Monday, January 17, 2011

Testermix - Winter '10

It's that time again! Here's another list of songs that I'm compiled during the twilight months of 2010 (hence the title), painstakingly analyzed, or at least written about between episodes of's Replay. Enjoy!

1) The Flock of Seagulls - I Ran (So Far Away)

A poster child for song peer pressure, "I Ran" was brought to my attention for three reasons:

a) It was featured in a commercial for an 80’s compilation CD that you would get by subscribing to Entertainment Weekly. This commercial ran CONSTANTLY during the Toonami block of Cartoon Network, so I was able to get a passing familiarity with the title of the song.

b) A few years later, it was featured in a sweet ad for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which helped establish a much better impression than "it exists"

c) Back in July, I played it on Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80's.

It's been lolling around in my head ever since, and I finally took the plunge and got it on iTunes. No regrets.

2) Ke$ha - We R Who We R

As I mentioned in several entries, I likes me some Ke$ha. As Wikipedia informs us, “We R Who We R” debuted at back in October at number 1, which means that I would have, if nothing else, seen it on iTunes under the Top Downloads list. I never fully tried out the song, though, until later that month when my friend Jordyn and I accidentally took a trip to Great Falls (it’s a rich tapestry). In the car, I was able to take advantage of the Amazon MP3 Store from my phone, and, what with boredom setting in, decided to give the song a whirl. The rest is history.

Musically, it’s more Ke$ha, which can hardly be a bad thing. “We R” maintains Ke$ha’s penchant for sweet synth and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek song writing. That the song was written in response to an actual tragedy but doesn’t come off preachy or high and mighty (unlike some other songs) makes it that much more of an accomplishment.

3) Hit The Lights - Drop the Girl

As a pop punk junkie, I try to stay up on newer, scene-breaking bands, so Hit The Lights has been on my list for a while now (thanks in large part to the Madden ’07 soundtrack). Unfortunately, Hit The Lights has been mostly promise with only some execution, never quite rising to the level with the Fall Out Boys and Hey Mondays of the power pop world; nasally vocals and same-sounding songs aside, they never have had the inventiveness to back up their admittedly-high energy.

I tried out their then-new album Skip School, Start Fights back in 2008 (and if that title doesn’t give you an idea of the age group of their fanbase, I don’t know what will), and it underwhelmed me with so-so songs and a complete lack of originality (not to mention severely disappointed me by treating one of my favorite 80’s songs to a flaccid cover). However, one song managed to jump out at me and actually stay in my head (something no Hit The Lights song had done to date). Granted, it doesn’t vary much from the standard HTL book of tricks (big hooks and “wo-oah”s during the chorus), but it just does it better than most of the other songs, and that deserves a spot on the mix.

4) The Lonely Island feat. Akon - I Just Had Sex

Occasionally, I get input of songs to think about including on my mixes. One suggestion for this go around was “I’m On A Boat,” that Grammy-nominated­ dedication to contemplating your Naval (ba dump tish). I played around with the song a bit, and it very nearly made the list, but “Boat” is a bit more March 2009 (when my friends and I played the HELL out of Incredibad) than Winter ’10.

Lo and behold, that very same weekend, The Lonely Island debuted their new Digital Short and lead single for their upcoming album. And just like its predecessor, it had a guest spot from major hip-hop star, featured crude and sometimes juvenile lyrics, and was CATCHY AS S#%@. The thing that constantly impresses me about The Lonely Island is both how legit their production style is (insert different words, and this becomes a top-shelf Akon single) and how funny their lyrics are, with one never overshadowing the other. The new album can’t come soon enough.

5) Every Avenue - Where Were You

Every Avenue is another pop-punk band that I considered getting into, but their sound often feels too slick and lacking in energy (All Time Low has experienced something similar). That does not mean, however, that they lack any sort of Andrew-redeeming material. On the contrary, even the most “eh” of bands can occasionally turn up something noteworthy.

“Where Were You” isn’t some revolution in power-pop (if it was, I would have slapped it on a mix much sooner), but it is damn catchy. I’m not sure if I’d want to listen to an entire album of this sort of 30-weight motor oil slickness, but a little lube every now and then isn’t so bad.

6) Steve Miller Band - Fly Like an Eagle

Only six tracks in, and we’ve already stumbled on our first It Came From Rock Band song. Of course, I’ve been familiar with this song for a while now (aside from “The Joker,” it’s the de facto Steve Miller Band song), but I had to hear it in conjunction with the sound of clicking plastic instruments in order to truly appreciate it (plus, playing the keyboard part helped me hear how well it complements the rest of the song; I didn’t even know it had a keyboard part prior to playing it).

7) Cartel – Honestly

This may well be the Generic Pop-Punk edition of Testermix, because here’s another track from an Eh Overall band (and by the way, Eh Overall would be a pretty good name for a group like this). Easy melodies (this time on the verse for once!) and a good sense of energy make this one a keeper. Heck, I may even check out their new album because of it (maybe).

8) Forever the Sickest Kids - Whoa Oh! (Me Vs. Everyone)

Here we go again. And trust me, if you want a great example of Bands With Only One Truly Stellar Song, Forever the Sickest Kids is a pretty good one (them and The Rembrandts. Yeesh). I originally heard this song on our local hits station and decided, you know, I think I’ll give this band a try by impulse-buying their CD. After all, there’s got to be like nine other at least pretty good songs on the album, right? Right? Oh boy.

Anyways, you know the drill by this point in the mix. Good hooks (extra points for “wo-oah”s) and energetic delivery will make an okay band sound decent, and FTSK really does create a genuinely good slice of power pop with this one. That said, I’m not sure if I’ll venture into their newer stuff any time soon.

9) Story of the Year - Until the Day I Die

Out of all of the songs in “Winter ’10,” this is the one that I’m most familiar with, having been introduced to Story of the Year in late 2003 with their debut album Page Avenue (still their best one, IMHO, because they sound their hungriest on it). Of all of their singles, this one has always seemed the most effortless, with a huge melody and unbound energy in tow. While their other songs have sounded like they’re trying too hard to be catchy, “Until the Day I Die” has always soared the highest and rocked the hardest. The likelihood of Story reverting back to a Page Avenue style of sound is rather slim (bands grow up and become new bands, unless they’re AC/DC), but I still find myself sampling their new material whenever I get rumbling of another album, if only to hope that they find their energy again.

10) Paul McCartney - Band on the Run

This song was a bit of a slow burn for me, but I eventually found my way back to it. In truth, I had forgotten about it being a three-part track, with the first two minutes or so sounding much more Steve Miller than the bouncy, happy song it turns into later (“Live and Let Die” has a stylistic transition that’s similarly jarring). Still, I’ve grown to like the opening build, and, after the 2:07, it’s all musical gravy from there.

11) Ludacris - Get Back

This is the only single I can think of from Ludacris’ 2005 album Red Light District, and it was reasonably popular at the time, but you may be more familiar with it as the song that plays during the ending credits of Tropic Thunder. Like many things Ludacris, it’s clever, silly, and has a good beat to it. What’s not to like?

12) Panic! At the Disco - The Only Difference

I’ve mercifully abridged the song title, because Panic! At the Disco drips with the kind of “hip” pretentiousness that turns me off to self-aware movies, music, and books (like most of what Ellen Paige had to say in Juno, and most indie music, period). That said, “The Only Difference” is a pretty infectious piece of pop, with a driving melody, and great gushers of energy peppered liberally throughout the song. The lyrics are typical Panic! fair, but I find ‘em pretty easy to tune out, which is all the better to enjoy this nice slice of Decaydance sweetness.

13) Blue Oyster Cult – Godzilla

This one goes all the way back to the original Guitar Hero for me; I have rather vivid memories of playing this song during my freshman year of college, feet propped up on the mini-fridge and doing my best to nail the solo on Medium. Times have changed, but Blue Oyster Cult seems to hold up pretty well, and their ode to Godzooky’s uncle is one of my favorites from them. Led by a big, stomp-y sort of riff, “Godzilla” makes almost no sense from a songwriting perspective (at least, it never satisfactorily answers the question of why the song is), but is pretty damn fun nonetheless.

14) Elton John - Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting

For those who grew up in the 90’s (and were na├»ve to any form of music older than 1989), Elton John was famous for two reasons: co-writing The Lion King’s music with Tim Rice, and writing that one “Candle in the Wind” song, which received a resurgence when Princess Diana passed away in 1997. Given that, it’s safe to say that I was pretty ignorant of Elton John’s actual fame-acquiring career during my formative years. Rock Band 3 was able to show me what I missed, though, and I’m all the better for it.

“Saturday Night” is the anti-Elton John song for me. Rather than a slow, pretty love song, it’s loud, brash, and packing a memorable, uber-distorted guitar riff. It legitimately rocks, and it’s a pretty sweet song for the times when, damn it, you just wanna throw all inhibitions out the window and take the town by storm. “Don’t give us none of your aggravation,” the chorus shouts, “we’ve had it with your discipline.” Over 30 years later, the message rings as loud, brash, and fun as ever.

15) Fall Out Boy - Don't You Know Who I Think I Am?

I’ve been a fan of Fall Out Boy ever since I accidentally ran across them on some sampler I got from the 2004 Warped Tour, and their third major studio album, Infinity on High, was one of the bigger releases during my second semester of college. It had a great collection of tracks, from the dance-y “This Ain’t A Scene” to the just-go-with-it “Thanks for the Memories,” but the CD’s sleeper hit was this baby. Hooky, melodic, and packing some serious energy (Andy Hurley is one of the most underrated drummers in the music industry, and a great example of how a great drummer can push a good band into excellence), “Don’t You Know” is one of those songs I like to play when I feel like car dancing.

16) The Police - Message in a Bottle

Like Elton John, my relationship to The Police has been fraught with misunderstandings and flat-out “Huh?” moments. The Police has long been known by me for their song “Every Breath You Take,” that wonderful stalker anthem that has been humorously included on many-a romantic mixtape since its release in the 80’s. My mom bought their greatest hits when I was 13, though, and I was gradually able to discover some of their better material (including one song that many will remember was reimagined in Moulin Rouge).

“Message” is probably my favorite, though. The driving melody, active drum part, and ending chorus of “Sending out an S.O.S.” has been the stuff that my pop dreams are made of for the better part of a decade, and its inclusion on Guitar Hero II could only make my infatuation grow.

17) Quietdrive – Jessica

Quietdrive was brought to my attention through a free sampler distributed by Hot Topic in the early parts of 2007, and included in the mix was a song from a certain small, Minneapolis band. I liked what I heard, so I picked up their album and promptly fell in middle school crush with them, and, while I haven’t dug their recent material as much as their first CD, they’ve been a fairly reliable source a power-pop goodness over the years. This entry from their Open Your Eyes EP is basic, lead single material, but that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to like it. Heck, it’s my list, so I’ll do it anyway!

18) Bloc Party – Banquet

One of my favorite video game franchises has been the SSX series of snowboarding games. SSX 3 made my list, so I was incredibly stoked for its 2005 follow-up, SSX On Tour. Unfortunately, the game eschewed many of the design decisions that I loved in 3, and replaced its quirky, electronic vibe with Brit rock sensibilities and Napoleon Dynamite-style art directions. The gameplay was good, but most of the game was better on paper than it was in practice. From On Tour, though, came a stellar, interesting soundtrack, including this gem from London-based Bloc Party. I’ll be honest: I really don’t care what is said in this song, not for much of the verse structure. I like this song because of the awesome guitar line—it was so in 2005, and it’s so well into 2011.

19) Kanye West feat. Rihanna - All of the Lights

Kanye West’s The College Dropout is one of my favorite albums, so I always hype myself up for a new ‘Ye release (I find that ignoring his real life jackassery and enjoying his music in a vacuum makes for a much better listening experience overall). I’m not sure if he’ll ever make an album like that again, however; it was a single-producer album, made in a time before his head had swollen to Universal globe proportions. All the same, I enjoyed his newest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (whose songs, like its name, suffer from being overlong), and “All of the Lights” contains some of West’s most exciting production to date, particularly the percussion.

20) Nicki Minaj feat. - Check it Out

The second-to-last spot is where I like to hide my fly-by-night, guilty pleasure tracks, and this Mix is no different.’s bite-tastic sampling of a certain song from The Buggles is as catchy as it is shallow, and there’s something that grabs me about Minaj’s line, “Haters, you can kill yourself.” Of course, I think it’s a bit rich for to declare during the chorus, “I can’t believe it / This beat is bangin,’” (he made the beat; bit self-congratulatory for my taste), but this is a song where I don’t mind to swallowing any pockets of pop rap-isms and just going with it.

21) Acceptance - Take Cover

A small flash in the music industry pan, Acceptance broke up shortly after I found out about them, but their album-opening “Take Cover” still lives on in my heart. I like their blend of piano and power pop, and the driving melody makes for an exciting, rewarding listen.

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