Saturday, December 15, 2012

Top 10 Hanson Covers

First things first: Hanson is an incredible band. I am a 25 year old heterosexual male and this is a fact that I know to be an absolute truth. Not that those things matter but it does put me in a minority among Hanson fans. Do you have a problem with any of that? If so... I will effin fight you!!! Now that we have that out of the way I will approach the topic at hand... songs that Hanson has covered over their nearly two decades of being a touring and recording band. They have an excellent collection of full length records, EPs, live albums, and singles filled with original material but when you're in a band and on the road, it can be fun to throw a cover song or two into the set list.

So here is a list of my top ten favorite cover songs that Hanson have performed over the years. Some have been released on live albums, some as bootlegs, some as studio recordings on exclusive EP's, some have just been tour exclusive. These are in no particular order.

1. Change In My Life (Rockapella): This cover is a perfect illustration of one of the key elements that make Hanson great: their harmonies. This is a cover that they perform completely acappella and it's been an occasional treat in their sets for quite a long time. They gather around a single microphone and sing in perfect three part, exchanging solos, and it's beautiful sounding.

2. North Dakota (Lyle Lovett): This cover is one performed by Isaac Hanson on lead vocals. It's a beautiful song by it's self and it's perfect for Isaac's low tenor. Finger picking the simple guitar part the vocal really drives the song and it really does the original justice.

3. In A Little While (U2): I'm including this song in the list because of the sheer ambition of it and versatility it demonstrates. U2 are one of the biggest bands in the world and arguably the originators of what it means to be "arena rock". Their sound is huge and Bono's range is very impressive. What Hanson does with this cover is beautiful. Taylor Hanson's vocal is soulful strong with his own flare while remaining respectful of the original. The arrangement has it's own stamp, again, while also being faithful. This cover, more than most, really demonstrates what they're really capable of.

4. Furry Walls (Infant Sorrow): They released a studio version of this song as an iTunes exclusive. I think that this one really shows off the fun side. They have serious songs, fun songs, and a lot of things in between and I think their decision to record and release a cover of a song written for Russel Brand's fake band in the movie "Get Him to the Greek" is a testament to their fun side. When I first heard they were releasing this I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what they planned to to with it and when it first started playing I was still skeptical because the opening "YEEEEEAHHH!" is more than a little whiny but over time it sort of adds to the grungy charm of the song and right after that it immediately glides into better territory vocally.

5. Never Been to Spain (Three Dog Night): This is one of Hanson's favorite covers, I assume, because it's so prolific in their sets. I'm not going to lie, I'm fairly certain that the main reason they cover it so often is because part of the chorus is "but I've been to Oklahoma." and Oklahoma is their home state. The truth is that they've toured pretty much every country. The cover is really really solid and one of my favorite parts of it is that the three of them share lead vocals, alternating phrases and verses as well as coming together for their trademark harmonies. There's a professionally recorded live version of it on their digital only release of "The Walk Tour - Live Tracks".

6. Dirty (Christina Aguilera): This is definitely another track that shows off Hanson's fun side. This is a song that was never meant to be played on sparse acoustic guitar and sung in three part harmony but that's exactly what they do here. There's no studio or official live recording of this song but there's a popular live bootleg that you can find pretty easily on YouTube or wherever. The only downside is that they only cover a little more than 1:30 of the song. I wish they'd have done the whole thing.

7. Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young): I LOVE this cover. It's definitely one of my favorites. There is a studio version that appears on the "Strong Enough To Break" Bonus Disc and it also appears live on the "Underneath Acoustic DVD". A simple 12 string guitar and gorgeous three part harmonies carry this song like a newborn baby through to the end. It's beautiful.

8. Optimistic (Radiohead): This cover is in the same vein as the U2 cover. The ambition and versatility it shows is amazing. To take on a cover of a band like Radiohead takes an incredible amount of guys, for one, and a sizable amount of talent to pull it off. This appears on their live album "Live and Electric" and it's what they opened with every night on the "Underneath Tour". Hanson never play the same set list twice in a row but they always open with the same song and it's always a powerful opener. This song is no exception. 

9. Don't Stop Believin' (Journey): I think that this song is both an example of Hanson's fun side and their serious side... First of all this song was performed on their "Use Your Sole Tour" and was determined to be their tour cover by a vote on their website. They tried something like three other options which were irrelevant because if you offer "Don't Stop Believin''" as an option, there's little chance that anyone is going to vote for anything else. You can find a few good quality videos of this one on YouTube but I recommend this one because of the audio quality. Zac does lead vocals and you'd be amazed at his range and ability to nail those notes.

10. We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together (Taylor Swift): I don't know whether or not to say that this is a "fun cover" or a genuine one but I think that's it's worth being on the list by virtue of it's pure fun awesomeness. It's a well established fact that Taylor Swift is a fan of Hanson so they did this cover acoustic for a radio appearance (available on YouTube). I don't know if anyone is with me on this but I feel like my favorite part of the whole cover is when Zac provides the backup vocal "like everrrr" during the chorus... it makes the whole thing for me.

Top 10 Albums and EP's

This year I made two separate lists for the two separate worlds of my musical interests. These are my "Top 10 Albums and EP's" of the year from both "local" and "non-local" bands, in order.

Best Of Local Artists
1. Elliot Street Lunatic - Ghost Town Lullabies
2. The Swellers - Running Out of Places to Go
3. Jory Stultz - Out A Window
4. Little American Champ - Nothing Forward, Nothing Backward
5. The Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle - The Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle EP
6. Tiger! Tiger! - Mutual Attraction//Opposite Direction
7. The Hat Madder - Orgy Opposite
8. Cheap Girls - Giant Orange
9. Midwest - Wishful Drinking
10. The White Oranges - Steamboats are for the Romantic

Honorable Mention: Rival Summers - Learning to Live

Best Of Non-Local Artists
1. Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
2. Tim Barry - 40 Miller
3. The Menzingers - On the Impossible Past
4. Jack White - Blunderbuss
5. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
6. Sharks - No Gods
7. Pentimento - Pentimento
8. Mixtapes - Even On the Worst Nights
9. Make Do and Mend - Everything You Ever Loved
10. Hot Water Music - Exister

Honorable Mention: Further Seems Forever - Penny Black

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Thanksgiving Means To Me

Here's how I plan to spend Thanksgiving this year. My wife, my daughter, and I are staying home and eating a cheap turkey and some pie we got and watching some movies. I'll probably have a few beers and wine. It'll be a nice day.

Why are we doing this? Are we celebrating family and togetherness? I guess we are, in our own way. Why are we doing that, exactly? Because we have the day off and everyplace has sales on turkeys, which we don't get to eat too often. It's important to spend time together as a family and you should make time to do that as often as you can.

What we are NOT doing is celebrating "Thanksgiving". We're not decorating our home with racist images of Native American's in head dresses smiling next to the pilgrim's who would go on to break the "Mayflower Compact" and commit an unspeakable genocide on an entire race of people. We're not going to remember that first "thanksgiving" where the Native American's shared their food and knowledge with a small band of invading immigrants fondly because, like any reasonable person should, we know what those immigrants went on to do with that trust.

Businesses shouldn't be required or even expected to shut down for this. If you're lucky enough to work for a business that closes and still pays you, then enjoy the day. Spend it with family. But don't ignore history. It's important to know EXACTLY just how racist this country is and how it was founded. KNOW why your office is closed and don't let anyone tell you that it's "evolved" to mean something else. Ignoring racism because it makes you uncomfortable is wrong.

A lot of retail businesses pay time and a half for employees who work on holidays and circulate a list for volunteers so they can staff up holidays in advance with people who might want to work one but have another off. I tend to find that people who want the whole world shut down for Thanksgiving are the same people who don't seem to give a damn that movie theaters are open every single Christmas. My guess is that Christmas, being a Christian holiday, causes those people to assume you can find the non-Christian people or people of a different religion more than willing to work on that day. Unlike Thanksgiving... which as Americans we're supposed to hold in some high regard.

Here is my word on the matter: don't. Take into consideration the words of American punk rock band, The Broadways:

"Third graders holding hands Indians
And Pilgrims celebrating new found lands
They tried to teach me that at school
Make the white man look superior, it's always been their rule
Now I can't believe we celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday of unity and pea
If I had my way, we'd all dress in black
And Daddy would serve up the white meat
'Cause genocide is nothing to celebrate, extinction doesn't deserve a parade
And we perpetuate these lies with the turkeys that we buy
I tried explaining to my mom but she's too afraid to admit to herself
That her race is a killing machine
Take a look around your town and who do you see?
The Native American is surprisingly absent in his own indigenous land
Do you want to know why? It's 'cause we killed them all
It's not that hard to understand, yeah
So I go to college and you know what I learned?
That 80 million people were killed by my grandpa,
Your grandpa and all of their friends
They bleached out our continent but that's not the end
The last full blooded Aborigine died a century ago
If it's possible there's a place in the southern hemisphere
With a history even worse than our own
No one finds it peculiar
That a tropical island is full of people just like you and me
But Australia's a piece of shit floating in the Pacific
Buoyed by the blood of the Aborigine.
Buoyed by the blood of the Aborigine.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jory Stultz: "Out A Window" - Review

NOTICE: This review is going to be rather long, so I've broken it into labeled, easily read and digestible sections for those of you with short attention spans. Despite it's length, PLEASE consider giving it a read.

An Introduction and An Apology For Being a Promo Machine:

For those of you who read my blog regularly (and that is a very low number of people) you will know that I have written about Jory Stultz and his music TWO TIMES prior to this. One was a general "check this out" post where I listed him among other Michigan artists and the second was about his performance with Groove Box Studios.

I make no pretense about it when I say that Jory is a very good friend of mine and I want to promote his work as much as I possibly can. BUT it is also important to know that I was a fan of his music long before we were ever friends and I believe that lends my opinion more credibility than if I were simply hawking my buddy's music as some kind of a favor.

Jory Stultz released his debut EP as a solo artist this past Saturday (October 20th, 2012) at The Avenue Cafe in Lansing, MI. What I intend to use this post for is to review the EP, track by track, detailing it's strengths and weaknesses. I encourage you to read this review and consider purchasing it for yourself.


The Record:

Artist: Jory Stultz
Album: Out A Window EP
Genre: Rock, Soul, Baroque Pop
Produced and Engineered By: Jory Stultz, Dylan Rogers
Mixed and Mastered By: John Krohn
Label: Blue Bow-Tie Productions/Independent

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1.) Starshine Kids: This is the first song that I ever heard from the EP. I saw Jory play it live and watching him sing it, or really sing anything, is the experience of watching someone totally and completely immerse himself into the words and the soul of a song. When Jory plays, he can get passionate and belt his soulful vocal and slam the keys of his piano but on this song he gently presses the chords and notes, letting the instrument croon it's melody in much the same way he does with his words.

When you listen to the song I think that there is a lot to relate to with the words. The first lyrics are "We flew rockets to the moon... never leaving the van... it was simple, it was stupid, but it was something we could have...". Those words are something everyone can connect with... everyone has been at that point where they're at the pinnacle of child like imagination. Letting themselves slip into games and cutting lose of the tethers that chain them to real life... We've all pretended our steering wheel was the captain's helm of some rocket ship beyond reality.

From there the song takes you on a journey of imagery and melody. It's impossible not to feel what Jory feels as he sings each syllable. His voice is soothing but still powerful and gruff. There is hard grit in his soulful push of a voice as well as soft clear tone... sometimes in the same breath.

2.) Ghost: The opening snare beats of this song are fairly simple. It's the heartbeat of the song that keeps your hands clapping and feet stomping. All of the songs on the EP have a bit of a creeping quality, with melodic and instrumental themes reminiscent of psychobilly bands like Hellblinki, HorrorPops, or even Tiger Army. As soon as the accordion kicks in you can almost feel the theatricality wash over you. I don't want to pigeonhole the music as being exactly like psychobilly or horror punk because the themes and vocals are strong for all types of moods and listeners. The "spooky" element to songs like "Ghost" and "Dark Blue Forest" can't be denied or ignored, though.

3.) Dark Blue Forest: To be perfectly honest, this might be my favorite track on the EP just because of it's sheer originality. It's one of the hallmarks of Jory Stultz's style... he takes chances in his writing and he's willing to do new things. Possibly things that may prove unpopular, but that's what makes his music so compelling. It sounds like almost nothing else. The songs main rhythm instrument and it's backbone is an accordion. The majority of Stultz's material is piano driven, but this one is something different. The eery vibe continues from "Ghost" into this one, opening with notes plucked out on an old chime piano. The notes continue throughout the song adding to it's unique vibe. Additionally, this song, more than any other on the record features Stultz's versatility as a vocalist. The vocals are softer and have a more pop sensibility to them then any other track. Generally his style is characterized by the strained vibrato and belting push that bare the soul of each lyric... this song is different. It tells a story and the soft, hushed vocal carry you through it.

4.) Out A Window: Finally we reach the last and title track for the EP. It's more than safe to say that the EP closes out with a rocker. Slammed piano chords, hard drums, gritty vocals. It churns along like a freight train hitting you hard with every single lyric until the chorus when it positively lifts off into the stratosphere. The lyrics, the melody, the heart of this song perfectly encapsulate this entire EP.



I only see two real weaknesses that I think are worth highlighting and they're really nothing against Jory's ability as an artist. The first thing that I think could punch up this recording is better quality. Jory Stultz plays the sort of music that needs huge sounds, huge production, background singers and orchestral texture. This EP is very DIY and it holds back his true potential. I will say, though, that for a budget of what was essentially zero dollars, it sounds top notch. It took a long time and a lot of called in favors but Jory managed to turn rocks into gold here. It's definitely professional quality, it's just that the sound would be better served by more grandiosity in the production.

One more flaw, in my opinion, is that Jory relies a little too heavily on his strained vibrato for emotional effect. He has such a full, soulful tone that he doesn't need it as much as he uses it. I wouldn't abandoned the style but I'd recommend more full and even tone if he wants to make a bigger sound.


With this release, Jory has proven a very strong point. You don't need a million dollars... or even five dollars to make a truly great release. Grander instrumentation, bigger backgrounds, larger drums... all of these things could have made the record better but it would only have improved on what was already a professional quality release. If you have talent and support from a community of friends, anything is possible when making music. Take Jory's EP to heart. It's music and it's stories. Be inspired and make things happen.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Jory Stultz: Groovebox Studios, "Out A Window", and Beyond!

I should probably preface this by saying that I've written about Jory Stultz and his music in the past. As a matter of fact, if you scroll down, it was only a few entries ago. The last time I did a brief write up about him to encourage readers to give his music a listen. This entry is about that also but it's also about a couple of other things that are going on with him as a musician that are important.

First off, for the duration of this blog, I'm going to refer to him just as "Jory" since he is a good friend. Every journalism class I've ever taken tells me that after you've referred to a subject by their full name once you're supposed to refer to them by their surname for the rest of the article. I just can't bring myself to do that without feeling sill and since this is a blog and it's not written neutrally, I'd say that it's fine. None of this paragraph is important to this piece at all but I felt like I should include it all the same.

Jory is a musician that defies labels. That expression gets thrown around a lot in crappy music journalism and I HATE writing with cliches but that is the only way I can start to describe his music. There are a ton of elements from across the board in his music. David Bowie is an obvious influence on Jory's ideas of broad concepts and story telling as well as the atmospheric and extremely full sound pervasive in his music. His voice is like nothing I've ever heard, combining soul, pop, rock, and indie into one ball of colossal heart and soul. His songs tell stories and everything about them plead with you to feel every word he sings.

Right now Jory is working on a Kickstarter to raise money to cover a live performance with Groovebox Studios. Backing the project can get you a bunch of different perks and rewards. On the lower end you can get a copy of the performance EP and it goes up from there. There are a lot of Kickstarter campaigns out there that aren't worth your time or money and I promise you that this isn't one of them. Here's the link.

Jory's Kickstarter

Every amount of money you contribute to the campaign get's you a reward that is well worth it, even if you just want a copy of the live EP. It's not panhandling, it's a creative way of putting faith in an artist you believe in to fund art that otherwise wouldn't happen. You get to experience that piece when it's finished, usually more coming with it that you would ever get by waiting until the project gets made. I'll agree that there are groups who use Kickstarter inappropriately but for the most part it's a good thing and, on the whole, I think that for independent artists of any medium it can only be good.

On top of this Jory is going to be releasing his debut self released EP "Out A Window" at Gone Wired Cafe/The Avenue Cafe on Michigan Ave. in Lansing. I will be opening this party of a gig and everyone should come out and help this EP explode.

The mid-Michigan scene is vibrant and lively but has too many distinct lines in it and way too much uncalled for negativity. I think the goals that some groups and a lot of artists are workings towards, like Groovebox Studios highlighting talent in the way that they are, The Great Lakes Collective doing whatever they can to help release and promote music in Michigan, Fusion Shows, The Flint Local 432 in my hometown, etc. are all amazing but there needs to be more love and less competition.

The bottom line is to support good things. Jory Stultz is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rest In Peace: Tony Sly

I've been trying to write this blog for a little while now. Ever since I found out about Tony Sly's passing, but it's been hard. I've never felt this much grief over the death of someone I've never even met. It hit hard. I know that I said I was going to post a few blogs that weren't about music before I made more that were... well about music but this isn't about music. This is about a man who is gone way too soon. This is about someone who inspired generations and made records regarded as classics in their genre. This is my experience with a great person who I never met and the impact he had on me, personally.

The first time that I was introduced to No Use For A Name was when I was probably around 15. I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to getting deeper into really good punk music. Around that time I'd started listening to some of the older school, more independent bands like Rancid, NoFX, Lagwaggon, etc but I was still quite a bit on the "pop" side of "pop-punk". I can't honestly say that NUFAN was the single band that brought me over to the punk side but they were a big part of the growing push.

The first record I got my hands on was 1999's "More Betterness!". Something about it hit me hard. It wasn't the hard technical punk, there was a lot of melody but it was fast and felt really good. Really punk and this was at a naive, stupid point in my life when I gave a damn what was punk and what wasn't. A point when I unironically used the word "poser". I cringe at that time in my life but I think I needed to go through it in order to learn that I was stupid.

"More Betterness!" was an important record in my life and it remains so to this day, as do all of NUFAN's records. They aren't one of those bands that represent a time in my adolescence that I look back on nostalgically, they have remained constant. Those albums don't remind me of a particular point in my life, they represent them all.

Tony's solo career is equally as important to me. It feels like right around the point in my life when I was starting to shift toward playing folk music, Tony was doing the same. Actually, it was slightly before that I suppose when he released the first acoustic split with Joey Cape. I bought that CD at an FYE (this was something that people used to be able to do) after I heard about it and I listened to that record over and over. That was the first time that I realized punk rock didn't need to be electric. Passion didn't need to be shouted.

After that he eventually released "12 Song Program" as well as the fairly recent "Sad Bear" and a second acoustic split with Joey Cape. His music, all of it, has been a huge influence on me. On my life. On the type of musician and the type of person that I am, and as silly as it may sound to say about a person I didn't even know, I am going to miss him.

Rest in peace, Tony. You were a legend and you left too soon.

Toy Story: Plot Holes As Noticed By A Crazy Person


Let me state first and foremost that I genuinely love the Toy Story films and everything that Pixar does. They respect all of the aspects of a film as an art piece and their stories are always creative and smart as well as beautifully animated. All of those things being said, I have a two year old daughter, so I have seen each Toy Story film around a hundred times a piece.  In these repeated viewings I’ve noticed some rather large plot holes that don’t really distract from the story so long as you suspend disbelief, enjoy the story, and aren’t a nutter… but are there there none the less.

#1: Buzz’s Willful Ignorance

Movie: Toy Story
Scene: The first three quarters of the movie

How is it that Buzz doesn’t notice that his wrist communicator is just a sticker? If he is the real Buzz Lightyear then he must be a person in a space suit. Does he not notice that he has no feeling of a body inside of the exterior suit since he is solid plastic? Why doesn’t he notice that his space ship is made from cardboard and lacks any kind of mechanical parts?

#2: How does Woody not know his origin?

Movie: Toy Story 2
Scene: The premise of the movie, primarily the scene where Woody finds out he is based on an old TV show called “Woody’s Roundup”.

In the second film we find out that Woody is a priceless antique. He is a licensed property based off of a presumably popular television show from decades ago. The show is called Woody’s Round Up and is in black and white and done with puppets (reminiscent of The Thunderbirds) so it’s safe to assume the show is from the 1950’s (particularly since it is stated that the show’s popularity waned because of the launch of Sputnik). We also know that the show’s popularity, though intense, is short lived because it was cancelled on a cliff hanger.

This makes for a limited window of time in which Woody could have been manufactured and sold.  It also means that Woody is around 50 years old at. Andy’s mother states that he is a family heirloom, so he has to have had multiple owners yet he acts as though he doesn’t understand the idea of the child getting older and growing out of him.  He has to have been handed down around 4 times. Does he not remember any of this? Why?

#3: Where does toy sentience begin and end?

Movie: All of them
Scene: All of them

This is the big one and perhaps the most insane for someone to be thinking about. We have seen multiple times that toys can be dismantled and remain sentient. Buzz loses his arm and doesn’t display any kind of pain. Woody also loses an arm. Toys can be broken and fixed without any real consequence to the toy’s “health” or “life”. Where does it end? The only time that any of the toy’s display pain is when Sid burns Woody with a magnifying glass and even then he’s able to remain inanimate. This one instance seems to contradict established cannon.

In the first film, Sid completely dismantles toys and puts them back together in different ways and they remain alive. Is he creating a new toy? A new consciousness? These are often made of different toys put together, which personality does that “new toy” have? Is the consciousness in the head? In the end of the third film when the toys are about to slide into the incinerator at the dump, they’ll be turned to ash, but since the toys have been dismantled without dying or displaying symptoms of pain it’s reasonable to assume that ash may still have some kind of sentience… that is a horrifying thought. How does a toy die?

Additionally there is the question of where the consciousness begins. If I make a paper doll is that doll alive? Does the act of drawing a face on paper make that face self aware? At what point during the manufacturing process do the toys become living?

#4:  Woody can control the pull string talk box that’s in him… when it’s convenient to the plot.

Movie: Toy Story
Scene: Woody and Buzz are attempting to sneak down a hallway in Sid’s house quietly when Woody’s pull string gets caught on a piece of stair railing and activates the talk box, alerting the dog to their presence.

Okay basically just read the bit where I explained the scene right there. Why can’t Woody just make the talk box stop? It’s demonstrated later on when the toys are revolting against Sid that he has control over it whether the string is pulled or not.

#5: Why does Buzz go along with, what he interprets as, a pointless charade?

Movie: Toy Story
Scene: Most of the movie.

Why does Buzz “play along” with the idea that he’s inanimate in front of Andy if he believes that he is a space ranger? I mean, he believes that the fate of the entire universe relies on his getting off the planet quickly doesn't he?

#6: Illogical plans for plot's sake.

Movie: Toy Story 2
Scene: Whole movie.

It’s demonstrated in the first Toy Story that there’s really no adverse effects to revealing their sentience to a human. Why can’t this same plan apply to Al of Al’s Toy Barn in the second film? No one’s going to believe him and he’s alone in that store. I mean I know that as far as plot is concerned this would be repetitive but logically in the context of the film it would seem like it would be the most logical plan for the toys.

In summation:

Well there you are. The observances of a crazy person with regards to the Toy Story franchise. I hope that you have enjoyed this list and that you can continue to enjoy these wonderful films despite my insanity.