What’s In a Voice?

I’ve been thinking about this one for quite some time…music, especially Indie music, is about more than just the music. It’s about the words. It’s about the singer. The genius of Indie is that each band has a distinct personality, that evades the normal “Write about the same thing” nonsense you hear on mainstream radio. For me, good music is about a nice combination of instrumentation AND voice work…In fact, I’ll take a good voice with so-so instrumentation over the opposite. If a song has a boring/horrible singer, I just can’t put up with it, no matter how good the music is. So, here’s my list of my favorite recognizable singing voices, in Letterman-esque descending style:

10. Claude, Anything Box: Raw. Emotional. I love how in one second his voice sounds innocent, the next, wild, untamed, and enraged.

9. Matthew Bellamy, Muse: Does anyone else in music express more emotion when singing? I defy you to find one.

8. Tori Amos: One of my all-time favorite voices. Haunting, simply haunting.

7a. Ryan Miller, Guster: His voice is simple and smooth…and easy to sing-along with, or maybe it’s his songs…

7b. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab For Cutie: Real is the best word I can come up with for Ben’s voice. It’s just plain real. Like you know him. Like he’s talking to you, rather than singing.

6. Harry Connick Jr. : Ok, deservedly, Harry Connick Jr. deserves to be on the top of this list, hands down. But first of all, he’s not Indie, and second of all…well I can’t think of a 2nd of all.

5. Johnny Boyd, Indigo Swing: (see comments for Connick Jr., Harry). Even more so, tragically, Johnny no longer sings for Indigo Swing. Which is odd…how can a band lose a guy commonly referred to as “The Voice”?

4. Rivers Cuomo, Weezer. Don’t know what it is, but I can’t get over the raw clarity and emotion of Rivers’ voice. My favorite example is on a live session their new song Miss Sweeney.

3. Steven Page/Ed Roberts, Barenaked Ladies: Rarely does a band have one good lead singer, let alone two. Ed is the charismatic voice, the accessible voice in a “You could be my best friend” sort of way. Steve is the powerhouse. If you’ve ever been to a BNL concert, you’d know what I’m talking out. He can simply BELT out some powerful melodies.

2. Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo. Yes, I know the Elf Man left singing on the radio for singing…and orchestrating…on the big screen, but his voice is still one of the very best AND most unique in all of music.

1. John Linell, They Might Be Giants: I love John’s voice. It’s raw. It’s even nasally. But it’s unique, and I can’t help but listen everytime I hear it. I love pointing out John Linell’s voice in obscure instances…like the Dunk’n Doughnuts new commercials, and even on PBS Kids in between shows.

Brian’s Sansa Lil’ Monster on Random

Well, I don’t have an Ipod. I think they’re too expensive for what you get. In stead, I  have a SanDisk Sansa Lil’ Monsta…got it for Christmas from the Indie Girl. It’s been great. 8 GB of listening fun.

Which brings me to the point of this post…Last Summer, I read an article where  John Linell of They Might Be Giants put his Ipod on random and commented on the first 5 songs to show up in a live interview. I like that idea, and have always wanted to do it myself. So, without further ado, here’s my Lil’ Monsta on random:

1. King of Spain, Moxy Fruvous (album: Loud Noise): This is a fun song. It’s rather old (mid 90s I believe), but I love it, and not just because I used to live in Spain. It’s a quirky little song about the King of Spain doing a Mark Twain Prince and the Pauper switch and ending up driving a Zamboni for the Maple Leafs and working at the local Pizza Hut. And it’s even a capella (yeah, I know, a capella died as soon as the first a capella record was released, but this one’s fun). The thing I love about Moxy Fruvous is their wit. Their songs are incredibly intelligent, and quite funny. One of my favorite lines comes at the end…”So next time, you drool in the pizza line, remember slow our pizzas are lucious, the King of Spain never rushes!” If you’ve never heard of this group (there’s a good chance you haven’t, they’re from the Great White North), I highly recommend checking them out.

2. Love has no borders, Howe Gelb (album: ‘Sno Angel Like You): A haunting little song. Think gospel music without the pep.  Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of this song, but it’s worth a listen to…and it’s  part of a longer set of Howe Gelb music I have. I love his stuff. It’s all very rhythmic, with some tunes that are hard to forget.

3.You got Yr. Cherry Bomb, Spoon (album: Ga Ga Ga Ga). After my previous post and this post, you’d think I was a huge Spoon fan. I like them, and I think Brit Daniel can infuse some excellent piano into his songs, but this song doesn’t do it for me really. It’s only on here because it’s part of the rest of the Ga Ga Ga Ga album. The song feels like 60s pop a la Chantelles and other bubble gum pop groups from the era. Yet, the song is catchy, so it stays on my MP3 player.

4. Yankee Bayonet, The Decemberists (album: The Crane Wife): I love this song. I don’t care that this album is old news, this song is one of the best the Decemberists have written, says I. I love the back and forth between Colin Meloy and Laura Veirs. It’s so catchy, while maintaining the nice Indie undertones.

5.  Another Day in L.A., Indigo Swing (album: Red Light). Ok, this may not be Indie music, but the thing about being an Indie fanatic, you’ve always got an eclectic mix of music on hand for diversion, and this is one great diversion. Indigo Swing’s “Red Light” album is absolutely fantastic, even if you don’t like Swing music. Johnny’s voice is fantastic, reminscent of cool, old-time jazz, and you don’t get that very much these days. Oh, and the piano tracks are fabulous…I’m a sucker for a good piano track.

6. Oija Me, Communique (album: Poison Arrows). I found this on e-music, and I have to say, there are days when I can listen to Communique all day long. It’s got a charm to it, with a nice mix between Boy Kill Boy and Teenage Fan Club (I know, odd pairing). They’ve got some powerful electronic sounds, but a nice old-school melody feel with them. This song is a great example.