Tuesday, March 16, 2010

30 Day Song Challenge!

I found a list of songs for a 30 day song challenge that totally fits in with the theme of this blog. This is my attempt at keeping up with this meme.

30 Day Song Challenge: Day 01 - Your Favorite Song

The Zombies - This Will Be Our Year

This is my attempt at the 30 day song challenge. This challenge is kind of hard because I really want to add in my all-time favorite song but it's also by my all-time favorite band, but that's later this month. SO, you're going to get my current favorite song right now.

Totally one of the best songs ever. The Zombies remind me of my dad; he'd always sing "Time Of The Season" to me for some reason. This band also reminds me of the earlier part of the 2000s, when I was really into 60s counterculture. It's fitting that it comes full circle and that this song is singing my life right now.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My L.A Teen Years Part Three: French Kicks

So French Kicks are not from Los Angeles - they're from Brooklyn - but they were HUGE in my teen years. I suppose I got into them with the help of the New York City bands that came out in the wake of the Strokes and my dear friend, Katy. In fact, I think Katy might've got me into French Kicks? Who knows but they were Our Band and remain so.

French Kicks were, looking back, a quintessential NYC HIpster Band: disheveled, underfed, unshaven, educated (three of the members are alumni of Oberlin College) so it was destined for the four original members to start a band. However, unlike most bands and more like The Eagles, their frontman was their drummer, which meant that they didn't have a permanent drummer for a few years.

The band started off meagre; they had a self-titled EP in 1998 and a song on a compilation ("Alabaster City" on My Pal God Holiday Record 2. 2001 brought the Young Lawyer EP which was the start of what they're known for now: slightly avant-garde, often delicate, and occasionally noisy pop. However, my absolute favorite and definitely the start of my fondness for French Kicks came with 2002's One Time Bells.

To me, One Time Bells was just perfect. It started off bass heavy and a clanky keyboard? guitar? song called "Wrong Side" that remains in my top 5 French Kicks songs. The album had weird time signatures, absurd guitar tones and effects, and a tinny sounding keyboard. I guess that doesn't sound too appealing to most but, to me, it was just what I needed.

The band put out three more albums (The Trial of the Century in 2004, Two Thousand in 2006 and Swimming in 2008) and while I enjoyed them, they didn't hold the same impact like their debut. In fact, like I've stated here before, I suppose French Kicks had the same 2000s Band Sickness, where their debut album is so fucking good you can't think straight but the albums they manage to put out bore you to death. Whenever I listen to French Kicks, it's always One Time Bells.

And I guess, like this blog title suggests, their first album holds so much nostalgia for me. It reminds me of Katy and how she'd fly out to L.A. from Phoenix to see a show with me; it reminds me of Katy and I making fun of Kings of Leon at a French Kicks show and KOL giving us dirty looks the rest of the night; it reminds me of the last year and a half of high school when I had completely messy hair and wore blazers and pearls and badges all over my clothing; and I guess it reminds me of the first boy to chip away at my heart. In fact, I got him into French Kicks and most of what he listened to when we caught up a few years later and we had our first kiss to "1985." I have no ill feelings towards him but only fond memories of running around L.A. with Katy and slyly holdings hands for the first time with someone.

Whenever I put French Kicks on a mix, I always seem to introduce the recipient to "Close To Modern." Arguably their best song, it's also the most commercial and embodies what French Kicks are about.

I recently put this song on a mix for my boyfriend and he thoroughly enjoyed the song but I don't think he'll delve further into their catalogue, and I'm okay with that. And as I finish this post up, I'm listening to "Crying Just For Show" and I'm getting that dreamy feeling. I guess I'll lie back now and remember what an emotional rollercoaster this album is for me.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My L.A Teen Years Part Two: Rooney

As mentioned in the previous post. Rooney was another big part of my L.A. Teen Years. Most people got into Rooney because of their big brother band (figuratively and literally), Phantom Planet. In fact, majority of the fans were Phantom Planet fans as well and you'd definitely see the same faces at both band shows.

Rooney were a pretty decent band. Definitely in the same vein as PP: super poppy and melodic with "good looking" boys and shaggy hair. Their music was saccharine California pop; so sweet I had numerous toothaches just listening to them. It seems like a lot of bands in this time area, regardless if they were American or British, the demo versions of the bands' songs were always better than the album version. Rooney were not exceptions to this rule: before their album, Rooney came out in 2003, Rooney had tons of demo cds they'd sell at their shows. Old versions of songs like "Blueside", "I'm Shakin'", and "Losing All Control" ruled; the newer ones on the their debut album were lackluster and changed titles ("That Girl's Got Love" was "Kristen"). The band also seemed to overlook their oldies and fan favorites such as "The Floor", "No Wait But Listen I'm Talking to You", and "Meltdown."

Regardless, Rooney's first album was a pretty good albeit forgettable debut album. They built up a steady fanbase, thanks to their appearance on The OC. They were even noticed by The Strokes (a band obviously close to the author's heart); funny story about that: back in 2002, I saw Phantom Planet at a shitty venue called The Glasshouse where Albert Hammond Jr. was in attendance. I have a suspicion that he was introduced to Rooney via Phantom Planet because soon enough, pictures of Hammond sporting the old orange Rooney logo badge on his jackets started popping up. So, with (at the time) big indie bands backing them up, Rooney were bound to have more fans.

They eventually put out two more albums, Calling the World in 2007 and Wild One ep in 2009, but their popularity went down tremendously. Bassist Matt Winter left the band to pursue medicine, which will most likely be the nail in the Rooney coffin. Like most pop culture, they were here for 15 minutes and then vanished into obscurity. It kind of makes me sad since they were a big part of my teens. I remember having loads of orange Rooney badges and passing them out at my high school and wearing their old logo shirts. I'm embarrassed to say that I even met majority of the members and have pictorial evidence. I was also madly in love with Taylor Locke.

As I write this, I'm listening to old Rooney songs. Sure they were cheesy but you can't listen to serious shit all the time. My teen years were proof of that.

I leave you with one of my favorite Rooney songs and something that everyone looked forward to live:

Monday, February 1, 2010

My L.A Teen Years Part One: Phantom Planet

Since I created this blog, I knew in my heart that I needed to start a little mini series (if you will) of Important Los Angeles Bands of My Teen Years. Definitely at the top of this list is Phantom Planet. In the early 2000s they ruled the L.A. scene. Los Angeles really isn't known for having one official scene; because the city is so big and diverse, there are a slew of underground scenes going on for each genre. I'm sure that you can find fantastic hip hop or fantastic weirdo pop or fantastic new wave goth bands around the city but, for the sake of this blog, I was raised on Indie Rock. And I was cornfed Phantom Planet because they were the kings.

I got into Phantom Planet before "California." Yes, I did. I got into Phantom Planet because of their song "So I Fall Again", which was off their first album Phantom Planet is Missing. The album itself is a bit mediocre, which I guess is something expected of a young band. They also released their debut back in 1998, way before the hype of the early 2000's. But whatever, it was cute and poppy and fun.

2002 came the release of their second album, The Guest. It has their hit single "California" and it is a cracking opener. The Guest was Phantom Planet polished and at their most saccharine. It was absurdly catchy, had great harmonies, and lol-aciously ambitious. And it was way beyond their debut.

Around this time was when I started seeing Phantom Planet live. Their fan base was insane: a bunch of teenage girls hyped up in this candy power rock and drooling over their favorite member. My personal favorite was Sam Farrar, the bassist, but I did enjoy how easy Alex Greenwald was on my teenaged eyes. I have to admit that as I get older, I wonder if Phantom Planet's fans were just maturing Hanson fans: I see the similarities in both fan bases. But the shows were fun.

Phantom Planet used to do all the rounds in L.A.: the Troubadour, the Roxy, the Knitting Factory, and they even played campuses. They were my first exposure to West Los Angeles (which always prides themselves on being "The Los Angeles" and I guess it's sort of true, if you're into that kind of thing where mostly everything to do is in the West side, but that's a whole different post for a whole different blog), and my first exposure to rich kids.

Rich kids were just a part of Phantom Planet's fan base. The band themselves were from West L.A. and Malibu; they had affluent parents and family, grew up with money, had connections. If you want to pinpoint a total Los Angeles Band, you'd have to say it was Phantom Planet because if the fact that Jason Schwartzman was their drummer and he got the rest of the band extras gigs on the set of his first movie Rushmore doesn't sway your decision, you don't know what a goddamn Los Angeles band is to begin with.

It was also my first foray into seeing how people try way too hard. Again, since I was born and raised in this city, I always see first hand people trying too hard. It was also the early 2000s, when The Strokes dictated what you listened to and what you wore, so everyone at Phantom Planet shows turned up looking dirty and disheveled but had $500 Chanel flats on. It was my first taste of cynicism, of being jaded, of judging people based on their attire. It was my first taste of being indifferent and aloof, especially at shows when you're not supposed to show you're into a band's music. It still affects me to this day, even. It's something I grew up on and you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Because of Phantom Planet, tons of L.A. area bands were getting famous. Rooney, Schwartzman's little brother's, Robert Carmine (another actor - go figure!) band were the princes of the scene. They were 2nd rank and if you were a fan of Phantom Planet, you were most likely a fan of Rooney as well. I certainly was but that's for another post. Other bands include The Like, Everybody Else, Big City Rock, Rilo Kiley (probably the most famous of them all). If you knew Phantom Planet and opened for them, you were scene royalty.

The band themselves weren't entirely out of reach. They were very accessible to their fans and often corresponded with them. Be it meeting after a show, exchanging emails, whatever, they were completely accessible. In fact, I exchanged Radiohead songs with Darren Robinson. He gave me the leaked Hail to the Thief demos! And I emailed Sam Farrar about Radiohead all the time!

Because Phantom Planet were getting so much exposure from MTV and The OC, the band were getting bigger and their fan base was becoming way less intimate. It was annoying to suddenly be a fan of "that band that does The OC theme." They were so much more than that, and they were starting to become less accessible.

Jason Schwartzman left the band in 2003 to pursue his acting career full time. Jeff Conrad from Big City Rock was brought in to fill his shoes. I remember seeing the new Phantom Planet and not being particularly happy about the change. It was the start of something different and you could feel it.

In 2004, they released their self-titled fourth album as a follow up. I remember liking most songs but not all. I had seen these songs live, in their embryonic states, and I remember downloading bootlegs (on my dial-up connection, no less) so I could hear the new songs over and over. Things were changing, they sounded harder, and you can tell that fame was a killer when your favorite band was getting bigger. Another important original member, Jacques Brautbar - one of the guitarists - left the band and was not replaced. Seeing the band with him not in it was just jarring. This was also around the time I got off the Phantom Planet train and part of my teenage years behind.

The band went on an indefinite hiatus in 2008, after releasing their last album on an emo record label. They are not recording or playing live shows for the time being. Other L.A. bands are still going like The Like, Rilo Kiley and Rooney. I can't help but feel that that part of my teenage life has been laid to rest.

I recently googled the band and realized they all aged considerably. I saw Sam Farrar at one of the rare Thom Yorke shows I went to last October; seeing him was fucking weird and cool. He was still alive and around and still loving Radiohead. I didn't go up to him and say hi but I just saw him from afar and texted my sister about it. If I was 17, I would've gone up to say hello. Now that I'm older, just seeing him from a distance was good enough for me.

The Guest will always and forever remain important to me. I listen to that album often, 8 years later, and I still get lots of good little memories. it is the quintessential summer album; it encapsulates everything a Los Angeles summer is. It must be on your roadtrip playlist if you ever find yourself making your way to L.A. for whatever reason. I will never hate this album, I will never forget the good memories it gave me, and it is one Of Those Albums That Made Me, capitalization needed.

The next time I'm down the 101, I will blast this song and unabashedly sing my heart out and be brought back to a time when I had a glow in the dark Phantom Planet and was PROUD of it:

Friday, January 22, 2010

The White Stripes: Candy Coated Blues Beats

The White Stripes were one of the bands that were caught up in the hype of the 2000s. However, unlike most of these bands, they were actually pretty decent. Before their breakthrough album, White Blood Cells, they already had two cracking albums. All it took for them to be propelled to success was Michel Gondry's lego video for the ridiculously catchy "Fell In Love With a Girl" and the sheer timing of it all: the magical year of 2001.

I got into The White Stripes through White Blood Cells. I'm not even going to lie and will flat out say that their third album was terrific. Sure the novelty of a two person band - a girl who couldn't play drums very well and a pasty white guy pretending he was black - and the fluffy story of a brother and sister (they were actually a divorced couple) bursting eardrums together was nice but to actually sit down and listen to this album, you could tell that Jack White had some soul in him. This was the first album that was cover-free (De Stijl, the other great White Stripes album, had covers by Son House and Blind Willie McTell) and showed that White had some chops and tunes in him.

Sold on White Blood Cells, I went out and got De Stijl. Again, another awesome album that had only come out the year before. It was a lot more raucous than their Big Album, but it was more of a punch to the face. It's still an album I highly regard to this day: it was an album of the band finding themselves, finding their bluesy niche, which made White Blood Cells possible.

Knowing that this band's second and third albums were already on my good list, I was of course excited for their fourth album, Elephant. It marked the band's major label debut and an album to prove themselves after the hype machine. Honestly, I feel like they did a good enough job but it was definitely a feeling of having to prove they're still good now that they have a major label backing them up. It's also the only album that made me stop listening to The White Stripes.

Perhaps that was the start of my "this band only had a few good albums" mindset. Mind you, I do not think this of every band, but I feel - at least in the 2000s - many bands only had a few good albums in them and might've stretched out their creativity too long. 2007's Icky Thump had a couple of good tunes but overall it was just not good. I file The White Stripes in the same category as The Strokes: bands that, at the time, had a lot of potential but are now seen as novelties.

I still listen to the shit out of De Stijl and White Blood Cells. Back in high school, I knew how to play White Blood Cells in it's entirety. I used to sit down and just play that album and probably piss off my neighbors.

Besides, this song will always and forever fucking rule:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How The Strokes Proved Themselves to be a Flash in the Pan

It's hard to believe that nearly 10 years ago (seriously, 10 years ago?) The Strokes put out their phenomenal album, Is This It. This album actually came out first in the UK, since the Brits eat up anything remotely cool and exhaust the shit out of it (bonus points if the band is from New York City), and the UK album cover was far more provocative (the photographer's girlfriend's bare ass cupped by a latex gloved hand). The UK version of this album also had a song entitled "New York City Cops", which bashed the NYPD, but was promptly removed in favor for "When It Started" thanks to the 9/11 attacks.

It was The Strokes' first album, which during the 2000s meant that this was most likely their best album. The Strokes changed everything . Music at the time desperately needed to be changed: the most popular bands of the year were Nickelback, Korn, and Limp Bizkit. Along came a group of five disheveled, greasy, pimply, most likely hadn't showered in days, and poorly dressed rich kids who had immigrated to the LES. Much like Nirvana back in the early 90s, when "Last Nite" invaded the MTV airwaves with its 70's quality production, we all knew this band was different.

Back in 2001, The Strokes changed everything for me. I had heard "The Modern Age" before and thought it was pretty cool. My friend Muriel and I both asked if the other had heard of this new band. We felt like they were our little thing for a while. "Last Nite" came out and it seemed like overnight The Strokes got huge. Kids at our high school started dressing just like their favorite Stroke, girls thought they were sexy (and yours truly was no different; my teenage heart belonged to Julian Casablancas), and they were just fucking cool.

Then of course there were loads of singles, lots of club tours, and The Strokes got bigger. They helped usher in a new style of music: a throwback to garage rock by bands whose names stated with "The". Thanks to The Strokes, already established bands like The White Stripes got recognition while a lot of others hopped on the bandwagon (The Pattern? The Vines?). The band put out their sophomore effort, Room on Fire in 2003, and fell to the sophomore slump. Their third and most recent album, First Impressions of Earth, was a complete disappointment and only had one good song ("You Only Live Once").

The band has taken an indefinite hiatus to pursue other projects: Julian Casablancas released a lackluster solo album in 2009, Albert Hammond Jr. released a couple of mediocre solo efforts, Fabrizo Moretti had Little Joy (again the theme here is mediocre), Nick Valensi had children, and who knows what happened to Nikolai Fraiture. There had been talks of the band getting back together to record soon.

With The Strokes' heyday way past us, it's made me realize how much The Strokes have shaped pop culture as of right now. Prior to the band coming out, no one dressed grungy and ironically. Now it's the norm and what you'd find in places like Wet Seal. Bands have taken a very minimal sound and young kids are getting into lesser mainstream acts. I'm sure with the new dawn of a new decade, we'll get something else and it'll make what we grew up with seem dated but until then, we have The Strokes to thank for that.

Yesterday I nearly had a panic attack realizing this when I was in the shower. Listening to Is This It brings a lot of odd memories for me: times when I was careless, when what mattered most to me was what show I could go to that weekend and how I was going to get there, when music was probably even more important than it is to me now. Realizing that this album, most likely the album of the 2000s, came out almost 10 years ago is like the first sign of my aging. I'm feeling the first pangs of nostalgia and it most certainly won't be the last time I long for my youth.