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C.D. On Songs: All You Need Is (C.D. On) Love (Songs) Special V-Day Edition

February 14, 2011
Yes, my friends. It is a special day here in Boston Band Crush HQ. Why, it is Valentine’s Day. And whether you’re one of those snide people who is getting a special delivery today or one of that snide person’s bitter co-workers, one thing we all need is music. And love. Today, we’re in luck, because 13 superb bands have decided to share the love on today, this St. Valentine’s Day. So here’s a little Valentine for you, your coworkers and your broworkers. You know how this goes by now – read every last word I have to say, and then – and only then – can you download the whole box o’ chocolates down below everything at the special link I have set up that looks like, well, a box of chocolates. Usually you never know what you gonna get. But that’s why you have to read first. Thank you, enjoy the show and now I give you…
Download link waaaay down at the bottom.

Mars – “Famous Lovers”
“Famous Lovers” sends an exploratory sequence of guitar chords into your ears at the onset, as if just to make sure that it’s OK to send the whole band in. Apparently it is, because “Famous Lovers” slams into being after a few short run-throughs. The initial clear guitar is not replaced by its heavier and more distorted cousins; you can still hear it going through its paces toward the back of the mix, as if to say “Yes, I am still here and I still fit in this song.”

This track rocks in a timeless-yet-somewhat-post-modern way. The vocals bring to mind a certain dirty sort of ’70s rock bordering on punk, although the chord work and arrangement is much more advanced and elegant than your standard three-chord monster mash of punk. “Famous Lovers” goes through some nice chord changes and creates some interesting shapes over the course of its runtime, making familiar sense but being different enough to establish and retain its own identity.

This song has just the right mix of sneer and polish to make the swagger of its chorus apparent and self-sufficient. When Mars proclaims that “Famous lovers got nothin’ on us,” their posture and delivery makes us realize that maybe they’re not simply trying to convince themselves – there’s no convincing needed.

Sidewalk Driver – “Jenny Don’t Really Like The Boys”
Why, oh why, does Mr. Tad Mckitterick mention early on in this track that he’s got the scissors, baby, he’s got the knife? We’ll find out more on that later. I promise you. Then you’ll kind of wish you hadn’t. But I digress. If you don’t know what to expect from a Sidewalk Driver song yet, then friends, you are simply not paying attention.

The inexplicably heavy-yet-catchy feel of “Jenny…” is akin to the sensation of having a brick wrapped up in a lemon peel thrown at your head. The brick portion of the track is the hefty guitar tracks. This stuff is heavy, heavy, like “don’t both putting the higher strings on the guitar, man, I’ll just take it like this.” For the most part, excluding the brief guitar solo, the guitars remain low-slung and chunky. And you wouldn’t want them any other way.

The chords saw back and forth under the higher registers of the super-sweet vocal harmony. It’s not easy to think about this song and say “the melody this, the hook that,” because the whole song is chock full of them. While the chorus is obviously where the whole affair comes home, Mckitterick’s work in the verses is almost more admirable, listing off Jenny’s finer points (of which there are many) in grand theatrical style, and when he proclaims that “Juh-Juh-Juh-Jenny makes me stutter,” we realize he’s serious about this Jenny girl. What’s the deal with Jenny? She’s apparently hard to get. For, you see, Jenny don’t really like the boys. And Jenny don’t really like the girls. This is where the scissors and the knife come in. The song’s protagonist decides that if the boys and the girls don’t do it for Jenny, he’s going to, well, take matters into his own hands. He finally discloses his self-mutilating plan for the song’s coda, showing that the coda isn’t just the end of the song, it’s the prestige. And this song’s coda/prestige will make you very, very uncomfortable. But you’ll still like hearing it, for some reason.

Lucretia’s Daggers – “Lost Lovers”
I am going to be brutally honest with you. I took a look at Lucretia’s Daggers website and materials and did not expect much out of this one. Maybe I expected something cartoonishly gothique (because the term “gothic” spelled normally wouldn’t do it). Maybe I expected some airily depressed, recently harvested sorrow. Or Azrael Abyss from Goth Talk. But no. Lucretia’s Daggers “Lost Lovers” has a kick to it, and you know what – we like it.

There is no dreary darkness to “Lost Lovers.” The song jogs along at a fitness-creating pace, propelled on the way by the locomotion of the high hats that in turn drive the beat. Even though the song seems to be about vampires, these are modern, sharp-dressed vampires like that Eric Northman. And this song makes Lucretia’s Daggers seem just like the tasty band that might get booked to play Fangtasia when things got too depressing.

In some odd way, “Lost Lovers” does retain a certain sense of macabre, but it admirably does this without throwing a switch and sending the whole thing to hell. There are baroque flourishes to “Lost Lovers” and there is a bit of an enjoyable maelstrom in what we shall refer to as “part B,” because the initial part of the song (which seems to be the verse) is catchier than most choruses. The maelstrom of sound is the result of what we daresay is an expert layering of intervals over one another, almost burying Lucretia’s bright, sonorous vocals. But then again, vampires like getting buried, don’t they?

A Bit Much – “(All I Want Is) George Harrison’s Wife”
Before we get too far into this, let’s take a little trip through the hallowed halls of the College of Classic Rock Knowledge. This subject has been broached before, in Derek and the Dominoes’ classic “Layla.” You know the one, don’t you? We’re not going to look at A Bit Much’s take on the subject matter in context of a wildly successful and beloved 41-year old song. Mostly because there’s no screaming slide solo (most of the solo’s are George-lite in style) and there’s no piano coda.

You may not expect much from this track. And this track will then blow your socks off. “…George Harrison’s Wife” is actually a rather elegant and nigh-breathtaking – we’re gonna say it – love song. It dances on the edge of the stage, being just theatrical enough to fully entertain, yet being far too awesome for a simple novelty track. The tearful vocals (and especially tearful background vocals) are the most overwrought thing in this track, circling each other in lovesick unison that makes part of you want to say “Take it easy, lads,” but mostly you want to urge them on to new heights of whatever-it-is they are experiencing.

As we said, this song’s composition is thoughtful and elegant – based upon a non-standard chord progression that can bear both the light touches of the verse to the larger-than-life slamfest that is the chorus. What is the content of the chorus? Let us put it this way: they really, really want George Harrison’s wife. Really.

The Battleships Cometh – “Love Bomb”
The lewd stance of “Love Bomb” makes itself known immediately with a raunchily wagging guitar that doesn’t quite give a damn if it’s still in its towel when you arrive to its place for the date. The Battleships Cometh would just as soon let it all hang out in “Love Bomb” a deliciously dirty trip through the mix that gives you a little wink and a little spark when it accidentally brushes against your knee. And that’s just its opening move, this song is here to get it on. How do we know that? Well it tells us so, duh.

This vocal’s grandmother may have sat on a piano, winking at the crowd. The modern day version of the vocal is in our face and it’s carelessly sexy. Heck, the vocal doesn’t even bother to sing most of the time, talking, leering lasciviously and being all loud at the same time. Leilani A. (last time we saw her, she was Leilani K., why did no one invite us to the wedding?) is the boss of this track – she’ll let you know what’s going on, and she’ll let you know when it’s damned good and finished, laughing her way out of the end of the song like someone who has gotten exactly what they want.

Like most dirty things, this song rocks hard. While Leilani is certainly the main attraction, the guitar does most of the tone-setting, playing hooky distorted runs up and down the fretboard like Rage Against The Machine used to do to remind everyone of Led Zepplin. Instead of a high-pitched Englishman or an angry, angry Californian, The Battleships Cometh’s personality comes through in the vocal performance, and again, while there ain’t much singin’ going on, there is plenty going on, with a capital GOING ON.

Halston – “Valentime’s Day”
Let it be said that Halston is one of the champions of themed C.D. On Songs spectaculars. They seemingly have a song for every occasion. Christmas? Valentine’s Day? We’re going to have to start doing some real second- and third-tier holiday specials, if just to challenge them. I am sure, however, they probably have songs for President’s Day and Flag Day and Ash Wednesday and any other day you can think of. And if they are anything like “Valentime’s Day,” they’re probably going to be OK.

Halston seems to be of two minds about Valentine’s Day. There’s a lot of trashy, angry metaphors in this song, but it seems like the spirit of the holiday has taken over the protagonist, who even declares that “I’m seein’ red, but not in my usual way.” The steady, sure-footed tempo of the track gives it a matter-of-fact sense; Halston is ready to deal with whatever happens, even if it’s the weird bridge where Cupid seems to appear in the keyboard section of Guitar Center and starts playing everything at once (but only for a few seconds).

This track is neither vociferously pro- or anti-Valentine’s Day, but it allows itself to be swayed. And swayed it is; and perhaps it is just charming enough to take a few of those Valentine’s Day Scrooges with it into a more-rose colored world. Maybe not, but it certainly gives itself a good chance to do so. Chin up, you sourpusses.

Goli – “The Wind Blows”
There is a tonal mix evident from the very beginning of Goli’s “The Wind Blows.” There is a weird sense of upbeat melancholy to “The Wind Blows” – like a melancholy that doesn’t know it shouldn’t be bright and bouncy or perhaps the opposite. The marimba tries to maintain a cheery disposition in the face of a more deeply moody cello that strains to keep things dark. The vocal plays the mid-point between the two quarrelsome sounds, speaking both painful truths and heartening reassurance.

Upon closer listening, it feels as if the left and right channels may not be as sure of themselves as they want to seem. The chimes occasionally wander into a minor interval, as if quickly considering the possibility that things are not going as well as they’d like to. The left channel’s cello tries to match the bright outlook of the snappy tempo on occasion, before lapsing into its deeply bowed niche.

In the end, it is the centerpiece vocal that tells the story; taking bits and pieces from either of its partners in the mix. The vocal allows itself to be carried by the instruments, but it does not hesitate at any point to turn around, look the entire mix straight in the eye, and tell it exactly what’s going on. The final words of the chorus show the entire song’s point, even giving the center en dash in “Your heart breaks – it’s supposed to,” a bit of its own gravity.

St. Helena – “Forgot About You”
I’m really going to try not to be That Guy, but I swear I have been into St. Helena for a while. Like years or something. I promise. “Forgot About You” serves – to my mind at least – as an instant reminder as to just what it is that makes St. Helena such a magnetic and intriguing group of songwriters and performers.

“You’re easy,” you might say, “You hear a piano and melt,” and I might tell you that you’re being awfully pushy today, reader. Because the piano in “Forget About You” is truly more than space-filler (one end of the spectrum) or virtuoso trying to carve their way out in a rock band (the other side of the spectrum). The piano in “Forget About You” is able to both flow a la “Summer Highland Falls” in a manner that carries the song as well as pick out the high notes of a lead. In short, someone has their left hand and right hand working – or at least recorded a few overdubs.

We are going to assume that the instrumentalists in St. Helena are as proficient as this song would have us believe. The mix is crystal clear, allowing us to hear an ensemble of musicians that can also obviously hear each other. Each part in “Forget About You” complements every other part in the song, with no one stepping on each others toes or taking up more or less space than they should in the mix. Magen Tracy’s masterful vocal performance is perfectly calm and self-assured. Tracy lets just a little air escape from each phrase, creating an utterly natural-sounding yet spell-binding performance that makes you want to put her in a musical or something where she has to sing for a few hours on end.

The Bynars – “How Does It Feel To Be In Love”
The “Question Song” does not necessarily need to answer its own question to be a success. The Bynars might not necessarily have all the answers, but the free-wheeling electronic glee of “How Does It Feel To Be In Love” seems like they have a good start in the right direction. Speaking of starts, this track kicks in with such quick ferocity, you find yourself worrying you missed something. But no, the Bynars are just throwing you in headfirst, and possibly head over heels.

The innocent spirit of this track reminds of of one of those scenes from “Star Trek The Next Generation” where Data (that was the yellow android guy, Ashley) is trying to parse a human emotion and, like Riker or something (Riker is the guy with the beard, Ashley) sort of chuckles and is all “Oh Data, I feel like maybe you understand it better than you think,” and Data is all quizzically pleased with himself. Like the hopelessly square android that doesn’t think it gets it; this song contains the exhilarating essence of how it feels to be in love, all the while asking the rest of us what it should be looking for.

This track’s electronic butterflies flutter all over its insides, occasionally buzzing the listener as well with a little shot of color and random euphoria. Even the strict rhythms of the new-wave guitar sounds brim at the edges with excitement and joy in their cut-rhythm tick-tock. Oh, The Bynars, we think you might know it, even if you don’t realize it.

This Blue Heaven – “Slow Dance Slow”
Ah, the slow dance song. Does it need to be all “In The Still Of The Night” or all “Slow dancin’ just me and my woman?” Who among us is to say that it cannot be an epic and enervating, “this-is-our-last-stand” set-closing rock song? Absolutely no one can say that, and if they even try, then they have This Blue Heaven to answer to. And me.

“Slow Dance Slow” doesn’t just “start” – it is born right in front of us. The early strains of Stu Dietz’s ringing guitar open up the song like a hopeful suitor crossing the gymnasium floor with all eyes on the belle of the ball across the room in a gaggle of friends and other hangers-on. The song gathers more encouragment on its journey, propelled towards greatness by a thumping heartbeat of a bass drum and a rhythm section that climbs, reaches glorious, panoramic vistas and then decides to keep climbing upwards anyway, to the next, more breathtaking height.

The chorus of “Slow Dance Slow” is very indicative of its journey. Someday I’m going to teach an online course on the use of various chords and we’re going to use this song’s use of the building V chord in the chorus to demonstrate just how you use a V chord, kids. This Blue Heaven brings the V to the two best alternating places – the VI minor and ultimately the I. The I chord is when you know you’ve hit it, and This Blue Heaven hits it hard throughout the entire song, but never harder than the bangtastic crescendo, replete with soaring guitar, punchy descending piano melodies and the gorgeous liquid gold that is the voice of This Blue Heaven singer MacKenzie Outlund, who adds a ridiculously charming vocal presence that is as steadfast and precise as it is full of the entire universe’s hope generated in a slow dance-inspired romance.

Totem – “Prospect Hill”
“Prospect Hill” starts with a feel that would almost seem ambivalent were it not so full of gravitas. The minor-to-major chord progression provides looks at both sides of the coin, both light and dark. Part of the charm of this song lies simply in following it to see where it’s going to land. It’s not some annoying “What are you trying to say here, spit it out, dude!” frustration, it’s as if Totem is weaving us some sort of story here that we can’t help but lean ever inward just to hear the next line.

“Prospect Hill” is a musical page-turner of sorts. Even though we don’t need to take any actual action to have the story continue, we probably would if they asked us anyway. This song’s stats (I am looking at you, six-and-a-half-minute track time) seem daunting at first, but the pacing and arrangement is such that you barely notice the time passing. If anything, you hope that there’s enough time in the song to hear more of the song. Even though all things must end sometime, “Prospect Hill” sounds like a complete piece; one that neither outstays its welcome or jarringly disappears.

The pieces between vocal sections are, in contrast to the usual situation, the major part of this song’s magic. The song, as a composition, slowly unfolds in each interstitial, giving the “major” part (read: vocal part) a slightly new look each time around. The “A” sections don’t simply stagger with the “B” sections, instead they inform each others’ progress through the track until the final major chord and extended outro. Was that actually just under seven minutes? You betcha. And – don’t lie – you just started it again, didn’t you. It’s OK – “Prospect Hill” is that engaging.

Viva Viva – “Little Dirty Angel”
Love songs don’t have to be universal “And then he kissed me” type stuff. There’s obviously a place for that, but there’s also a spot for the more personal experience. Viva Viva’s “Little Dirty Angel” sounds like kind of an inside story, but the inviting chord progression makes it sound as if they are letting us in on the meaning, even if the lyrics aren’t really giving us many – if any – hints. Maybe it’s about an actual angel. Or a girl. Or drugs. Or an elevator.

Whatever the subject matter is, Viva Viva cradles it in a grimy but solid guitar that is like one of the characters in the movie that are somewhat rough around the edges but totally and utterly reliable. As a composition, “Little Dirty Angel” goes down many familiar paths in terms of musical changes and the chord progression. As said before, it is this part of the track that keeps us feeling somewhat comfortable, as if to say “Even if I don’t know what’s going on, here is something familiar that makes me feel like everything belongs.”

“Little Dirty Angel” is a bit of a tease in this way – whatever happened, Viva Viva sounds OK with it – possibly even pleased. The song ends on the note of “We took the elevator up and then we fell 10 stories down.” Was the fall fatal? Or figurative? “Little Dirty Angel” isn’t telling, and maybe that is the fun of it.

Box Five – “How Should I Your True Love Know?”
The “normal” rock band that you will normally work with and handle will usually write their stuff in a cramped bedroom or a dingy practice space with old beer cans around and probably some form of undesirable smell. Box Five, however, we can imagine coming to their material in a fine mahogany concert hall. With bookshelves built into the walls. The exquisite beauty of this track ebbs and flows like there is a Beauty Conductor standing on the podium, guiding the players to new reaches of gorgeous sound and using a magic wand in place of a conductor’s baton.

We would further assume this conductor is lead maiden minstrel Mary Bichner, who wields the baton in one hand and the microphone in another. Bichner sings of sadness and love, creating the world where both coexist as reliant upon one another. She is capable of containing entire worlds in her vocal performance, which rises, falls, widens and thins out over a polite and articulate piano figure that demures to its leader at times and rises to the upper registers to register its own melody.

The magical part of Bichner’s vocal performance is what she does at the end of her words and phrases, expertly shaping one note from another, bending the colors in glissando perfetto and making us all feel very, very classy justy for listening. Box Five takes away (most of) the electricity and lights and just gives us the orchestra. And the songs. What an exciting way to bring the orchestra out of the stuffy, inaccessible (to most young people) halls and back to someplace exciting and engaging. This is what Mary Bichner and her Box Five do – and they do it to perfection.

OK, it’s time for your present…

From myself (and the bands) right to you. Happy Valentine’s Day. 

  1. the Slow Dance Slow entry made me tear up. thanks, CD. love love love.

  2. Props on the HHGTTG reference. Love from every member of The Luxury just for that.

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