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.

Death Cab – A tale of too long and too short OR Amazon out of the dog-house

First, a Kudos to Amazon for rectifying the previous incident reported on this blog…when approached (for the 2nd time) about their faulty policy in shipping items altogether when you do super-saver shipping, they shipped my new Death Cab CD out immediately and swallowed the $2-$3 shipping at the same time.

Now on to my much awaited review. Death Cab’s “Narrow Stairs” is a dichotomy of too long and too short. On the one hand, “I will possess your heart” is fatally too long…8 minutes and then some, with the first four the same 4 riffs and piano measures, it seemed like Ben and company were just trying to satisfy its Indie faithful who wanted something expressly “non-mainstream”. Adding 4 unnecessary minutes to the track didn’t do it for me.

While one track may be too long, other parts of this CD are too short. In an Itunes world, there is simply NO excuse for an album with only 11 tracks. In my mind, for a CD to be a good deal, there should be incentive to buy it in its entirety in hard-copy. Tori Amos’ American Doll Posse had 22 legitimate tracks on it (2 were short musings), and over half of that 22 were fantastic. I think I have listened and re-listened to Narrow Stairs 10x hoping for 1 or 2 secret songs, some live-tracks, or SOMETHING beyond the 1990s album standard of 11 tracks. Some of their songs are fatally short too…No Sunlight and You can do better than me are fantastic tracks…but they’re cut short, the former under 2 minutes.

All this being said, my complaints on this album are mostly on account that I simply wanted MORE. Altogether, the album is fantastic. I think it’s more reflective of traditional Death Cab than Plans (which, for all intents and purposes, seemed written just to get radio-playability, though it was still good on its own merit). The songs are innovative, even catchy, and I can honestly say I’ve been listening to it for 5 hours straight today, without interruption. In short, it’s like an awesome concert you attend that ends with audience demanding 3 encores…only, on this album, Death Cab doesn’t give us any encores…just 11 great tracks and a unquenched thirst for more.

American Doll Posse = Neo Tori

I got my hands on a copy of Tori Amos’ latest CD (yeah, I know it’s a bit late, but hey, I’ve got 0 budget here). I’ve been a Tori fan for decades, though I’ve never thought she’s done much of note since Little Earthquakes. Sure, a hit here, a good song there. (I don’t think I’m alone in this, you can go to Amazon right now, and buy just about any one of her CDs for less than a couple of bucks). For the years I’ve liked Tori Amos, you could say one thing about her songs…if you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. Every song is another rendition of Crucify, or Winter, or Precious Things, etc. etc. etc.

But this one…this one is different. It’s like Tori decided to say, “Hey, I like the piano, but let’s make some good music now.” It’s like the new Tori. No, it’s better, it’s the neo-Tori. While it does have a few of the same old drab Tori Amos songs in the middle of the 23 song set she lays down on this record…everything else is refreshing. Exciting. And, dare I say, catchy. The best song, by far, is “Big Wheel”. An up-beat, but riveting song. Programmable Soda, and Velvet Revolution are instant classics too.

What makes this record so different is she’s enhanced her music with some good beats. It’s not just dreary and sometimes haunting piano…she’s complemented it with some great guitar riffs, beats, and in “Hello Mr. Zebra” fashion…some excellent French Horns and Violins.

This 23 song CD is fantastic because the Neo-Tori more than just the “happy phantom, conflake girl, sordid fairy tale, precious thing” she seems to have been for decades. The Neo Tori is a complete Tori…and it’s good stuff.