#178 – The Safety Dance

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Artist – Sleeping at Last
Album – Covers, Vol. 1
Year – 2014
Genre – Acoustic

The best moments of discovery in music are the random ones. I discovered this absolutely breathtaking cover of Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance,” because I thought the song would be great for a pop-punk cover. But lo, I discovered an incredible acoustic cover and stripped down cover instead. Totally not what I was looking for, but supremely appreciated. So I guess I should review it now, since I’ve literally been listening to it all day.

First off, I must say this, as it’s an incredible feat this cover pulls off and a facet that is really a beautiful thing to keep in mind when listening to this version. The original song, while good in its own right, always had that stigma of another cheesy 80’s song that was more of a rallying cry to a large group of people trying to have a good time. Singer/songwriter Ryan O’Neal (aka Sleeping at Last) manages to create a totally different meaning for the words. In this cover, the words seem to come across as being sung by a guy or girl to the love of their life. It’s still an expression of youth and exuberance, but it’s also a sweet, endearing, intimate, and tender love song. It becomes about the things that couples do together that are those little shows of affection and love towards each other, and escaping all the rules and confines of the world and being secure and wild in each other’s love. I think that’s quite beautiful, don’t you? Even the title “The Safety Dance” seems like a clever and lovely title for the song when hearing this version.

The song begins simply with O’Neal strumming a guitar. His voice is sweet and high, sort of like Passenger but a little less British and high pitched. I always liked the melody of the original song, and he doesn’t really change too much in that department. All in all the song doesn’t change much musically, until the end when things get intense and a piano comes in and creates this great rich crescendo in sound. O’Neal’s singing is vulnerable and his voice wavers as he sings the verses, but it adds to that mood of young love I spoke of. As you listen, you may find yourself amazed at how much the words change meaning.

Let’s just take a look at some of the lyrics that change:

We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind

The lines that most everyone knows now become a testament to recklessness and living in the moment and trusting each other, even in your silliest moments.

Say, we can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind

Wow, what a change in this one. Again, it’s escaping all the rigidity and rules the world lays out and just letting yourself go with the one you love, and finding those spaces where nothing else in the world matters, just the feelings and affection between you and your partner.

We can go when we want to
The night is young and so am I
And we can dress real neat from our hats to our feet
And surprise ’em with the victory cry

This one is about just living in the moment again, and being a bit silly. But it’s those moments that have the most power in a relationship. Those are the moments you remember forever.

Say, we can act if we want to
If we don’t, nobody will
And you can act real rude and totally removed
And I can act like an imbecile

I love this verse. I love the first two lines especially. It’s about breaking the normal boundaries and finding independence within yourself and within one another. Again, being totally comfortable in your own silly and ridiculous moments. That’s sometimes where we truly bond with others.

During the bridge of the song, I love the lines “Everything is out of control” and “Everybody’s taking the chance.” It’s really a testament to the wild, crazy experience that is love. Also, the repeated title of “the safety dance” really has the connotation as this connection that you feel in a loved one. That bond of two people that have found safety and security in each other in the dance of life. Is that cool or WHAT! I think that’s so cool, but that’s just me.

Anyways the last verse that’s actually different is also great:

We can dance if we want to
We’ve got all your life and mine
As long as we abuse it, never gonna lose it
Everything’ll work out right

How totally in love is the guy who’s singing this? He want’s to spend every waking moment with her. If the song was about one crazy moment, he wants to live in that moment forever with her. Damn, this song just became crazy meaningful, right?

Anyways, this is definitely the definition of what I love about music. Taking something that I initially thought one way about and now I think a totally different way about it. It’s amazing how that works. Listen for yourself. I guarantee you won’t see it as that cheesy sports stadium song that they play sometimes.

Thanks for listening and reading! Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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#177 – Geronimo

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Artist – Sheppard
Album – Bombs Away
Year – 2015
Genre – Indie Pop

George Sheppard and his gang of Aussies have created one of the most infectious songs of the year already, and we’re three months in! Seriously, I hear this song everywhere now! I have to give a shout out to a very good friend of mine, Erika Austin for first showing me this song. Now I’m addicted. You can read about all her journeys to far away places here:

https://eaustin92.wordpress.com/

She’s a really great writer, and trust me, you’ll want to go visit these places after you’re done reading about them.
P.S. watch out for her food posts, you’ll get very hungry very fast 😉

Anyway, back to the song. The song opens with some Mumford and Sons guitar strumming on speed, but that’s just what I like, so I’m a fan. Sheppard’s voice is that perfect Britpop voice, and it fits very well. He sings very well, and his falsetto jumps sound great. In fact, the best parts of this song are when he transitions to falsetto. The whole song is damn catchy. So catchy that I can’t even begin to explain it. But you better gear up for this chorus.

Good luck getting that chorus out of your head now that you’ve heard it. Don’t be surprised if at random times of your day, you just yell out “SAY Geronimo.” It’s perfectly normal. But that aside, it’s amazingly catchy and memorable. Everything a great pop song should be. But I do adore the post chorus sections of this song. The electric guitar plucks in the background, and that great falsetto voice just rocks it. Not to mention the female backing of “BOMBS AWAY!” That’s also fun to yell out at random times too.

The next verse is more frenetic due to the super fast tambourine in the background, but we’re right back into the chorus and post chorus in no time, being carried along at a super fast pace. But again, that’s how I like it. You get lost in the song, which is a good thing. When every part is this good, it’s just one good time after another.

The bridge is a bit softer, but I like the way Sheppard builds his voice until the powerful end, then the instrumental cut out…and then the final blend of chorus and post chorus into one huge sounding melodic package. It’s the payoff you’ve been waiting for throughout the song. It does not disappoint. What’s that? You can’t control your hand reaching for the replay button? It’s ok…just let it happen. Your brain wants this. It’s an amazing, catchy pop song! What did you expect? I expect more great things from Sheppard in the future!

Thanks for listening and reading! Be sure to leave me your thoughts in the comments!

#176 – Make You Better

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Artist – The Decemberists
Album – What A Beautiful World, What A Terrible World
Year – 2015
Genre – Folk Rock

It’s always a nice gesture when a band lets me conduct an interview with them. The Decemberists are a very gracious group for doing such, and you can read an interview I did with them here:

http://www.buffalonews.com/gusto/concert-previews/after-hiatus-the-decemberists-make-shift-toward-personal-music-20150326

So I thought I’d take the time to review one of my favorite tracks off of their new album. Away we go.

The first thing you hear is this beautiful, clean guitar that just resonates as if in a huge room. Singer Colin Meloy’s slightly gritty, but earnest and emotional voice also echoes all around you.

I want you, thin fingers. I wanted you, thin fingernails. And when you bend backwards I wanted you, I needed you to make me better.

I loved you in springtime. I lost you when summer came. And when you pulled backwards, I wanted you, I needed to make me better.

These are the words that Meloy writes and sings. He’s baring his soul about how much he loved someone. You can tell he loved with his whole heart. Just the honesty with which he sings is palpable, and with the piano chords striking in the background…it’s a lovely effect. A very melancholic one.

The chorus has absolutely beautiful harmonies and a super catchy melody. The instruments reach full power here, and you can feel the whole band just augmenting the mood of the song. It’s powerful stuff.

The next verse deals with the relationship being somewhat damaging, but it’s still heartbreaking to hear how much he still cared in the lyrics, because he knew that she would make him happier than he’d been before. He wouldn’t be lonely anymore, and that’s the true sense I get from Meloy’s words.

The next chorus has some wonderful melody changes, like at the end of the end of the second full line, where Meloy goes up high and then riffs it down low. It sounds great, and his clear voice keeps the song firmly anchored. We get to focus on the instruments from the band for a bit, and then we get these wonderful bridge lyrics:

All I wanted was a shimmer of your shine to make me bright.

Wow. What a sentiment of love and adoration. This, combined with the ending chorus, makes the end of the song very emotional and sad, but by time it’s over, you can really appreciate the art that The Decemberists have made with this song. It’s a different sort of song, but one that’s welcomed and one that I really love for it’s sentiments.

Thanks for reading and listening! Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

#175 – Back to Oblivion

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Artist – Finch
Album – Back to Oblivion
Year – 2014
Genre – Post-Hardcore/Alt. Rock

Finch is one of those bands that I just wished put out a lot more material than they have, because they’re one of the best in their field. The musicians are all incredibly talented individuals, and singer Nate Barcalow has one of the most powerful and emotive voices in the genre. Naturally, I would hope they would make a good impression with their newest record, and the first track just absolutely blows me away, so I had to let all you good folks out there know about it.

First of the descending guitar riff that dominates the chorus is the perfect pump up to open the song. Then we hear the classic Barcalow rasp. The way he sings has that perfect amount of grit and melody. He never has to sacrifice one for the other, and just the sheer power with which he sings…seriously I can’t praise the guy enough. The verse lets Barcalow show off his chops, and the chorus is just pure hooky goodness. With that monster riff going and the drums absolutely pounding, we get some great harmony and before you blink we’re back in the next verse.

This is where the money shot is. Right at the end of the second verse, Barcalow bellows the words “AS I’M HEADING…”. This is to lead right into the next chorus, but just incredible emotional force and power behind his singing in those words, and just the melody…oh my god. That sequence of notes that he hits in that short time span just gives me the shivers it’s so good. Hopefully you’ll hear what I mean for yourself.

That verse ending only makes the next chorus that much more powerful. Then we hit the bridge, which keeps the power going until we get to the instrumental break. It adds a great spacey feel to the song, almost as if you’re falling into the void. And as you hear the next choruses, you can picture someone spiraling downward into some sort of darkness, or oblivion. Actually more on a literal level this time instead of metaphorical. I also have to point out that I love the way the song ends on a big, beefy bass note that they let ring.

Bonus: Listen to the Japan exclusive track “Keep the Kids Safe” before listening to this song. It’ll really amp up the epic feel of the bombardment that’s about to come with “Back to Oblivion.”

All in all, I was blown away by this song. Finch rarely disappoints, and I hope that from this point on, they put out more material for us to discover and appreciate. They have the talent, that’s for sure.

Thanks for reading and listening. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

#174 – Recovery

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Artist – Frank Turner
Album – Tape Deck Heart
Year – 2013
Genre – Folk Rock/Folk Punk

“There’s a lot of stuff on this record about loss and failure in relationships, about what happens when something that was supposed to be timeless runs out of time.” That’s what folk punk singer/songwriter Frank Turner said about Tape Deck Heart, the album that “Recovery” is on. I think that’s how a lot of us view relationships, and this song is a somewhat quirky and upbeat, albeit still sad and very British take on the classic breakup song. It’s great. You should listen to it. Here’s why:

Turner is a very earnest and kind of scatterbrained dude. You can tell right from the minute he starts singing the first verse in a very fast paced and run on sort of way. The acoustic guitar is a great build up to the explosive chorus, which features a myriad of really cool instruments: piano, mandolin, and a really cool accordion. It’s amazingly catchy, and the “oohs” in the background back Turner up perfectly. It’s a sad chorus, but an extremely uplifting melody, and one you’ll probably be humming to yourself soon enough.

Speaking of words, Turner has great skill stringing his words together. It’s intensely personal stuff and you get the true sense of a ballad about Turner’s life and his lost love. But it’s done in such a way that’s creative and clever, and it captures the eccentric nature of Turner’s behavior and the kind of person that he is. The bridge contains some of my favorite lyrics of the song:

But tonight I need to hear some truth if I’m ever getting through this.
Yeah you once sent me a letter that said “If you’re lost at sea,
Close your eyes and catch the tide my dear and only think of me.”
Well darling now I’m sinking and I’m as lost as lost can be
And I was hoping you could drag me up from down here towards my recovery.

It captures that real sense of loss and longing that happens after any breakup, but Turner uses words to add a little poetic liberty to it and it just works beautifully.

During he instrumental after the bridge we get this wonderful string crescendo that just blows me away, but you need a keen ear to hear it. It’s a subtle treat, but over the top of that, the band is rocking out full force, just like the chorus. The piano, accordion, drums, and guitar are slamming and you get this great folk rock jam. The song not only rocks, but really proves Turner’s great pop sensibilities as demonstrated by the amazing chorus hook.

If you haven’t heard Frank Turner yet, you’re missing out! Consider this your wake up call, and I hope you enjoy!

Thanks for reading and listening. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

#173 – All For You

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Artist – Sister Hazel
Album – Somewhere More Familiar
Year – 1997
Genre – Alternative Rock/Southern Rock

Prepare to be hit with the nostalgia bomb, 90’s kids. I fondly remember this song playing a lot on the top 40 radio stations while in the car with my Mom. Of course, I really didn’t appreciate it back then. Listening to it now, It really is quite a beautiful love song full of passion, emotion, and spectacular melody and harmony that just…well if you haven’t remembered this song by and are singing along, let me refresh your memory.

Right from the sunny, gorgeous guitar arpeggio at the start, you know it’s going to be a good ride. Singer Ken Block’s voice is sweet and has that perfect amount of grit that roots him firmly in the 90’s alternative scene. If you blink, you’ll miss the first verse, as it goes very fast. Pretty soon we’re already at the prechorus, and right at the end we hear the first of Sister Hazel’s wonderful harmonies. And now we dive into one of the catchiest choruses of the 90’s:

It’s hard to say what it is I see in you
Wonder if I’ll always be with you
But words can’t say, And I can’t do
Enough to prove It’s all for you

Damn. The melody and harmony here is out of this world, and you can absolutely tell that Block means every single word of this chorus as he sings. He’s so passionate, and the band backing him is feeding off of that energy. Everything is so harmonic and fits perfectly. And the lyrics are really touching. Sometimes it’s hard to get someone we care about to notice that everything we do is for them, which is a true expression of how much you love someone. Word’s can never express it fully and sometimes even actions fail. But the love is always there in its purest form, and that’s a beautiful thing the band is expressing. It’s quite emotional, actually. You can tell whoever this song was written about was a most special person.

I really like the gentility of the second verse. Block’s voice is softer, and the instruments get a little quieter at first:

I thought I’d seen it all, ‘Cause it’s been a long long time
But then we’ll trip and fall, Wondering if I’m blind

It deals with the weariness of having your heart broken and being lonely and tired for so long, so it’s natural that the vocals and instruments reflect that. The lyrics are saying it’s been a long time since I’ve loved anyone this much, and there were so many times when I wondered what was wrong with me that bad things kept happening. But once you hit that second chorus, it’s all elation again.

The bridge has a really poetic line that I particularly like:

Words without a sound coming from your eyes

As that phrase ends on a really high note from Block and another awesome harmony, I really like the expression of love you feel when you look in a significant other’s eyes.

There’s a great guitar solo break here which adds the extra rock element to the song, and we head back to the first verse and the prechorus, but for the following chorus we get a special acapella rendition, which really lets you hear the whole harmony of the band. It’s so good, and you can hear every facet of the melody. With a quick drum kick in, the band lets it loose with another chorus, and a great powerful ending on the guitar, which I love.

Sister Hazel’s “All for You” used to be “that one hit wonder from the 90’s” for me, until I really listened and heard what a beautiful and passionate love song it is. It goes to show that this kind of songwriting never goes away, and even one hit wonders have really special aspects to them.

Thanks for reading and listening! Leave me your thoughts in the comments!

#172 – Destroy

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Artist – In-Flight Safety
Album – Conversationalist
Year – 2014
Genre – Indie Rock/Alternative Rock

In case all of you out there don’t know, which I’m sure is almost all of you, I’m now currently working as music director for my college’s radio station. That means I’m in charge of all the music that gets played on air. Having new records from underground artists being shipped to me every week has really opened my eyes to the sheer volume of music there is out there, and how much gets lost to the trash bin. In-Flight Safety is a band I knew absolutely nothing about, but a group that quickly blew me away when I heard them. There’s a lot of talent with these guys.

“Destroy” opens with a nice clean guitar tone and pattern that sounds like it could have come straight off Snow Patrol’s new album. However, the slow pace doesn’t last for too long, and soon this song is going to make you move like no Snow Patrol song ever could. It does keep that great modern Britpop sound all the way through though, even though the band is from the great white north of Canada.

After a pounding opening, the song shifts into overdrive at about forty seconds in. The drums start rolling and the guitars just blast to life and you’ll hear that descending riff that will get stuck in your head all day. Frontman John Mullane’s voice, again, has that great Britpop sound to it. It’s almost Chris Martin-esque. The whole production on this track is great, and every instrument is so clear. The guitar sounds amazing as you hear the quick strums, and the drums are crisp and fast.

When Mullane hits that high note at the beginning of the chorus, I get goosebumps. You can tell this song is sung with so much passion, and even though I’m still getting familiar with it and can’t find lyrics for it online yet, I can sense the whole passion of the band in every chorus. The intensity just picks up, and I just want to dance. It’s one of those really anthemic choruses that makes you want to sing “DESTROY” as loud as you can. It’s an extremely well crafted melody, and you’ll feel it when you hear it.

The second chorus is even better, with Mullane finishing the second verse high, and keeping that note right into the chorus. It sounds amazing, and it only picks up in intensity until essentially the end of the song. That being said, I wish I had more to post about lyrics here, but I couldn’t find any online, and I wanted to make sure I got them right. If you find some, let me know! But a great song like this speaks for itself through the feeling it gives off. I’m sure you’ll all agree. If you like really big sounding bands with huge sounds and anthemic melodies, In-Flight Safety’s “Destroy” is for you.

Thanks for reading and listening! Let me know your thoughts in the comments!