Monday, April 15, 2019

Cast Album Discoveries: Be More Chill

I've been alternating the albums in my Top 150 Albums By Women project with cast albums, so I'l share my favorite five tracks from these as I listen to them as well. 

I first became familiar with Be More Chill through the song "Michael in the Bathroom," which I instantly fell in love with. (I've written about it before on this blog.) But I'd never sat down and listened to the whole album, which was released a couple years ago and grew to be a huge cult classic among teens.

The show is based on a YA novel of the same name, and the story follows that of a teen boy, Jeremy, who purchases a quantum supercomputer that promises to help him act cool so he'll be popular. It backfires when it turns out that supercomputer kind of wants to take over the world, so he has to shut it down and go back to living life in the world of uncertainty (aka regular life).

This one started off kind of blah, but then it grew on me -- I got to the top six and had real trouble kicking any out. So let's see what finally made it to the top five.

5. Be More Chill (Pt. 1)
This song happens right after the computer (aka the SQUIP) implants itself in Jeremy's brain. It immediately starts judging everything he does, from the way he walks to the way he speaks to the way he dresses. I have to admit part of my love for this song came from falling in love with Eric William Morris' voice, which just oozes confidence and coolness in this tune. But it's also just a lot of fun, particularly in the second half, where the Squip guides Jeremy through a conversation with the popular girls at school.

4. The Squip Song
This is an early song where Jeremy learns from his classmate Rich how great the Squip was for him. This song has gone in and out in my love for it, but when I love it, it's like 90% because of the line, "IT'S FROM JAPAAAAAAAAAN" which is just way too much fun. And it's kind of hilarious that Rich explains what the Squip is, and when Jeremy is like, "I don't get it," Rich just says, "It's from Japan" and then repeats exactly what he just said. I love how ominous the middle part of the song sounds compared to the beginning and end -- some musical foreshadowing that the Squip might not be as great as it sounds.

3. The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set a Fire)
This song climbed up my list the more I got to know it, partly because it is way too much fun to sing along with. It's an obvious homage to Bye Bye Birdie's "The Telephone Hour" but with more entertaining lyrics and a darker undertone of glorying in someone else's tragedy as long as you have the full story about it. I watched an interview with Joe Iconis recently where he talked about it as his big six-minute dance song that he didn't have to have in the show, and he kind of kept waiting for to get cut, and then it just never did. I'm glad it didn't, because it makes me smile so much every time I get to belt out, "Rich set a fire and he burned down the house, WHOOOOOOAAAA!"

2. The Pitiful Children
I mentioned on song #5 how much I loved Eric William Morris in this cast recording, and this is his big evil villain song, and it's so much fun -- a great combination of OBVIOUS villain sound with ostensibly compassionate lyrics and then these hilarious little "beep boop beep boop" interludes which just highlight how ridiculous and over-the-top this whole thing is. It is so much fun to listen to and sing along with, and if I didn't love the #1 choice so very, very much it easily would have won.

1. Michael in the Bathroom
Yeah, there wasn't much doubt that this was going to win this one. I discovered this apparently all the way back in 2014 and have loved it ever since. The best part of doing this album survivor playlist style was that I got to hear this song every day on my way to work, and there were some days when I really needed to belt along with it. It's an awesome song that didn't lose anything through repeated listening -- though I suspect it wouldn't. I know for a fact it's one of the few songs I have listened to on repeat at various points in my life. It's just so good.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Brief Musing on Church

About a week ago I was listening to a podcast where someone had been discussing the community she used to find in church and then transitioned to discussing the community she found in the comedy scene, but then that got a disclaimer as well. She said something along the lines of, "Some people think you should put the community above everything, and I'm like, 'No, that community isn't going to protect me.'"

And it was like a punch to the gut with the realization that that's been exactly the feeling I've had about the church for years now.

The church is not going to protect me.

It's so obviously not going to protect me. Never in any of my years growing up did that ever even cross my mind as a possible function of the church.

And yet, I feel like that must be an element of any true community. Protection, security, safety, the sense that you can go in there and be all right because the people there are on your side. Because that's when you grow.

I have never felt like anyone in church was on my side.

In all my deepest struggles, my most passionate moments, so many times the church immediately jumped to spouting out verses to prove me wrong, rather than protection -- wrapping their arms around me (metaphorically, anyway) and keeping me safe. I think it comes out of a desire to see people do the "right" thing, and the idea that tough love is the truest love, and so any time they see me going down a path that is not what they believe is right for them they have the urge to fix it. I think it CAN be well-intentioned... but it makes it not safe. There have been so many times where I'm TRYING to follow God the best I know how, only to be abandoned by his people because I like an Eminem song or I learn from a Rob Bell book or I vote for a Democrat or I have a tough time going to church. (All things that have actually become huge rifts between me and other Christians.)

This is one of the many reasons I have so much baggage dealing with it now. Church is a battleground for me. Church is a place where I must be ready at any moment to protect myself, because those around me won't help me. Stepping into my church puts me on the defensive. And since I only hear from God in moments of openness and vulnerability, and I can never let down my guard in church, I can never hear from God in church.

Friday, February 8, 2019

"Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band" by Yoko Ono (150 Albums By Women #136)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

Last time I announced that my next album would be #137, Ofra Haza's "Fifty Gates of Wisdom." Well, halfway through my survivor playlist listen of that, it was actually removed from Spotify. Sheesh. So I moved onto Yoko Ono's "Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band" album instead, which I anticipated would be the most challenging listen of the entire project so far.


It's only six songs long on the original version (I opted not to include bonus tracks that got added later), but avant-garde music is so not my thing that I found myself completely at a loss after the first listen to find anything positive about it, but I kept chugging along. And then, on the last two songs... it somehow clicked? I was astonished, but I actually kind of dug these last two by the fifth listen.

A top 5 is ridiculous for an album with only six tracks, but I will share my thoughts on those top two. So here we go.

2. Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage All Over the City
This apparently has lyrics going on (the title lyrics, it appears) but the sound of this is pretty intriguing to me. It's one of the more musical pieces, and definitely an atmospheric one. The title apparently references a miscarriage, and there's a very empty melancholy feel to this one. Ono's voice is not as abrasive as it is in some of the other pieces, making it easier to lapse into the emotional tone of it.

1. Why
And everything I just said about the previous track doesn't apply to this. This IS abrasive and busy and obnoxious, with Ono wailing what I believe is the word "Why" over and over again in various vocal styles. John Lennon is on guitar here, and the guitar sounds great -- providing a much-needed musical foundation for Ono to essentially riff all over. One review I read called this track "primal," and that's absolutely the right feel here. I'm so fascinated by it.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
  1. The Roches - The Roches
  2. Robyn - Body Talk
  3. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  4. The Breeders - Last Splash
  5. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
  6. Iris Dement - My Life
  7. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
  8. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
  9. The Bangles - All Over the Place
  10. Yoko Ono - Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
  11. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
  12. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Cast Album Discoveries: Newsies

I've been alternating the albums in my Top 150 Albums By Women project with cast albums, so I'll share my favorite five from these as I listen to them as well. 

This is a very specific discovery of a cast album -- the original Broadway cast version of Newsies. I grew up on the original movie, loving so many of those songs, but had never given the cast album much of a shot. Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, my top songs were mostly the ones that were written for the original movie as well. The only original song that came close to cracking the top five was "That's Rich," a song written for a character whose songs in the movie were terrible. "That's Rich" is a huge improvement, but still not quite enough to win when up against some of the truly great songs carried over from the film.

So here are my top five.

5. Santa Fe. I love the ending piece of this song, and I love that they changed that really dumb lyric from "I want space, not just air" to "I want space and fresh air." (Like... what did that even mean before? Did he have an overabundance of air in New York City?) My issue here is that despite loving Jeremy Jordan overall, I do not like him in this show, and certainly not in this song. He's not pleasant to listen to nor does his attempt at an emotional portrayal works for me. It comes around by the end, but it's a rough enough listen at the beginning that it's leaving now.

4. Seize the Day. This was never one of my favorite songs, but the reason it stuck around through #4 out of 17 songs is because of its new intro. The original version is very repetitive and goes on for a very long time, and its intro was just a slowed-down version of the rest of the song. But I absolutely love this new intro. I love the line, "Say to all the others who cannot follow through / You're still our brothers and we will fight for you." I love, "And a prayer becomes a vow." I love so much of it. Oddly, it flags for me once it gets going in the rest of the song -- but this has always been a dance-heavy song more than anything, and that loses something when just listened to.

3. The World Will Know. The final three songs on this list are all so good. There's such a delightful anthemic marching feel to this one. I don't even really have much else to say it, I just love it a lot.

2. Once and For All. This one comes into its own in the Broadway cast recording in a way that it didn't in the movie. It always felt like a kind of half-song there, while here it definitely stands out here -- obviously, since it made it to #2. The harmonies on "All of these guys who are sick of the lies getting ready to rise to the call" are stunning.

1. Carrying the Banner. It was unlikely anything other than this was ever going to win, unless the cast album version super messed it up, but they did not. It's such a delightful upbeat song, one of my favorite "wake up and go to work" songs. The last minute or so where the chorus all comes together in one giant amazing power sound is just fantastic.

Next up, I return to the Top 150 Albums by Women. I'll be listening to Ofra Haza's "Fifty Gates of Wisdom," which is on Spotify, if you would like to join me!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"Heaven or Las Vegas" by Cocteau Twins (150 Albums by Women #138)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

I've never really listened to Cocteau Twins before, but this album has such a fascinating sound to it. The blurb on the NPR piece talked about their use of the vocals as an instrument rather than a standout piece, and that's absolutely correct. The lyrics are incomprehensible in nearly every song but that doesn't matter at all, since the emphasis is all on the auditory experience rather than any textual meaning. These songs are all interesting to listen to but they sort of blend together into one giant soundscape, so I'm not sure I can say anything about these songs individually. By the time I got to the top five I had JUST started being able to separate them out from each other, but these top five all have elements that I find sonically interesting. So, in a break from my typical style, I'm not giving comments and will just list my top five, since they're all good but blur together in my mind.


5. Fotzepolitic

4. Heaven or Las Vegas

3. Iceblink Luck

2. I Wear Your Ring

1. Frou-frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
  1. The Roches - The Roches
  2. Robyn - Body Talk
  3. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  4. The Breeders - Last Splash
  5. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
  6. Iris Dement - My Life
  7. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
  8. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
  9. The Bangles - All Over the Place
  10. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
  11. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Cast Album Discoveries: The Memory Show

I've been alternating the albums in my Top 150 Albums By Women project with cast albums, so I'll share my favorite five from these as I listen to them as well. 

I knew absolutely nothing about The Memory Show when it got added to my rotation. I have a giant list of musicals I don't know and choose from them at random when I need a new one to listen to. Turns out, this is a two-woman musical about a mother and daughter working through their troubled relationship after the mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The music is often very discordant and jarring, and the mother's songs are written in a range that make her often very unpleasant to listen to, but that doesn't necessarily mean I didn't like it. The abrasive sound of many of these songs matches the tone of the lyrics and, I presume, the tone of the show's book as well. Here were my top five from this cast album.

5. When My Mother Dies

One of the more upbeat tunes on the album, which is kind of interesting given that it's a laundry list of all the things the daughter needs to take care of when her mother dies. I find the fairly lighthearted vibe of the song interesting in contrast to the lyrics, and then the transition to a more serious tone in the latter half of the song is very moving.

4. Lullaby

This one has gone in bursts for me. At first I was bored by it, then I was very moved by it, and now I can feel it moving back to boredom, but I still like it enough to put it in the top five. I like the simplicity of the lyrics. It closes out the show, with the daughter acknowledging she can't do much to soothe her mother in her final days, but she can give her a home and sing her to sleep with a lullaby. Very pretty.

3. I'm On To Her Now

The least pleasant to listen to of these top five, but the lyrics are devastating -- a window into the fear and paranoia felt by the mother, who is certain that her doctor and her daughter are conspiring to make her think she's crazy so they can lock her up somewhere and take her things. It's a dark and unsettling song.

2. Yom Kippur

A flashback song that goes back to the daughter's memories of growing up with her mom. The first part of the song is a dialogue between the two of them, and the second half is just the daughter singing about how she loves the idea that Yom Kippur lets you change, start over, do something new and be a better person, and how disappointed she is that her mother is "still the same crappy person." I find it very moving.

1. You Remember Him Wrong

The only real duet between the two characters, this song is probably my favorite use of the musical dissonance in this show. The harshness of the chords and the tunes between the two characters (as they sing about their contrasting memories of the mother's now-dead husband) really helps to exacerbate the fact that they don't connect on any level. It's just an interesting one to listen to, and it didn't fade at all the more I listened to it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"All Over the Place" by The Bangles (150 Albums by Women #139)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

Every so often I listen to an album that, no matter how many times I listen to it, just refuses to stick in my head. Album #139, The Bangles' "All Over the Place," is one of those. Reviews of this album call it "infectious" and compare them to the Beatles, but for me all these songs run together in the same nondescript vein. Add to that the fact that I find one of the vocalists borderline unpleasant to listen to, and this one didn't do particularly well for me. Here are the top 5 songs, though really these are all in "meh" territory.


5. Restless. This is by that vocalist I don't like, but I kind of dig the lyrics, so this one made it up to the top five on the strength of those alone.

4. Where Were You When I Needed You. The one thing that draws me to this song is how much fun it is for an alto like me to sing. That "Wheeeeere" at the end of the chorus is in a really nice part of my range, which doesn't happen often with female pop/rock songs, so I enjoyed that.

3. Going Down to Liverpool. This one caught my ear the first time I heard it. It's a cheerful little tune that doesn't have a lot of substance but captures a carefree attitude that's fun to listen to.

2. James. Another early standout. I like that there's clearly a story behind this one, and listening to figure out what it might be is fun.

1. Hero Takes the Fall. This one probably grew on me the most out of all of them. It's got a cool dark sound to it, and I like the lyrics, and the vocals are pretty solid here. It's just a nice little groove. Nothing I'm super excited about but I wouldn't change the station if this came on either.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
  1. The Roches - The Roches
  2. Robyn - Body Talk
  3. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  4. The Breeders - Last Splash
  5. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
  6. Iris Dement - My Life
  7. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
  8. The Bangles - All Over the Place
  9. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
  10. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project