‘Coolness’ can be such a fickle concept sometimes. One minute you’re the toast of Pitchfork, the next you’re being slated on a million message boards for ‘selling out’ or mysteriously losing whatever touch you had in the first place.
It’s never been quite clear who decides on what’s ‘cool’ or not (our god-like cultural overlords, perhaps, plotting the rise and fall of pop-culture from a volcano fortress somewhere in the mid-Pacific), but the rules of the game seem genuinely unfair a lot of the time. Here’s a look, then, at some of the acts whose talents have often been overlooked simply because they’re so ‘uncool’ …
5. Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
Boring, trad-heavy, MOR dadrock, right? WRONG. Petty’s ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation is pretty much a masterclass in songwriting, and all the hip sneering in the world ain’t gonna change that.
Remember when you were a kid, and you’d done something wrong, and your parents would say: ‘I’m not angry … I’m just disappointed’? How about the music that makes you feel that way? Everyone has a moment in the catalogue of their favorite band or artist which they find indefensible – maybe a stupid quote in an interview, maybe an embarrassing TV appearance, maybe a sell-out starring role in a product commercial (we’re looking at you, Iggy Pop. And you, John Lydon).
Or – more likely – just a plain old bad song.
We’re looking at the top five worst songs by great artists … those records which sully the reputation of cultural legends and which even the hardcore fanbase find hard to stomach. Ready? Let’s go.
5. The Smiths – ‘Golden Lights’
Morrissey may have aged into a flabby, reactionary embarrassment, but it’s widely held that his four-year-stint with The Smiths was a non-stop procession of pop perfection. Right? Right? Well … kind of. There’s always one who has to spoilt it for everyone else – and that came in the form of ‘Ask’ B-Side ‘Golden Lights’, a cover of a 1965 song by Twinkle. The rest of the band hated it. It’s easy to see why:
If you’ve been paying attention - and we hope you have, because there will be a surprise test later – you’ll be aware that we’ve chosen the amazing San Francisco three-piece Geographer as our Artist Of The Month. Why? Because they’re capable of heart-stopping performances like this, that’s why:
To enter, just answer this question in the comments below:
What’s one cover song you think Geographer would knock out of the park?
We’ll pick the five best answers as the winners! The deadline is Monday 28th January, and we’ll in touch with the lucky victors next week – so remember to include your email when you register to comment (the email will remain unseen and private, of course.).
There’s no particular order to this rundown, nor are we implying that these are the ‘greatest’ under-rated albums (that’s something you can tell about in the comments box, or let us know if you’d like to see more of them). Just a celebratory look at five albums that – for various reasons – never quite received the acclaim they deserved …
5. ‘Handcream For A Generation’ – Cornershop (2002)
People are primarily familiar with Cornershop thanks to the Fatboy Slim remix of ‘Brimful Of Asha’, which can still regularly be heard clogging up the background of TV commercials. This 2002 release saw them expand on their sound over a selection of irrestible pop hooks – such as ‘Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III’ – and it really, really should be more well known.
4. ‘In It For The Money’ – Supergrass (1997)
The cheeky, grinning loons who had a massive hit with 1995′s ‘Alright’ become more introspective and intelligent, and create one of the best guitar-pop albums of the 90s. Unfortunately it was buried amidst the general avalanche of sub-par rubbish which marked the tail-end of the Britpop era. Contains one of the best albums openers ever:
3. ’1965′ – The Afghan Whigs (1998)
Gregg Dulli and his band of malcontent misfits deserve wider acclaim across the board, but they excelled themselves with the dark, twisting, sleaze-funk-rock masterpiece ’1965′. ‘Somethin’ Hot’ is a particularly strutting highlight:
2. R.E.M – ‘Monster’ (1994)
For a while, R.E.M were the globe-conquering supergroup it was deemed ‘ok to like’. Then our ultra-cool critical establishment turned on them and declared ‘Monster’ to fall below requisite hipster standards. Spoiler: ‘Monster’ is infact a f**king awesome record.
1. Dandy Warhols – ‘Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia’ (2001)
Okay, so ‘Bohemian Like You’ has soundtracked a million phone ads and romantic comedy trailers, but the album from whence it came has been horribly, horribly overlooked. It retains a killer pop sensibility while flittering from dark introspection to wasted-drunk-on-the-bus danceability to smart, sardonic, sneaky humour. If you haven’t got it, get it. Like, now.
Well, it’s that time of the week when we usually select a member of the BAMM.tv Team to choose their favorite tunes of the moment … but, as we’ve installed the amazing San Francisco three-piece Geographer as our Artist Of The Month, we’ve handed the feature over to them. There’s just one slight twist – all their faves are from the BAMM.tv archive …
‘Better Way’ – The Soft White Sixties
These badasses play MUSIC, and they play it well and they play it raw. You get that “I’m listening to something good” feeling in your guts when you watch this.
‘Party Talk’ – Craft Spells
Just heard these guys, happy to have them making music in the bay.
‘If I Run’ – Voxhaul Broadcast
This video really showcases a simple and powerful talent. It’s great to see when a buzz band can sit down and blow you away with nothing but an amazing sweater, an acoustic guitar, and a beautiful voice.
‘Mickey Mantle’ – Waters
This is just some balls out, sharpen the axe rock and roll. I was very pleased when I heard this single come out of Van.
‘OG’ – Religious Girls
These guys are true artists, on and off stage, and have always deeply impressed me with their samples, use of synthesizers, and wild presentation and interpretation of what a pop song can be.
A lot of you seemed to like yesterday’s whistlestop tour through ten of the craziest album covers in history – so we’ve decided to crack open the dusty archives of pop-culture and dig out some more. Extra weirdo points if you happen to own any of these bad boys …
10. Don And Seymour
Taken in happier times, before Seymour’s drug problem spiralled out of control.
9. Anna Russell – ‘In Darkest Africa’
Pretty much the most offensive (unintentionally or otherwise) sleeve cover of all time? If ever the KKK had a party record, we’re betting its this.
8. Ira North – ‘If I Were A Woman’
“… I’d stop whining about how painful pregnancy is, and get back in the kitchen. At least that’s what I told my wife, before she left me.” (breaks down into tears)
7. Erik and Beverley Massagee – ‘Amen’
God, what is it with creepy plastic puppets on abstract album covers? Hasn’t Cher got that market covered? Huh, guys? Amirite? Amirite?
6. Millie Jackson – ‘Back To The S**t!’
I’ll level with you, Millie – that’s just horrible.
5. The Moody Blues – ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’
“What? No, I don’t think there’s LSD in my studio’s water supply. Now, do you want my cover artwork or not?”
4. Paddy Roberts – ‘Songs For Gay Dogs’
“What? Sorry, Rex, no, I just assumed you were …. what? Well, you just have that look about you. Look, if you don’t like it, I kept the receipt.”
3. Millie Jackson – ‘ESP’
For god’s sake, Millie, another one?
2. Swamp Dogg – ‘Rat On’
In the near future, when the world has been irradiated in a nuclear apocalypse and rats have mutated into giant beasts, this will actually be something of an everyday scene.
In an age where physical music formats are on the decline, the album cover just isn’t as important as it used to be. Sure, it’s a nice bonus if the digital image on your device is a pretty one, but these days the music is generally left to speak for itself.
This wasn’t the case in years gone by, however. An eye-catching cover could make or break a record – and this necessity created some undeniable classics. Pop culture is all the richer for the masterpieces that adorned Sgt Peppers, Electric Ladyland, The Queen Is Dead, Repeater, OK Computer and so on. But what about those more … ahem … ‘unique’ specimens? Let’s take a look at the 10 craziest albums covers in history …
10. ‘Mr Love Pants’ – Ian Dury And The Blockheads
Hey, don’t mind me, I’m just a dog hanging out on a beach. In my pants.
9. ‘Ringo The 4th’ – Ringo Starr
Ringo tries to escape the shadow of The Beatles by threatening everyone with a big sword and kidnapping ladies.
8. ‘Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday’ – John Bult
Implication is everything, John.
7. ‘My Beauty’ – Kevin Rowland
Erm … yeah, I’m just trying something out, y’know?
6. ‘The Miracle’ – Queen
OH GOD IT’S A DEMON KILL IT KILL IT
5. ‘Yesterday And Today’ – The Beatles
The loveable mop-tops decide to … well, do whatever the hell this is.
4. ‘On Through The Night ‘ – Def Leppard
For God’s sake, Harold, another wrong turn! Just look where the Earth is now!
3. ‘Windowlicker’ – Aphex Twin
Yeah, so it’s technically an EP, but it’s so crazy we had to include it.
2. ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ – Freddie Gage
Hey, Freddie! It’s party time! Erm … Freddie? Freddie …?
1. ‘Keep The Fire’ – Kenny Loggins
“Look, I’ve come all the way past the pyramid, the meteors and the rainbow to get here, so you’d damn well better take it, okay?”
Introducing BAMM.tv’s Artist Of The Month feature: a selection of great music, exclusive articles and prize giveaways (among other things) from one of our favorite up-and-coming artists. This month we put San Francisco three-piece Geographer under the spotlight …
Crack open the dictionary for a second. There’s something interesting about the definition of the word Geographer – “one who partakes in the study of the earth and its features and of the distribution of life on the earth, including human life”, and also charts an “ordered arrangement of constituent elements.”
Now, we’re not going to pretend that this definition is news to you (we hope you’ve proven yourself to be something of a smartypants by downloading the BAMM.tv app anyway, so we’re sure your literary skills are up to scratch). But think about it. Or – to be more specific – take a listen to Geographer’s music, then think about it.
Ordered arrangement? Yep – carefully crafted ciphers through which all sorts of melodic twists emerge. Constituent elements? Yep – an amalgamation of different sounds, instruments and genres fused to a cohesive and gripping whole. Human life? Oh yeah – like all great music, there’s a helluva lot of universal soul in there.
Not that they’d be so analytical about it. “We want to make good-sounding records,” they state, “and we want to play for people.”
So: are you one of those people yet? And if not, why not?
Geographically speaking (see what we did there?), Geographer’s roots can be whittled down to a New Jersey / San Francisco hybrid. If it helps, just imagine Tony Soprano’s drive round the NJ Turnpike soundtracked to The Grateful Dead … or maybe not. Locations and logistics aside, let’s get to the heart of the matter: and it’s a great big pulsating heart that beats at the core of Geographer.
Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – great art can emerge from terrible loss. It’s a redemptive fact of life that Geographer founder Mike Deni knows all too well. Mike moved to San Francisco from New Jersey following the tragic death of his father and sister, and began to channel his distraught emotions into the amazing musical soundscapes we hear today.
When he conscripted fellow band members Nathan Blaz (cello, electronics) and Brian Ostreicher (drums, vocals), this creative prowess only began to spiral. “When I first moved to SF I went to the Hotel Utah open mic every week to perform,” Mike remembers. While at the Utah – a 100-year old institution of local legend, whose 7-day-a-week live music showcases are invaluable to exposing upcoming artists – he “met Kacey Johansing, and she introduced me to Nate and Brian, who all knew each other from Berklee College of Music in Boston.”
Mike already had a roster of deeply personal songs written, and the Geographer line-up gelled so well that little revision was needed. Kacey would be present for the recording of the first album, but would then depart the band, leaving them to function as an even-tighter three piece. “We all come from different musical backgrounds, with different backgrounds that sometimes bump heads and always push the songs past where they were originally intended to go.”
It’s this unity that has seen the band develop their sound over the years. “Over the course of our three recordings,” Mike explains, “we learned what it means to be in a band, and we learned what we are each capable of as musicians, and more importantly, what we each want to be capable of as musicians. I think we also feel a little bit of comfort from the support we’ve gotten from San Francisco and the west coast, that gives us the strength to make risky decisions and try new things.”
As for the recordings themselves? Well … let’s take a closer listen, shall we?
Geographer’s first album release came in August 2008 – the enigmatically-titled ‘Innocent Ghosts’, a name which perfectly reflects the hazy, unpredictable and heartfelt content within. It wasn’t, say, the breakout debut smash of a ‘Funeral’ or ‘Oh, Inverted World’, but to the kids in the know that didn’t matter – they’d just discovered their new favorite band, and they got there before anyone else.
And – let’s face it – when you’re making steely-eyed journalists get emotional, you know that you’re onto something. “Singer Michael Deni explores themes of love and loss with his soupy, trustworthy coo,” enthused Liz Levine at The Owl. “Softly delivered and yet with a strong conviction, he seems empowered by the lessons and experiences the lyrics suggest, so that he quickly becomes a trustworthy narrator.” She wasn’t alone in her enthusiasm – Toronto’s AWMusic lavished five stars on the debut album, claiming that “some songs just come to a slow start … but are worth this adventure this album puts you on.”
It was in October 2008, however, that more high-profile attention beckoned. Long-running music monthly Spin Magazine listed the lads as being ‘one of the three undiscovered bands you need to hear now’ – alongside Canada’s Library Voices and Los Angeles’ Thailand. While new media acolytes may take umbrage with the term ‘undiscovered’ – what exactly does that mean, in this age of fractured exposure and streamlined, individualized cultural consumption? – there was no denying: people were starting to sit up and take notice.
Two years would pass before their return – which, given the intricate and carefully thought-out nature of Geographer’s music, is practically a speedrun in creative terms. 6-song EP ‘Animal Shapes’ would be released in 2010. Expanding on their sound – heavier synth, faster rhythms – it also gathered great reviews, with Music Under Fire labeling it a ‘fantastic effort’, and Pinpoint Music reflecting that the “tight and almost flawless approach to presenting six songs is stunning”.
The most noticeable thing about the reaction to the E.P? E.Ps just don’t get that level of attention, artistic seriousness and fan devotion anymore (maybe with a few exceptions: Animal Collective are usually happy to release short collections every now and then, which are lapped up by an eager following). The fact that ‘Animal Shapes’ was being – and still is – analysed and cherished with the same vigour as a full-length album is very telling: Geographer are a band that matter.
2012 would see them matter even more. Myth – their second full-length album, and highest-profile release to date – emerged to much anticipation, and carried with it the most complex backstory yet. “The album deals with the many ways myths play into our modern lives,” the band explained, in an exclusive video interview with BAMM.TV. ‘I think people think that we live in a mythless society, because we have science and education, but I think that we still live according to a lot of myths which are designed to be instructive … but which people take a little too far. A myth is a story that helps you learn how to live. But I think a lot of times, people take myths as reality.’
If this makes Myth sound like that most precarious of propositions – the overblown concept album – fear not. It’s Geographer’s best work yet – simultaneously their most accessible yet creatively defining. Less ‘carefree’ (if that term can realistically be applied to the band) than the preceding E.P, it delivers a solid one-two punch on both sonic and emotional fronts.
Such a diverse body of work, of course, suggests a unique and experimental artistic approach. How exactly do the Geographer boys create their sound?
‘We’re obsessed with finding the perfect sound,’ Mike says, ‘whether it’s with a synth patch or effects pedals.’
‘When we write music it happens one of two ways. One is really acoustic and one is really electronic. A lot of songs start from a sound – I’ll be chasing something I want to hear or just messing around – and then I’ll build the song out from there. Then sometimes I’ll just be at home playing chords, singing along.’
‘A lot of the time I’ll try to write a certain kind of song, but that never works. You just have to get free and enjoy playing your instruments. Then something will come out of that and I’ll show it to the others.’
‘Usually it starts sonically. And then that informs the subject matter. I’ve only started with lyrics once, they usually come last and it usually takes me a while to write them. I’ll usually just be songwriting in a stream-of-consciousness way, then some hook or some line will come out of that.’
Hmmm. He makes it all sound so (relatively) easy, doesn’t he? This is one of the most surprising things about Geographer overall: despite the complex beauty of the music they craft, it’s as if – like all great artists – it seems to come from a pure and simple place. Here at BAMM.tv, we’ve been lucky enough to witness this remarkable dichotomoy on a number of occasions. We recorded the guys when they unleashed their full-on electronic sound to a sell-out crowd at SF venue The Independent (“our proudest moment to date was selling out the Independent for the first time … we had no idea that many people were listening to our music”) and also when they performed an intimate, haunting acoustic set at the Engine Works venue (“that night at Engine Works was a truly amazing experience for us”).
Despite this variance, deconstructing the Geographer sound(s) is a task they’d rather not undertake – like performing an autopsy on Santa Claus, or catching sight of the sweaty puppeteers who bring Kermit and Gonzo to life. In the end: what’s the benefit? “I just say [we sound like] indie rock with cello and synths,” Mike shrugs, “because it’s impossible to describe music. No one ever hears what they expect to. Like: how do you describe Oasis? Heavy guitars with a whiny vocalist. Or Paul Simon? Good music.”
‘Good music’. As mission statements go, it’s hard to argue with that. And even harder to argue with a second mission statement – one which the band fire up each and every time they take to the stage. “Put all your delusions of grandeur aside,” they say, “and give the crowd the best show you’ve ever played.”
Who knows? The best show they’ve ever played might just result in the best show the crowd has ever seen. And then – geography be damned – pretty much everyone is exactly where they need to be.
OTHER BAMM.TV STORIES YOU MIGHT LIKE:
Another week, another playlist from one of our all-knowing BAMM Team (that’s ‘all-knowing’ in terms of music, by the way … none of us are too hot on quantum theory). This time around, we find out what Editorial Director Christopher Davies is listening to right now …
1. “Hold On, Hold On” (Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, 2006) – Neko Case
One of the many talents behind The New Pornographers, Neko Case effortlessly transposes the melodic pop strains of that particular supergroup into her solo work. Nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking – just great songwriting.
2. “Green Shirt” (Armed Forces, 1979) – Elvis Costello
For a good decade or so, Costello was quite literally at the top of this whole ‘music’ game. He has too many classic tunes to mention, but this one is often overlooked, so I’m going to stick it here. It’s just great: instantly hummable yet undercut with a weird simmering menace (‘you can please yourself, but somebody’s gonna get it ..’)
3. “Shake This” (Street Hop, 2009) – Royce Da 5’9
This is, quite simply, awesome.
4. “Ladybird” – (Nancy & Lee, 1968) – Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood
Hazlewood and Sinatra are maybe one of the best male-female double acts in history. There are lots of great moments on their 1968 album ‘Nancy & Lee’ (everyone knows ‘Some Velvet Morning’ … or at least they should do) but ‘Ladybird’ is a personal favorite.
5. “Careful” (The Warning, 2006) – Hot Chip
Gotta love these techno-geek ravers and their sense of undying fun and experimentation. ‘Careful’ is, in my humble opinion, one of the best opening tracks to any album EVER …
So you’re in an up-and-coming new band. How do you go about making the transition from small, intimate gigs (perhaps playing to a circle of friends) to expanding your horizons? In the latest of our bite-size ‘How To’ vids, BAMM.tv’s Phil Lang offers up a couple of hints and tips about embarking on a ‘mini tour’.