Music, Shameless self indulgence

My Favorite Lesser Known Bands of the 1980s

Sure, everyone is familiar with the big musical stars of the 1980s. Acts like Michael Jackson and Madonna and Cyndi Lauper ruled the charts, while other bands like Devo, Stevie Wonder and Flock of Seagulls will forever have a place in popular culture.

But what about some of the lesser known bands of the 1980s? Don’t they deserve a little recognition, too?

In an effort to share the musical wealth, here are some of my favorite bands and artists from the 1980s that have gone unappreciated and largely ignored.

Hopefully, this list will be the first step towards bringing some of these forgotten musical gems back into the spotlight.

  • Crowded Mouse House
  • Men at Twerk
  • Simply Fred
  • Mister Sister (Cross-dressing religious band)
  • Twisted Mister (Everyone in the band had a twirly mustache)
  • Ironic Maiden (Just a bunch of girls who pretended they weren’t that into the music they were playing)
  • Silly Vanilli (Comedy R&B group)
  • Gilly Vanilli (All fish R&B group)
  • Chili Vanilli (Latino-influenced R&B group)
  • Billy Vanilli (some douchebag I went to high school with)
  • Flat Benetar (Promising singer whose career was tragically cut short in a steamroller accident)
  • Splat Benetar (Promising singer whose career was tragically cut short when she fell off a building)
  • Tears for Steers (Radical vegan punk rockers)
  • Hall and Goats (the best man-goat act since vaudeville)
  • Lionel Bitchy (super effeminate R&B singer)
  • Lionel Twitchy (great singer with a bad crystal meth habit)
  • Lionel Itchy (sensual R&B singer who got a lot of STDs because loved the ladies)
  • Lionel Snitchy (we thought he was cool but he ran his mouth)
  • Lionel Stitchy (terrible singer but great at macrame)

The Top Songs I Downloaded for Free in 2012

Regular readers of this blog (of which, tragically, there are still none) will no doubt remember last year’s post about the five amazing songs that your humble Monkey downloaded for free as as song of the day podcasts. in 2011

Well due to overwhelming popular demand (okay, due to absolutely no demand), everyone’s favorite feature is back for 2012.

Here are five songs that your Monkey found online for free that have changed his life in meaningful and profound ways during the past year.

1. “Passage” by Exitmusic

Exitmusic lead singer Aleksa Palladino is an excellent actress on the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire, but as one-half of the band Exitmusic, she is a force of nature.

The band consists of her and husband Devon Church, and the couple makes incredible music that is beautiful and unsettling. Her voice gets under your skin and stays there long after the song is over.

Here is an amazing live performance of “Passage,” the title track to their full-length debut that came out in May.

2. “October” by the Helio Sequence.

Your Monkey is still in the “getting to know you” phase when it comes to Helio Sequence as a band, but he cannot deny that they have put out some incredible singles over the four years. Their 2008 album “Keep Your Eyes Ahead” boasted both the amazing title track and the song “Can’t Say No.”

Their 2012 album, “Negotiations,” features this incredibly melodic song. Just listen to this voice….

3. “Time to Run” by Lord Huron

Your Monkey first stumbled upon Lord Huron thanks to a glowing review in Rolling Stone, but upon checking his song of the day feed from KEXP radio in Seattle, was happy to see that this gem of a song was there for the taking. The more you hear this band, the more you like them. They have a sound that is both classic and refreshing.

4. “Amongster” by Polica

OK, this one is a bit of a cheat because your Monkey had already purchased Polica’s debut album, “Give You The Ghost,” by the time this song came around as a free download last March.

But it is worth sharing because a.) the song is amazing b.) it’s a great illustration of the power of the band’s unique lineup (two drummers playing two full drum sets) and c.) the video is so earthy and erotic that it could get you pregnant just by watching it (editor’s note: this is not a scientific fact).

5. “The House that Heaven Built” by Japandroids

It is with a heavy heart that your Monkey includes the Japandroids on his “best of” list, namely because the Vancouver , B.C. duo seem to be a couple of pricks. At least they came off like pricks when they talked to Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot of the excellent music podcast Sound Opinions earlier this year.

But hey, a great song is a great song, and this one is worth the recognition. Sometimes great art comes from less than perfect people. This song is a blast of energy and melody that stands up to repeat listening.

And the band is getting plenty of love from music critics with a lot more credibility that this paltry primate. So congrats, you two pricks. Here is your song.


My Top Musical Discoveries of 2012 Thus Far…Or Where Were You When Dubstep Met Kung Fu?

Let’s face it–not all of us can raid the record stores every Tuesday looking for the hottest new releases, nor can we absorb every new album that we hear right away and judge for ourselves whether it is worthy of a top 10 list.

Sometimes we miss a great album when it first comes out only to discover it six months down the line, or stumble across a lost classic that immediately grabs us and becomes part of our everyday listening routine.

So I guess what your humble Monkey is saying is that the following list may not technically qualify as a “best of” list for releases in the calendar year 2012, but a list of the good stuff I have come across this year thus far.

1. The Lumineers, “The Lumineers”

Your Monkey is so glad to see this band’s debut album sitting close to the top of the listening charts on both Rhapsody and Spotify. (Not so glad, however, to have both of their Boston-area concerts sold out before he even knew they were coming).

But this band deserves all the success and respect that they are getting. They crafted an amazing album of American folk music that is timeless and uplifting.

Like Mumford & Sons’ “Sigh No More”, the Lumineers’ self titled debut has enough variety between the songs that they never get repetitive, and yet they all tie together nicely.

To be honest, the one song that clogs up an otherwise superb album is the aptly titled “Slow it Down,” which is the slowest and longest track smack dab in the center of the album. If they had taken a few minutes off of that song and added them to the first track, “Flowers in Your Hair,” we might be talking a Mona Lisa-esque masterpiece.

But enough splitting hairs. Here is an amazing rendition of “Submarines,” the third track on their debut.

2. Plan B — The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Is it a bad sign that the best soul albums that your Monkey has heard over the past few years have all come from white British artists?

Like Amy Winehouse’s powerful debut “Back in Black” called to mind the best of the Supremes, Plan B’s “Defamation of Strickland Banks” has this Monkey thinking back to Marvin Gaye.

But even though it comes from an unexpected source, Plan B’s smooth soulful falsetto, great storytelling and tasteful blend of straight soul and rap/soul hybrid songs make this 2010 album a must listen.

According to the British rock press, Plan B came up as a rapper who wrote about the same frustrated British youth that were behind much of last year’s rioting. The word on the street is that he is planning to return to those roots his next album, the soundtrack to the movie “Ill Manors”, due to be released this month.

(Though again, to be honest, the first single from that new album, “Deepest Shame,” seems a little disappointing. More like watered down r&b than anything else).

But forget about the new album, let’s celebrate the last one.

Dig on this track, which is a good representation of Plan B’s excellent ability to blend rap and soul into one smooth mix.

3. Bassnectar — “Divergent Spectrum”

OK, your Monkey will be the first to admit that he is one of the last primate bloggers to jump on the dubstep bandwagon.

This most recent monkey-music love affair began with the downloading of a few Skrillex tracks, and continued with the discovery of Bassnectar.

Bassnectar is the performing name of DJ and Producer Lorin Ashton (thanks, Wikipedia). His music consists of the high intensity soundscapes that you’ve come to expect from the dubstep genre, but Bassnectar distinguishes himself by being super prolific, making a lot of great sounding noise, and just coming off as a really cool guy.

His Facebook posts are very down to earth, he takes a moment in the middle of each show to take a picture of himself with the audience, and he just seems to be happy with making music, playing shows and discovering the joys of coffee-flavored coconut water.

Compare this easygoing nature to the ridiculously morose look that Radiohead’s Thom Yorke wears during the entire documentary “Meeting People is Easy” and you’ll find yourself liking Bassnectar more and more.

“Divergent Spectrum” is a 2011 album that includes, among other things, a remix of the Gogol Bordella song “Immigraniada” and a remix of the increasingly popular Ellie Goulding dance track “Lights.”

Here is a decidedly non-official video for the “Immigraniada” remix that matches Bassnectar’s remix with classic kung fu footage.

Kung fu and dubstep? It’s like someone sawed open your Monkey’s head and saw exactly what was going on inside.

Music, Podcasts, Uncategorized

Five Top Singles of 2011 That I Downloaded for Free (Legally, Too!)

Your humble Monkey spends a lot of time at work listening to music.

Since his addled brain needs constant stimulation, he is always seeking out new bands to listen to.

He currently subscribes to two different Song of the Day podcasts (Thank you very much KEXP and 89.3 the Current), and the following videos represent some of the best free songs that he has heard this year.

If not for these radio stations and artists giving away something for nothing, your Monkey may never have discovered these songs.

As an added bonus, you probably won’t find many of these on most critics’ top 10 lists, so perhaps you will find something here that you might have otherwise missed.

Editor’s note: Please, dear friends, do not think that all the free songs that come your Monkey’s way are as good as these gems. Your Monkey has had to kiss a LOT of frogs to find these princes and princesses. 

1. Austra “The Beat and the Pulse”

This Toronto-basedgroup makes some great atmospheric music that is part dance, part industrial gothic and part electropop.

This video is a little on the explicit side, so if you are offended by blurred nudity and webbed appendages you may want to proceed with caution. This is the “clean” version, too. For purists, the explicit version can be found with a pretty quick web search. That version apparently does not lend itself to embedding on blogs written by Monkeys.

Before you think your Monkey is just a typical male having a knee jerk reaction to a little female skin, you should know he fell in love with the audio version of this song long before he ever saw the video.

2. Fistful of Mercy “Fistful of Mercy”

This indie pop supergroup of sorts features Dhani Harrison (son of George), Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur.  This song features great chord progressions and wonderful harmonies, and this video does an awesome job of bringing together all the parts to make a whole.

3. Polica “Wandering Star”

This song is immediately striking, and this live radio performance is utterly unforgettable. Do not hate the voice altering vocoder, my friends, it can be put to good use. And for god sakes, let’s talk about the double drums for a second. They give you the chills. At least they should give you the chills. If they don’t, you may be a Blade Runner-esque replicant unaware of your own wretched artificial existance.

4. John Grant “Marz”

This song proves that lyrics don’t mean all that much when there is emotion and melody behind them. A melancholy piano backdrop accompanies a series of apparently nonsensical words and the effect is sad and bittersweet.  Here is a cool enhanced performance from the Later with Jools Holland show.

5. PJ Harvey “The Last Living Rose”

Ok, so PJ Harvey might be a little more of a household name than some of the others on this list, and her album “Let England Shake” is certainly well represented on top 10 lists this year. But this song is just too damn good to leave off the list, and your Monkey may never have fallen in love with it if he hadn’t gotten it as a free download.

Music, Shameless self indulgence, Writing

If Thomas Dolby was A Slave to Formula

Many of you might not be aware (probably because it’s not true and I just made it up) that Thomas Dolby originally planned on having a career entirely based upon takeoffs of his popular song “She Blinded Me With Science.”

Here are some of the follow ups that he considered but (thankfully) discarded.

  • She Pummeled Me with Physics
  • She Mangled Me with Mathematics
  • She Beat Me with Biology
  • She Crippled Me with Chemistry
  • She Shamed Me with Statistics
  • She Chastised Me with Calculus
  • She Punctured Me with Political Science
  • She Hurt Me with Home Economics
  • She Insulted Me with Industrial Arts
  • She Antagonized Me with Anatomy
  • She Sodomized Me with Social Studies
  • She Euthanized Me with English

In case none of those work for you, here is the original…

Music, Uncategorized

Four Bands Worth Mentioning Today

  1. Mumford and Sons — They get better with every listen. How can you sit still or feel nothing when listening to them? If you can sit still, you’re either dead, a stone wall or a ficus tree.
  2.  The Vaccines — What Else Would You Expect? is the name of their debut album, but honestly your Monkey did not expect anything when he decided to give these guys a try. Great, catchy garage pop. They’re like the Ramones without all the punk rock icon baggage, or early Weezer (in spirit if not exact musical sound).
  3. Salem — This Monkey loves him some synth-heavy witchhaus music. Mix layered vocals with layered synths and slow the whole thing down to a morphine blur, and you’ve got something.
  4.  The Beastie Boys — Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is a good album and is worth your consideration! It’s great to have them back. The world needs the Beastie Boys alive and kicking and making great music.

Here’s a vaccination of the Vaccines for your musical pleasure.

Music, Uncategorized

Best Music of 2010 so far

In very few words, here is what your Monkey thinks are the top candidates for album of the year thus far…

  1. Mumford & Sons — “Sigh No More” (a sweeping, swelling and moving reinterpretation of English folk)
  2. Sleigh Bells — “Treats” (overmodulated electro noise that is super sweet, like a sugar-coated punch in the face)
  3. Midlake — “The Courage of Others” (melodic, melancholy, and medieval)
  4. Phosphorescent — “Here’s To talking It Easy” (golden, sunkissed acoustic rock with surprising variety and depth)

And the top single of the year thus far…

Bloodbuzz Ohio by the National (A melodic lament framed my shimmering waterfalls of snare drum percussion. Really?!)

And the best audiobook heard thus far (admittedly this list is not based on extensive listening)

War by Sebastian Junger — a gritty look at war that neither glamorizes it nor downplays its more exciting moments. Junger does an amazing job of describing the chaos of war, the randomness of death, and the frustrating tedium of waiting for the next battle to start.

Check this stuff out already.