Random Song of the Day – 10/17/17

Today, Meg Myers:

Myers is a musician I ended up discovering, oddly enough, because a friend invited me to go to a concert, of which she was one of the performers. Now, we ended up not going to that concert (which was just as well, as Laura Palmer was the other performer, and I have… not figured out how I feel about Laura Palmer yet), but this ended up inspiring me to check out Myers independently, and damned if she isn’t really talented. I mean, in a broad sense I suppose that’d be obvious; I was, after all, considering going to see a live show featuring an artist I hadn’t figured out how to feel about yet, so you’d have to assume I think well of Myers or that I’m really stupid, but listen, I smoked for like two decades, so let’s not table the latter entirely, yeah?

Anyway, “Sorry” is the song I tend to like the most from Myers, but “Desire” is the song that’s probably most compelling to my mind, if only because Sorry is, frankly speaking, a bit obvious. “Sorry” is a good song, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a song about a relationship that failed, and it’s the sort of thing that basically anyone can wrap their head around. “Desire,” in comparison, is a raw, predatory song that feels more obsessive (on both the part of the singer and the listener) and primal in what it appeals to, and that’s harder to achieve than you’d expect without getting fairly experimental. It doesn’t quite get where I think Myers wants it to be, mind you, but honestly, it still works really well, and it’s a song I enjoy as much for what it’s trying to do as for what it successfully accomplishes.

Random Song of the Day – 10/16/17

Today, Digital Daggers:

Coming back to a prior statement, this is another band I discovered by going through an extended random YouTube play session, but unlike Icon for Hire, Digital Daggers not only seems to be very active (they have about nineteen releases on iTunes at the moment), but they also seem way more… comfortable in where they are as a musical group. I’m not just saying that because Icon for Hire started off as feeling similar to other acts in an oversaturated market, either; Digital Daggers feels like a band that has a cohesive vision and focus to their work that a lot of other bands, in general, take years to get to.

As an example, I picked “Spark” because it was the first song I discovered from the group, but honestly, you can go to Youtube right now, search for their name, and listen to anything from the band, and it all mostly feels like it’s from a band that understands what they’re trying to be and executes it perfectly. It’s almost certainly cliche to call something “haunting” at this point, but Digital Daggers manages to make the term feel reasonably appropriate, thanks to some really interesting vocal effects and song composition, and this is definitely an act that resonates in a way few truly manage to, to my mind.

Random Song of the Day – 10/13/17

Today, Breaking Benjamin:

We did Breaking Benjamin back in April of 2015, so I don’t have a lot to add to this; I mostly just found this while I was looking into covers of “Enjoy the Silence,” and I don’t hate it, honestly. I don’t think that Ben Burnley quite has the sort of voice to do this song as-is, and it’s still kind of a lazy cover, but it adds just enough to the song that you know it’s Breaking Benjamin doing the cover, and doesn’t shit the bed while doing so.

Plus, if anyone’s going to cover a semi-morose song about a relationship and do it reasonably well, it’s Burnley; see also the Breaking Benjamin cover of “Who Wants to Live Forever.” Dude’s basically the anti-Ville Valo.

(Aside: the cover of “Who Wants to Live Forever” I linked above is both a better and worse cover than this, I find; better because it makes more use of what makes Breaking Benjamin sound unique, worse because Ben has to compare to Freddy Mercury with the cover, which is a much harder bar for him to clear. In case you were curious.)

Random Song of the Day – 10/12/17

Today, Icon for Hire:

Sometimes, when I’m working, I like to let YouTube play songs for a while, just to see if I discover a new band I’d not heard of before in the process of allowing this to go on. Most of the time, I either end up finding tracks from bands I already like or garbage, but every so often I’ll hear something start up that I’ve never heard before and think, “Huh, this is pretty good,” and that’s the case with today’s pick, Icon for Hire. The band has apparently been around for five or six years now, but I honestly first heard anything from them a few days ago, when this track came up in a random play session, and it’s pretty good!

I mean, full disclosure: it sort of sounds like a pop-y version of what Evanescence was doing (or, alternately, a less saccharine Paramore), but honestly, I kind of like that, and there’s something really compelling about the song that I can’t really put into words. It’s also worth noting that, by all indications, the band has, in the past few years, turned from this into something a bit more electronically influenced (possibly because only the vocalist and guitarist are left at this point), which is also interesting, albeit for different reasons. They also apparently are considered, to use a term I picked up from Gloomchen, “Stealth Jesus,” IE worship music that doesn’t want to be considered worship music, but I like Skillet just fine and I haven’t started going to church so I suspect this isn’t going to convince anyone either.

Random Song of the Day – 10/11/17

Today, Sister Machine Gun:

The 90’s are something of a heyday for industrial music, due in no small part to the success of Trent Reznor during this period; when Nine Inch Nails took off and inspired a legion of disaffected kids who weren’t quite satisfied by the aesthetics of the grunge scene, it allowed for a number of artists, both new (Gravity Kills, God Lives Underwater) and established (KMFDM, Stabbing Westward) to rise up with NIN and create something of a notable public industrial movement for, like, five minutes in the 1990’s. It’s hard to say that industrial was ever truly popular in the strictest sense, as outside of a few major acts (Tool, NIN, Stabbing Westward), most industrial bands were decidedly underground sensations, but there was definitely enough interest such that, for a while, TVT records devoted a not insignificant amount of effort toward promoting such acts, including devoting a label to them (Wax Trax) and featuring songs from such bands on the Mortal Kombat soundtracks, both of which they produced.

Sister Machine Gun was one of the random bands that came from the Wax Trax label, and if I’m being honest, they’re one of my favorites.

Sister Machine Gun is basically the brainchild of musician Chris Randall, and while the name boasts eight records to its name, for the most part, you probably know of them (if you know of them at all) through one of two records: Burn, from which the song “Burn” comes (AKA the song featured on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack) and Metropolis, which is probably the best record ever released under this band name. It’s not that the other records are bad, but anything earlier than Burn is probably going to be hard to listen to due to lackluster equipment, and while later records deviate from the expected style a bit, they’re fine in their own way (though I’m still unsure how I feel about The Future Uninformed).

For my money, though, Metropolis is far and away the best record ever released by SMG, and for proof of that, I bring to you “Admit,” one of the best tracks from that record. It’s decidedly off-track from what people had come to expect from industrial at the time (well, mainstream industrial; God Lives Underwater was basically doing this sort of thing on the reg) but make no mistake, it’s pretty goddamn good. From the surprising violins in the intro to the exceptional composition of the track overall to Chris Randall’s unmistakable vocals and vocal effects, the song is representative of the aesthetic of SMG, without being really similar to anything else on the record.

Also I’m told that Randall used Metropolis as a proposal to his wife, so that’s cute.

Random Song of the Day – 10/10/17

Today, Owl City:

I generally try to avoid going with the most obvious song(s) from a performer when they’re above a certain level of popularity, but honestly, Owl City is one of those acts, for me, where the very first song released was the song for them, and everything else afterward has been fine, but not as good as the first one. Some bands basically exist to make a single song, and for Owl City, “Fireflies” is, to me, that exact song; it’s great that they’ve made others, and I wish for nothing but the best for them, but this is the only song I care about.

Insofar as the song proper goes, I get that it’s pretty “twee,” but I don’t care; I’ll be damned if the song doesn’t put a smile on my face when I listen to it. It’s certainly quite simple and maybe a little bit hipster-ish, but it’s a simple, fun song that’s not really interested in anything but being a simple, fun song. Sometimes, that’s all you really want or need at the moment.

Random Song of the Day – 10/09/17

Today, In This Moment:

I discovered this during my investigations into covers of “Enjoy the Silence,” specifically when I was looking up the Nonpoint cover of “In the Air Tonight” (as I couldn’t remember the name of the band who did the terrible, terrible cover), and goddamn if this isn’t an absolutely perfect illustration of everything I said about the Ki Theory cover of “Enjoy the Silence,” and to a lesser extent, about the Lacuna Coil cover as well.

In This Moment is a band that felt like it had a bit of an identity crisis for its first few records, as Beautiful Tragedy is aggressively heavy but lacks a real voice, The Dream is basically “another band trying to be Evanescence,” which doesn’t even work for Evanescence anymore, and A Star-Crossed Wasteland felt like it was trying to be a weird hybrid of the two. From Blood onward, though, the band has really found its footing, between heavy-yet-melodic backing music and Maria Brink using her ability to scream sparingly, when it will have the most impact in a song, allowing the band to stand out among its peers and really fill a void that not many acts can touch.

This cover appropriately fits into that niche effectively while also respecting what made the original song great by using one simple trick: it holds back Brink’s vocal power until the point where the drum solo kicks in, making the cover deliver not only the expected musical punch, but also hitting the listener with the vocal punch of Brink’s unleashed fury, for lack of a better way to describe it. This is a cover that was clearly written by someone who gets why the original song is awesome, and frankly speaking, I’d be surprised if anyone else in the genre could even begin to touch it.

Random Song of the Day – 10/06/17

Today, Ki Theory:

Now, for those who have spent this week wondering, “Well, okay, if you know so much about music, what makes for a good cover song?” while I’d like to just point to the above video and say “this,” I also know that isn’t especially helpful for making a point (especially if you hated Ghost in the Shell), so let’s break it down.

While I estabished what makes a cover not work at the beginning of the week, today I’d like to take a moment to discuss what makes a cover work, and why they tend to be hard for acts to pull off effectively. To put it simply, a good cover does three things:

1.) Presents a tone that understands and either emulates or improves upon the tone of the original,

2.) Presents a different musical take on the song, while still remaining somewhat true to the musical composition of the original, and

3.) Brings a unique voice to the song that doesn’t crap on what made the original a classic,

and it’s really hard to pull that off effectively. While it can be worth it to pull off that instantly memorable cover that either improves upon the original while still being a solid song in its own right (Orgy, “Blue Monday,”) or, failing that, that instantly memorable cover that’s at least different in an interesting and enjoyable way (Alien Ant Farm, “Smooth Criminal,”) nine times out of ten you just end up making Disturbed’s version of “The Sound of Silence,” or at a worst case, Nonpoint’s version of “In the Air Tonight,” I mean the whole point of the song is that it’s BUILDING TO THE DRUM SOLO HOW DOES SOMEBODY SCREW THAT UP?!?

Ahem.

The point is, take the song above and, removed from the movie it was attached to, consider it as a cover. It clearly understands the tone of the original and keeps it intact in its own composition, since the original tone of the song is quite good. It takes the original musical concept of the song, as well as the core structure, but heavily modernizes it, layering a melancholic electronic synth score over elements that clearly come from the original song in a way that makes for a dour verse and a swelling chorus, and this really gives the song a unique feel that still gets the original and respects it in tone and execution.

In other words, it works not in spite of it being a cover, but because it’s a cover, and because it understands both the voice of the original, and its own voice.

Random Song of the Day – 10/05/17

Today, Nada Surf:

For those who were waiting for the “bullshit” cover, boy do I have a thing for you.

Now, there are, again, many, many more covers of “Enjoy the Silence” out there, but most have the benefit of either being live (and thus at a bad enough quality such that attempting to use them as an example feels unfair) or generally average (though shout out to No Use For a Name for doing a surprisingly solid punk cover), so I don’t feel comfortable picking them out to use as the “bullshit” example. Fortunately, Nada Surf (AKA “the band who wrote ‘Popular’ and basically nothing else“) did a cover of it, and whoo boy is it interesting.

Now, when I was growing up, my mother (indirectly) taught me that when it comes to a cover song, intent matters. See, back in 1994, Faith Hill recorded a cover of “Piece of My Heart,” a song that has generally been recorded as something of a plaintive love song by the majority of the people who’ve recorded the song over the years, including Erma Franklin, Janis Joplin and Melissa Etheridge. The Faith Hill version, in contrast, is a fairly upbeat country number that, to be blunt, takes a dump on the intent; the original intent is a sort of miserable “I love you even though you keep hurting me and I’ll keep dealing with it,” while Hill’s version is “Basically that, but I enjoy it,” and that’s… weird. To be fair, it’s worth noting that authorial intent isn’t always the hard-and-fast rule when it comes to covering a song; not only did Trent Reznor himself basically give “Hurt” to Johnny Cash when the latter changed the intent from “man with depression” to “man who has reached the end of his life,” but as we’ve touched on here, sometimes a song works better with a proper tonal change because the tone of the original is just wrong on some level. In general, however, you probably shouldn’t change a song about regretting being in love with a two-timer into an upbeat song, especially when the original works so well everyone who has covered it since has kept that tone more or less intact.

My point, and I do have one, is that I have no earthly idea who listened to “Enjoy the Silence,” and thought, “This, but surf rock,” but hooooooly shit is this thing an exercise in bad decisions. From the moment the upbeat guitar comes in, inside of the first thirty seconds, you’re clearly aware that you’re in for a disaster of a cover, and that feeling never lets up until the very end. It’s not even a bad song as such, either; it just fundamentally misunderstands the intent of the original song to such an amazing degree that it basically undoes any good its execution manages to pull off simply by being, well, stupid.

I mean, on the off chance a member of Nada Surf happens upon this article, I want it to be clear, it’s a fine song; I just have no idea what the fuck the person who suggested it was thinking when they said “Hey, let’s do a surf rock version of a New Wave song.” Jesus Christ.

Random Song of the Day – 10/04/17

Today, Lacuna Coil:

For those who are asking, “So is this the bullshit version?” well, no, but it’s not for a lack of trying.

Now, I get that this may not be the most popular opinion I’ve expressed, but let’s get into it: while I like Lacuna Coil quite a bit, I find that this cover just completely runs through me, due in no small part to the fact that it’s basically a less interesting version of Disturbed’s cover of “Shout.”

Yes, yes, I know, but hear me out.

Lacuna Coil, as a band, tends to work best when both Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia (the male and female vocalists, respectively) have something interesting to do with their unique vocals that serve to make the song a whole unit. That doesn’t mean they both need to be singing for a song to really work; “Unspoken,” from Comalies, for instance, is mostly focused on Cristina’s vocals and it’s awesome. Rather, the point I’m trying to make here is that the best Lacuna Coil songs understand what Cristina and Andrea (mostly Cristina, if I’m being honest) bring to the table, and exploit those traits to the maximum effect possible.

Their cover of “Enjoy the Silence” does… not do this.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t try, mind you, but outside of having Andrea layer vocals for the back half of the verses, the song is otherwise either an exact cover (the music proper is basically a metal version of the song with no deviation or modification) or mediocre (Andrea’s layered chorus vocals, where Cristina just drowns them out and makes them sound like shit; the weird annunciation of “wanted” in the chorus; the weird whispering between chorus and verse), and the end result is… just there, honestly.