You May Want to Spit That Out: That’s Funky Awesome Joins the Funny Aftertaste Podcast

Happy 2012, y’all.

Yes, I realize it’s a few days after the fact, but knowing the readers of That’s Funky Awesome like I do I understand it’s never too late to wish someone a Happy New Year, especially when the people in question are still nursing hangovers from the week before.

I don’t know about you, but the start of the New Year had me making a handful of resolutions as per usual, all of which should be tossed by the wayside before the start of February. Except, of course, my resolution to meet more people from Australia. That one is off to a flying start, and I’m very happy to tell you why.

Starting this January 8th you’ll be able to hear yours truly make a complete ass of himself on a slightly different media platform, that of the Funny Aftertaste podcast. For those of you unfamiliar with podcasts, they’re just like a blog, except you don’t have to worry about spelling as much. I’ll be joining the Funny Aftertaste team, Brock Murley (@thebrockmurley on Twitter), and Brent Riley (@brile27 on Twitter) for a weekly 30 minute (or so) discussion on all things pop culture and news worthy-to us, anyways. We might even throw in a little bonus music if you’re lucky. One of the cool things about the Funny Aftertaste podcast is the fact that it will involve  hosts who are recording the show on the opposite  end of the planet from one another; me in my little nook in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, and Brock and Brent over in Melbourne, Australia. And not to be a complete suck up here, but since it was made public last week that I would be hitching my caboose onto the Funny Aftertaste train the outpouring of support from the ‘Tasters’ (the army of podcast fans who rally their troops on Twitter) has been fantastic. It’s been an absolute pleasure  meeting and Tweeting so many new people because of this opportunity, quite a few of whom call Australia home.

So, in honour of my Australian comrades, today’s post will feature a few bands from Down Under that I love. Before we get to that, though, here’s a couple links where you’ll be able to listen to and download the Funny Aftertaste podcast. There are already 27 episodes available, so knock yourself out!

On iTunes, go here.

Or go to the Funny Aftertaste website.

You can also follow @FunnyAftertaste on Twitter for more ramblings, updates, and interactions of the social variety.

UPDATE: The latest Funny Aftertaste podcast has hit the airwaves. Go here to have a listen.

Now, some of the bands and artists from Australia that I have in my personal music collection. First off, INXS-before the band went off the rails trying to find a singer to replace someone who is, as time has proven, pretty much impossible to replace. Read more about that here. Here’s Bitter Tears, live.

Next up, Hunters & Collectors. I always thought this band’s mix of pop and punk with a horn section thrown in for good measure deserved a bigger audience. Here’s The Slab, live.

Now for a band that I saw live in Toronto a couple of years back (minus Paul Hester, of course), Crowded House. Here’s a great live clip of the band doing three acoustic songs, including one from the previously mentioned Hunters & Collectors.

And finally, another band I saw in Toronto, just this past summer. Although he was born in the States, John Butler is an adopted son of Australia (where he moved to as a child), and now lives there with his wife and family.

The ‘Not In a Nutshell’ Long-Winded Rundown of the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees

Sssshhhhhh….can you hear that? It’s the sound of a million Rush fanatics furiously pounding out seething emails to the Board of Whoevers at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for once again failing to place their Canadian idols amongst the music industry’s elite artists in the Hall’s home in Cleveland, Ohio. Along with the tears of Geddy-Heads the world over comes a new batch of inductees to dissect and debate, which is the purpose of todays post. Sorry Rush lovers-maybe next year?

Today’s post will feature the artists and bands inducted into this year’s ‘Performer’ class. Of course, all opinions on said artists and bands are mine, which means you can expect a little bit of bias and probably a touch of ignorance, which is also fitting since it’s those same faults that are often lobbed at the Hall of Fame over its induction process. You see, the Hall of Fame inductees are decided on by 500 Hall appointed voters-industry types, critics, and historians. The general consensus is these voters (who, for the most part, have their identities hidden from the general public) are casting their votes based on personal musical preference, rather than the cold hard facts (such as album sales, concert revenues, and how often an act is mentioned in thank you speeches at the Grammys). It’s for this reason alone that bands like Rush still haven’t found their way to the Hall, since many of the same critics and music writers who bash Rush and all their Lord of the Rings influenced prog-rockness are also casting the votes for the Hall. Whoops.

Guns N’ Roses

G N’ Fuckin’ R, baby. I’m assuming that the Hall’s voting in of the band was meant for  the classic Guns line-up (the one responsible for the albums Appetite for Destruction (1987), G N’ R Lies (1988), and Use Your Illusion I & II (1991): Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler. Guns N’ Roses brought hard rock back to the mainstream, and along with it endless tales of drugs, booze, and overall debauchery that had been missing from the world of popular music for a while. By the time 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident finally surfaced, Guns N’ Roses as a band were pretty much finished, with all but singer Axl Rose either quitting or being fired (depending on who’s telling the story). Over the years Axl has been working with a variety of different musicians under the Guns N’ Roses name, and even managed to release a new album of material three years ago (Chinese Democracy, anyone?). The big question is: which G N’ R line-up will be at the Induction ceremony next April? Considering the public battle that has gone on between guitarist Slash and Rose over the years, chances are slim it will be the original. Does the Hall of Fame allow cover bands to perform at these things?

Do They Deserve To Be Inducted?

As much as G N’R have kinda bugged me over the years, I have to admit they should be in the Hall. They’ve sold a massive amount of albums (somewhere in the 100 million plus range), and at the height of their popularity were the biggest band in the world. Axl Rose may be an egomaniacal douche, but he and the rest of his LA based scallywags definitely made a lasting impression on the world of music, even if they were responsible for a generation of kids thinking it was cool to rock bandanas with their formal wear.

Paradise City, from 1988

Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Chili Peppers did okay for a band of white kids who managed to mash together a tasty blend of pop and funk without ever having too much of the dreaded cheese factor diluting the mix. Again, I suspect that the Hall had a certain Pepper’s line-up in mind when it came to their inclusion in this year’s inductees: Anthony Keidis, Flea, Chad Smith, and John Frusciante-even though the Peppers have had their fair  share of personnel changes over the years. Although not an original Pepper, Smith has been helming the drum throne for some time now. The Chili Peppers have had a barrage of guitarists from day one, although it’s been Frusciante whose been the go-to guy (and what many consider the heart and soul of the band) on some of their biggest successes, such as 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik and 1999’s Californication. I suspect that you’ll see a return to the Stadium Arcadium touring line-up when the Chili Peppers are inducted in April, with current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer sharing the stage with Frusciante, Keidis and Flea. The big question is whether one-time guitarist Dave Navarro will crash the party. I hope to god the answer is no.

Do They Deserve To Be Inducted?

Yes. The Chili Peppers may have made a career out of having a singer who couldn’t sing, but like most great bands they somehow managed to turn potential weaknesses into strengths. Add into that a ground breaking bassist in Flea, and you have a band that wore their musical influences on their sleeves with pride (when they bothered wearing shirts). Along the way they’ve collected seven Grammys and sold 70 million albums.

Can’t Stop, from 2003

Donovan

Donovan Leitch is probably best known for songs like Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow (both released in 1966) and his role in the rise of the psychedelic counter-culture that swept across England in the late 1960s. Donovan started off his career as an English Bob Dylan, acoustic guitar in hand and harmonica always at the ready. Although his contemporaries (the biggest of which was the Beatles) generally went on to greater fame and fortune, Donovan is often credited as being ‘the first’, heavily influencing a generation of artists that went on to form the creative mecca that became the Summer of Love in 1969. Since the late sixties Donovan has made sporadic public appearances, and rarely finds himself in the studio. He’ll be at the Induction ceremony, though.

Does He Deserve To Be Inducted?

Personally, I could take or leave Donovan. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a child of the sixties, or maybe because Sunshine Superman annoys the hell out of me, but Donovan has always just been a foot note for me. He’s also an artist who I feel their lesser known catalog is far superior to the songs they’re more widely known for, but I’m on the fence as to whether that warrants inclusion in the Hall.

Colors, from 1966

Laura Nyro

Nyro is a singer/songwriter whose work, of all the inductees this year, I am least familiar with. In fact, I can honestly say her songs and the artists who have covered them are so far outside my comfort zone I can’t really say either way whether she deserves to be in the Hall. Here’s what I can tell you: Three Dog Night, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Peter, Paul and Mary have all had hits with Nyro-penned songs. Oh, and some gal named Babs Streisand. Nyro passed away in 1997 from cancer.

Does She Deserve To Be Inducted?

As I said above, Nyro’s style is not really my bag. I’ve listened to her songs, both as she does them and by other artists, and I’m still not quite sold on them-yet. It could also be a case of me automatically dismissing anyone whose had anything to do with Streisand.

He’s a Runner, from 1970

The Small Faces/The Faces

The Small Faces were born in the mid-sixties and quickly turned their mod influenced music and fashion into chart topping success, rivalling other British acts of the time like The Who and the Rolling Stones. After original singer Steve Marriott left the band in 1969, the Faces were (re)born when Rod Stewart signed on to fill the vocal duties, and future Rolling Stones sideman Ron Wood stepped in on guitar.  The band lasted another five years, until Stewart discovered that skin tight pants and disco were where the chicks could be found. As mentioned earlier, Wood went on to join the Stones, and drummer Kenney Jones filled the drum seat in The Who for two albums after the passing of Keith Moon in 1978. Rod Stewart, of course, made a name for himself by having totally crazy hair, playing soccer, and shagging anything with a vagina and a pulse.

Do They Deserve To Be Inducted?

No. The Small Faces were a great band, and even with Stewart in the fold as the Faces the group continued to be more than competent, but as far as be included in the Hall I’d have to say ‘pass’.

All or Nothing, from 1966

The Beastie Boys

If you would have told me way back when that the band responsible for (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)! would one day be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I would have kicked you right in the shins. Yet here we are, ten albums and literally dozens of awards later, honouring the Beastie Boys. I have to give the three lads from Brooklyn credit-they’ve done pretty good for themselves. Michael Diamond aka Mike D, Adam Horovitz aka Ad-Rock and Adam Yauch aka MCA managed to fuse punk rock ethos with the whole urban street thang, and along the way help launch the careers of Rick Rubin and Doctor Dre, both of whom had stints behind the turntables with the group in the mid-80s.

Do They Deserve To Be Inducted?

Of all the artists in this year’s Hall of Fame class, I’d say the Beastie Boys are most worthy of inclusion. Not just because they wrote (and continue to write) cool songs, but because they are a band that broke new ground, tore down fences, and helped to build a new genre of music around their sound. Rap was happening, rock was happening, but no one was really fusing the two worlds like the Beastie Boys did back in the 80s. Once Paul’s Boutique hit in 1989, the Beastie Boys cemented their role as pack leaders, and always seemed to be a foot ahead of the competition.

Root Down, from 2004

For a full list of inductees, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website.

New Music Fridays: Witch Ever

It’s mid-November. It’s cold. The stores and malls have their Christmas decorations front and centre. It’s safe to say that winter has got one stinky, boot wearing foot in the door, so I figure why not resume giving you some ideas for some great music to help you through the next few months of chilliness. If you live some place slightly warmer where the only white you see in winter is not from heaps of falling snow but from the thinning hair of a million retirees flooding your community, today’s featured band is a great one to have cranked in your convertible as you drive past that new shuffleboard complex. Take that, old man!

Witch Ever first came to my attention a couple of months back when their track, The Push, ended up in my mailbox. Trippy, loud, and delightfully rough around the edges, The Push quickly won me over to the Witch Ever way of doing things. The long and short of it is Witch Ever are straight ahead rock and roll, played loud and with no strings pulled. In fact, I was impressed enough with the band to include them in my Music From the Inbox feature over at Alan Cross’ site last month.

As we speak, Witch Ever are busy as Gretsch-slinging beavers hunkered down at The Rogue studios in Toronto, where they are brewing up their ‘heavy on the analog’ debut album with the help of producer James Paul. Head Witch Stephen Sirisko tells me that Witch Ever’s legendary musical influences like John Lee Hooker and lesser known bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough are being cross-bred with the likes of guitar maestro Jeff Beck and even former Oasis honcho Noel Gallagher, the latter two having left a memorable impression on Sirisko after having seen them in concert.

Enough talk. More rock. Witch Ever, show ’em how it’s done. Here’s The Push.

‘Like’ Witch Ever on Facebook.
Visit  Witch Ever online at www.witchever.com.
-Jay Moon

Happy Birthday, Guy From Simon & Garfunkel Who Wrote All the Songs

Paul Simon is 70 years old today.

Holy shit.

For younger readers of That’s Funky Awesome this may not mean much. You have probably heard his songs (both his solo material and with his early career musical partner in crime, Art Garfunkel), even though you may not know it’s him singing them. Some of you might actually be saying, “Paul Simon is only 70?” For those of us that fall into the ‘boomer’ age category, this milestone may carry a little more weight.

Then again, it might not. Not to sit on the fence here, but I understand if you’re one of the many people out there who appreciate Paul Simon but really only listen to him if he happens to come on the radio or if one of his tunes ends up in a Genius playlist on your laptop. Coming to popular music when he did as a folkie with a bad moustache, Simon has always been a bit of an outsider. He was never really considered cool by the hipsters, either during his years with Garfunkel or when he went solo in 1970. He was, as some might say, a bit of a tight ass scholarly type with a double major in perfectionism, two traits which usually don’t go hand in hand with the oft-romaticized life of a pop star (from any generation). Even when Simon started to loosen up a bit towards the end of the ’70s and dressed up as a giant turkey on Saturday Night Live, you still got the feeling he always knew exactly what he was doing and how things were going to end.

I’ve always watched Simon fairly closely, even when he was venturing off into areas of musical self-discovery that didn’t always interest me personally. I remember as a kid being fascinated with the backstory involved in the recording of The Sound of Silence (more on that here), and by the time Graceland dropped in 1986 (when I was 13) I was a huge fan. In fact, Graceland still ranks as one of my favourite albums of all time. My enthusiasm followed Simon when he released Rhythm of the Saints in 1990, and maybe it was the distance between albums or the songs themselves, but by the time he got around to 1997’s The Capeman I had almost forgotten about Paul Simon. Turns out he’s a pretty easy guy to get re-acquainted with.

Here’s a couple of my personal favourites from the Simon songbook.

I Am a Rock

The Boy in the Bubble

The Obvious Child

Late In the Evening

-Jay Moon

Depeche Mode’s Speak & Spell Turns 30 Today, Fans of Nevermind Throw Up Just a Little

Speak & Spell, the debut album from electronic music pioneers Depeche Mode was released thirty years ago today, marking the start of what has turned out to be a surprisingly long and fruitful musical legacy.

I say surprisingly because at the time of Speak & Spell‘s release, Depeche Mode were one of dozens of bands pouring out of the U.K. with synthesizers in hand attempting to conquer the world with catchy, radio and club friendly singles. The fact that the band not only made it out of the  Regan years with a handful of hit songs but found even greater success in the era of grunge thanks to albums like 1990’s Violator and 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion is a testament to their rabidly loyal following, both in America and England.

For the casual music listener, Speak & Spell as an album is simply a side note in the history of one track in particular, the now synth-pop classic Just Can’t Get Enough. Written by the soon-to-be-departing Martin Gore, the song charted respectably when it was released as the third single from Speak & Spell, but to this day is an unofficial anthem of the 80s electronic music boon. For me, Just Can’t Get Enough was always ‘there’ in my own little musical world at the time, but my most vivd sonic memories come from the song Tora! Tora! Tora!, which my oldest brother had a fondness for including on mix tapes he would make for me. Much later on, that same brother and myself would have the opportunity to see Depeche Mode in concert following the release of Songs of Faith and Devotion. Let me tell you this-for a bunch of guys standing behind keyboards, Depeche Mode can whip a big crowd into a frenzy pretty darn quick.

Considering their start as a band that had a track entitled Big Muff on their debut album as well as a fondness for wearing bondage gear and painted on leather pants in promo shots and live appearances, Depeche Mode have done alright for themselves. They’ve cracked the 100 million albums sold plateau, still manage to make albums, and put on a great live show, to boot. They may not have always been the ‘cool’ band throughout their career, but Speak & Spell now ranks as one of those albums whose influence can be heard across generations of music makers.

From Speak & Spell here’s Tora! Tora! Tora! live from a 1982 television appearance with Vince Clarke replacement Alan Wilder on keyboards (what else?).

New Music Fridays: The Rest

Seesaw, the soon to be released third album from The Rest (after Atlantis, Oh Our Saviour and Everyone All at Once), is a fitting title for a collection of songs that has seen its fair share of ups and downs in the process of its creation.

First, tragedy struck when The Rest’s longtime musical mentor, producer, friend (and former Junkhouse guitarist) Dan Achen suddenly died in March 2010 from a suspected heart attack while playing hockey (read more about this sad tale here). Then, after coming within grasp of the finish line of what would eventually become Seesaw, The Rest found themselves the victims of a major technical malfunction that saw months of work wiped clean off of the hard drive it had been recorded onto.

Throughout all of this, the seven piece from Hamilton, Ontario (yes, another Hamilton band…c’mon, Toronto. You’re getting your ass kicked here!) kept plugging ahead, and although a little behind schedule Seesaw is now slated for an early 2012 release. Even though Achen passed away before the start of production on Seesaw, his years of collaborating with The Rest still influenced the making of the album, and the band considers Dan still very much part of the songs featured on it.

And speaking of songs, The Rest are making a couple of tracks from Seesaw available for download for free right now, but act fast-they’re coming down at the end of this month. If you’ve always wanted the perfect amalgamation of Jesus and Mary Chain crossed with Broken Social Scene, then Always On My Mind and  The Last Day are going to help fill that void, at least until The Rest drop Seesaw next year.

If you’re in Toronto tonight, you can see The Rest at Wrongbar with We are Augustines. See details of the show here. After that, The Rest will be doing shows with Memoryhouse throughout October in Quebec and Ontario.

Finally, here’s the video for The Lady Vanishes, off of Everyone All At Once.

Visit The Rest’s website here.
Buy music from The Rest here.
Download free tracks from The Rest here.
Follow The Rest on Twitter @therestband.
Like The Rest on Facebook.
-Jay Moon

Kryptic Conquer All at Stratford’s 2011 High School Battle of the Bands

Photo: Mathew Gene

This past Friday night I found myself sitting at the judges’ table at the annual Stratford high school Battle of the Bands competition, an event that takes place each year coinciding with the arrival of the Fall Fair and all the carnie-induced mischief that comes along with it.

Under the lights of the almost full sized ferris wheel and within ear shot of carnival barkers tempting people into trying to win a variety of crudely fabricated stuffed prizes modelled after penguins or what can only be described as sickly, probably rabid dogs on their last legs, this year’s Battle of the Bands (featuring the talent of the students from Stratford’s three area high schools) once again made its home at the Stratford Rotary Complex. By day, this facility is usually home to a more sporting crowd-hockey players and the like. On this night, though, the ice was covered and the venue taken over by seven local bands and their friends, family, and of course, fans.

Photo: Mathew Gene

There were a few things that left a lasting impression with both me and my fellow judges that night, which also included local musician Gerry Reynolds and Brittlestar‘s pop maestro Stewart Reynolds (no relation, just kinda weird that in a town of 30 000 people we get two judges with the same last name). One was the crazy amount of talent on display in front of us. Granted, some of the acts were obviously better than others, but what some of the bands lacked in musical ability they more than made up for in showmanship (hey, people didn’t go see the Sex Pistols because they could play their instruments, right?). Secondly, for a city that has now forever been branded with the Justin Bieber uber-pop label, there was a refreshing lack of it onstage this particular night. In fact, it was quite the opposite. For the most part what we heard was heavy, loud, and perfectly suited for the mosh pits that often formed during sets. And with covers from artists like the Meat Puppets, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Dead Milkmen, it’s safe to say the bands on this particular night were taking their musical cues from the heyday of nineties rock and not what’s dominating the charts today.

Photo: Mathew Gene

And speaking of heavy, it was Kryptic, a four piece outfit with an affinity for Black Sabbath and Megadeth, that demonstrated they had what it takes to earn the title of Best Band this year. The members of Kryptic (Brady Lewis on guitar and vocals, Braeden Dill on guitar, Eric Hawley on drums and Ryan Campbell on bass) are all great players on their respective instruments, and together they combined for a tight and explosive set that kept throwing dynamic curveballs at the audience and had the kids in attendance quite literally banging their heads. I was truly amazed at the complexity of the songs these guys had written, and while they tell me it’s usually Lewis or Dill that start off the songwriting process with a basic riff, it’s then built upon by the entire group until they flesh out a complete number. All of this takes place during their twice weekly rehearsals in Lewis’ garage, at least when they’re not being shut down by the local police because of noise complaints from the neighbours. Besides having the deadly duelling guitars of Lewis and Dill leading the way, they also have one of the tightest drum and bass combos I’ve heard in a while, with Hawley and Campbell in perfect synchronization with one another. No small feat, considering the start/stop/start/stop/ half time/double time/straight time arrangements of their songs. In fact, I left the night with Hawley as my overall favourite drummer.

If Kryptic has an achilles heel, it’s the vocals of Lewis, which lack the ‘oomph’ needed to compete with the  substantial wall of sound being generated by the band behind him. Because of this, Kryptic are holding off on releasing their debut EP, which they tell me is finished except for the vocals and which they are hoping they will be able to record with a stronger singer. Once that happens, Kryptic might just become an official musical juggernaut.

Below you can check out the track Fight of Your Life from a performance earlier this year at the Chrysalids Theatre in Kitchener. After that you’ll find Valley of Euphoriah from a gig in London. Kryptic will also be performing in Stratford this Friday, September 30, at the New Era Coffee House.

 

Listen to Kryptic on Myspace.
Like them on Facebook.
Watch them on YouTube.
-Jay Moon

The Whiskey Saints Dive Head First Into the Self Shot Video World with ‘Green Light’

It was only last week that I featured a post on Hamilton’s Drew Smith and the video for his stellar track, Love Teeth. It pleases me to no end to see momentum gathering behind the song, including Gilles LeBlanc’s (aka the ROCKthusiast) write-up on the tune today over at ‘professional music geek’ Alan Cross’ site. For those of you who might be out of the loop as far as the Canadian music scene goes, allow me to be the first to tell you this is a big deal. Gilles is a dyed in the wool music lover and great writer, and Alan has been the go-to guy across all media platforms for getting phenomenal music into the ears of the masses for as long as I can remember. If you haven’t already, check out both Gilles and Alan, and be prepared to make a shopping list of albums you’re going to want to pick up afterwards.

And now for the meat and potatoes of today’s post, which shines the spotlight on a band that has already graced these virtual pages once before. At the time, I did a feature on The Whiskey Saints and the video for their song With the Lights On. This time around the Saints are back with another tasty tune, Green Light, off their newest album 24 Hours. The big difference now is The Whiskey Saints took the reins on the video to go along with Green Light, the story of which was inspired by, according to the band, “…codeine cough syrup and bizarre art films.” The group handled all of the production duties of the shoot, with guitarist David Bloomfield manning the megaphone in the director’s chair. Although the group has a few videos to their credit already (with real directors and crews pressing the buttons on all the gear), besides the promo spots they filmed for their Kickstarter campaign this is their first foray into the world of real live music video making. There was a bit of a learning curve for the band as far as the pros and cons of the do-it-yourself  video shoot goes, including discovering that unrefrigerated tuna fish sandwiches and 90 degree heat are never a good combination, and if you’re going to shoot in the desert, water is always a good thing to have around. Lots and lots of it. And as their previously mentioned influences might have already alluded to, it’s a very interesting tale being told in Green Light. Pig Man, Death, and a limo driver in desperate need of a good dental plan all make appearances. Check out the video below, and underneath that you’ll see where you can find The Whiskey Saints all around the net…if you dare.

Visit The Whiskey Saints website to see more of their videos and buy their music.
Follow them on Twitter @whiskeysaints.
Like them on Facebook.
-Jay Moon

REM Call it Quits…About Fifteen Years Too Late

REM, the one time poster band for all things both indie and alternative, have broken up.

After forming in Athens, Georgia back in 1980, the band very early in its humble beginnings became a fixture on the walkmans of college kids across the US. And for a group that made a point of never really playing by the book as far as career choices went, it still became a multi-million album seller over its thirty year career.

And it’s here that I need to make a confession:

I could care less.

I was in high school when REM really started to take off, thanks not only to a back catalogue of great albums like their 1983 debut Murmur and 1986’s Lifes Rich Pageant but the commercial success of 1988’s Green. At that time, however, REM still had a mystique to them that I enjoyed almost as much as the music. I remember a close friend and band mate of mine wearing his early years REM tshirt to class, with the ‘Berry Buck Mills Stipe’ logo proudly splayed across the back in crooked letters. I liked the fact that you never really knew what the hell Stipe was singing about, or that Peter Buck didn’t like to waste too much time on guitar solos. Bill Berry was the only drummer around who wasn’t afraid to rock the unibrow look, and Mike Mills  somehow managed to play those basslines and sing perfect harmony at the same time.

For me though, the REM that I knew and loved died a little bit more and more after the success of Green and the nine albums that would eventually follow it. I admit starting to dislike a band because it’s become popular is about as clichéd as you can get, but I can honestly say that by the arrival of Out of Time in 1991 and the massive single Losing My Religion I was growing tired of REM. And it wasn’t because the band were now officially Top 40 material, or that  the mystery was gone from Stipe’s lyrics since he no longer mumbled/sang.

No, for me  the problem was a simple one, summed up in three stomach churning words:

Shiny Happy People.

It was when I brought my copy of Out of Time home and gave it its first run through that I realized REM was a band that had changed. Big time. And it was when I first heard Shiny Happy People, featuring backing vocals from Kate Pierson of the B-52s, that I knew REM was becoming a band that I was starting to lose respect for. By the time the video was released for Shiny Happy People that was pretty much it for me and REM. I was finished. To this day, I rank Shiny Happy People as some of the worst three and a half minutes of creative energy ever put to tape.

After Out of Time, for me REM started to become a band I knew only for the string of songs it released that somehow managed to strike a nerve in me for all the wrong reasons, and as a result, just plain annoy me. Man on the Moon from 1992’s Automatic for the People, and What’s the Frequency Kenneth, from 1994’s Monster, were the final nails in the REM coffin. When drummer Bill Berry left the group in 1997 because of health issues and the realization he no longer wanted to be in the limelight, I thought, “Good for you! Wait-the other three are going to keep going? Oh…whatever.”

So here we are. Fourteen years after the departure of Berry the remaining three original members of REM have decided it’s time to retire the name and move on. Perhaps you’re someone who has enjoyed REM’s creative output over the past decade or so, and if that’s the case I am truly sorry for your loss. Now you know how myself and a few others felt like back in 1991 after hearing Shiny Happy People for the first time.

But let’s not leave on a negative note. Here’s a full concert from REM circa 1985, with a heavy dose of songs from Fables of the Reconstruction, released that same year.

-Jay Moon

Drew Smith’s ‘Love Teeth’ Gives the Indie Collaborative Spirit Some Bite

Every now and again, That’s Funky Awesome comes across a project that helps to restore my faith in humanity. At least in the parts that like to sit down and create stuff. Cool stuff. And they do it because they have a song that needs to be sung or a story that needs to be told, and in the perfect world scenario the two get mashed together to form a tasteful little nugget of-dare I say-art?

Let’s face it-with all the whining and complaining as of late coming from major record labels and Top 40 chart toppers you would think the world was coming to an end. A horrible, painful, ‘I can only afford ten people in my inner circle’ kind of end. Maybe it’s because that back in the day, if you so much as hummed a few bars of a pop song while standing in front of a urinal drunkenly doing your business by the time you flushed there’d be a label accountant standing behind you holding the paper towels hostage until you paid them a royalty fee. It sucked, but that’s how the music business was run, so to speak.

Things are changing now, and through the change it’s the big labels that have fallen behind the times. They continue to lean on a business plan that can’t support the weight of the music industry, and as a result they find themselves more often than not falling face first into a great big pile of mud and getting their Sunday best all mucky and gross.

So who’s having success in the world of music these days, you might ask? Well, the good news is there are still a lot of artists out there doing their thing and coming out ahead of the game, the key is to think outside the box. Also, putting money aside for a second and thinking about what you want to create as part of the end reward helps, too.

Drew Smith, a Hamilton, Ontario based singer-songwriter whose songs are like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke dropping in on a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah session, has hit the hammer on the head of the new indie spirit with his latest single, Love Teeth, from the forthcoming album The Secret Languages. Like many independent artists, Smith’s music career has been funded by a day job, and in his case it was teaching English as a second language. Five years ago, one of Smith’s students was a South Korean named Sohee Jeon, who had aspirations of becoming an animator one day. Skip ahead a few years, and Smith and Jeon were still in touch, even with Jeon now living back in South Korea (and working in her dream field after completing her studies at the Vancouver Film School). With one album under his belt (2007’s Fossils), Smith contacted Jeon about an idea to have her create a music video for one of the tunes off of his newest collection of songs, The Secret Languages. Together, Smith and Jeon picked Love Teeth (a favourite track of Jeon’s). Jeon conceptualized, directed, and animated the entire video on her own, with no input from Smith. The idea was to allow the filmmaker to create their own vision of the songwriter’s ‘tale’, and Jeon’s finished story made an immediate impact on Smith.

“As the songwriter, it was quite the experience waiting to see how her visualization of the song would materialize. The result totally blew me away.”

All of this was done between two artists working together from opposite ends of the planet. No middle man, and what I can only assume was also a fairly ego-free collaboration. Wow…whodathunkit?

To top off today’s post, you can download Love Teeth for free at Smith’s website, www.drewsmith.ca. Look for The Secret Languages to land sometime in November.

Finally, here’s the Smith/Jeon nugget of art I’ve been raving about.

‘Like’ Drew Smith on Facebook.
Follow Drew Smith on Twitter @drewsmithmusic.
Buy Fossils on iTunes.
See more of Sohee Jeon’s work here.
-Jay Moon