Cover Zen: Look at this cover now

I can’t resist a great cover. A few years back I sustained a(n almost) daily music blog for a brief time that consisted largely of well-realised cover songs. One of the most popular posts from that blog that still gets a regular chunk of hits can be found here: The 5 Best Covers of Britney Spears’ Toxic

@juilaroy tweeted this great cover the other day (my imperative post title overstates things a tad… the name of the song is “Look At Me Now” ok?) Amy, of acoustic-pop duo Karmin, has an engaging, sassy presence that oozes confidence and entices – not least because it really looks like she’s having fun with this performance. Here’s the original for comparison… Somma dese white chicks can RAP yo!

For more great covers click the “Cover Zen” tag below!

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Diamandis are forever

Wow, a new post so soon! Must be a slow night… (it isn’t…)

But one must post about Marina and the Diamonds (aka Marina Diamandis – yes, she is a solo artist), live on BBC1. Judging by the official video for “Mowgli’s Road” this greek-named, welsh warbler has a quirky sense of style and humour and pumps out some catchy, eccentric melodies. Awesome.

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Cover Zen: Dizzee does the Ting Tings

Dizzee’s Bonkers is off the chain so I was digging around in the interweb archives.

He does a great cover of the Ting Ting’s “That’s Not My Name” and his lyrical slant on the concept is mint xD.

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“Carrie-from-the-breakfast-show”‘s cover of Dizzee’s track Dance Wiv Me at the end is pretty doggone special too.

Leave of Absence

Whoa! Sorry for the prolonged absence, friends. I came down with a severe case of Spore so I’ve been down for the count (and falling asleep at my desk during the day because of it ; ).

I’m back onboard now, though (not that anyone cares) and my NZ music post is back on the agenda xD. Here’s a great cover of “By This River” by Brian Eno (‘the father of ambient music’) from his album “Before and after Science”. (Brian is responsible for the procedural music in Will Wright’s “Spore”.) It’s nice to be reminded why a tune is beautiful after so long.

Oi! Brian Eno is responsible for the Windows 95 startup sound. Brian says: “The thing from the agency said, “We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional”, this whole list of adjectives, and then, at the bottom, it said: “and it must be 3¼ seconds long”. I thought this was so funny, and an amazing thought, to actually try to make a little piece of music. It’s like making a tiny little jewel. In fact, I made eighty-four pieces.”

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5 unusual ethnic vocal styles

I’ve blogged already about the power of the voice as an instrument on its own – although the focus in that post was primarily on percussive styles. This post is about the incredible diversity to be found in expressive vocalisation from different cultures around the world – it’s powerful stuff, man!

I was introduced to a good deal of awesome world music through Peter Gabriel’s Real World label and some of those artists are featured here. (The 2000 compilation: Voices of the Real World is a great place to start if you’re looking for more of the same.)

This press review from New Age Voice (USA) sums it up perfectly:

“‘With so many sounds that at first seem so different, what becomes so obviously common is the impact of the human voice. The communication of ideas and emotions are transmitted despite language barriers and presentation…Quite simply, the most innovative and moving instrument may be the one that we’re equipped with at birth.’”

Tenores di Bitti

This wonderful sound – four male voices in polyphonic bliss – hails from Bitti, Sardinia. A traditional folk band and successors to 3000 years of musical heritage, Tenores di Bitti recorded their album S’amore ‘e mama in their home town, retaining the sounds of the ambient locations – the churches, pubs and fields of Bitti.

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious blowhard I have to say that it’s almost a shame to see them in a concert hall with microphones in their faces. How awesome would it be to come across them in the narrow alleys of their home town, voices booming from the walls? Or in the fields of their countryside, warm harmonies washing over the landscape? Uber-licious awesome, say I.

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Loituma – Levan Polkka

Loituma are a Finnish folk band whose song “Levan Polkka” was made famous by the Loituma Girl internet meme (if you know what I’m talking about you’ll be sick to death of this clip).

One of the interesting things about their music is that they often improvise, breaking into a collection of rhythmic melodic gibberish; apparently they do so in the fifth and eighth stanza of this song (I can’t hear the difference from the rest of it to be honest xD).

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Tuvan Throat Singing

I couldn’t pass over this famous style of vocalisation from Central Asia. In throat singing, or overtone singing as it’s also known, the vocalist “manipulates the harmonic resonances (or formants) created as air travels from the lungs, past the vocal folds, and out the lips to produce a melody.”

In the common parlance: they sing more than one note at the same time, yo.

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Konnakol – Indian vocal percussion

Lori Colter’s not from the race, culture or gender that immediately springs to mind when you hear the phrase, South Indian Vocal Percussion, but she certainly has the skill to lay it down. Her performances of this indian vocal art are accomplished and impressive; she manages to disappear inside the sound completely – her culture, gender and skin colour forgotten.

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The Art of Yodel

When it comes to the beauty of ethnic music and the seeming global commonality of its spiritual connection to nature, we here in the west – with our loud, brash rock music and electronic noise – are often the poor cousins. But we have artists like the DeZurik Sisters.

Yodeling may not be the exclusive domain of the west but the southern US popularised their own peculiar brand in a big way, through the country and bluegrass styles of music. Besides the beautiful harmonies throughout this song, the DeZurik Sisters yodel in an amazing way – not unlike the birds they tried to emulate at home on the farm in Minnesota.

Give the song a chance before you shut it down in horror : ) – it really is impressive: the sisters twitter, chirp and warble in an astounding effort to copy and ultimately connect with nature in their own personal way – just like their cultural counterparts around the world .

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Honorable Mention

The power of the voice: sometimes it makes us cry with emotion; sometimes it makes us laugh for joy. And sometimes it makes us laugh til we cry.

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Inara George – the Bird sings

I blogged about the great Apple OS X video made for this song back in the day; now that Inara George (the singer with the beautiful fairy voice) has released another solo effort I found myself digging through the interwebs for some more of her moozak.

This clip is not new but it’s a great live performance showcasing Inara’s vocal qualities and the simple purity of the Bird and the Bee’s sound.

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Verdi Acoustica

I was operatically inspired after reading an excellent post from the fantastic At the Lighthouse (from Verdi to Moomintroll! What’s not to love!) so I thought I’d pretend I have an iota of culture by posting something opera-related.

My introduction to opera in the distant chambers of my youth was a sudden, unfathomable (for me at the time) love for La donna è mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto. I’m not gonna lie – the extent of my operatic “education” was a few supermarket compilation CDs and, as my love grew, the popular CDs of Pavarotti and Bocelli xD. The music moved me to tears (like Paul Potts’ famous performance did) and, though I didn’t understand the language or the stories behind it at the time, its beauty couldn’t be denied.

Oi! before the first performance of “La donna è mobile” in Venice, the song was rehearsed in the utmost secrecy to avoid “leaks” (hey, they knew it was catchy). Sure enough, days after the first performance every gondolier in Venice was belting it out.

So! Digging further into the work of my first love, I discovered this gem – an acoustic guitar interpretation originally by Johann Kaspar Mertz of various pieces from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. I might be biased, given the instrument, but Frank Bungarten‘s performance is a beautiful example of classical guitar playing.

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Squarepusher via groovy dancing chick

I’ve been looking for a good way to post about Squarepusher – so a groovy dancing chick is as good as any xD. The dancing chick is Sophie Merry who has her own little Youtube fame story – which is all well and good but I’m just here for the ‘pusher!

Oi! Sophie was picked up by French fashion firm Etam to front a new marketing campaign in 3,500 stores in 50 countries(!) based off the strength of her original Groovy Dancing Girl video.

Squarepusher is Tom Jenkinson – an amazingly talented bassist who mixes elements of electronica, drum and bass, and jazz fusion (he’s a friend of Aphex Twin if that tells you anything). The most distinctive element of his style is his seemingly random, choppy beats. He’s amazing in live performance (although I’ve only seen videos ;_; ) and he’s greatly impressed Andre 3000 (amongst others) who’s keen to work with him.

As Andre says, Squarepusher’s music is like: “busting the computer open and making some music out of it” and for me, Squarepusher stands out from the rest of the electronica pack because he’ll pull out the bass and hammer away at it like a traditional (but accomplished) musician and yet still test the boundaries in the electronic push-button digital field at the same time.

Sophie’s boppy performance over “My Red Hot Car” is bouncy and upbeat (like the clip that made her famous) and makes for a strangely compelling watch and listen : ).

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5 Awesome Rock Drum Performances That Aren’t Solos

Drum solos are easy. I don’t mean they’re easy to play, of course – I mean it’s easy to reference them when you’re looking for an impressive drum performance. But the reality is that most people are taken by a drummer when they’re part of a band. You like the music first, then you start to look into what it is about the music that engages you.

Nearly all of the most famous drummers grew to fame as part of a popular band. There may have been more technically proficient drummers around at the time but the better known ones were part of a unit where their musicianship contributed to the creation of good music. Then and now, the “best” drummers put ego and heartless technical precision aside – or at least in check – and play to the song they’re in rather than showboating and overwhelming the rest of the performance. They know where to sit back and groove and where to slip in a fill to highlight a gap.

Oi! Gene Krupa is considered the father of the modern drumkit. He was the first drummer ever to record with a kick drum pedal (in 1927). He is credited with inventing the rim shot. He was seminally involved in the development of the tunable toms and the naming and use of the now standard cymbal pieces and techniques (the ride, crash, splash, etc.) But he had to bluff his way through some of his earlier sessions cos he couldn’t read music. Finally, he rocks on the skins, no diggity.

The performances below show some of my favourite rock drummers playing along to various songs (mostly their own). The clips included are not the respective drummers’ most impressive technical display (e.g. Mike Portnoy’s drum solos would be more of an example of his prowess than the clip I’ve included) or even very difficult to play in some cases (Travis Barker’s rock version of Soulja Boy isn’t hard – but it is great rock style).

Nevertheless, imo they’re examples of the sort of performance and passion that makes you notice a drummer for the first time: there’s a spark in the drum performance – over a song that catches or moves you – that hints at hidden chops and real virtuosity.

Travis Barker (Blink 182)

Soulja Boy Remix

I have to admit I was never a Blink 182 fan… And I never appreciated Travis’ playing very much (experience from playing a few cover versions of Blink 182 on drums in various bands) but the boy can play. I’ve come to appreciate him more, seeing his work outside of Blink – and even more so for the awesome rock covers he has been doing of hip hop songs.

If you hate Soulja Boy, don’t worry – give this song a watch – Travis plays the drums all over the top and also includes a new rhythm guitar line to the song that has won a few rock fans over. No one’s gonna rush out and start buying Soulja Boy albums but Travis’ version is certainly a stompin’ rock anthem. Watch it for his attitude and that quality of performance that makes you want to grab the sticks off him and smash away at the drums yourself (throw yourself at those drums, boy!).

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Danny Carey (Tool)

Lateralus performance and interview

Danny Carey is a softly spoken powerhouse drummer from a powerhouse prog-rock band and his playing on many of their alt time signature anthems is technically competent, dazzling – yet part of the cohesive whole. He plays like the soft personality he appears to project – his style is almost conservative in appearance but there’s an edge and a technical spark that makes his often understated performance undeniably impressive.

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Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)

No One Knows (Queens Of The Stone Age live)

Originally famous as Nirvana’s drummer, younger people may only know Dave Grohl as the singer / songwriter / guitarist for Foo Fighters. His solid rock drums and phat fills were, however, a signature part of the Nirvana sound (especially their initial anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and on Queens Of The Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf his phat rockness (as guest drummer) was back in full effect.

It’s always good, I think, to show an exception to the point you’re trying to make and Dave’s playing on this QOTSA song – No One Knows – almost crosses the line as far as ‘playing to the song without showboating all over it’. Just watch his massive fills throughout every chorus and the instrumental break – he practically takes over the song xD – but in this grunge-metal, stoner-rock context, it really works.

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Darren King (Mute Math)

Chaos live

Watch the beat in the intro of this awesome Mute Math song (watch the rest of the song too – it’s good xD) – Darren King swaps every third snare with the kick and it makes the beat infinitely more interesting than it could have been. Darren King is an example of ‘hidden chops‘ – his syncopated style in places shows flair and colour that you don’t usually find in 4/4 pop rock.

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Honorable Mention

Animal vs Buddy Rich

And just to prove that drum solos can be interesting to watch, here’s Buddy Rich dealing to the almighty Animal (I bet Animal gets more chicks though)…

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Little star Stina Nordenstam as jazz chanteuse

Stina Nordenstam has a little voice which is perfect for singing her hit “Little Star” from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. There were some great tracks on her album “And She Closed Her Eyes” that showcased her delicate, childlike voice with extremely dry production (i.e. there was no reverb applied to her voice, so it sounded like she was sitting inside your speaker singing to you). Ben Harper is another example of very dry vocal production; the technique only suits certain singers and it’s an interestingly intimate production style when you come across it.

(To understand what I mean by “dry”, sit right next to your speakers or crank up your phones, play some Celine Dion, awash in reverb, to hear how she sounds like she’s singing in a massive hall, then put on Stina or Ben to hear the effect of the dry vocal production that makes it sound like they’re sitting right next to you.)

This live performance of “One For My Baby” reminds me of Lisa Ekdahl’s jazz covers projects – jazz standards and the like don’t immediately leap to mind when I hear Stina’s fragile, Bjork-like warble but this performance is interesting in its own way.

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