Sunday, October 1, 2017

The "I Love Beck!" Blogpost

Beck Hansen is coming out with a new album this month. After literally 2 years of sporadically releasing singles, it finally has a release date with album info and everything to boot. I haven't been excited about this album in the least... not until recently. I don't expect a classic by any means, but I believe Beck could potentially release an intriguing branch in his discography.

Unbeknownst to most, I used to worship Beck. He was the soundtrack to the 17th year of my life; at least any of his music I could gather off YouTube. I want this blog post to be a million years long. I'll try to cover all I can. I can honestly say I've heard most every song he's made. That's like 25 years of music. I memorized all the words to "Loser" and thought that made me cool. It's been 10 years, and I still wear my t-shirt with the single art for "Where It's At." I wound up seeing Beck for $5 in Salt Lake City back in 2014. I got secondhand high and my buddy broke his ankle, so I guess you can say it was a great show.

My undying love for Beck over the years.

Anyways, I was worried that his upcoming album Colors would just be some kinda half-hearted remake of of his 1999 zany funk album Midnite Vultures. Sure its singles denote this is obviously going to be a a polar opposite to 2014's dreary Morning Phase. But I've taken a liking to his newest single "Up All Night." Of course it's as dancey as anything from Midnite Vultures, but it's not trying to be ridiculous. It's just a well-produced, classy, commendable, funky single. The same can be said for his 2015 single "Dreams," which fortunately is also on the album. What if Colors turns out to be the Beck album packed with simplistic, radio-worthy dance tracks? I'd actually be okay with that.

So, yeah. Beck Hansen. Weird dude. It's hard to attach a single genre to him if you've heard his career's-worth of work, but I've always just considered him "alternative rock." Heck, next to most any radio alt-rock artist, Beck looks like a God. That's because he kinda is.
Starting off as a lo-fi folk artist singing about Mexican food and manure, he magically got a top-10 hit out of his 1994 single "Loser" and has won multiple Grammy's ever since. He's dabbled in psychedelic rock, noise rock, funk, electronica, hip-hop, trip-hop, songwriter-folk, freak-folk, anti-folk, etc. He tries to master a different genre with each album. It doesn't always work, but it's always worth listening to.
I gotta admit, looking back at his early work as an independent artist, it's easy to fall in love with his initial personality. This raspy voice behind a cheap acoustic guitar making all these references to greasy food, the devil, garbage, alcohol... all tied in with irrelevant references to the apocalypse and dropping f-bombs mid-sentence in ways that have no correlation with the actual English language. This would eventually turn into fun, purposely divisive faux-Kerouac-ian rambling. By the late 90s, he started using his lyrics to match his songs' atmospheres. This is rather difficult when you're experimenting with like 100 different genres per album. But this is Beck. He usually knows what he's doing. It's interesting to hear his newer work, where it's seems like he's forcefully trying to send positive messages in his music. It may seem out of character for him, but I think he'll be dishing out another character a couple years from now anyway.

I've already written too much exposition stuff, so here's a list of my favorite Beck songs!
*I was really hoping that Blogger's YouTube function would give me direct video frames for a few more songs, so you'll just have to trust the hyperlinks. Because some of these are deep cuts that true Beck fans need to hear. I know you're out there.

My 25 Favorite Beck Songs
25 'Guess I'm Doing Fine' (Sea Change 2002)
My high school drama teacher once described Sea Change as Beck's "My life sucks so I might as well just kill myself" album. I cannot tell a lie, this song kinda backs up that sentiment.
24 'Harry Partch' (non-album non-single 2009)
I never knew who Harry Partch was until I heard this song. Here, Beck gives a 10+minute tribute to the 20th Century's first microtonal composer with 100% weird AF experimental justice. Probably the craziest thing Beck ever cooked up.
23 'Heart Is A Drum' (Morning Phase 2014)
Despite all its cheesiness, it's hard not to love its sincerity. It was refreshing to hear this and know that Morning Phase wasn't going to be some complete Sea Change rip-off.
22 'Ramshackle' (Odelay 1996)
Although Beck recorded billions of acoustic tracks in the 90s, this makes for a comfort food of a closer to the electric, thick Odelay. This song will always remind me of summer.
21 'Beercan' (Mellow Gold 1994)
The only song other than "Loser" that sounds like a single on Mellow Gold, this track was an unexpected predecessor to Beck's Odelay song formulas.
20 'Strange Apparition' (The Information 2006)
The pianos sound gorgeous on this song. And I don't just say stuff like that lightly.
19 'Let's Get Lost' [ft Bat For Lashes] (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse OST 2010)
Although Beck never released any albums between 2008 and 2014, he was busy. He got a group of homies together (including Devandra Banhart + MGMT) to cover 6 entire old albums in full. He produced albums for Charlotte Gainsbourg + Stephen Malkmus. I dare say his coolest work was this gigantic-sounding collaboration with-- who was, at the time, one of indie's hottest artists-- Bat For Lashes. Check it out.
18 'Rowboat' (Stereopathetic Soulmanure 1994)
It's hard to define Beck's influence. For example, Beck recorded this song back when he basically had $0, and it was a mere 2 years later that freaking Johnny Cash would cover it. Respect.
17 'The New Pollution' (Odelay 1996)
It must have been hard for Beck to pick singles from Odelay. But the use of flute and saxophone on here makes this a standout track in any circumstance.
16 'MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack' (non-album single 1993)
Apparently there are 3 different versions of this song. I will always love this one. You really, really have to listen to the link to find out.
15 'Get Real Paid' (Midnite Vultures 1999)
The first half of Midnite Vultures is pure gold. A personal favorite moment is this sexually awkward attempt at sounding like a modernized Prince. And yes, a group of people actually sing the word "pregnant" in the chorus.
14 'Unforgiven' (Morning Phase 2014)
Not every artist needs a piano ballad. Especially not in alternative rock. But the electric echoes all over this song makes a great centerpiece for Morning Phase, and for that matter, one of the greatest live performances I've ever witnessed.
13 'Pay No Mind (Snoozer)' (Mellow Gold 1994)
This must be the only song ever recorded that uses "dildo" in a totally peripheral manner.
12 'Girl' (Guero 2006)
At this point in his career, I think "Girl" was the closest thing Beck ever wrote to a lovable, sunny pop song. I think he should write tracks like this more often.
11 'Lost Cause' (Sea Change 2002)
"Lost Cause" was the lead single to the eye-watering depressive Sea Change. It's hard to define the magic of this song and why it's stuck around as a classic Beck staple. I love its ultimately broad lyrics and intro/outro sounds that I believe are distorted samples of choir singers.
10 'Nobody's Fault But My Own' (Mutations 1998)
Hard not to love this song upon first listen. The instrumentation is thick and droning, causing a dual moment of deep emotion and neurotic staleness.
9 'Hollywood Freaks' (Midnite Vultures 1999)
It's difficult to compare this song to anything else I've ever heard. It features some of Beck's craziest rap flows, the beat is totally based on 90s West Coast hip-hop, and yet... it's difficult to tell what genre it it intends to be. There's too much happening at once not to get lost in it.
8 'Chemtrails' (Modern Guilt 2008)
Underrated track, underrated album. One of the most sonically innovative Beck ever produced, this track is reminiscent of 60s Pink Floyd. Bass solo and all, I consider this a premature taste of those Tame Impala dudes everyone talks about.
7 'Devil's Haircut' (Odelay 1996)
There's no doubt that people put Odelay into their CD players in 1996 and were immediately impressed by track 1. "Devil's Haircut" samples 3 different 60s tracks, and the album only launches off from there.
6 'Debra' (Midnite Vultures 1999)
Probably Beck's most epic closer, his vocal performance is just as sexy as it is hilarious.
5 'Jack-Ass' (Odelay 1996)
True story: This song is what sold me on Beck. I was 15 year-old in Stockton when I heard this song for the first time. I thought it was the coolest thing I ever heard. I still consider it a dry anthem in Beck's career. And it's fair to note that there's an alternate version of this song that's almost as good, titled "Burro." Beck sings in Spanish and there's a backing Mariachi band. I kid thee not.
4 'It's All In Your Mind' (One Foot In The Grave Japanese edition 1994, non-album single 1995)
My first time hearing this song was amid the Sea Change tracklist. Apparently it was originally recorded back around 1994, and it's just Beck and his acoustic guitar. The dense remake on Sea Change makes it come off as a filler track, but in the mid-90s? I consider this Beck's first truly emotional song. It's something cold and raw. A truly naked moment of clarity.
3 'The Golden Age' (Sea Change 2002)
I've used this song to tune my guitar for the last 10 years. That leading acoustic guitar part is so upfront and pristine, it's the most beautifully obvious E-chord I've ever heard. As a teenager, Beck fooled me into thinking this was a minimal folk song. It's anything but. The production is thick with ghostly synths, reverb vocals and a meddled drum kit tempered to sound like it's straight off Neil Young's Harvest. The whole idea for this song + album is rather brilliant.
2 'Where It's At' (Odelay 1996)
"2 turntables and a microphone." I really shouldn't have to write a blurb about this.
1 'Loser' (Mellow Gold 1994)
Many respectively argue that "Where It's At" is the better track. I just consider this song a "freak hit." Music like this was never meant to be popular, but lo and behold, this is Beck's only top 10 single to date. And it was made on an incredibly low budget. There are few things more definitively "90s!" than "Loser." Heck, this very blog is titled after a quote from this song! It's a classic.

...And of course, here's how I'd rank all of Beck's albums!

My Favorite Beck Albums
9 Guero (2005)
I wouldn't dare say this album is "bad." It's just an overt attempt of trying remake his 90s sound. He even brought back the same producers he had Odelay (Dust Brothers). It amazes me that "Go It Alone" has become its most popular Spotify track, because it always has sounded like watered-down Odelay to me... Anyways, this album's worth a shot. "E-Pro" is a respectable hit. And much of the album sounds like "E-Pro."

8 The Information (2006)
Looking back, this album was more varied than Guero. You probably wouldn't be able to tell it was produced by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich if I didn't tell you, but I like how Beck embraces both his songwriter and his electronica sides on this album. "Think I'm In Love" is still a solid hit.

7 Mutations (1998)
I really wanted this album to be ranked higher, but sadly, it sounds pretty dated. It was somewhat a universally recognized step down from Odelay, but at least previewed a bit of the melancholia we'd see in his later work. Perhaps the coolest thing this album has to offer is its curve-ball hidden track "Diamond Bullocks."

6 Morning Phase (2014)
Behold: The 2015 Grammy Award winner for Album of the Year!
Miraculous, really. The pothead who recorded "Satan Gave Me A Taco" in his bedroom won music's most prestigious, glossy award over 20 years later. I actually love this album. I feel like my #6+#5+#4 on this list are interchangeable, so take this low ranking with a grain of salt. It's no secret that this is supposed to be a positivist sunshine sister album to Sea Change, but he kinda nailed it. There's a grandeur on this album incomparable to anything else Beck has ever done.

5 Modern Guilt (2008)

I bought this album the week it came out, so maybe I have a bias. It's a shame that lots of new Beck fans don't even know this album exists. A 10-song, 33-minute affair with production from Danger Mouse and background vocals from Cat Power, Beck tries sounding like a dark-tinted version of The Zombies. Brief, 60s psychedelic rock songs about anxiety and apocalypse. Songs like "Orphans" and "Modern Guilt" have stayed strong.

4 Mellow Gold (1994)
I cannot tell a lie, this album could either be somewhere in the upper half of my list, or I could tank it straight to the bottom. As the album cover foreshadows, this is arguably some of the worst music you'll ever hear. But you'll notice that Spotify lists Ween as one of Beck's related artists. This only makes sense when I look solely to this album. The fact that songs like "Beercan," "Mutherf*ker,"and "Blackhole" are all crammed together automatically makes this his most diverse album. Whether the songs are "good" or not is up for debate, but you can't knock it 'til you try it.

I decided not to include any of Beck's unofficially-released independent albums on this list. From 1993-1994, these include Golden FeelingsStereopathetic SoulmanureOne Foot In The Grave. I haven't even heard anything from Golden Feelings, but I love what fun country-twang tracks I've heard from Stereopathetic Soulmanure. And One Foot In The Grave is easily some of Beck's best work! I would rank it anywhere amid the top 4 of this list. I've learned to love it in recent years due to its deadpan lo-fi minimalism and sporadic flow. It's like Robert Pollard made a solo folk album.

3 Midnite Vultures (1999)
The production here hasn't aged a bit. This album is evidence that Beck's studio work still stands toe-to-toe with latter-day greats like Kanye West, James Murphy, and Diplo. Trying ridiculously hard to sound like its album art, Midnite Vultures is an ironic take on sex culture taken to zany extremes. It's fruity and layered to no avail. I went years without listening to this album because I couldn't focus on anything else while listening. "Focus" is obviously not the point here...

2 Sea Change (2002)
So starting things off on a negative note, the only cardinal sin this album commits is that the last 2 songs are its 2 worst. Other than that it's pretty solid. I was an overly-dramatic 17 year-old, so Sea Change was my Bible for a time. I guess it's died off on me over time and I might even prefer its "1-80"-counterpart Midnite Vultures, but... when you are sad, you're gonna want a copy of Sea Change on hand.  It's Nick Drake's Pink Moon with doses of Flaming Lips-esque psychedelic mixing. Gotta love it. We're not always in the mood for its slowness, but when we are, we really are. Like, dang.

1 Odelay (1996)
You all saw this coming. You can't talk about 1996 or, heck, 90s albums as a whole without Odelay being part of the conversation. It's like Beck was like... "Here's an idea: What if we sampled a buncha stuff that sounds like James Brown with beats from the guys who produced Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, but also some scattered Sonic Youth guitar interruptions behind me rapping absurd doses of absurd Bob Dylan lyrics?"
This sounds like a terrible idea. And it turned out perfect. Of course only a couple other Beck albums sound like this one, but if you want to flex Beck's artistic value and legacy, here's your titan.

In closing, here's a video of Beck jamming with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Beastie Boys' Mike D in 1994.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

This Must Be The Place

You know, I've had a scattered lot of music references I've been wanting to write about. I have not been listening to any Talking Heads, but what the hey, let's dedicate a little press to the Talking Heads.

"This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" is one of those brilliant moments where the song's anxious, cynical narrator discovers a sense of hope. David Byrne has admitted that this is totally a love song, mind you in the Stop Making Sense concert, he sings it to a lamp. A freaking lamp.
Anyways. the song talks a lot about "home." 

"Home is where I want to be, but I guess I'm already there... I guess that this must be the place." 

I GUESS. Because David Byrne couldn't possibly write a comforting love song without expressing some casual sense of unsurety. At the end of the day, neither could I.

I didn't do a lot today. Mostly ran errands. I  bumped into a bunch of people I knew. I went to the temple. I went for a run. I later found myself taking the long way home; driving around the neighborhood at night in my heated car with some Superchunk cranked up (the band name speaks for itself). I had a heartwarming moment to myself. Kind of a light bulb moment. 

It was kinda like... 
[My voice suddenly develops a dream-like reverberating quality as spacey/bloopy sounds segue into the "stream-of-conscience" segment of this blog. It's earlier tonight, I'm driving around, Superchunk cranked up.] 

This is it. This must be what people talk about when they talk about doing something they love. Or being in love. This sense of familiarity and excitement. Even the temperature just feels so correct.
People say there's no greater joy than starting your own family. Perhaps I just so rarely allow myself to experiment the joys of life beyond stuff like this, I've just never even considered it. This place where I am right now, perhaps it's my home. This is where I reside; mentally, emotionally. If I could change anything about this, I'd just add some friends. But that's all. I'm cool with company. 
I'm not sure what people are talking about when they talk about confident relationships or whatever, but it can't be too different from this. Dear God, if I ever get married, please send me someone who'll drive around with me and listen to Superchunk at maximum volume. Amen.

[Spacey/bloopy sounds returns. We are no longer in the car, but back to normal blog world.]
...Kinda like that. 

So I realize that some of my thoughts written above are flat-out ridiculous. And maybe the "Dear God" sentence is unrealistic wishful thinking. I realize all this. Now here are some things you all ought to realize:

I usually like where I live. I don't always like what I'm doing. I don't always like myself. But for a moment, I liked all of the above. Heck, for most of today I liked all 3 of these things. This is rare territory for me. If you can enjoy yourself, who you're with, where you are, what you're doing, even the purpose behind it all... you're there, man. You're home. At the LDS temple, at the Smith's grocery store on 400 N, running down Canyon Rd, playing guitar, it all counts. 

But I ought to wrap this up. As that Talking Heads song suggests, "The less we say about it, the better."
I GUESS I found some of pieces of my home today. I should go home more often. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

My Theatre Production Experiences (ranked)

So, I'm not gonna give a big intro about my awkward relationship with the theatre world, but here's a list of every show I was part of in my adulthood.
So, like, every show since I turned 18.
So this includes my acting days of junior college + senior year of high school, as well as my stage crew + management days at Utah State University.
So, these are ranked based on my personal experience. There are 14 shows on the list. If the show is ranked low, it's not because the cast + crew were garbage; I was probably just going through a rough time. Also, a low ranking is not necessarily due to a low quality performance or production (the Tennessee Williams show would be ranked much higher); I was probably just going through a hard time.
So here we go.

14: Ah, Wilderness! (Assistant Stage Manger, USU, 2014)
These were some of the worst days of my life. I remember being stressed all the time, never knowing what to do, walking to-and-from rehearsal in the cold, having $12 in my bank account, owning a TracFone, going hungry daily, thinking I had no friends, deeply considering running away from life... Just gotta let this out there. It was a bad time.

13: Collective Dating (Light Board Op, CSI, 2012)
I have successfully taught myself to entirely forget about this experience.

12: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (Props Master, USU, 2015)
This is ranked super low, but not because of the production itself. It's not because of USU. It's not because I was going through a hard time. It's because I discovered the joys of being a props master. Dear God. I would have never made it without Trevor Flocco or Shawn Fisher. Those guys did tons for me. It's a miracle the show looked great, and on time. Well, I mean, kinda on time...

11: Othello (Actor, CSI, 2009)
You know, for a 3-hour show, the results were not too gratifying. There was some bad blood going on backstage. It was just kind of an eerie time for all of us.

10: Bus Stop (Light Board Op, USU, 2014)
Don't remember much about this other than everyone singing Anne Murray's "Make Love To Me" + Perry Como's "Mama Loves Mambo" over the headset. Good times.

9: The Murder Room (Actor, CSI, 2009)
This was a pretty funny show. This was a pretty fun show to work on. I even did a good job, at least according to Tony "Uncle Tony" Mannen. It was just kind of a generalized experienced. That is, in comparison to Tarzan.

8: Tarzan (Fly Crew, USU, 2014)
This show was extremely stressful to work on. And thus it was unforgettable. It was a unique experience in its own right. I feel like all the cast + crew who took part in it should have shirts that read "I SURVIVED TARZAN." I guess I had the easiest job of anyone in the fly crew, but dang, pushing a button that launches people 50 feet into the air? As Jack White would say, it's "The Hardest Button To Button."

7: Reasons To Be Pretty (Stage Manager, USU, 2016)
Fun Fact: Dating someone while stage managing a show is to not date them at all. At least not on weekdays. But yeah, this was the first show I stage managed and it turned out totally fine. 4 actors. 4 degrees outside. 4 weeks to prepare. Bring it on.

6: A Christmas Carol (Actor, JHS, 2008)
Ladies and gentlemen, I may be the only guy you know who played Ebeneezer Scrooge with braces on his teeth. Of course it was super fun, I could rank this higher. I just remember in this point of my young adult life... well, I think I was type-casted.

5: Sondheim On Sondheim (Assistant Stage Manager, USU, 2015)
This show had +/- 100 musical numbers in it, but all the songs were beautiful and all our singers were amazing. God bless America. When an ASM is just sitting side-stage with nothing to do but listen to some gorgeous live music, it's quite refreshing.

4: The Matchmaker (Stage Manager, USU, 2016)
I'm sure anyone who was on headset with me for the final minutes of this show can recall my explosively vulgar rant when the sound was screwing up. But other than that, I felt pretty chill. I felt like I could get along with the people I worked with. And watching this show come together was rather magical. Everyone seemed on-board with each other. Cherry on top: It was a darn funny show.

3: Dogfight (Assistant Stage Manager, USU, 2016)
Ha! Freaking Dogfight. This was just a super fun semester for me, so I definitely see this show through a rose-colored glass. That's all I got.

2: Guys & Dolls (Actor, JHS, 2009)
I can't recall whether or not I did a good job in this show. But the rehearsals were the freaking best. That cast was gold. I was on the verge of high school graduation, I got my braces off, I was a state champion in Advanced Speech. Everything was coming up Scott E Hall. Age 18, baby.

1: The Laramie Project (Actor, RAT, 2009)
Both my experiences doing The Laramie Project with Random Acts of Theatre (probably still southern Idaho's only underground theatre troupe) were amazing. Amazing show; amazing lessons learned. I particularly remember our January 2009 performance where I got to play a few more characters and had to balance rehearsals with my school work. We were low on time and had to depend on each other. The results were worth it. Glad to help present a story like this to a surprisingly full audience. I might have cried.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

let's read about scott's life + stuff

Hey, welcome! Grab a drink. Feel free to take a seat. Take a look at this collegiate diploma. Play some background tunes. Let's have a good time.

These last 8 months of my life have been spent divvying out my anxieties. Whether I've been aware of that or not, that's certainly what I've learned to do.
It's like a string of songs. There's the song where the singer admits that he's scared, followed by songs revealing what specific things he's scared of. I realized that when you consider how many things frighten you, or at least occupy your conscience, you have years' worth  of writing material!

I was supposed to move out of town a couple days ago, but got into some car trouble. So I spent the week looking for a car. Bought one for $1000 last night. I'll be driving it to Logan, UT on Monday.
I felt a sense of completeness last night. That's something I haven't felt in a while.

By the way, I spent, like, over 2 months unemployed. I just want you to know that while the unemployed life is not as difficult as being employed, it sucks more. I think not working for a couple weeks is kinda fun. But anything beyond that is really stupid.
I was applying for jobs and stuff. All out of town. Usually for companies where I didn't have any connections. This was not smart. This was really stupid.

Anyways, I'm moving to Logan at the beginning of next week. I don't have a job lined up or any specific plan or anything, so it's whatever. Maybe I'll start a band or get married or something. People do those things, right? I'm strangely optimistic about my future!

My last 8 months have been spent mostly in my own head. You can say that's depressing, but I'm pretty darn used to that way of living by now. Give-or-take the last 26 years.
If there's any album I learned to love over recently, it's Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's I See A Darkness. I read this initial 1999 review of it saying it demands reverence, and that changes everything for me. These songs are hymns, recorded as though Will Oldham were whispering them into your ear; mostly on the topics of death and loathing. Digging into that songwriter's career has been a riveting experience, I might add. Such a unique songwriter and expressive character. He's a hero of mine by now.
Also listened to XTC's Skylarking for the first time. It still blows my mind! There are no other 80's albums to compare it to. It's like the music Paul McCartney should have been recording during that time. All Sgt Pepper/Revolver fans and studio production junkies should check it out.

I suck at saying goodbye.
I keep thinking of listing off specific people I need to say goodbye to, but it never goes as planned. Even when you get the chance to give someone a farewell in person, it's awkward as all get-out!
Wish I could make my rounds and give individual people cheesy speeches in their honor. But I don't think that's how it works.

I find it overwhelming how people sound smart all the time. It's as though everybody knows everything! When someone rolls their eyes and says "[This person who isn't me] thinks they know everything," to me this is code for "I think I know everything." I intend to obliterate these thoughts from my mind as long as I live.

So, yeah. Logan's gonna be cool. It's gonna be different. Can't make any promises as to if I'm going to magically turn into some optimistic hard-working person, but it will be different. Some old friends, some new friends, yada-yada. I'm gonna have fun.

That diploma, pictured above? I still don't know what the heck it means.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

An Extremely Long Blogpost About The Killers

Everybody likes The Killers. At least to some extent. Because you can argue forever about whether they're "good" or not, but they always give you something to talk about. I applaud this.
Just as interesting is trying to classify them into a niche of music. I mean, duh, they're "alt-rock;" particularly "radio alt-rock." But all their releases are legitimately super different from each other. And look at their list of related artists on Spotify:
-The Strokes (yummy)
-The Kooks (ew)
-Franz Ferdinand (cool)
-Kaiser Chiefs ("Rubay Rubay Rubay Rubay!" no, god, make it stop)

I'm sure plenty of people reading this love all the bands listed above, and yet I can't help but think The Killers border between classic alt-rock genius and total garbage.
If it's any consolation, I don't think they're garbage. But they rarely come close to genius. In fact, I usually see them as "middle-of-the-road." But I remember when they were young.
I didn't even like them at first ("Somebody Told Me" was way too poppy for me), but eventually gave in to the full set of Hot Fuss singles and bought the album. My siblings later bought the rest of their discography. I watched them grow up fast and fade out slowly. Now they have 2 new singles that border between something kinda cool and something seriously stupid. As far as I see it, this means The Killers are back!
I am reminded of those magical moments as a teenage fan and those surprise musical moments that made me immediately slap my face. Let's look over their entire career for what its worth... The Killers' Legacy, if you will.

Hot Fuss (2004)

The first song I ever heard from here was "Somebody Told Me," an adrenaline-punched synthpop hit that was getting adult contemporary radio play next to Lifehouse and Matchbox Twenty. I hated this song. At least at age 14.
The song has aged pretty well over time. Listening to radio alt-rock these days, every hip new band would kill for a single like "Somebody Told Me." And somehow, The Killers themselves topped it. Follow-up single "Mr. Brightside" was not only a blessed hit from the alt-rock gods upon release, it has grown to be one of the most popular songs of the new Millennium. A song that can loved by fans of Yellowcard and The Smiths alike. Balancing act accomplished.
The Killers would soon ditch this balancing act entirely, but I digress. The whole first half of Hot Fuss was pretty golden. Anthemic choruses. Bold synth hooks. A sleek lead vocal that only somehwat sounded Julian Casablancas. These guys were as hot as Vegas itself. This lasted for about 5 tracks.
The second half of Hot Fuss is no disaster, but closer "Everything Will Be Alright" sucks major turds. It makes you wonder if the whole album's "nicotine/80s-synthpop/faux-post-punk" aesthetic was really worth the travel. Honestly, I think its sonic value hasn't aged well. But its songwriting is something a lot of radio alt-rock bands should attain to.
I believe everyone goes through at least one year of high school that can be soundtrack'd by Hot Fuss. Songs about Jenny, Andy, Natalie... I believe that these are real people. And their stories are real. For better or for worse, Brandon Flowers nailed the realistic immaturity of teenage emotions (ex: "JEALOUSY!"). And to top it off, they were the first I can recall who were making throwback 80s synth music. That stuff is freaking everywhere now! It's like this album became something influential by total happenstance.
A hot young band full of teenage-anthem radio staples.
I wonder how long that will last.

Sam's Town (2006)

Lots of critics say Sam's Town was the ultimate example of a sophomore slump. I am a critic.
However...however... it's not like it sucks or anything. It's a concept album about [insert whatever the hell this album is about here] that sounds insanely inspired by Bruce Springsteen, while still keeping some of the band's flashy Vegas roots. I'll never fully understand Sam's Town. But I think it's okay.
These guys are obviously not the same band they were 2 years ago. I can't necessarily say that's a bad thing. Hot young bands like The Killers are supposed to burn out quickly. But even more so than a sophomore slump, Sam's Town was a reinvention. This is just gonna be The Killers from now on. Lots of fans jumped ship from here, and yet, I had multiple friends travel all the way to Vegas just to see them perform this album live on its 10th anniversary. It's their "cult" album.
I'd say this is more well pieced together than Hot Fuss; my favorite track "Read My Mind" works as the album's centerpiece. The end doesn't suck. There are just plenty of WTF moments scattered about. The album-opening title track was a WTF moment upon first listen (it sounds like normal Killers by now). "Bones" has that weird horns section. The fact that there's an actual song titled "Bling (Confessions of a King)." The entirety of "Uncle Jonny." And, to me, the random mixbag of Springsteen phrases that is "This River Is Wild."
If any song stands as the king of Sam's Town and what it's all about, I'd pick "When You Were Young." It's got those brash post-punk guitars that held Hot Fuss together, but also has that "Born To Run" glockenspiel. It has that awkward alt-rock refrain, "He doesn't look a thing like Jesus," but it also talks about Americana songwriter stuff like the devil, mountains and hurricanes. It's cool.
Anyways, if there's any one problem I have with Sam's Town, it's that I can never tell when to take it seriously. Is this "ambitious" music? Why do the background singers sound like cavemen? When is Brandon Flowers trying to make a statement? When are these guys just joking?

Day & Age (2008)

After releasing a bunch of B-sides, karaoke covers and Christmas songs (um, yeah, more on that later), The Killers made things easier for all of us. Sam's Town left me confused as to how often I could take these guys seriously. Luckily, Day & Age cranked down that switch to 0%.
And that's a compliment.
See, Day & Age might be my favorite Killers album. It's simply these 10 fun songs that sound totally different from each other. There's 0 signs of their old pust-punk-influenced sound. There's only one Springsteen rip-off track. Brandon Flowers' persona on this album officially convinces me that he's someone I'd like to chill with; as opposed to any member of Oasis. Nah, I always feel like a cover of David Bowie's "Young Americans" is gonna pop up somwhere in the middle of this album.
And that's a compliment.
It's hard to pick a favorite track from here. The first 4 songs are solid. The 2 closing songs are some of the band's strongest. There are tiny sonic moments that kinda remind me of Bjork. And "This Is The World That We Live In"strikes me as the best song Tears For Fears never wrote!
And that's a compliment.
My least favorite track is "Neon Tiger," which Brandon Flowers has openly admitted was written for the sake of trying to sound like MGMT. Flowers doesn't smoke nearly enough marijuana to ever sound like MGMT, but I guess he gets points for trying, and the song is under 3 minutes.
But yeah, every song here is pretty stupid. I'm sure they were aware of that. "Are we human or are we dancer?" That's not a question! There's no reason to interpret these lyrics too deep; that being said for the whole album. Because nobody likes a party pooper. I don't know if Day & Age is their best, but it's their easiest to listen to.
So what album is their hardest to listen to?

Battle Born (2012)

So I was home from my mission for a couple months when "Runaways" was released. My music taste had already shifted far away from The Killers, but I wanted to try the new song anyway. I knew I wouldn't love it. But I didn't expect them to go back to the whole Springsteen thing again... and in full force.
It's sad, because "Runaways" might be the best track on the album. Every song on this album has the same predictable sound and is trying to do the same thing. All these songs could be put in any order and the album would have the same effect. It's literally a jumbled-up mess of 80s Jackson Browne covers.
I cannot tell a lie, it's not like the compositions on this album are okay. I can tell they were trying to step up some instrumental game. But it's hard to recognize. Because the worst part about this album is its production. The guitars, pianos, drums, vocals... nothing stands out. Which is kind of a shame. This album would be all the more enjoyable with a few extra days of studio mixing.
In The Killers' defense, this is their only album with poor production. Everything is good, it's okay or whatever. But Battle Born was a really bad sign. This wasn't pieced together like an actual album. The recordings sounded like demos. The songwriting was reminiscent of John Cougar Mellencamp. And coming 4 years since the band's last relevance, I always pretended like it never even happened.
The band themselves have kinda shunned this album from their history as well. But what will happen next? And what signs do we have that it's anything worth waiting for?

Sawdust + Brandon Flowers + The Whole 'Christmas' Thing

The Killers have a weird back catalog. I wouldn't say it's better or worse than their official releases, but any real fan makes their B-sides and such part of the mix.
Sawdust was a B-sides album released in 2007. It includes a song featuring Lou Reed that doesn't sound at all like The Killers or Lou Reed. Has some cool Hot Fuss leftovers. Most notably (and laughably), it includes covers of Dire Straits' "Romeo and Juliet" and Kenny Rogers' "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town." It's a thing. Not a big a fan of their take on old school indie rock, but ya know, we all get credit for trying.
Brandon Flowers released two solo albums: Flamingo (2010) and The Desired Effect (2015). I've finally heard both of these, and I can say neither of them suck. Okay, The Desired Effect kinda suffers from the "jumbled-up mess" woes of Battle Born, but Flamingo stands toe-to-toe with any Killers release. Flowers presents himself as a whimsical Vegas-based songwriter, and his lyrics here are better than anything he's done as The Killers' front man. The music is lighter, but that's its strength. A couple good tracks on here. Nothing painfully bad. I kinda like that Brandon Flowers is his own thing.
The Killers have, like, a million Christmas songs. I think they've been doing it annually since 2005. I've only heard a few of them. But the point is, what the heck kind of band releases a self-written Christmas single every year? Not only that, but they can super weird sometimes. "Don't Shoot Me Santa" and "Happy Birthday Guadalupe" are some of the most ridiculous Christmas songs known to man. "Joseph, Better You Than Me" and "Great Big Sled" are corny power ballads; they even got Elton John on-board, for crying out loud! It's a fun shtick. I'm glad they do this.

Wonderful Wonderful (predictions)
So I've heard 2 new singles from the upcoming Killers album Wonderful Wonderful: "The Man" and "Run For Cover." Both songs capture The Killers' best and worst qualities. I actually consider both of these songs excellently produced. They sound up-to-date, they sound huge, they sound energetic. Lyrically, both of these songs are duds. Hearing "The Man" as a lead single worried me as much as it intrigued me. Because the whole song is a big fat joke. I kinda wish it had the same magical touch as "Human" or "Mr. Brightside," but considering "Run For Cover" sounds nothing like it, I really really want to ehar this album. And I want to hear it now. I don't think it'll be great (or even good), but I wanna find out.
If there's any sign of hope, I enjoy the "Shot At The Night" single from their greatest hits comp a couple years back. Produced by M83's Anthony Gonzalez, it sounds great, and I actually prefer this track to all of M83's last album. Between this and the new singles, we can only hope the next Killers album will be some kinda well-produced mixbag. To me, I think that's all they have left.

My 10 Favorite Killers Songs
10 Believe Me Natalie
9 Joy Ride
8 Spaceman
7 This Is The World That We Live In
6 Somebody Told Me
5 Smile Like You Mean It
4 When You Were Young
3 All These Things That I've Done
2 Read My Mind
1 Mr. Brightside

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Sounds Of Taco Bell

Nobody eats at Taco Bell more than I do. At least I hope not.

On average, I give business to the Taco Bell in Twin Falls, ID once every 10 days. This is not very healthy, but it is very cheap. I can suffice my hunger for under $4! But you must understand that although eating at Taco Bell may not be a financial sacrifice, you sacrifice many other things:
Your dignity.
Your functioning arteries.
Your taste in music.

That's right. Not only do I always order the same things at Taco Bell, but I hear the same songs. I don't get out much, but between the Twin Falls and Jerome Taco Bells, I'm convinced that the Taco Bell experience is soundtrack'd by the same XM Radio station. I cannot imagine sinking my teeth into a Cheesy Bean & Rice Burrito without modern Adult Contemporary chart-topping music being played in the background.

These are the songs I've heard the most while eating at Taco Bell. These songs define the Taco Bell experience. The music acts as a quality-defining metaphor. Much like the fast food restaurant itself, this is something we always come back to, but never know why. It's always there; always there for you to consume. So here we go...

~ The Sounds Of Taco Bell ~

#10 (tie) Daya Hide Away + Shawn Mendes Treat You Better
You can walk into any single college kid's house in Utah and one of these songs will be bumpin' in the background. Both singers longing for morality at an obnoxiously desperate expense, it's hard to choose which track to stick with... much like the $1 Cravings Menu.
#9 Charlie Puth One Call Away
Charlie Puth is such a nice guy, right? He's just such a loving man. He's easily the voice you want to hear serenading you and your sweetheart over a couple Chalupa Supremes.
#8 Rachel Platten Fight Song
"Fight Song" basically became the campaign song for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (in case you didn't know who she was). Does this mean her campaign was also sponsored by Taco Bell? Obviously not. That would have tripled her votes.
#7 Andy Grammer Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah)
As I hear his charming voice sing "Good to be alive right about now!" I look into my Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco like "You took the words right out of my mouth, Andy..."
#6 Calum Scott Dancing On My Own [Robyn cover]
I'll never forget my first time hearing this song. Sitting alone in the Jerome Taco Bell late at night, I hear a barren piano topped by this melodramatically depressive British white guy's voice, then I hear the words... Oh gosh. This really is... it's a cover of Robyn's 2010 Euro-hit "Dancing On My Own!" I bet the people who have only heard the lame cover version of this song have probably only eaten at Taco Bell and never eaten real Mexican food too!
#5 Lukas Graham 7 Years
Ugh, this song drives me nuts. It's like the minor key stepchild of "Bad Day" by Daniel Powter. Oddly enough, I always pay close attention to its lyrics just in case I get in a conversational jam during a bad date night. (Ex: "Scott, why are we in a Taco Bell?" >> "Let's change the topic. You know that '7 Years' song by Lukas Graham? That guy smoked pot at age 11. Isn't that sad?")
#4 Maroon 5 Don't Wanna Know [ft. Kendrick Lamar]
Apparently Kendrick Lamar is in this song, but I've never noticed. It's like how it wasn't until my 10th purchase of a Loaded Potato Griller that I noticed there was bacon in there!
#3 Train Play That Song
The fall of Train has been hard for me to listen to. The singles get worse every year. I won't go into too much detail here, but I can only imagine this track sounding uncomfortably fitting as the alarm clock ringtone for folks who eat breakfast at Taco Bell every morning. The song plays as the smile on your beaming face orders a Sausage Flatbread Quesadilla... America wakes up for this.
#2 Ben Rector Brand New 
This song is the Taco Bell special. This is the real #1 on the list, because I hear it every time I walk into Taco Bell, guaranteed. I've heard it there so much, I assumed that this was some popular radio song. But no. It apparently has only reached #82 on the US Billboard chart. Ben Rector and The Bell, man. They got a thing going on.
#1 Ed Sheeran Castle On The Hill 
I could have easily given this top spot to Ed's super-hits "Thinking Out Loud" and "Shape Of You." But I just want to address to the world that there is a literally a part of this song where he says "Me and my friends have not thrown up in so long." And THAT, my friends, is the unnecessary additional imagery you already have in mind when you stare down your $5 Triple-Double Crunch Wrap Box. Oh goodness, what have I done? It's too late to turn back! You're in Taco Bell. You're in Ed Sheeran's world now.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


...And we back, and we back, and we back!
Hey kids! I decided to bring back the old blog. I guess it was only dead for 3 months, but 3 months is a long time in Internet-Land. Back in June, I tried making my own blog on WordPress. I wrote 1 self-serious post then already got bored with it. As good of a writer I may be, my zaniness cannot be locked up for too long. The king has returned!

Anyways, this post won't be incredibly zany. To keep public interest for at least another paragraph, here's a brief, stupid song list I cooked up today:
5 Sugarcube  Yo La Tengo
4 A Punch Up At A Wedding  Radiohead
3 (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher  Jackie Wilson
2 Real Love  Beach House
1 I Got You (At The End Of The Century)  Wilco

There. Are you happy? You better be. My wedding will be legit. Assuming it ever happens.
Meanwhile, let's analyze this photo below...

This photo was taken December 17, 2016. My last day in Logan, UT. I'm wearing a cap + gown ensemble that doesn't match. Holding my acoustic guitar, looking away from the camera as though I'm walking in a different direction. Shards of snow lightly frost Old Main Hill. This is an awkward photo symbolizing my awkward exit from Utah State University. I may have departed from Logan, but I have remained glued to this awkward feeling.
Since "awkward" is an over-generalized term, I'll be more direct about it: I graduated, but I never felt like I graduated.
I didn't want to pay the $40 to take part in the walking ceremony, so I stole a random cap + random gown I found in my parents' basement months before this photo was taken in preparation for my own graduation photo shoot. The semester ended, I took my last final and drove out of town like a thief in the freaking night.
In a way, I walked away from Logan empty-handed. I've never considered this until recently. In March, I stopped by my old apartment where my B.A. diploma had been mailed. It's currently still in its envelop and stashed amid my box of neckties.
I spent a lot of my last 7 months substitute teaching. Lately I've done a whole lot of nothin'. I'm in purgatory. I fantasize about living anywhere else. I was on a spree of listing cities I want to live in; Portland, Washington DC, Vancouver, SLC, whatever. Yet it wasn't until a couple days ago that I considered... perhaps I left Logan too soon.
I've had 0 desire to move back to Logan in the last 7 months. Until the other day. It's suddenly the only thing I want to do. Perhaps it's just my nature. Autumn is coming. I haven't spent an autumn anywhere other than Logan since 2011! I guess I could stay in Jerome. Or move to Seattle. But dang that small college town is calling my name. I am 100% it will be a different experience than it's ever been before. But that's actually kinda why I wanna do it.
There was a bunch of stuff I wanted to do, but never accomplished. There was also a bunch of stuff I didn't want to do, but actually accomplished that stuff for some reason. The good ol' days weren't always good. But I do love that damn town. I wouldn't mind doing new + different things while keeping the same ol' location.
You can say moving back is a step backwards for me, or I'll only be working somewhere that has nothing to do with my degree. That latter part is particularly true, but I'm okay with this. I kinda like the idea of saying "I'm from Logan, Utah." Not like I'm gonna live there the rest of my life, but I'm sure that sentence will come in handy some day.
What I'm leaving out of this story is my boring existential crisis that's been burning inside me on + off for the last 7 months. It's as though whether I saw myself continuing life as a professional stage manager or a local garbage man, I could neither get myself excited nor frightened about it. I've never watched Rick & Morty, but the 8-second video below is kinda the story of my life.

I owe a lot to Logan in strange ways. I put less than half my effort into music, writing, relationships... I got this piece of paper that declares me a societal success in the most arbitrary manner, but I didn't even finish my work. The universe has not even seen the left side of my brain.
Maybe I'll go back to school. Maybe I'll live in Logan for like 2 months and beg for any opportunity to get the heck outta there. For now, I feel overdue for a walk down Canyon Rd and Center St. That still hasn't gotten old.