Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy VD!

The Exploding Hearts

Guitar Romantic


We don't have a numerical rating scale here at the Red Skull, but if we did, this album would get a perfect score. A+, 2 thumbs up, 6 strings strung, 10/10, 50 hail mary's, whatever. These kids from Portland put together a flawless album, an album to warm the heart of even the most cynical reviewer. Every tune is simply dripping with pop hooks and flirty guitar fills everywhere you look. It's no surprise to see the crawdad-stained fingerprints of King Louie Bankston all over this album. He co-wrote most of the songs and added his skills on keyboard on several of them. Louie's involvement alone is enough to signify this as a pop-punk gem. What brings the album to new heights is where the able musicians were able to take Louie's I-IV-V rhythms. Never content to let them stand as they are, every track is positively teeming with guitar licks that would make Andy Summers cry.

Guitar Romantic is the absolute perfect title for this album. It's an album to crush to. It's an album you draw from for the very first mixtape for your new love interest. It's the album you listen to on your way to pick her up and the album stuck in your head when you move in for your first kiss.

Sadly, it's also the bittersweet album of the ending summer. On their way back from signing with Lookout! records, a car accident killed three of the members of the band, all in their early 20's. They all had much more to contribute and it's a shame we'll never hear it.

Pay tribute to this awesome band and fall in love again by getting yourself a copy of Guitar Romantic

Friday, February 8, 2008

The O-Knee-Ders

This is one of my favorite movies. It's the definition of lite fare, I'll give you that. It's just so damn good, it encapsulates that certain, as the French say, "I don't know what" about music in general. I wouldn't be writing a blog about old albums that I love if it weren't for my utter devotion to music. I spend a good eight hours a day at least intently listening to music. So anything outside of actual music that speaks to the emotions I feel towards my obsession, well, I love that just about as much. That Thing You Do! is a love letter to music from Tom Hanks, who directed this film and even wrote four of the songs on the soundtrack.

The album starts out with a 50s style vocal group style song The Norm Wooster Singers called "Lovin' You Lots And Lots". I was easily fooled by this song, thinking it was an artifact from the era. All of the songs here are by fictional bands, The Wonders included. The album itself is presented like a Rhino-style reissue of a lost early sixties pop band, complete with liner notes written by Hanks' character in the movie. He proves to be quite a smart song-writer as well. The best by far is "Hold My Hand, Hold My Heart" by The Chantrellines which emulates what would be a fantastic lost Supremes song.

**Here's an aside about lost Supremes songs, I had this dream about getting this 45 of The Supremes covering "Peggy Sue" it was fantastic, Holly's chugging guitar was replaced with distorted guitar being chased by a big Motown string section. I was really disappointed when the dream ended and I realized the song didn't really exist.**

Some material doesn't stand up so well, a re-write of "That Thing You Do" called "I Need You (That Thing You Do)" is pretty abysmal, and sounds the least like an actual song from the period and more like a song from a middling power-pop outfit from the nineties. Speaking of which, the title song was written by the guy from The Fountains of Wayne. It's got to be disappointing when one of the best songs you've ever written is so inextricably tied to a movie, and not performed by you.

It's no small feat to create an entire album of fictional period music from the early sixties and make it a good fictional album.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wait, a soundtrack album? Really?

Big Night Original Motion Picture Soundtrack


If you haven’t seen the movie Big Night, stop reading this and go watch it now. I’ll wait.

Wasn’t that awesome? Everything about it is fantastic, the acting, the direction, the cinematography, and the music. It’s a shame that Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott have yet to band together to direct a film since this gem. The pair paid attention to every detail, and yet never got caught up in minutiae or strayed from telling their story. In addition to being a visual delight, every scene advances the plot and features real, believable characters. In crafting their masterpiece, Scott and Tucci made sure to score the film with a period-appropriate mixture of Jazz and traditional Italian music, and they’ve done it perfectly.

Soundtracks typically suffer from a sort of schizophrenia, as they are a mixture of scoring and more contemporary pop tracks. The Big Night soundtrack is no different in this regard. However, they two types of music blend together seamlessly. This is due to the masterful way the music was integrated into the film.

Now that you’ve seen it, you know why the music of the legendary Louis Prima features so prominently on the soundtrack. The tracks picked here are perfect in demonstrating the range of Prima’s catalog, and are used perfectly in the movie. The original score pieces by Gary DeMichele are excellent musical interludes between the longer numbers. Similarly, in the film, these pieces are used between acts to perfection.

The real gem, however, is the inclusion of several pieces by Claudio Villa, of whose music I was completely unaware until seeing the film. (Reading the soundtrack’s liner notes reveals that Tucci was similarly unaware of Villa’s music until researching the film). Villa is a crooner whose full voice and jazz accompaniment is the embodiment of the film’s very aesthetic. I can’t imagine the movie without these songs.

Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano” seems tacked on by comparison, but even this slight is made up for with the fantastic “Don’t take your love from me” by Keely Smith. The soundtrack for this movie was crafted with all the care and detail of one of Secondo’s meals, and is one of the few soundtrack albums which could stand on it’s own without the movie.