Saturday, May 12, 2012

Testermix - Spring '12

We're grinding through the year pretty quickly, aren't we? Why, it feels like just the other day that I promised you all that you'd be getting Testermixes left and right! Crazy, huh?! At any rate, we're back on track now, and while you gear up for my half-finished write-up on my Summer mix from last year, let's burn away the last few weeks of school (for sub-collegiate folks, anyway) with this year's Spring mix.

1) Pretty Lights - "Hot Like Dimes"

The electric boogaloo continues, but at least it's not more dubstep. Well, not quite anyway. Combining the huge bass hits and drops of big-beat electronic music with the soulful swagger of hip hop, Pretty Lights is the audio equivalent of DJ Shadow and Joe Boyd Vigil spending a night together drinking Grey Goose and Chuck Norrises and then decided to cut an album. "Hot Like Dimes" is my favorite out of what I've heard so far, sounding cocky and powerful with its driving guitar line and bubbly synth.

2) Lupe Fiasco - "I Don't Want to Care Right Now"

I like Lupe Fiasco, though his albums can be pretty tricky to listen to; they're often weighed down by over-indulgent runtimes (Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor), heavy-handed themes and lyrics (Lasers), or both (Lupe Fiasco's The Cool), making casual spins infrequent for me. Still, a few tracks from Lasers are pretty easy to listen to, and "I Don't Want to Care Right Now" is one of my favorites.

Confession time: you know how folks on the internet make continuous peanut gallery comments about how Auto-Tune is Destroying Music As We Know It™? Well, I am a member of the Auto-Tune-liking populous that convinces record producers to add the effect to so many songs nowadays. I am, in short, part of the problem. At any rate, it's this affection for the robot voice that endears me to so much "I Don't Want to Care Right Now"; I think it adds a spacy quality to the song, blending well with the electronic vibe from the rest of the production. Lupe's verses in this one are fun, battle-rhyme fare, which gel much better with me than ham-fisted polictical messages.

3) Four Year Strong - "Fairweather Fan"

Four Year Strong’s third album, In Some Way, Shape Or Form, dropped a little less than two years after their previous one, Enemy of the World. I Sometimes wonder if the band should have taken a break somewhere between the two releases because man do they sound tired on In Some Way. The melodies sound better, granted, but every song exudes less energy than on any of their other records. Every song, that is, except for "Fairweather Fan."

"Fairweather" has everything I like about Four Year Stong crammed into the same place: half-times, double-times, gang vocals, and lots of double-bass pedal. The melody is easy and unforced, making it a welcome departure from Enemy of the World's screech-y flailing, and they even have a short reference to one of their earlier records, which is a gesture I greatly appreciate. Time will tell if the group continues on the slightly-mellower path taken for most of In Some Way, or if they’ll come back swinging with more songs like "Fairweather Fan."

4) deadmau5 - "Moar Ghosts 'n' Stuff"

What a self-explanatory song. Remember "Ghosts 'n' Stuff," that song from my Spring '11 mix with all the organs? It's like that, but moar, er, more! I'm still pretty crazy about "Ghosts 'n' Stuff" even after listening to it for the better part of a year, and "Moar" does a good job of calling to mind that song while still doing its own thing. Admittedly, it does this by teasing at the four chord organ part from "Ghosts" throughout the song, but absence makes the heart etc. I've also grown to appreciate the main synth part, which sounded before like tuneless noodling and now sounds like... fun tuneless noodling!

5) Maroon 5 feat. Christina Agulara - "Moves Like Jagger"

Loyal followers will know that I'm not always punctual with my pop music selections, and am prone to discovering songs six to eight months past their sell-by date. Case in point! Remember when everyone was going nuts over this song last summer? Flash forward to March of the following year where we see Andrew at a bar, nursing four-to-seven rum and cokes and looking up in surprise at the song coming from the dance floor. "What is this song with the whistling and the bass?" he wonders aloud. "It's kinda catchy."

Turns out I could stand to have a bit more cultural awareness.

At any rate, "Moves Like Jagger." Maroon 5 has never quite been on my to-do list, with "Harder to Breathe" being their only song to make me sit up and take notice of them. "Moves" sounds pretty divorced from their usual pop-rock catalog of music and goes straight for the nightclub jugular with pulsing bass hits, off-time synth straight out of "Alejandro," and that cheery whistling earworm that must be one of the most devious things in '10's pop music. Christina Agulara's vocals don't wow me, but she does give the track a touch of feminine perspective, and the idea of both singers bantering back and forth is fun.

Come to think of it, that describes "Moves Like Jagger" exactly: fun, and that's why it's on my newest mix.

6) The Cab - "One of THOSE Nights"

Once upon a time, a young college student was flailing about in his dorm room for more untested bands to discover. After searching through Myspace and iTunes for far longer than he should have, he finally wound up on the webpage of his old favorite record label, Fueled By Ramen. There, he found a few songs from a new band he could get excited about, and promptly put one of the songs on his Winter mix once he discovered it was on Rock Band (drink), and the second one he put away for a rainy day.

Later, he realized the band wasn't really his style, and promptly stopped paying attention to them.

The first song from that fairy tale was "Bounce," a pop-punk-by-way-of-NSYNC track that was a HELL of a lot of fun to play on drums, and "One of THOSE Nights" (stupid, stupid ironic capitalization) was the other. For my money, the chorus for "Bounce" is catchier, but I love the energy for this song, which has a nice verse counter-melody (you don't see those terribly often) and some reverb-heavy snare hits. Also, if you want to appreciate how far ahead of the game Patrick Stump's vocal talents are, listen to the way he sings the song's chorus and how much more compelling it sounds than the actual band that wrote it.

7) Quietdrive - "Lie to Me"

I'm a bit torn on this song. On one hard, it's a fantastic throwback to the catchy, urgent pop-punk that Quietdrive made for one album (and one album only) on their debut record. On the other, it's perhaps the only song that sounds like it on their whole new CD, Up or Down. The song's title is pretty fitting for the album, now that I think about it. Bitterness aside, "Lie to Me" is hooky and sweet, with soaring vocals, boisterous power chords, and energy to spare.

8) Blue Öyster Cult - "Don't Fear the Reaper"

Good ol' classic rock radio. I played this song on Rock Band a fair few times in college (drink), but I think I needed exactly the right moment on exactly the right sunny day to make me fall for it.

If you didn't grow up listening to "Don't Fear the Reaper" blaring from your uncle's CD player, you've probably seen a certain Saturday Night Live sketch that added to the song's infamy. As such, you're likely familiar with the main guitar riff and Eric Bloom's mellow, carrying vocals, along with the weird, ethereal breakdown during the middle that sounds nothing like the rest of the song. It's an old staple, but sometimes songs are staples for a reason.

It could probably use more cowbell, though.

9) The Eagles - "One of These Nights"

Being a Montana boy, I've listened to my fair share of country, and one of my favorite country bands is The Eagles. They have a soft, acoustic sensibility that gels well with their straight-up rock material, and that variability makes them a great band for most occasions. "One of These Nights" combines the two elements for a slinky, sexy piece of western rock, perfect for night drives or, say, sitting around with friends. In a van. Just enjoy the damn guitar solo, okay?

10) Darren Korb - "Spike in the Rail"

Turns out that I like video game music. Last summer, Supergiant Games' Bastion wowed me with its super-saturated art direction, minimalistic storytelling, and fun action-RPG gameplay, but its best aspect by a walk was its soundtrack, a combination of bluesy, Old West guitars and electronic percussion. Of the 22 songs available for download on iTunes, "Spike in the Rail" best demonstrates what the soundtrack is capable of: it has the biggest beats, the twangiest guitar, and the damndest finger-tapping melody to ever come out of an XBLA game.

11) Black Eyed Peas - "Rock Your Body"

Some songs sound better after two or three cocktails. "Rock Your Body" took anywhere from 9 - 25, but it still does what all good club songs hope to: worm its way inside your head and convert you to its insidious ways with a catchy, oft-repeated phrase. That phrase in this case being, of course, "Yvan eht Nioj." Aside from the auto-tune chipmunk voice, the pulsing, spacy beat gives the song a hypnotic momentum, and the Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock sample warms my heart, even as I watch's habit of copy-paste beat-appropriating working its way into a gallop.

12) Silverstein - "Apologize"

Kids today love posturing and irony, and Fearless Records' Punk Goes... compilations have capitalized on this trend since the mid-2000s. The series has since denigrated into Melodic Hardcore Versions Of Top 40 Songs Vol. 4, but Silverstein's cover of OneRepublic's "Apologize" actually hones in on the emotional center of the original, and is, for my money, one of the best songs across the whole catalog. Granted, it descends into unclean vocals near the latter half, but they sound earned rather than gimmicky and the dour instrumentation approaches something like catharsis for this angsty twentysomething. Plus, the key of this version appeals to me more than the original's, so there's that.

13) The Offspring - "All I Want"


Sometimes I like my punk rock poppy and full of hand claps. Other times I like it thrash-y, and "All I Want" is a satisfying way to get my fill of double-time drums and vaguely rebellious lyrics. I originally discovered this song through the Dreamcast game Crazy Taxi, which I spent entirely too much time playing at various Target kiosks across Montana, and it showed me that a) video games besides Tony Hawk's Pro Skater can have good "real music" soundtracks, and b) The Offspring made songs before "Pretty Fly For A White Guy." Who knew?

14) Baracka Flacka Flame - "Run the Military"

You may remember that for last year's spring mix I included a song from everyone's favorite emcee-slash-US president (well, after Rappin' Ronnie Reagan). Perhaps I'm hoping to make it a tradition, because here I am, one year later, still listening to Baracka Flacka Flame. Rather than a parody like last time, though, "Run the Military" is a true blue original, and sports killer production work in the form of a bombastic, Southern-fried beat that tips, swaggers, and doubles down with thirty-second note hi-hats during the chorus.

The lyrics are pretty damn funny as well, using gangsta rap vernacular to reference President Obama's current political activities ("Catch me in that White House flexin' / I ain't even stressin' over re-election") and dropping disses during the second verse ("Herman Cain is a lame he should stay up out my lane / You a lil' road block like Palin and McCain"). Hopefully Baracka is working on something for election season in November, because I am prepared to buy the hell out of whatever this guy puts out next.

15) Ellie Goulding - "Lights (Bassnecter Remix)"

I've seen the name "Ellie Goulding" tossed around on Twitter for a good few months now (a side-effect of following white college girls), but it took another fateful trip to the bar in order for me to actually hear one of her songs*. Goulding’s voice carries a rather unique timbre, occupying a much higher register than other singers in pop music, and her vocals stand out in such a way that they practically pop off the track, drawing attention to the odd, haunting quality of the chorus. The ominous-sounding bass line gives the track a further feeling of unease, and the remix’s heightened pace makes the song sound urgent.

16) There For Tomorrow - "The Joyride"

More Warped Tour-ready pop punk! Actually, in this case, I did get this song from a Warped Tour compilation, but that's neither here nor there. Truthfully, there's not much that's special about "The Joyride," at least in the sense that There For Tomorrow sounds an awful lot like other drop-D-using emo groups, but dammit I do like a good hook. "The Joyride" includes few new ideas, outside a few bits like the echoing part during the bridge, but it's sweet and satisfying in an empty calorie sort of way, like a Fruit by the Foot. An angsty, moody Fruit by the Foot.

17) Tonight Alive - "Starlight"

More Warped Tou—aw, screw it. And yes, I did actually find out about these guys from the Warped Tour website. I’m going to see them, you’re going to judge me, and I’m not going to care.

Anyway, Tonight Alive. Ever since I discovered Paramore at my local Hastings in 2005, I’ve been enamored by female-fronted pop punk groups, and Hey Monday turned my passing fancy into a mega-crush. Tonight Alive isn’t perfect (the lead singer’s vowel-pronunciation becomes suspect at times, likely because the band is Australian), but they have energy to burn, and I firmly believe that more pop punk groups should incorporate double-bass as part of their sound. "Starlight" is lead single-y to a fault, but it brims with drum fills and punchy guitar lines, and the main chorus is damn catchy. See the above entry about its nutritional value as music; I eat this junk all the time.

18) La Roux - "Bulletproof"

In truth, this is more of a summer '10 song, but I've been playing it enough on Dance Central 2 lately to merit its inclusion here. Honestly, there's not much about this song I can recap; it has a fun, bouncy melody and a set of whoop-ing synthesizers that are very imitable in an annoying sort of way. Instead, I'll think about the dance moves during the chorus that involve spreading out my arms like an airplane, tucking them back into my chest, than twisting my waist around and pretending like my arm is a piston. Mmmm, good times.

19) Hot Chelle Rae - "I Like It Like That"

I like to include at least one "why the hell is this song here" entry on each mix, and this one's right up there with putting The Ready Set on my Fall '10 mix. This song is, honestly, a collection of dirty tricks designed to manipulate me into liking it it, rather than a song that I actually respect and enjoy all the way through. There are so many little things about this song that bug the crap out of me ("Missed. My. Ride. Home. / Lost. My. i. Phone.", "If the cops roll up (*fake crowd vocals* 'So what?!')", the entire New Boyz section), but then then bleeding chorus starts and the "Oh-oh"s kick in and then I'm singing along like an idiot. It's a sensation of being played and being aware of said playing: I know what's going on and why, but I can't help but go along with it anyway.

20) Journey - "Faithfully"

I thank my lucky stars every day that my friends are more musically-cultured than I am, by which I mean that a good chunk of bros and bro-ettes all listen to classic rock. Seriously, betweeen these guys and Rock Band (drink), it's a revolving door of music that's ready-made awesome. Speaking of songs that would go well on the old R to the B, "Faithfully" is an exceptional rock ballad, and represents all kinds of serenading possibilities for anyone of any gender. Throw in heart-melting keyboard part and a face-melting guitar solo and you have a song that's ready for spontaneous lovin' break-outs. Also, Steve Perry. Seriously, you guys, Steve Perry.

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