New Band of the Month: December – Reflection

For the last month of 2012 (and my last of this feature), I selected one of the biggest selling pop artists of all time, ABBA (read my initial thoughts here).

Have I given in to the worldwide phenomenon?


Look, I get it. ABBA wrote some very catchy songs and I can see why some of their music has become classics of Pop, but most of it just leaves me cold. It’s similar to how I understand that the Black Eye Peas are successful merchants of easily digestible pablum, yet listening to their music makes me want to punch walls.

Pop music is truly the most elusive art form when it comes to describing what works and what doesn’t. I mean this in the general since that even Heavy Metal and Country are ‘pop’ because they mostly stick to the 3- to 5-minute song format with verse, chorus, verse structure. But I also mean Pop as the individual genre that encapsulates artists like Michael Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake or any music designed for the most immediate and sugary pleasure.

I love me some JT. I also can’t help but be a sucker for a solid pop song, though I can’t always explain why one earworm is more enjoyable to me than another. For instance, “Call Me Maybe” is a behemoth pop hit, yet I have no great love for it (I’m not a monster; I think it’s likeable enough), while “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” to me, is the pop smash of the year. On the surface there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the songs. They’re both female-sung traditionally-structured, 3 1/2 minute, love-themed pop songs with big hooks and catchy melodies. They could be sisters. Yet the latter gets stuck in my head after the opening bar and the former just sort of floats past me.

(Two things in Taylor Swift’s favor: That video is friggin’ fantastic and the little spoken interlude near the end is a wonderful pop tradition calling back to “Leader of the Pack.”)

Sometimes pop works, sometimes it doesn’t. I  mean, I think generally we can all agree that Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake are successful pop artists, whether you like pop or not, and there are plenty of failed pop acts littering the halls of music history. But in the middle are artists like Kylie Minogue and Robyn, artists who have had huge pop careers internationally but for whatever reason have only had intermittent success in the US (Kylie moreso than Robyn). The American market remains to this day the all important barrier between Pop Star to Pop Monarchy.

ABBA broke through in the US way back in the 70s and the last decade has seen them resurgent, but listening to their music is a bit of a chore for me. It’s not because I dislike Pop Music, or pop music, or even disco, or Sweden for that matter, I just don’t like ABBA. I could try to parse out why their songs do nothing for me, but ultimately I’d probably just contradict myself.

Pop is pop is Pop and it defies explanation.

Will I Buy An Album?  Uh, didn’t you read the above essay? No.

Favorite Song: Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” “Take A Chance On Me,” are all catchy enough nuggets and probably represent ABBA’s best known songs. I can see their appeal, even if they don’t appeal to me. If I have to pick one ‘favorite’ song by this band, though, I’d have to go with “Money, Money, Money,” because, my god, is that campy as sin. I feel like I should be watching Rocky Horror Picture Show whenever that song comes on. I can’t say I really like it, but I appreciate just how committed it is to whatever the hell it’s trying to be.


And that’s it. The end of my year on this little feature. I’m not so sure it was particularly interesting to anyone else, but at least it was enlightening to me. Cheers.

Go back and read all of the New Band of the Month pieces here.

New Band of the Month: December – ABBA

Every month this year, I’m dedicating myself to getting into a new band.  By ‘new band’, what I really mean is an old band who I’ve known of for awhile but have for one reason or another never checked out.  Maybe they were a genre I wasn’t into, maybe they were the favorite band of someone I didn’t like, maybe I was just lazy.  Whatever reason, I’m going to spend the month trying to get into them.

If, at the end of the month, I find myself enjoying the music I’ll buy an album.  And if not, I’ll save my money for something else.

My New Band for December is:


From the wiki page

ABBA was a Swedish pop group formed in Stockholm in 1972, comprising Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. ABBA is an acronym of the first letters of the band members’ first names and is sometimes stylized as the registered trademark ᗅᗺᗷᗅ. They became one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of pop music, topping the charts worldwide from 1972 to 1982. They are also known for winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, giving Sweden its first victory in the history of the contest and being the most successful group ever to take part in the contest.

ABBA has sold over 370 million records worldwide and still sells millions of records a year,[1][2] which makes them one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

My personal history with ABBA:

(Could I make a more dramatic shift than from My Bloody Valentine to ABBA?)

Truth is, I have almost no experience with ABBA, which is quite a feat considering they are one of the world’s most popular/successful groups ever. It wasn’t until recent years though that I first got the impression that ABBA was such a massive force. Granted, that could be in part because the Broadway production of Mamma Mia (and subsequent movie) has suddenly thrust the music into the popular conscience in a big way, but they were still superstars in the 70s. So much so, that they come in second only to the Bee Gees for highest selling Pop/Disco act ever (and the Bee Gees have been around a lot longer than ABBA).

If you had asked me about ABBA a decade ago I probably could have only told you vaguely that they were the creators of cheesy 70s pop. I might have had the vague idea that they were one of those bands that punk-rockers and metalheads thought were ‘gay’, but I couldn’t have told you anything more than that. Essentially, I never listened to ABBA because they were ‘pop’ in the worst connotation of that word.

Now, though, the word ‘pop’ isn’t such an evil genre in my book. The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, all acts that could fairly be labeled pop and that I unabashedly enjoy (maybe even love). A finely crafted pop song is no less impressive than some elaborately ornate classical piece. They work on different levels and require very different skill sets, and if you think making truly masterful pop music is easy, just look at the gargantuan list of one-hit wonders who couldn’t sustain a career in the genre. For ABBA to be the inarguable juggernaut that they were (are), they must have been doing something right. Right?

Well, I’m gonna find out. I’ll be checking out the hit collections because that seems most logical, but if someone out there thinks the band has an actual LP worth listening to front-to-back, tell me in the comments.  And if you’re an ABBA virgin, too, maybe pop that cherry this month.


New Band of the Month: November – Reflection

For the tenth month of the New Band feature, I selected shoegaze pioneers, My Bloody Valentine (read my initial thoughts here).

Did I finally get why Loveless is held in such high regard?

To truly appreciate Loveless, I think it’s not as important to listen to it in the context of the year it came out (1991) but instead, listen to it alongside My Bloody Valentine’s only other full LP, Isn’t Anything. It’s not just that the production value takes a considerable step up. The songs on the latter album are light years beyond the band’s debut. Isn’t Anything sounds like every generic, hookless, lifeless garage rock album your buddies ever recorded. It’s one of those albums where it seems to have been recorded expressly to be everything anti-pop, and in doing so it became anti-listenable.

But, that’s okay, because Loveless really is a very good (I might even lean towards great) album, where the anti-pop sheen works in its favor, not against it. There aren’t hooks or big choruses, and what melodies exist are usually foreboding or stuck in stasis, but the overall feeling is something romantic and sad, nostalgic but pessimistic.

As a writer, I have a hard time getting into music without lyrics or where the lyrics are very muddled (Sigur Ròs and some Classical music being an exception). I connect to music through the words. Loveless is an album where even on the rare song where the lyrics are pushed to the forefront of the mix, they are still mostly indecipherable. Yes, I can look up the lyrics and listen along (which I did) but that’s not as engaging a listening experience as just letting the music flow over me. Despite this characteristic, though, when I actually took the time to listen to the music, I found it too thoroughly beguiling to dismiss.

That the lyrics are so ambiguous only adds to the overall atmosphere and creates one of those listening experiences where the listener truly defines what each song means.

Will I Buy An Album?  I will definitely pick up (that is, download) Loveless in the near future. It’s not an album I would listen to all the time, but I can imagine it soundtracking a solitary, cold winter’s day in Brooklyn and that is perhaps the most romantic/sad thing ever.

Favorite Song: When You Sleep” and “I Only Said” are the two stand out tracks for me on Loveless. I find that most of the songs have a melody or repeating guitar riff that I find addictive, but I think these two songs do it best. If I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the latter, but it’s one of the instances where the songs work best when played back-to-back, as on the album.

My Bloody Valentine

Next Month: Ending 2012 With A Bang/Pop/Whimper?

New Band of the Month: November – My Bloody Valentine

Every month this year, I’m dedicating myself to getting into a new band.  By ‘new band’, what I really mean is an old band who I’ve known of for awhile but have for one reason or another never checked out.  Maybe they were a genre I wasn’t into, maybe they were the favorite band of someone I didn’t like, maybe I was just lazy.  Whatever reason, I’m going to spend the month trying to get into them.

If, at the end of the month, I find myself enjoying the music I’ll buy an album.  And if not, I’ll save my money for something else.

My New Band for November is:

My Bloody Valentine

From the wiki page

My Bloody Valentine are an alternative rock band formed in Dublin, Ireland in 1983. Named after the 1981 horror film of the same name, the band’s most successful lineup has consisted since 1987 of founding members Kevin Shields (guitar and vocals) and Colm Ó Cíosóig (drums) with the addition of singer-guitarist Bilinda Butcher and bassist Debbie Googe.

As My Bloody Valentine’s music evolved, their use of distortion, pitch bending, and digital reverb resulted in a sound that came to be known as shoegazing.

My personal history with My Bloody Valentine:

Around the time I started falling hard in love with Radiohead, I kept hearing references to this other band, My Bloody Valentine. This was not because the bands were similar in style. No, this was because in the opinion of Indie kids and music critics, these two bands created the two greatest albums of the 1990s. On these lists of greatest albums, my all time favorite album, OK Computer, frequently appears one slot above the other, Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine.

At some point I remember giving Loveless a listen. A listen. As in, my new favorite band was being challenged by this other band for 90s supremacy and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I played the album, found it hard to get into, and have never tried again. That has always bothered me. I know that’s how a lot of people approach Radiohead (especially their latter catalog) and for that reason they miss out on a truly wonderful band.

This month, I aim to rectify that mistake. Maybe it’s time for me to finally come to appreciate what so many people consider one of the best albums of an entire decade. Then again, maybe I’ll spend a month with the album (and others by the band) and decide that my shoes aren’t worth gazing at.

That’s what I’m here to find out. If anyone out there has recommendations for albums besides Loveless to check out, please comment below. Of, if you’re like me and you’ve never given this band a real shot, maybe you’ll do so this month.

New Band of the Month: October – Reflection

For the ninth month of the New Band feature, I selected Australian metal pioneers, AC/DC (read my initial thoughts here).

Was I ready to rock!? Aaaaaoooooooooooooaaaaya!

I guess.

Like  some of the other acts I’ve focused on in this feature, AC/DC is a band that has existed so long that they’ve amassed a back catalog I could never hope to get through in one month. So, instead of attempting that fool’s errand, I took the advice of a commentator and focused on two of the band’s biggest albums, Highway to Hell and Back in Black. These two albums represent the band immediately before and after the death of their original iconic singer, Ben Scott, respectively, with Back in Black being the debut of Brian Johnson. The latter album would go on to become the second highest album of all time, after Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

So, with such pedigree, what did I think?

Well, outside of the singers, there are some other notable differences between the two albums. Highway to Hell seems a bit more ‘hardrocking’ than its successor, with songs that feel less radio-friendly than those on Back to Black. Now, having said that, I realize that calling any of AC/DC’s music ‘radio-friendly’ is the product of time. I know when these albums came out in the late 70s/early 80s, the radio wasn’t awash with heavy metal music. But as history has proven, there is a place in our classic rock hearts for the Angus’ brothers riff heavy music.

For that reason, listening to Highway to Hell feels like listening to a classic of metal, whereas Back in Black feels more generally like a rock classic. It might be a fine distinction for some, but it’s significant. If metal were more my bag, I’d much rather put on Highway than Black if I were in need of a kick in the pants. The solos are harsher, the lyrics feel nastier and just generally the atmosphere is dripping with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, all without having to put up a banner that says “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.”

Then again, as I’m still not a metal head after this month of listening to AC/DC (I know, shocking), if I were looking for a rock album to just throw on in the background, it’d likely be Back in Black, what with it’s one-two punch of rock classics, “Back in Black” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.” The catchier hooks make it the kind of album that would make for good casual listening, especially when less interesting songs like “Have a Drink on Me” come on.

Will I Buy An Album?  I don’t feel any great need to own either one of these albums. If someone gave them to me, I’d gladly load them on my computer where classic singles, “Back in Black,” “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Highway to Hell” would get a fair amount of play, but the other songs would almost certainly stay in the single digit play counts. If I had to choose between the albums, I guess it would depend on my mood at the moment. Musically, I appreciate Highway to Hell quite a bit more, and I think it represents a greater achievement as a band. But there’s no denying the Rock-someness of Back in Black‘s classic singles. I’d probably just be better off paying $2 to get those songs.

Favorite Song:  Of the singles, I have to go with “You Shook Me All Night Long.” It’s not the hardest rocking, it’s not an example of perfect song craftsmanship (though, some might disagree), but damn if it isn’t exactly what a rock song should be: Sexy and propulsive, a song to run, party or screw to. “Beating Around the Bush” and “Shot Down in Flames” are a great pairing on Highway to Hell and represent why the album, to me, is more interesting and fulfilling as a listen. But when it comes to AC/DC, I’m still just a singles guy, so “You Shook Me All Night Long” wins hands down.

Next Month: Hot Fuzz

New Band of the Month: October – AC/DC

Every month this year, I’m dedicating myself to getting into a new band.  By ‘new band’, what I really mean is an old band who I’ve known of for awhile but have for one reason or another never checked out.  Maybe they were a genre I wasn’t into, maybe they were the favorite band of someone I didn’t like, maybe I was just lazy.  Whatever reason, I’m going to spend the month trying to get into them.

If, at the end of the month, I find myself enjoying the music I’ll buy an album.  And if not, I’ll save my money for something else.

I missed September. I had had every intention of running this feature straight through the move, but then I went half a month without internet and the whole thing just became a kind of debacle. So, I skipped a month. Oh well.

My New Band for October is:


From the wiki page

AC/DC are an Australian rock band, formed in 1973 by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, who have remained the sole constant members. Commonly classified as hard rock, they are considered pioneers of heavy metal and are sometimes classified as such, though they themselves have always classified their music as simply “rock and roll”. To date they are one of the highest grossing bands of all time.

My personal history with AC/DC:

This is one of those bands that is so massive and so popular, both nationally and internationally, that it’s kind of ridiculous that I’ve never listened to them. Unlike, say, Metallica or Van Halen, I don’t have an instinctive repulsion at the mention of AC/DC. I’ve just never given them the time of day. It’s purely a case of genre bias: I don’t listen to Heavy Metal.

There are a variety of reasons for this, though probably the most important was that by the time I was old enough to pay attention to such things, Heavy Metal had turned into Hair Metal (at least, on the radio), and I find that to be, perhaps, the worst category of rock music ever.

My first real dive into harder rock (in other words, not the 60s rock of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) didn’t occur until the 90s, by which time Nirvana and their grunge brethren had usurped the big hair and ridiculous posturing of the 80s rock acts. Now, just like Heavy Metal, Grunge Rock led to its own share of generic, radio-ready hacks riding on the wave of better bands (Nickelback and Creed are the worst offenders). I feel it’s important not to blame a genre for the crap that it’s originators never could have predicted, so I’m going to give Heavy Metal a shot here.

Of course, I’ve heard my share of AC/DC songs. “Back in Black” is fairly inescapable, and that rift is undeniable. Pure badassery, there’s no denying it. I’m sure there are even more I’d recognize, though that’s the only one I can name off the top of my head. I’m not of the impression that by the end of this month I’ll suddenly be into Metal. But I think I could come to appreciate the gold standard of the genre, and I think most fans would list AC/DC as one of the best of the best.

So, I’ve got my devil horns cocked and my black t-shirts all laid out. If you’re like me and never gone full metal jacket, maybe give AC/DC a chance this month with me. And if you’ve long been on the bandwagon, comment and let me know what songs and albums are must-listens.