Americana

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If I was asked to pick one album that defined my teenage musical taste, Americana would be it.

I was introduced to the speedy guitar riffs, and unique vocal stylings of The Offspring by a friend of mine in grade 8. His older brother had a pretty extensive Offspring collection at the time, so they ended up providing the background tunes for most of our afterschool Tekken 3 tournaments.  No offense to the people behind the Tekken soundtrack, but “Kick Him When He’s Down” should’ve been Lei Wulong’s theme song…. just sayin’. At the time, Americana was their latest release, so it seemed like a good place to start, if I was going to build an Offspring collection of my own.

As a 13 year old boy in Northern Ontario, the fact that the entire album was a satire of American culture went a bit over my head.  From the phone menu opening, to lyrics of disillusionment with American dream… it wasn’t exactly new ground, but it was new to me.  Almost like a punk rock precursor to The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.

There were plenty of things that I did appreciate about it at the time though. The fact that “Have You Ever” lead seamlessly into “Staring at the Sun” blew my mind at the time. I was a good five years away from hearing the Abbey Road medley, so that extra bit of flair convinced me that The Offspring were punk rock musical geniuses. Not only that, but they even had the audacity to include a hidden song at the end (again, not unlike Abbey Road).

The palm muted guitars, and high speed drum beats went on to provide the blueprint for music that I would be guaranteed to enjoy in high school. Kind of like having iTunes genius only give recommendations based on The Offspring. The music had an edge and aggression to it, but it was never oppressively heavy sounding. It was an odd mix of comfort and danger that really clicked with me.  Comforting because you could always count on that prototypical punk sound, and dangerous because they’d toss in just enough curse words to avoid a “Parental Advisory” sticker on the cover.

I don’t listen to as much Offspring these days, but I really can’t imagine what high school would’ve been like without them.

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#songoftheday: Orianthi – According To You

I walked out of Michael Jackson’s This Is It really impressed by two things. The first was Man in the Mirror (love that chorus), and the second was Orianthi.

After that, it was a pleasant surprise to hear her get some mainstream radio airplay. In a nice change from a lot of top 40 music, she does an excellent job of mixing a distinctly pop sound with some blistering guitar solos.

Hello Nasty

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Heading into the summer of ‘98, a friend of mine gave me the heads up that I was about to see the greatest music video of all time. Cue the giant dancing robot, duking it out with a squid-man on the streets of Tokyo. The whole scene really played to my sensibilities as a Power Rangers fan, and gave me something to keep an eye out for on the next trip to Music World.

Hello Nasty came out when MP3s hadn’t quite caught on yet. At the time, music piracy still meant hitting the record button on a tape deck, whenever a song you liked came on the radio. Because of all that, buying a CD on the strength of one or two songs was pretty much the status quo.
Before any CD purchase, it was a good idea to be prepared for the possibility that the 12 songs you hadn’t heard, could very well be complete trash. That way, whatever you enjoyed past the 2 or 3 songs that you bought the album for, would just be pleasant surprise.  Intergalactic was a fun enough listen that I was set to deal with that worst case scenario.

Based on the singles I’d heard, I went into the album expecting everything to have that signature “Beastie Boys” sound.  A catchy beat, and the last syllable of every line sounding like it was written with Caps Lock on.

Something like this:
“Well Now don’t you tell me to SMILE
You stick around I’ll make it worth your WHILE
Got numbers beyond what you can DIAL
Maybe it’s because I’m so versaTILE”

The first few tracks played along with this idea, but then things started to get weird.  “Song for the Man” was like psychadelic elevator music, with vocals sounding like they were recorded underwater.  From that point on, for every bit of standard hip hop, they tossed in something completely unexpected. Everything from the eerie instrumental song “Sneakin’ Out The Hospital”, to the smooth jazz sounds of “Song for Junior”.

“I Don’t Know” ended up being the song off the album that stuck with me the most.  First off, like a good chunk of the album, it sounds absolutely nothing like “Intergalactic”.  It’s this sweet acoustic song, with softly sung vocals that fly in the face of all expectations of the group that’s known for hits like “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”, and “Sabotage”.

Over the years, I’ve just grown to appreciate diversity of the album more, and more.  Even today, it’s pretty rare to see a group ignore genre conventions, and offer this much variety on a single release.

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