The Saturday Symbol: Babies

What is it with babies gracing album covers such as this one?

In the last few days, the baby that graced Ready to Die has come out and revealed himself. He's 18 years-old and a senior in high school. The significance? Well, this isn't just a baby on any album cover. This is a baby on one of the greatest rap albums of all-time.

If you've ever noticed, a lot of classic popular and critically lauded albums have had babies on their album covers. The most notable ones that I could find are:

Nirvana's Nevermind
Van Halen's 1984
Radiohead's Pablo Honey
Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter III
The Cure's Galore
The Goo Goo Dolls's A Boy Named Goo
Sebadoh's Bakesale

What's the connection, you ask? That's what I'm trying to figure out. Each one of these albums are smashing successes that either changed the musical landscape or presented these artists in a new light, but even if the music is great, have babies in pools chasing dollars or smoking a cigarette have anything to do with their notoriety?

Does it seem as though they've become a marketing gimmick to sell an artist's records? I can't really make that claim, considering that these stand-outs have done so well on their own, but it is interesting to note their symbolic nature in the state of music. Honestly, I think people just generally love babies, but these albums do refer to a type of youth or innocence that's in a much darker sense than what might be topically implied. Sure, babies may be an easy sell, but their skin's soft complexion and unexpected facial expressions emit this concept of past, present, and future, and an unknowingness of their world that many of these bands have employed as part of the undertones of their music and lyrical content. They're a type of symbol that not only makes us see the outside or the cover and think it's fondly, but they also make us look closer within ourselves and our reflections.



Friday's End Note: The White Stripes Top Five

Genre: Alt. Rock/Blues Rock/Garage Punk
Origin: Detroit, Michigan

As some of you may already know, The White Stripes have parted ways. In an official statement from the band on their website, they've stated that this split was not brought on by artist differences or health issues. "It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way."

In some ways, it feels sad. To know that one of the biggest rock bands that you grew up with during the first decade of the 21st century is no longer together is like losing a good friend. They've always been there for you and then you now have to console with what you guys had together. In some ways, though, it feels completely right. The impression they've left on the state of rock is certainly well-known, and the catalog of which they've left us with still remains as some of the best rock has to offer. Those peppermint colors and awesome blues are just as vibrant as they ever were, and we're better listeners for it.

I thought I'd take this week's End Note to show you guys what songs are my Top 5 songs by The White Stripes, in order of release.

From De Stijl

"Hello Operator"

The sounds of the second track off De Stijl aren't too much different than any that can be found off their first album, but "Hello Operator" is the first foray into what feels like a proper first single. Even for a piece of garage blues, it sounds wonderfully accessible. Jack White's power chords and Meg's simple but thumping drums are but one of the first calls to attention when defining The White Stripes, and this song encapsulates that.

"Apple Blossom"
This is a great little number from the same album, bringing Jack White's vocals to the forefront while maintaining a steady beat with the help of Meg White's drums and introducing a tine piano. It feels inspired from so many popular acoustic tracks featured during the 60's, and that's probably the most appealing for me. It takes me on a trip that I honestly don't want to leave.

From White Blood Cells

"Fell In Love With A Girl"

This is such a great song not because it plays off as one, but because it feels completely void of any barriers. Jack and Meg give it their all in this loud, spazzy, and downright fun number that opens the door to any that are willing to rock out in public. It allows us as listeners to grab a hold of it and never let it go.

Plus the Michel Gondry-directed video is just plain amazing.

From Elephant

"Seven Nation Army"

You're probably thinking that this is the most obvious choice. EVERYONE knows this song. It's pretty much what broke The White Stripes into the popular consciousness. To me, that means there's good reason why this song has such appeal. The constant beat and simple guitar show a stripped down kind of rock that still packs a punch. Jack's guitar riff is insanely addictive, and it's a slice of rock that knows too well that it's the Elephant in the room.

"Girl You Have No Faith In Medicine"

Perhaps my favorite song of theirs, this is pure candy that bears the colors of the band in every way. Like "Fell In Love With A Girl" before it, it let's them play to the best of their abilities and utilize an all-out approach that never feels forced. It takes the genius of Jack and Meg to make their stripped down sound and compose it in such a way that they compliment each other. It's a major standout.



Crash Thursday: The Dodos - No Color

Genre: Indie Folk/Alternative
Origin: San Francisco, California

The Dodos, made up of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber, are now on their fourth outing with No Color. By this point in time, we've come to embrace their wonderful late 2000's folk-rock escapades on albums Beware of the Maniacs and Visiter, and then we've also tried to understand the back-step switch to a new producer and the implementation of vibraphonist Keaton Snyder to the mix on a vibrant but forced Time to Die. In any event, support for The Dodos is always attainable, and that support is very much at the heart of No Color.

What might have felt forced and restrained is mostly absent here, as bass drums prominently kick off "Black Night." It's within those few seconds that we can already tell this is a return to basics for the band, continuing slyly into the album's shiner, "Going Under." Pervasive drumming and excellent guitar instrumentals bring us closer to the foreground as well as to Meric's vocals, who sings some of The Dodos strongest lyrics yet. Songs "When Will You Go" and "Companions" offer similar vibes, displaying a natural progression of working guitars along with some fine lyrical content.

Songs like "Sleep" and "Don't Try To Hide It" do have dandy instrumentals, and they feature singer-songwriter Neko Case of The New Pornographers, but it's difficult to tell whether her contributions really have any effect other than to help harmonize. Snyder is also apparently on half of this album, including the song "Hunting Season," but his vibraphone contributions are much more muted and less prominent in exchange for the duo's own work. All of this guest work is fine, but it begs the question of why they have to appear in the first place. It's worth noting that it may take a few listens before any real melodies sink in.

No Color is not entirely memorable, but it provides an outline for listeners as to what we can love and expect from this band. It's a fresh start of sorts that conquers the ground between the relaxed freedom of Visiter and the fixated boundaries that labeled Time to Die, so it's definitely a step in the right direction. My own support for The Dodos is still optimistic, now that I believe we have something to linger with.


The Dodos - "Going Under"

The Dodos - "When Will You Go"

No Color is out now on Frenchkiss Records.


Crash Thursday: Yellowcard - When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes

Genre: Pop Punk/Alternative
Origin: Jacksonville, Florida, gained notoriety in Los Angeles, California

Say what you want about pop punk. Say that it's just whiny 20-somethings unable to let their high school days go. Say that it's repetitive and amateur. Say that it's nothing more than a hairstyle and a pair of extremely tight jeans. But then step back and take a listen to Yellowcard's latest LP, released this past Tuesday (3/22). From the opening track who's ominous first note crawls along until an abrupt explosion of up-tempo double-bass pedal and soaring lead guitar riff set the tone for the rest of the album, it is clear that this is Yellowcard's most ambitious work to date, and some of pop punk's most ambitious as well. When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes, is the album that proves all of the aforementioned assumptions wrong.

Yellowcard's latest is the first since returning to the indie label world (their three previous records were released by Capitol); it also marks the end of their two-year hiatus taken after touring for 2007's Paper Walls. The album shares some similarities with Walls from a production standpoint. Each song begins to cross the boundary into wall-of-sound territory, especially on album-closer, "Be the Young." Personally, I'm partial to this dominating rock-will-destroy-you-and/or-save-you sensibility and it's one of the things that makes this album so different from the vast majority of the pop punk world.

Lead-singer, Ryan Key, pushes himself harder melodically than he ever has, his vocals full of exertion and emotional honesty that just isn't felt like this in the band's previous work. Yellowcard has also accomplished something on this album that is very significant for them: for the first time in their music, the addition of violin as a main staple in their line-up has transcended gimmick. Violinist and backup-vocalist, Sean Mackin, is a thoroughly talented musician. However, before the release of ...Say Yes, his additions always seemed superfluous and put up on a pedestal to keep the songs interesting and novel. I'm happy to report that on this latest release, Mackin's contribution has finally, truly hit its stride. Each song is beautiful on its own and his string backing harmonies are that perfect icing on the cake to complete the full sound that this album delivers.


Yellowcard - "The Sound of You and Me"

Yellowcard - "Be the Young"

When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes is available on Hopeless Records.



Vid Break! TV On The Radio Premiere "Will Do" Music Video

With the upcoming release of TV On The Radio's fourth LP Nine Types of Light on Interscope Records, the band has now followed up the first single "Will Do" with a music video via their page on VEVO.

I already made this song a part of our "In Case of the Mondays" feature, and it's a wonderful love song if I ever heard one, featuring some of TV On The Radio's best hooks, as expected. Keeping with this theme of love, the video offers a sensual side of the band we've yet to see while still providing their usually technical and challenging visuals. In fact, this might be their most technical music video yet, with what looks like a bigger budget and sporting some excellent cinematography and adding elements with a touch of sci-fi that stays true to the lyrical content and in tune with care to the instrumentals. In other words, take a break and watch this video right now, and make sure to check out Nine Types of Light, dropping April 12th.



Take 2 Tuesday: "Sparkplug" by Idiot Pilot

Genre: Alternative/Post-Hardcore/Progressive

The coil we've received is winding down (to the tension, the tension)/
There is no longer a need for any kind (of complexion, complexion)

I regret that I come to you today disappointed. It has just come to my attention that a phenomenal indie band has fallen from grace. According to a blog posted on their site on January 12th, 2011, "the band will be going on indefinite hiatus, and although we can not say at which point we will be working again, there is no telling what the future may hold" (www.idiotpilot.com).

Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, an independently-spirited art mecca if there ever was one, Idiot Pilot belong(ed?) to the music scene that defined what indie-rock sounded like for the first decade of the 21st century with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, and The Decemberists. I was turned on to them by a friend in high school after I saw the video for their track, "A Day in the Life of a Poolshark." I have always described them as what Radiohead would sound like if Thom Yorke had finally had enough with the world and decided to tear it apart verbally and sonically. So this week's Take 2 Tuesday is a track off their first album:

Idiot Pilot - "Sparkplug" off Strange We Should Meet Here

Also, a bonus track to check out this week: a song they released on their site back in March 2010 on a pick-your-own-price basis. It serves as a bittersweet bookend to their exciting evolution and possibly a peek into what would have become their third album.

Idiot Pilot - "The Tail of a Jet Black Swan" (Single)



In Case of the Mondays: George Ellias and Indie Folk

Bob Dylan had the surprising knack for writing lyrics that were so eloquently literary and from the heart that when he paired up his writing style with his simplistic guitar and harmonica, a new chord was struck that hit the world known as folk. That was back during a time when pop culture set itself aside and the independence and freedom to express was in full swing. Folk music was now just as rampant as rock and roll, and all for the better.

Now flashing forward to 2011, L.A bound George Ellias attempts to bring Dylan's style back to the masses with his new indie folk EP called Wanderlust, and it's just as righteously sound. He conjures up a type of nostalgia on tracks such as "Wonder Babe" and "Stand Ashore," hearkening back to tracks easily found in catalogs of Dylan or even Woody Guthrie. Their influences are deeply rooted in Ellias' own creations, and it's a good feeling knowing that a lot can be said from such simplicity amidst the gargantuan labels of today's current music scene. It's just what you need for those types of Mondays.

Check out "Stand Ashore" below as well as the rest of Wanderlust EP at the George Ellias Bandcamp webpage or on iTunes.


The Benchwarmer - The "Art" of a DJ

When I first think of music, I listen to all the sounds that make this seem possible, often followed by lyrics that are relevant to the feeling the sounds portray. All of these individual instruments are played by different people (usually), and when combined makes a fully-composed song.

Now answer me this: Does DJ-ing count as music?

Disc jockeys are exactly what the name implies, cueing music that has already been made in succession to another song that has already been made. However, a lot of DJ's can add to the mix and blend two or more songs to make an entirely new one.

So, even though the music is pre-recorded and already established as a song, but used by a DJ in a way that transforms that song into a new one, is that considered music?

Take Girl Talk for example. He has the incredible talent of sampling over 100 songs in different ways over the course of a full-length record, and the results are killer. Whether he matches the beats per minute to the exact seconds or somehow manages to place an artist's lyrics with another artist's seemingly relevant music style, Girl Talk is a master DJ. It's deciding if what he is doing is actually "making" music that is this week's The Benchwarmer.

- DJ (how ironic?)