This is me finishing up my first series of music posts, which have been vaguely connecting through veins of me sharing some of my favorite bands, and talking about how I interact with and find music. Two sides of the same coin, since one of the best ways to find music is through recommendations, and, once recommended, through sampling the music yourself. Hopefully you’ve found someone new or something you like through my writing, because I know your comments and recommendations have helped me find some new music.
So let me know in the comments below what you think of my music series, or the Broken Bells, or who your favorite band is, or really, whatever you like! But for now: Broken Bells!
It’s a Perfect World
As the band came out, it was the vocals that play at the beginning of their recent music video, for Holding on for Life. And on the screen at the back of the stage, projected from a circular mirror array in the middle of the stage, was a reflection of the audience. Spotlights flowed around the audience, which started to bounce and beat and get excited and flow with the start of the music.
The show opened with the first song from their new album, the album they’re touring for, After the Disco. The song is called Perfect World, and it set a stage. The song opens with about a minute of just instrumental, of just them playing. It was a great warm up, a great way to get us in and excited and get things started.
On the screen, they panned away from the audience. Up, into the sky. To the Earth – with a great night sky shot, with all the cities lit up, their own little stars. It pans out further – off and away. Planets. Pulling away further. And then, suddenly, warping away, all with the music.
They took us out, away from home, somewhere else. They took us to a place of sound, of music, away from home and worries, for a while.
For their second song, they played my favorite: The Ghost Inside. I’ve referenced before the power and influence this song holds over me. It was pretty powerful still, it hit me pretty hard. I don’t think I was the only one – there were people dancing in the aisles ahead of us. But honestly? The best part was the end. James Mercer got us all clapping, got us in time. And they flowed, through this time, seamlessly from The Ghost Inside to After the Disco.
After your Faith has let you down,
I know you’ll want to run around,
And follow the crowd into the night,
But after the Disco…
All of the shine
Just faded away
-Broken Bells, After the Disco
It was magical. It was really the beginning of me rethinking their music, of me seeing it in this new light – of them blending and merging their two albums. They did this also on the screens with highlighting a character, mostly a silhouette, of the girl from the Holding on for Life video. I’m not sure if she’s meant to be the same character as Christina Hendricks was in The Ghost Inside – I would understand, I imagine she’s harder to get in a music video these days. Nonetheless, she became this recurring character throughout our journey for the evening.
Their first pause was after After the Disco. Not much, but enough to name the song before they played it: Mongrel Heart. A song I was pleased to see made the cut to the concert: it’s part of the strong finish to their first album, but not necessarily a song that stands entirely on its own. I mean, part of what’s great is how it fades into The Mall and the Misery…
So, they transitioned it into The Mall and the Misery.
They did a lot with light during the show. Projections like stars on the theater ceiling, projected rays of light while we were warping away into space. Darkness between songs. It was after The Mall and the Misery that they first did one of their big shifts during the silence: suddenly, they were in a new position.
The artists, writ large.
With Danger Mouse in a seat, playing the guitar, and Mercer next to him singing (and later, whistling), they played The Angel and the Fool. A beautiful song, and fun in the presentation as well. I saw it, and felt I just had to get out my phone (limping along on its last few percent of power) and snap a photo. I love how it turned out.
I won’t drag on and talk about every song they played – they eventually got in 18 (I think) of their 25 songs from their albums. Pretty good representation! Continue reading →
Next up in the Listening to Music Without Understanding It series was a post I’ve already thrown back, on Guardians of the Galaxy. So let’s jump ahead to the last couple of posts, when I closed out with the Broken Bells.
I’ve been holding off on writing much about my favorite band. I had a reason. I was seeing them in concert. I figured this would give me some insight, something new and interesting and different to talk about. And I wasn’t wrong.
If you were to ask me who my favorite band is, I might have to think a bit. There are bands I’ve loved for a long time. Bands that have a large amount of good content, that keep being good. But really, if I were forced to answer, I would have to go with the Broken Bells. And maybe, just maybe, some of the hesitation also has to do with the fact that, when I name them, people tend not to know who the heck I’m talking about.
The Broken Bells are the duo of two music creators known for their other work. One is James Mercer, lead singer of The Shins. The other is Brian Burton, better known by his stage name Danger Mouse, better yet known for producing music, such as the Gorillaz’s Demon Days, several albums by The Black Keys, and for being half of the duo Gnarls Barkley. It’s really when I get to mentioning Gnarls Barkley – and more specifically Crazy – that I finally get a dawning of recognition from people as to who the heck I’m talking about with either of these artists.
But music, as with all art, is about more than popularity, and so it is with the Broken Bells and I. And given that you probably don’t much know who they are either, dear readers, I think I am going to take some time with them, so, a couple of posts. I think this will conclude my first series of music posts, as well, as I shared some of themusic I love, some of the music that’s bigrightnow, and some ways to think about finding music. I think here first I’m going to dive into some of the question of why I like them: which goes to their skill at making music, the themes and lyrics. The second post, then, will be a bit of a review of their music: both of the concert – which has informed some of my further understanding of the band – and their albums.
Off we go then!
I have been trying to figure out how to best describe the music of the Broken Bells, the lyrics and the themes. I think the best I can think of is it is adult music. Like, music by adults. For adults. So much of music today is for the young, for partying, for public. I imagine this isn’t just true today! Much of the rest of music, then, has to do with love – love found, love lost (and not always necessarily much in-between) – perhaps going back to the poetic roots.
But really, most of life takes place not in these highlight moments – not just in the crazy weekend out with friends, not just in the excitement of a love found, or the heartbreak of a love lost. No, most of life takes place with work, with dreams, in love, or in being lost. Life is a daily thing, that can often drag us down. Or, as the Broken Bells say much better than I can,
“You gotta lead your life,
But you’re not sure you know the way!”
-Broken Bells, The Changing Lights
Enter the Broken Bells. There’s a lot in their music about dealing with disappointment, I would say. That life maybe hasn’t worked out like you thought, that your dreams haven’t all come true, or when they did, they weren’t what you expected.
They don’t leave you there, though. It’s uplifting. Take a chance, still dream the dreams, and dream big – reach for the stars. These themes, these words keep coming up in their music, in a way I noticed even more at the concert: dreams, lights and stars. And the ghosts. Which are not only maybe the external ghosts of the world gone by, but the ghost inside, the thing that keeps us going ourselves.
I think the song that displays this best is one that I’ve only recently really fallen in love with: Vaporize.
Oh, and they’re definitely Musicians
I loved their music too, and if you know some of the other bands I’ve talked about here in my series, maybe you see it. They’re another Alternative Rock band, whatever that really ends up meaning, and they fit into that genre pretty well. But while I liked the music before, I don’t think I really respected it until seeing them live.
As the stage was getting set up, it had this great, futuristic look. These clean, white keyboard stands, and a set of drums. Three keyboard stands. So they had a spot for all four band members. But it wasn’t until they got going that everything came into focus.
Like all the guitars. You had the bassist (or maybe guitarist?) in the back, who also had his keyboard. Oh, and his mic for backup vocals. So he had three instruments. Then there was Mercer himself, with two guitars – electric and acoustic – as well as his keyboard and, of course, his mic. Then you had Danger Mouse, with his main keyboard, as well as an electric guitar for some songs and, for use with the song Medicine, a small xylophone. Oh, and a mic. And then the drummer, with the eponymous drums, as well as a mic.
So it seems like the drummer had the least going on… right up until he and Danger Mouse traded places. This happened a few times during the concert, with Danger Mouse going back to play drums, and the drummer coming up and playing the electric guitar and even the keyboard. And really, I had not thought about how important the drums were to these songs until watching them in action.
They all did three or more things throughout the concert, and it was a sight to see. Other bands might pull this off by being larger, but for the Broken Bells, they do it by being Musicians, with a capital M. They make music, and they do it by knowing how to play instruments, knowing how to sing, knowing how to work together.
It was a sight to behold. Each song another wonder of skill. I’ll likely mention it again next week, but it belongs here too: there’s even a point where Mercer was whistling, which doesn’t seem like a challenge until you think of whistling through a microphone – without causing feedback or driving every dog for 20 miles crazy.
TL;DR: Why Broken Bells?
It’s odd to think of a conclusion here, when I’m planning on talking about the band more, but so it goes. Next week I think I’m going to be highlighting a couple of specific songs, and linking to their music videos. But that leaves me with something else I can include here.
They did a live show on David Letterman, and 12 of the songs (I would imagine that was the whole set for the show?) are all online, on their official channel, in a playlist no less.
It’s not quite the experience we had. For one thing, it’s a lot quieter there than it was for us – in the theater we saw them in, the sound filled the hall, and some of the songs, like Meyrin Fields, were explosive. Also, in the videos, they do closeup stuff and all and you can’t choose where to watch yourself: the musicians in their varying roles, or the awesome visual show they put on to go with it. Nonetheless, this is a good way to see some of what I am talking about, to see this band in action.
And really, if you want one great example, check out the live show of Vaporize, lyrics above, which has Mercer playing the acoustic guitar, Danger Mouse on the drums, the drummer rocking out on the guitar, the bassist playing the keyboard… and it’s just wonderful.
It worked at the time, but I don’t know if this one has aged quite as well – but the question now stands, what are some newer songs that have good parodies?
I’ve been covering bands for the lastfewweeks. Kind of like in a concert, when the band gets going, and plays a bunch of songs in a row without stopping. But it’s time to slow back down a bit, get back into a groove of talking about music, as well as bands.
This week, I wanted to talk about one-hit wonders. Usually, figuring out what songs are one-hit wonders requires a good deal of time to pass, so that you can look back and say that, “yep, none of their other songs ever made it big.” However, I think that makes it fun to speculate about which recent songs will end up as one-hit wonders, as the artists fade into the night.
I think that today’s day-and-age has an interesting twist to the one-hit wonder as well: YouTube and the Internet. Now, the songs are potentially big not only just as a song, but as a music video people can watch, share, and interact with. It’s the fact of interaction that I think can point the way to the one-hit wonders: songs where there’s a ton of parodies and other interaction leading to the popularity (or notoriety!) and life of the one song, but not to the artist’s career overall.
I think that in the past, Weird Al Yankovic almost single-handedly had this same effect with some songs – and may still today, with his new album. Time will tell! But let’s look at a few songs that I think are going to go down in history as one-hit wonders, and some of the parodies that lead me to think that way!
Call Me Maybe
Remember this song? Annoyingly catchy and all over the place, and I remember being surprised that it wasn’t an artist I had really heard of before – it seemed like a Katy Perry song or something like that. However, part of why this song was big was because there were so many parodies of it. I tried to avoid this one as best I could, so I don’t have a parody that stood out in my mind or that I remember. Instead, here’s a link to a basic search for parodies of this song:
The top five parodies that came up have roughly 272.5 million views between them. That’s a lot of views. And there are a bunch more parodies! Oh, and the original song has 577.5 million views. Just looking at Carly Rae Jepsen’s VEVO, I see a few other songs with a decent number of views… but nothing to touch this one song. Will history remember her as a one hit wonder? My sources say maybe.
Somebody That I Used to Know
Here’s another song that blew up, was hugely popular, and had a video which people loved to parody: “Somebody that I used to know” by Gotye. This one has 533.7 million views just for this one version.
And it’s a really artistically interesting video, and it’s a vocal duo which is always popular and different, and it’s just this interesting and unique sound… songs that meet those sorts of qualifications often don’t live up to expectations with the rest of an artist’s work. It seems to be the same with Gotye.
There’s one parody of this song I definitely remember, which was really well done both for content, topic, and for copying the art style of the original video. This one is great, if you’re any kind of Star Wars fan!
I love Imagine Dragons. At this point, they’ve had two albums since this post – Smoke + Mirrors and Evolve. They’ve kept me interested and kept up their quality, which has been great to see. Having seen them live, I feel a bit more connection – and understanding – for this band. Hopefully I imparted some of that below!
Last week I wrote about Lorde, one of the sudden, big hits of recent years. She’s so young that some of the question is, how genuine is she, how much will she maintain who she is now into the future? She sings so much of being small, but has become so big that you have to wonder what the future holds for her.
The discussion, about how genuine she is, and if it will last, got me thinking of a different band – another recent rise to fame. A band whose name and first full album I keep seeing listed as a top-selling album – 2 years after its release. The album is Night Visions, and the band is Imagine Dragons.
My wife Holly and I were fortunate enough to see Imagine Dragons in concert last year. And by fortunate, I mean that we planned far in advance, got the tickets, and flew many thousands of miles to see them. And what we saw was a band that seemed truly, humbly pleased with their fame, who seemed overwhelmed with it all.
Waiting on this for a while now… Paying my dues to the dirt
A quick scan of the Wikipedia page about the band shows that some of it was luck that they hit it big, filling in for someone else (Train) at a large concert. We started following them with their early 2012 EP, Continued Silence. And then Night Visions came out, and has been hanging out on iTunes, at least, as one of the top selling Alternative albums ever since, whenever I’m looking for new music.
A lot of their music has been coming out, bit by bit, on EPs, and after the album even, on soundtracks and one at a time. Part of their success has been in the ability for people to get their hands on their music digitally, rather than only through traditional albums.
That also says to me that they’ve been making music for a while, have been putting it together bit by bit, have been trying to figure out what people might like, and what they like to play. As the lyrics say – “been dreamin’ of this since a child.”