30.12.10

A year in songs

As 2010 goes away tomorrow, I figured I'd do a little musical tribute about my year, 1 month at a time.

January
Real Emotion

January was taken up mostly by FASS, so I picked a FASS song. My most hated song from FASS last year. It was annoying to get good sheet music for it, getting it sounding good was tricky, this song was a pain.

February
Situations

February was the official launch of d'Archangel on the circuit, and our first gig was at The Hive in downtown Kitchener, so it is only appropriate I use our show closer song Situations. We keep getting better and better with each show we play, and big things are rumbling for 2011, so be on the lookout.

March
Lower Afterlife

I played a lot of Mass Effect 2 in March. That game is just all sorts of awesome. Seriously, if you've not indulged in the series, do so.

April
Ladies of the World

April was busy, but fairly uninteresting musically. So, let's default to a song about ladies.

May
No song. I was too sick.

June
Swagger

The song over the bows for my One Act. Oh man, that was a lot of fun.

July
Blood Gulch Blues

Trocadero is an awesome band that did the music for the Red vs. Blue web series. I was big into that community a few years ago. But the reason this song applies to July is because it was the song I was listening to in the car just before I skidded off the road on my way to the cottage.

August
Atrophy of Entropy

Another d'Archangel tune, August is when our demo was finished and released to the world. It's pretty friggin' sweet. You should totally throw $5 at us and we can give you a copy.

September
Attic View

Though Heather and I split in July, her off-to-Calgary farewell party/concert was in September, and it was combined with the Clever Girls CD release. Much good music was had that night.

October
Sandstorm

Techno makes for excellent packing music. Not much else to be said.

November
4 chord song

The band in Sleeping Cinder White did an epic version of this song. 'Twas super awesome. The rest of that show was also very good. Hard to go wrong with a pantomime.

December
Reign of Terror

I listen to this song a lot at work. It's good for getting the fingers typing.

24.12.10

Christmas time

All in all, I'm not quite sure what to make of Christmas from a philosophical standpoint.

Musically, I love Christmas. The old carols and stories translate well across musical styles. From disco to jazz to classical-metal fusion.

But as a rational, agnostic guy, where does the celebration of the birth of the Christian saviour fit into my life?

My take on it is as such: Growing up, my family was always pretty spread out, across Ontario and even Canada, so I don't get to see them often. But Christmas was always the time when everyone came together. Christmas was about family for me.

And really, that's what I still celebrate. The comforts of home, family and warmth, a quiet time of get-togethers and appreciation as the year ends. Regardless of what one believes in a metaphysical sense, that's something I can feel good about celebrating.

19.12.10

Driving Tunes

So last week d'Archangel was in the studio recording our newest song "Running Back to Jack". It's pretty awesome, and once it's all mixed and good, we'll be making it available very quickly, so keep your ears primed.

It is one of the band's favourite songs, and it's the top for a couple individuals as well. Frontman Deamon Jimmy thinks this is because it's our first completely collaborative song, and so all our best qualities and styles went into it. We are very excited to share this one with you once it's ready. It's very listenable, radio friendly, good energy, good beat, it's awesome.

It's also a driving tune. This is something that I had been thinking about for a while about how we would write a song that could be played on the radio, and I figured that we would have to write a driving song.

But then that got me thinking about what is a driving tune? What are the qualities that make a driving tune? As anyone who's taken a long drive before, good tunes make the drive that much better and make it almost seem shorter.

Here are some basic qualities that I think make for good driving tunes, and then we'll talk about sub-categoies and examples:

1. Strong, fairly fast beat.
2. Easy to sing along with.
3. Catchy, easily recognisable riffs.

You'll notice that those are not genre specific, which is very important. A driving tune can come from any style.

But now for some sub-categories:

Highway Songs
These focus mostly on rule 1, with an especially fast beat. The rhythm of the song echos the rhythm of the engine, they're meant to be played loud, and if the songs themselves are actually about driving, all the better. Rock and Heavy Metal feature heavily here.
Prime examples of these include Highway Star, Running Down a Dream and Ace of Spades.

Cruising Songs
This is more of a focus on rules 3, as these are songs more for city driving. You want something you can groove to as you drive. Not as fast as the highway, but a good pace none-the less. You see more pop, R&B, etc in this section.
Good examples include Low Rider, Brown Eyed Girl and Sweet Home Chicago.

Traffic Songs
Now we're into the rule 2 focus. You're stuck in traffic, but an awesome song comes on the radio and you are belting along with it to get your mind off the traffic. Mostly classics, epics and so on here.
We're talking songs like Bat Out of Hell, The Man Comes Around, Two Princes and Tainted Love (or if it's your cup of tea, Marilyn's Tainted Love(NSFW)).

Running Back to Jack is more in the 1st category, so be prepared to be blasting down the 401 at a buck 20 and have this song driving you forward at full volume.

5.12.10

Music of Starcraft 2, part 3, the last.

Yep, the last post I'll do about Starcraft 2 music, and this one is special and close to my heart because this is the one that I think proves how committed Blizzard is to its music content.

First, I need to establish some propositions that will help lay the groundwork for how awesome what I'm going to talk about is:
1. Blizzard is not afraid of musical humour. Proof.
Corollary to 1: Blizzard is aware of musical tropes, and employs a heavy metal band as such. Proof.
2. Blizzard has given the Terrans in general and Jim Raynor in particular a serious space cowboy theme to their music. Proof: Posts 1 and 2.

So, we can now talk about the glory that is the Revolution Overdrive soundtrack! This is a collection of the songs from the in-game juke box, and is intended to be thought of as Jim Raynor's personal playlist. Now I'm certain there are some who would call this a blatant money grab by Blizzard, or that they should focus on balance or other whiny fanboy antics, but we will roll right over them.

A soundtrack full of southern rock covers, hilarious country music, some instrumental bits plus a heavy metal closer, this is a great set of music.

On the southern rock side, we have two Elvis covers, two Lynyrd Skynyrd covers and an Iggy Pop cover. Oh yeah. Considering the space cowboy theme again, this is definitely music that would speak to a civilization like the Terrans. Plus, the covers are not bad. The Suspicious Minds cover is very listenable, and the more laid back, country-ish Free Bird is a nice change of pace for that tune.

As to the humour and country, we have the classic Excuse Me for Scribblin', and the ever popular A Zerg, A Shotgun & You by Whiteboy James and the Blues Express. Oh, that's awesome. In case you needed even more proof, check the live show from Blizzcon. I totally want a trucker hat and a denim jacket now.

We also have the instrumental stylings of Jem's Tune and Rumble for more the classic country blues. A little music to drink some whiskey to. There's also some bar covers of the Terran theme itself. All good stuff.

And the whole things concludes with the previously mentioned Level 800 Elite Tauren Chieftain with the wicked Terran Up The Night. Having an in house metal band mean Blizzard can get some badass songs pretty easily.

So, now that we've established the album itself and shown how it's a solid album in and of itself, easily worth a $10 download of iTunes, I want to talk about how this album relates to Starcraft 2 in particular and gaming in general.

As previously mentioned, this music comes from an in game jukebox you can listen to between missions. It provides good background to the cut scenes, and helps give us a little insight into Jim Raynor through his musical taste. But really, just the fact it exists as it does is not the cool thing. The fact that the songs are either thematic covers, originals or invitationals done in-house is. This is the advantage of having money behind you when producing something as big as Starcraft 2. It could have been much easier and cheaper to just pay some licensing fees to have the original songs compiled from the original artist and thrown on the jukebox, but Blizzard went the extra mile and used their talented composers and musicians to do something extra. And it's awesome.

Again, it's easy to criticize about how they're a gaming company and they should focus their time on the game, not put money towards "non-core" elements like music, art, humour or community. Blizzard got mixed reaction when they revealed a little tribute done by their art department to a tournament winning player from Korea named Fruit Dealer. Most people thought it was cool of them to go out of their way to help promote eSports, plus the art itself is pretty cool. But the Stop Having Fun Guys were all whining about how the balance wasn't perfect yet, or that their pet desire hadn't been implemented yet, and hence no other focus should be worked on.

That's just disappointing on so many levels, that people are so narrow minded and selfish about such trivial things. But then I remembered another blog I read. I then also remembered how nasty politics get on the small scale. Oh right.

But really, let me say Kudos to Blizzard for taking the time to produce some outstanding and varied music to accompany one of the biggest games of all time. If people are listening to it outside of the game environment, you know you did a good job.

2.12.10

Soul

I'm taking a break from being stupidly busy, and also from talking about Starcraft 2, in order to deliver a special message about musical emotion. I'm going to talk about soul.

And no, I'm not strictly speaking talking about that sweet soul music, but the example I'm going to use is relevant as such.

I was listening to my Commitments soundtrack which is always good for a subway ride. Oh, I'm sorry, a "rroeid". The movie was good, the musicians were good and the music was good. They picked good songs to cover, and for the most part did good justice to them. The Midnight Hour, Take me to the River and Try a Little Tenderness covers are particularly nice.

But there's also a cover of Slip Away. The cover is not terrible, but have a listen to the original by Clarence Carter.

Oh man, that dude has PAIN in his voice. There's EMOTION behind those words. The dude has SOUL. It's so hard to quantify what I'm talking about, but I can't be the only one hearing it.

You need to put some force behind what you're singing, some personality, a little of the ol' blood sweat and tears, especially if you're singing a song like that. That's what gives that kind of music its power. A song like that has emotion when it's written, so you need to give it some when you perform. The same lesson applies elsewhere as well, my bandmate and brother in metal Brian has a post on his own blog on screaming in heavy metal. Our points are similar, I think.

But yeah, soul. Not all music requires such emotional investment, but a good rule of thumb would be that if it was written with emotion, it should be sung with emotion. The pain in your voice(or even the dissonance of your instruments if you watt to get really subtle) should mirror the pain in the lyrics. Love songs are particularly bad for breaking this. That's why Justin Bieber is so lame. There's no soul in his voice. Compare that love song voice to this one, or this one. Range and technique only goes so far if you have no soul.

So things to take away from this include:
1. Put a little of yourself into the song and it'll sound better.
2. Having a dichotomy between lyrical and vocal emotions sounds very fake.
3. Reggae Got Soul.

PS. Here's a little Starcraft 2 after all: Yay!