessions produce a full length that fails to chart but does win a cult audience of a few thousand rabid fans, who appreciate that she's tried to do something very different, even if the end result is utterly chaotic.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Capstar

Often as soon as rock musicians scale to the heights of superstar status, they have little to nothing to prove anymore. After selling out arena after arena, spending several weeks in the Billboard charts, being interviewed in all the best music magazines, and winning a never-ending stream of sycophants they frequently have a tendency to indulge in what are very rightly termed "vanity projects."

Vanity projects can take many forms, but what they all have in common is that almost every one of them turn out to be awful. Here a few examples---the guitarist who has spent years developing his pentatonic, slightly derivative guitar soloing suddenly wants to release an album full of jazz standards, despite having absolutely no talent in that department. The pianist who effortlessly knocks out one lilting, perfect pop song after another switches instruments to the clavier or the harpsichord and hires an eighteen piece orchestra to back him. The vocalist who made his name in punk through his gasping, overblown vocal style now wishes to sing like Frank Sinatra, and no one has the guts to tell him his voice is totally unsuited for the genre.

Capstar is a very peculiar kind of vanity project. Three members of a successful, hard rock group have decided they wish to record a new batch of songs for a children's animated television program. The powers that be haven't given the series the green light just yet, but the group impatiently starts sessions anyway. What is being lauded by their label's promotion department as "the softer side of Capstar" should probably be called instead "some of the worst songs ever recorded". Vanity project have a way of revealing massive musical limitations. Without heavy distortion and high energy, the group aren't much of anything except dreaming big with nothing to back it up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No Talent Required

Punk

Opisthotones

Originally, I wanted to spell this with a schwa, but I am too lazy to look up the code. Just imagine the e is upside down, OK?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Band Name Here

Interestingly enough, Band Name Here never tours. No one except a favored few have even ever seen their faces. They don't make music videos and they never give interviews. Given all that, it's a wonder they even make a living, right?

Wrong.

Having learned early that it doesn't matter how good you are if you can't market yourself effectively, from the very beginning Band Name Here sold their music to the programming departments of major national network television stations. In exchange, their music is featured prominently in the background of many sitcoms, though they are frequently uncredited for their efforts. The group writes songs specifically to fit the action and plot of the latest episode, no matter how banal, and make no effort whatsoever to sound fresh, exciting, or edgy. Instead they blatantly copy the elements of whatever song is selling well in the Top 40 and produce an exact facsimile. This saves the television studios large sum of money, since they're not obligated to pay royalty fees to the record labels of these currently popular bands. Though those with a sharp ear can easily tell the difference between cheap imitation and the genuine article, most people are too busy watching their program to notice much of a difference.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jason

Jason is the son of a famous rock musician, a star so famous he no longer has to be referred to by his last name anymore. Everyone in the nation, if not the world is on a first name basis with him. Jason, however, is a different story.

Like the children of many famous musicians, Jason is famous by default, or at least by association, and is well known almost entirely as a result of the legacy of his father. It goes without saying that within a year Jason will have his own reality television show, which will probably feature a cameo performance or two from his famous Dad.

Sometimes the progeny of the phenomenally talented can keep pace with their trailblazing mothers or fathers, but often times they pale in comparison. Jason is clearly the latter. His voice is reed thin, his skill at the guitar is minimal, he has no prowess at any other instrument, and so despite being backed by the best session musicians and superstar producers money can buy, studio trickery and high production values alone can't disguise a bad product.

Still, despite his numerous limitations, Jason's music videos are well-received, gorgeously rendered, and tastefully presented. A handful of people who don't know any better still buy his albums and sometimes at parties someone put a song or two on, strictly for the novelty factor.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

4-Tran and the Monkey Man

*shrugs*

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Edict of Nantes

One part Renaissance faire, one part funk band, The Edict of Nantes sprouted fully-formed from the heads of two best friends whose interest in music appreciation was as pronounced as their love of classic 70's funk.

Electrifying a large wooden recorder, a lute, and the voices of two classically trained madrigal singers, the band utilizes unique time signatures and heavy dollops of reverb to produce a truly unique sound. Unique and pleasing to the ear are not always mutually exclusively, however and the Edict of Nantes proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Songs like "A Passing Pasture of Power" and "Soul Boogie Buecolic" are among the group's most requested numbers.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Prix

Properly pronounced "The Pree" but no doubt designed to have a double meaning as an immature pun. For this reason alone, The Prix are beloved by seventh grade boys around the world. The aforementioned group scored a coup by marketing their concert t-shirts to major clothing outlets, immediately creating a huge trend among the 'tween set. The garmet appeals to those who would have been inclined to wear the popular "Co-Ed Naked" or "No Fear" brand in the generation immediately preceding the current one. Within three or four years they become known as vulgar accessories and spawn a variety of sarcastic jokes frequently told in hipster circles.

For the time being however, clueless school administrators and teachers miss the point altogether and the few who do catch on can't really complain all that loudly. Compared to the messages emblazened across the chests of many kids these days, the Prix shirts are pretty tame, all told. Those who wear the shirts also have the option of plausibility denial--they can always claim ignorance as their best defense.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Discredible Hulk

I don't know. I'm sure it's great.

MILFs on Ice

Sometimes your mom just has to get down and chill!

My Feelings

Clearly, they suck, but what better moniker for an emo kid with a guitar?

Bat Box

The world has been waiting for this: goth hip-hop.

The Randolph W. Griffin Quartet

Billing themselves in the hard-bop style of jazz greats like John Coltrane and Miles David, The Randolph W. Griffin Quartet certainly attempts to dress the part. Nattily dressed in identical black and white suits, a different color handkerchief in the pockets of each member, they're impressive to see, visually at least. If clothes alone made for excellence, there would be no shortage of it to go around. Yet as is often the case, excellently dressed often does not mean excellently proficient.

To begin with, there's a simple matter of the name of the group itself. The title would not seem out of place adorning the name of a nineteenth century politician or a film director of overwrought epics, but unless meant in irony, it doesn't grab the attention of the audience. Next, there's a slight problem with the solos. Jazz musicians are expected to improvise solos on the spot, both as a means of showcasing the technical chops of each player and as a way of providing the audience an opportunity to observe what each instrument sounds like in isolation. The quartet manages to sound competent when each player provides his own part alongside the other three players, each designed to fit together seamlessly in interlocking fashion. That is not the issue. The problem, instead, is that when the audience calls for a solo, every performer grows so intensely self-conscious and nervous that the end result could not be described as music. Wavering, quivering trumpet, imprecise trombone, off-beat, off-tempo drumming, squeaky, squiggly saxophone---irregardless of the instrument, the end result is identical.

Unless they can conquer their stage fright, The Randolph W. Griffin quartet will never be much of anything. But, at least they look nice.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Scraggle

Hyperbole aside, punk rock at its core is little more than a bunch of angry, ugly kids in someone's basement. No group is more indicative of this sentiment than Scraggle.

Working the private party circuit, Scraggle has been featured in so many dark, dingy basements, antique houses, wine cellars, and converted warehouses that they crack jokes that, like Dracula, they will crumble into dust if they are exposed to direct sunlight. They work cheaply, for starters, and their utterly generic take on the genre means that they are loud enough to be heard, unremarkable enough to offer no offense to the audience, and inexpensive enough that they will play practically anywhere their services are required. For those who like their bands indistinguishable from the rest of the pack, kind of like interchangable parts, Scraggle is a favorite.

Scraggle plays extremely fast, sloppily, and abrasively. Since the parties they play are usually awash in alcohol and other drugs, most people are too intoxicated to know the difference. To many partygoers, punk is about attitude, and attitude supersedes skill or dexterity. This philosophy of music, however, means that every song is played in the same key, with the same time signature, and using the same three chords. Those who believe that music is meant to explore different sounds and sonic textures end up disappointed. Those who believe music is a cathartic exercise and should be the perfect soundtrack to compliment violence, petty thievery, and senseless acts of vandalism are most pleased.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gender Neutral

Following queercore to its logical conclusion, Gender Neutral are a quartet of openly bisexual Portland-based musicians. Comprised equally and deliberately of two men and two women, the music they create is frequently far less interesting than the perpetual cloud of scandal that hangs thickly around the group. To the music press and the general public by proxy, their combined output as songwriters and performers is far less important than the novel nature of the band itself. Defying the unwritten rules of Rock Band 101, they have all, at one point or another, dated each other, creating a never-ending stream of rumors, innuendo, and media-fueled speculation as to precisely who will enter into a relationship with whom next.

Gender Neutral do nothing to squelch the barrage of gossip; if anything, they encourage the hype and the frequent denouncement by conservative watchdog groups that inevitable result from it. Recognizing that their limited musical proficiency would likely never grab anyone's attention, they decided instead to reach for the easiest refuge of the minimally talented--a gimmick. This gimmick comes at the expense of their private lives, but some people will eager sacrifice their privacy for the trappings of fame. Frequent public displays of affection between members, spectacular breakups, and promises of ultimate fidelity show with exacting detail that the love life of every member is a bit like a game of relationship musical chairs. It's never known for sure whether these dramatic display of emotion and shifting allegiances are genuine or publicity stunts. Sources close to the band reveal that the line between fantasy and reality has been blurred so often for the sake of sensationalism that members themselves can no longer distinguish the difference between the two.

Gender Neutral quite cleverly describe themselves in every interview as harbingers of a new sub-genre, Androgenesis. No one is quite sure exactly what the style entails or if anyone other than the group itself can be said to adhere to the self-styled new movement. This ploy proves conclusively that just because you're wily enough to coin a neologism describing your style of music doesn't mean you have the talent or competence to back it up. However, in the world of shallow celebrity, that's a revelation that will take years to take a foothold in the public consciousness. In the meantime, people are too busy passing judgment on the internal drama and manufactured strife within the group itself to focus on much else.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wild Side Singers

Originally conceived as a Lou Reed cover band, Wild Side Singers, putting together the tracks for their debut album, work diligently to emulate the speak-sung voice of their idol in the studio. Though at least two of the four members is blessed with an excellent singing voice, the group tries every tactic in the world to desperately roughen up their vocal chords. Rodin Dowling, journeyman producer and Svengali to the band insist that each vocalist smoke two cigarettes in between vocal takes. Members are eager to oblige, but thus far, results have been heavily mixed.

No matter how many studio tricks are employed, they cannot escape the fact that Wild Side Singers, instead of emoting a kind of cocksure swagger a la Reed, instead sound pubescent, high-pitched, and halting. In frustration, producer Dowling hires session players to render an adequate facsimile of Reed's deliberately untrained timbre. The group is, however, allowed to play their own instruments to produce the backing track upon which the vocals will be layered. Their slight at not being allowed to sing a note on their own album, however, is a hard pill to choke down.

Surprisingly, their album I've Been Told That You've Been Bold scores an underground success in the independent charts. As a result they are asked to engage in a twenty city tour. The group is in a panic trying desperately to devise a way, any way, to sound authentic to the album. Failing to devise any adequate means of compensating for the huge shift in pitch that any sober person in the audience will easily recognize, they instead revert to the old standard of any anxious musician and begin using copious amounts of drugs. Ironically, drug abuse solves the problem. Who would have thought that heroin usage changes the tone of a person's voice?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

VHF

Beloved by its fan base of irony-drenched hipsters, VHS manages to rise above minimal competence to actually manage sell out a small club from time to time. Aware of the fact that constant touring would reveal the band's technical limitations, they play a show every three months, after obsessively promoting it in alternative newspapers, college radio station, and online zines. The novelty of a two person band utilizing a zither and two warbling, off-kilter vocalists proves irresistible to the tragically hip.

Every show, VHS adds an obscure and esoteric instrument to the mix. The audience is unaware of what it will be until they arrive for their latest gig. After going dumpster diving outside of a recording studio, the two members found an antique synthesizer which had been thrown away because it no longer functioned. Using skills culled from a year spent at technical college, the instrument was painstakingly rebuilt. Occasionally it works. Frequently it overheats.

VHF is currently in negotiations to record its first album, which will be released on a small independent label. After being pressed and released to the public, it will sell approximately 6,000 copies during its first run, quickly go out of print, and five year later be lauded in the alternative music press as a cult classic.