Oscar

Catching Up On The Week (Feb. 20 Edition)

Some #longreads as you finalize your Oscar predictions…

Fans of Joy Division are probably well-aware that the famous illustration that graced the cover of their landmark album Unknown Pleasures was a graphic of radio waves from a pulsar taken from an old encyclopedia.  However, they are probably not familiar with the origins of the graphic itself.  Scientific American takes a look at the fascinating backstory behind the creation of what would eventually become one of the most famous images in music.

Earlier this week we published our review of I Love You, Honeybear, the brilliant new album from Father John Misty, and for those of you are interested now more than ever about the exploits of the man known as Joshua Tillman, check out the profiles on him by Rolling Stone and Consequence of Sound.

Consequence of Sound also takes a look at the trio BADBADNOTGOOD and how they ended up working with the likes of Ghostface Killah, and while you read it you can take a listen to their album Sour Soul, which is now available for streaming on SoundCloud.  The site also catches up with Elvis Perkins and fills us in on what he’s been doing in the years since 2009’s Elvis Perkins in Dearland as he prepares to release I Aubade next week.  Elsewhere, Pitchfork has an extensive interview with Sufjan Stevens available for your perusal this weekend.

If there’s a band that knows their way around cheap beer, it’s Red Fang, and Portland’s favorite heavy metal band recently persevered through a challenge from Denver’s Westword to rate some of the cheapest beer they could find.  Be sure to use that as inspiration for this weekend.

Ratter provides a great explanation of the copyright lawsuit over “Blurred Lines” between Marvin Gaye’s estate and Pharrell/Robin Thicke that is still making its way through the courts, including discussing exactly what parts of a song are copyrightable and how that can potentially affect the music industry.  You can even hear the musical excerpts from each side’s submissions to the court.

And finally, before watching the Oscars this weekend, be sure to read this New Yorker profile on the career and legacy of Glen Campbell, whose haunting “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is up for Best Song.  We’re pulling for him to take home the statue, but we think it may be a longshot.

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Judging the Oscar Nominees for Best Song

With today’s announcement of the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards, now is the perfect time to debate who should win the most prestigious prize of the entire show: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song.”  Now it used to be that the song that would win this award would be immortalized and become a part of our shared cultural canon.  Who could forget such classics as “Theme from ‘Shaft'”, “Born Free”, or…”Under the Sea”?*  However, in recent years Oscar has selected some real duds that even the songwriters’ parents would be hard-pressed to remember that they had won the Academy’s top prize.

So is there a song in this year’s crop that has a chance of achieving a place alongside such classics as “It’s Hard Out There For A Pimp”?  In order to answer this question, we’re going to analyze each of the nominees and judge their relative merits, just as you would expect.  But since we’re listening to these songs for the first time, we’ll be presenting our snap judgments and relying solely on our first impressions for this analysis, keeping an informal running diary as we listen to each song.  And that is probably more listens than what most of the Academy will do when they fill out their ballots.

John Legend ft. Common – “Glory” (Selma).  John Legend is providing quite the uplifting framework….Common’s entrance was a bit abrupt, and featured what you would expect from a Common verse in 2015…Oh, so this song is going to incorporate the present day…Legend comes back…The “Glory” hook is good, but when it deviates from this it meanders…Common’s rapping would be perfect for a high school history class project…This song has a nice build to it, but it better pay off…I don’t think it will…Nice variation with this outro, but doesn’t quite finish.

Analysis: It seems to fit well with the movie and helps evoke some uplifting feelings, but there is no memorable hook and no climactic payoff.

Kiera Knightley – “Lost Stars” (Begin Again).  I was definitely not going to select the Adam Levine version, so we’ll go with the one presumably from the movie…Knightley has a better than expected voice, with the right amount of fragility and delicate touch…nice dash of strings…subtle shift into the chorus…ooh, appreciate the tinkling piano…the pre-chorus is really quite good, though the lyrics I’m picking out are a bit ridiculous…nice bridge…evocative overall build…good job with the slight pullback in the chorus, oh and great walking bassline counterpoint….pleasant.

Analysis: A good fit for the traditional folk/indie slot; it would probably be a solid addition to a mixtape (or probably a “playlist” these days), but it’s hard to imagine it will be particularly noteworthy.

Rita Ora – “Grateful” (Beyond the Lights).  Oh, Diane Warren wrote this, I’m sure it’ll be lovely…what the hell are these strings…Rita Ora does not have the voice I expected…those are some dramatic drum hits…oh, hey, some restraint…this does sound like a Pop/R&B torch song that you would hear on the radio in real life, so it has that going for it…Oh OK, now I know why the song is called “Grateful”…more of the same, but it makes sense…I don’t think I ever want to hear whatever program that created these instruments again in my life…I kind of wish Toni Braxton was singing this song instead…oh this bridge is ridiculous…is this song almost over, I think it made its point…I think she might be grateful.

Analysis: I’ve heard good things about Beyond the Lights and claims that it is underrated, but I hope it’s not on the basis of this song.

Tegan & Sara ft. The Lonely Island – “Everything Is Awesome” (The Lego® Movie).  OH HEY, I REMEMBER THIS SONG.  I ACTUALLY WATCHED THIS MOVIE.  AND THIS SONG REALLY IS AWESOME.  THIS SONG IS SO MUCH FUN THAT I FORGET ABOUT HOW MUCH I DISLIKE TEGAN & SARA.  EVERYTHING REALLY IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!

Analysis: Oh fuck yes.  Though I think that Batman’s song (“Untitled Self Portrait”) may be even better, though it worked so well mainly because it stood in contrast to the superfun “Everything Is Awesome.”

Glen Campbell – “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me).  Oh man, knowing that this song comes from the documentary about Glen Campbell’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and how he goes on a final farewell tour already has me choked up…that is a a great chord progression from the piano…lovely backing vocals…oh those are some devastating lines, Glen…the sudden influx provided by the rest of the orchestra is reminiscent of Beck during his Sea Change era…that’s a fantastic reply, responding with “I’m not gonna miss you”….this is absolutely gorgeous…here is proof once again that modern country is a total abomination, when it’s a genre that can create wonderful songs like this.

Analysis: That is one beautiful song.

FINAL DECISION: It’s a two-horse race, between “Everything Is Awesome” and “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”.  Both are excellent songs, though completely diametrically opposed.  The final winner will be determined by the mood of the voter as they cast their vote, and that’s hard to predict–sometimes they go for the carefree, happy tune while other times they prefer to honor the somber, respectful songs.  We have the feeling that the Academy is going to give Glen one last honor, if only because they seem to think it’s beneath them to honor a movie about a children’s toy.

Covered: “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original.  If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

I spent the majority of this past weekend binging on movies, including at one point watching the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  If you’re like me and were born well after its initial release, the thing that is most memorable about the movie was the number of questions that Trivial Pursuit devoted to the film.    Along those lines, trivia buffs should be well aware that despite seeming to be an incongruous pairing, one of the Academy Awards given to the movie was for Best Song, for the Burt Bacharach-penned “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”.  Academy members didn’t seem to be bothered with the anachronistic placement of such a song in a film about the Old West, probably because of how sweet the scene with Paul Newman doing bicycle tricks for Katherine Ross was, and let’s face it, it’s just a perfectly pleasant tune.  Who could possibly hate its beautiful melody, or its lyrics filled with a sunny optimism?

[I’m going to be honest when I say that it wasn’t until this weekend that Spy Hard was parodying this exact scene–I just thought it was a funny, goofy interlude as a kid]

For years, the version of “Raindrops” that I listened to the most was this cover by Ben Folds Five.  I got it back in the early days of Napster, so for years I had no idea that the guy doing the intro for the band was Burt Bacharach himself, but such is the wonder of YouTube.  On its face, the pairing makes perfect sense–with the prominence of piano in the Ben Folds Five sound, they’re somewhat forced to acknowledge the big pop hits that feature the instrument.  And while Ben and his piano do a great job in capturing the spirit of the original, it’s the performance of the other two oft-overlooked members of the group, bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jesse, that draw me in the most.  Jesse does a great job of keeping a great jazzy fill throughout and matching each change in dynamics, but its Sledge’s explosive fuzz bass bursts that set this version apart from the original.  Sledge adds inventive new melodies and provides a nice blast of edginess, helping to enliven the climax and also making the originally tacked-on coda sound like a vital part of the song.

Both Sledge and Jesse are excellent musicians, which is why I always cool on following Ben through his solo career; while I appreciated the approach that Folds brought to the instrument as a fellow piano player and appreciated his biting and sardonic lyrics, the musical parts that most impressed me throughout their career were the bass and drums.  Go back and listen to Whatever and Ever Amen and The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner with fresh ears, and make a concerted effort to pick out their contributions.  It will give the songs a whole new meaning, and that much more enjoyable on playback.