Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Choir Practice

And now for something completely different ...

The last few weeks I've built up quite a little obsession with The Choir Practice. Not my usual style, but I've been paying much closer attention to the vocals in what I listen to recently than previously, so it is logical that I'd drift towards contemporary choral ...

Which is exactly what The Choir Practice performs. This somewhat loose-knit group of 12 or so Vancouver-based indie rockers sings in the tradition of European religious music - think Vienna Boys Choir. Although syncopated hand claps suggest a foot-stomping type of beat, this isn't gospel. Think of what you might hear from a charismatic Southern Baptist church choir for an example of what this isn't. Tracks on the group's debut like "Red Fox" would fit that style, but other tracks such as "Running On" are much freer of vocal gymnastics than gospel would be.

There are other differences with choral music as perceived in the mainstream as well - the most obvious being that the material is secular, not religious. (Arguments about inherent spirituality - "make a joyful noise" - aside.) Reviewers often compare the group to sunshiny 60s vocal/folk bands such as the New Christy Minstrels, acknowledging that there is more going on here than a bunch of indie rockers taking a try a choir music.

The group's 1987 self-titled debut is available for download on eMusic. If for some reason you can only pick up one track I'd suggest "Failsafe", my personal favorite on this album. The popular vote for standout track seems to go to "Red Fox", but I prefer "Failsafe".

Some of the lyrics on the latter track are absolutely gorgeous ("signing my checks with a name that's not mine" is possibly the best one-line description of marriage I have ever read.) As a bonus the song leads us to ask questions about the very nature of such things. It is usually called a cover. Indeed the song was written and performed by New Pornographers. However, the Choir Practice version actually saw the light of day BEFORE the New Pornographers'. And just to add an extra layer of complexity, one of the members of The Choir Practice is ALSO in New Pornographers. Whoah. So is this a cover or not?

Discuss. :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

32 Years Ago Today

The Ramones release their cleverly titled debut - The Ramones.

Gabba gabba hey!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

30 Years Ago Today

... was the first appearance of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as the Blues Brothers.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Record Store Day

Tomorrow, Saturday April 19, is "Record Store Day". If you haven't visited your local independant music store lately, now you have an excuse.

That is all.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Straight edge is a verb?

I was listening to the BBC World Service on the radio the other night while going to sleep. They used (indeed had a 4-5 minute piece on!) words I never thought I would hear on the radio: Straight Edge.

The piece reported on the 'new' youth movement called straight edge. ('New' apparently being used in the 'about-a-quarter-of-a-century-old' sense. Didn't know you could do that.)

Straight edge is something I've listened to since at least the mid 80s. The music of sxe (I talk about the x later - in a future post) is distinctive. Imagine nonmetallic hardcore with fast bits, slower 'mosh parts', and lyrics almost exclusively about not drinking, not doing drugs, not being a racist, and being a good friend.

I was somewhat surprised the Beeb has not heard of sxe before. In the early 90s several communities were apparently concerned enough about packs of hardline kids (imagine sxe cranked up to 11) to declare them to be dangerous gangs. Maybe the producers of the program just didn't make the connection.

But this is a music blog. I should really get to the music.

Most of the straight edge I have (and I have a fair amount) is out of print, or really, never in print to begin with. There are some items readily available that could be considered vital.

In particular, Minor Threat's self-titled debut EP. This release contains the song "Straight Edge" - from which the movement gets its name - and should be considered required listening. So listen to it already!

Another of my faves is the east coast's Youth of Today. Before several of the members floated off into a Krishna-induced haze YOT exemplified straight edge. The usual concerns are there - drink, drugs, friends. YOT adds dietary issues, taking a strong vegan stance.

The 'new' movement the Beeb reported on adds yet another issue to the somewhat limited sxe palette - abstinance. I really kind of part ways with sxe here. Respect has always been an underappreciated aspect of hardcore/punk/whatever - from 7 Second's "Not Just Boys' Fun" to riot grrrl. I'm not sure that abstinance is the only way to express this. I have always had a fair number of female friends not looking to 'tarnish' my friendship with them. OK. Would it be OK if we smudged it up a little bit? No? All righty then.

But that has precious little to do with music.

Next post should be better. I'm thinking I'll finally get around to raving about The Choir Practice.

Straightedge to contemporary choral. Huh.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Losing Focus ...

I'm losing focus here. See, when I started actively getting into music again I had a few genres in mind that I wanted to explore deeper. Some were no brainers - girl group, riot grrrl, indie pop. Others I was taking a 'get to it whenever' approach to - rockabilly, surf, hot rod. New wave/80s pop I have a ton of, but could always use more! Same for hardcore.

But a couple things have blown my carefully thought out plans. I'm REALLY digging The Choir Practice right now. Must get more contemporary choral stuff! And Korpiklaani has a new album out. Which eMusic has. And I really am jonesing for.

But 'European folk metal' was not on the agenda until later!

Oh well. Guess I gotta tough it out :)

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Today is my birthday. I'm only 38 now fergoshsakes! In the classic Lesley Gore tradition of "It's My Party", well, it's my party and I'll be cranky if I want to.

Myspace is the topic for today. Myspace really bugs me. The basic idea - social networking - is not the source of my displeasure. Myspace makes page design simple. Unfortunately, it makes really really poor design really really easy. Far too many Myspace pages look like they were designed by a chimpanzee. No, that's not right. A DRUNK chimpanzee. There, that's better.

Or a parrot. How else to explain the fascination with flashing things on the page?

My biggest complaint though comes from an unavoidable Myspace feature. Many times I have wound up on a Myspace page for a band, looking for news or samples or whatever, only to have to sit for 10 minutes with an unresponsive computer while a bunch of little pictures of "friends" load. Absolutely drives me nuts.

But it is a part of all this, I guess. Lots of bands will put up a page on Myspace in lieu of or in addition to having a ... real ... domain. But the group has to be darn interesting before I will point others towards a Myspace page.

So The Choir Practice must be darn interesting, huh? After all I linked to their Myspace page over on the left there.

They are. Their debut is getting a ton of play on my computer right now (join eMusic and you too can grab a copy!)

But not what I'm listening to this very moment. That would be The Dials' Flex Time. I like it quite a bit. But that will have to wait for later. After all, today is my birthday.

And I don't wanna write any more today.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Common Thread

There is a common thread here. So as to not choke up this blog with non-music matters I won't go in to what that common thread is. Other than this: neither artist here is primarily known for her music. Both have used music in an effort to get out of a bad situation. Google them for more info.

Ashley Alexandra Dupre - "What We Want"

Two confessions here: 1) I don't normally listen to this kind of Top-40-radio dance R&B lite stuff and 2) I am really jumping on the bandwagon here! All that being said, you'll probably like this, if you like this sort of thing. All the elements are here: heavy drum machine beats, come hither phrasing, American Idol style vocals. This would seem at home on your average Top-40-hits format radio station. Very reminiscient of other radio-friendly artists. One criticism I have seen is that it is a little TOO like those other performers. To be honest, I am not familiar enough with this style to declare this criticism valid or invalid.

Traci Lords - "Sunshine"/"You Burn Inside of Me"

This is more like what I usually listen to! Guitars and everything. Still dance floor stuff, but less radio friendly than Dupre. Of the two Dupre is the better technical vocalist, but I actually prefer Lords. She does a passible "breathy seduction" delivery. Maybe this is a little too "grungy" for your radio (if it's tuned to a Top-40 pop station), but would be at home even on an "indie" dance floor. "Sunshine"'s B-side (in an age without vinyl does that term still mean anything?) is more of a "make out" song, suitable for slow dancing. Slower anyway.