Album: The Man With the Iron Fists (OST)
Sounds like: A throwback to the classic soundtrack albums of the past, with a Wu-Tang Twist
I’m moving into a new apartment in a few weeks, which means making hard decisions about my stuff. What to keep, what to pack, and perhaps most importantly, what to throw away.
There are things in our life we outgrow. Couches wear out, dishes crack, old clothes fade and don’t fit the way they used to. Throwing things like this out wasn’t that big a deal. But then I got to the other side of the room, and staring me back in the face was my CD collection. Taking up almost a full wall-sized shelf, it represents nearly 25 years of music in my life.
I honestly haven’t listened to any of the discs on this shelf in years. It’s 2012, after all. My musical life is digital now, internet streaming, and broadcast on the sidebar of the Facebook feeds of everybody I claim to have as friends. For lack of a better word, my CD collection in a lot of ways has become a piece of furniture that I rarely if ever use anymore.
But throwing it all away?
Even though I have digital copies of almost everything there. Even though technology has rendered so much of it useless and stale sounding. There are albums here — collections that don’t survive quite the same way on a shuffled playlist.
Like all of the Movie Soundtracks I own.
In a different time, Movie Soundtracks were a unique animal in the music world. Music and movies have always had a deeply intertwined relationship, with orchestral cues building tension for audiences watching the screen, and hit songs helping drive home the messages of characters or plot lines. But the movie soundtrack album – over the years served a different and special purpose, one that made them unique items to buy.
From Set it Off, The Crow, Judgment Knight, Queen of the Damned, and Love Jones – the soundtrack album frequently became a hiding place for extra album tracks from your favorite artists. Other collections found your favorite bands and singers covering classic songs in their own ways.
Regardless of how they were put together, soundtrack albums were always designed to create a mood. The songs that were collected all shared a similar vibe, which made lots of these albums easy to listen to on repeat.
Even more — What made these albums rare and unique was that frequently the soundtracks were owned and sold by the company that made the movie – which frequently wasn’t the same one the the artists who contributed songs to the disc were signed to. It sounds like a little thing, but it’s frequently the difference between a song being available online at all.
In other words, Sure you can get all the Prince you want from iTunes — but all those songs he wrote for the Batman soundtrack? Not so much (because those tracks were originally owned by Warner Brothers, not Paisley Park). So not only did soundtrack albums feature songs you couldn’t normally find, but in many cases in the modern digital music environment – they were the only places those songs were available.
The rise of digital music buying has sort of killed this practice. Artists make their money now off individual track sales, so people are much more protective of their publishing rights. As a result, there’s a lot less of people “jumping labels” to add music to somebody else’s movie, and the “movie soundtrack album” as a concept is largely dying off.
All of which makes the recent release of the soundtrack album for the upcoming Kung Fu movie The Man With the Iron Fists so special.
Compiled and produced by former Wu-Tang member RZA, a man who seems to live his entire life as if it were a movie soundtrack – who also directs and stars in the movie, the album is a throwback to another era. Featuring performances and collaborations by Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah, The Black Keys, Wiz Khalifa, Method Man, Travis Barker, Pusha T, and even Corrine Bailey Rae – The Man With the Iron Fists throws all the lawyers and record contracts out the window and instead brings the funk and groove with no apologies.
There’s a definite effort here to match the old school beats of 60’s Kung Fu “chop socky” movies – a sound RZA himself thrives within, but one that offers guests like unabashed Wu-Tang fanboys The Black Keys a unique place to stretch out and show a different side of themselves.
Seriously, it’s like all of these artists got together with the intent to make their own version of a Wu-Tang Clan album, which means you’re hearing Pusha T channel his best Method Man on a track with Raekwon. It’s the kind of collaboration that might be contractually impossible anywhere else – but who cares, because it’s goddamn awesome.
Much like Quentin Tarantino (who produces the movie along with Horror movie icon Eli Roth) – RZA understands the value of mood when it comes to collections like this. Each song seems to flow into another, channeling old musical themes through new artist energy. There are fantastic old songs and sample monologues from the movie that don’t hold much specific value yet as reminders of how cool those moments were (since the film hasn’t been released yet) – but honestly, how many Wu-Tang albums were filled with character speeches you’d never heard before?
The attitude of the music is the key here, and this disc is overflowing with it. You have to check this out – I promise you it’s worth it (and now I want to see the movie even more!)
See what you think, here’s the fantastic video for “The Baddest Man Alive”
And The Wu-Tang Clan themselves with “Six Directions of Boxing”
Album: Moods and Messages
Artist: Brian Owens
Sounds Like: Pure Soulful goodness
The things you find on the internet. I won’t tell you what site I was on but yes it’s a bootleg site. I saw this CD on there and decided to take a chance. *clicked download*.
And I was so very happy I did that!
I listened to a few tracks before going to work that morning. I was more and more excited about this CD from someone I never heard of.
I got to work and said dammit support this artist. I bought the CD on iTunes!
When I say this is pure soul. I definitely mean it.
But of course you won’t hear this on your local R&B station unless they like playing old school because that is the sound you hear on this CD.
Think late 60′s early 70′s soul think Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield that type of sound.
Normally I am not a fan of retro-soul CDs. Most can’t do it well anyway. But there is something about Brian Owens voice. It is as if it was made for this time period. He was born too late
But who is Brian Owens? Well the good people at Soultracks did a review and I’m just going to copy a little excerpt from there:
Born in St. Louis, Owens was raised in a musical household of gospel, blues and country music and spent his youth singing in the church choir and soaking up the music of Bill Withers, Lou Rawls and Sam and Dave. But it was the voice of Nat King Cole that resonated with the teen, setting him on an auspicious musical path. Along the way, Owens attended University before dropping out to join the Air force, where he spent the next three years as lead vocalist for the Military band SideWinder. During his time with SideWinder, Owens performed on a number of television shows including Entertainment Tonight, and sang for First Lady Michelle Obama, while becoming something of a YouTube sensation with over 2.5 million viewers.
Not bad for an artist that most of us have never heard of.
Do I like this CD? Hell yea! Do I recommend this CD to anyone that loves good soul music? You damn skippy!
Check out my favorite track: Till Morning Breaks
Artist: Taylor Swift
Sounds like: Someone’s jumping Shania’s Twain
People like to claim that part of the appeal of modern country music is how “clean” it is, how the lyrics are based on down-home values that aren’t out to continually expose young listeners to images of sex or illicit behavior – but I’ve got about 50 years of Tammy Wynette, David Allan Coe, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings music over here that that says that dog won’t hunt.
What country music has that pop music in the last few decades has largely abandoned is more akin to what people in my part of the world like to refer to as “Southern Charm”
Down here, you won’t hear people saying things like, “F*ck you.” We prefer a different, more indirect method of expression instead.
“Oh, you’re cheating on me with my best friend? Well bless your heart.”
Country music even in its more modern pop-music styled form has always been about metaphor and euphemism. There’s sort of a catch-phrase mentality to it all, even when the stories being told are about sadness, betrayal, or anger. Patsy Cline had the voice of an angel, but half of her songs were about cheating men or warning other women about the impending beat downs they were risking if they kept talking to her husband when they thought she wasn’t looking.
That’s not to say there isn’t honesty in the music, but more that most of the time the message is carefully veiled. So even when Shania Twain seemed to be making specific references to how a guy being a rocket scientist or Brad Pitt “ Don’t impress her much” it wasn’t that much of a leap to realize she might be talking about some other attribute that guys like to boast about when they’re trying to impress a woman.
The reason I bring this up is that a surprisingly large portion of Taylor Swift’s fourth studio album Red is almost painfully literal. Even more than some of her earlier efforts, the lyrics on this album time and time again refer to things that have apparently happened to Taylor in her life and her relationships. It’s an approach that sometimes resonates, because regardless of who you are or how you live your life – heartbreak hurts, and there’s something soothing and therapeutic about sharing stories about it in song.
But more often than not this specificity, these pointed references to moments and people starts to take your life out of the picture, and asks you as a listener not so much to identify with the way she’s feeling as much as she’s just gabbing on and on about some ex-boyfriend who did her wrong.
Even more interesting are the times she tries to mix these approaches, like on the album’s title track where she claims that “Loving him was like Driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street.”
Wait a minute – Comparing the difficulties of having a relationship with a celebrity to the experience of driving an expensive foreign sportscar that only you can afford? Something about that seems awfully familiar – Hmmm, whose lyrical style does that remind me of?
There are a few pure country moments on Red, in the chorus of the title track and especially in the closing ballad “Begin Again” – but as we all kind of knew already, Taylor Swift is really a pop artist, and this is the album where she really works to embrace that fact. There are songs that remind you of Coldplay. There are chord progressions that I swear sound like they were written by The Cure, and (of course) there’s a terrible sounding dubstep track on here.
But more than anything else, what this album leans on again and again is specificity. This isn’t a timeless collection of Nashville classics as it is 16 diary entries by a 22 year-old superstar who thought searching for true love with Jake Gyllenhall, Joe Jonas, and John Mayer was a good idea.
In a lot of ways this album comes off as fan-fiction, sort of a “What would it be like to date celebrities if you were Taylor Swift” type of follow-along romance novel.
All of which would be easy to hate on if half of it weren’t so damn catchy.
It’s easy to pick at Taylor Swift the pop culture icon — but what surprises you about Red is the way that such simple and sometimes openly derivative songs can get stuck in your head even if you don’t want them to.
The albums runaway hit single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is just a terribly cloying song about a boy (some specific boy, by the sound of the lyrics) who just won’t take the hint – and as stupid as that sounds I’ve been humming the chorus for a day and a half.
Red isn’t a landmark statement by any means. If anything, this hard right turn towards pop music might lose Taylor a few of her core fans (probably not) simply because she seems to be embracing her stardom instead of pretending she’s just like us. But there are songs here that stick — almost annoyingly so. Take away the music videos and her iconic blond hair and parts of this could easily be mistaken for “Call Me Maybe”.
You might not buy the album because of the name on the cover – but if you listen to enough radio, one of these songs might just get to you for a few weeks.
Because that’s how a pop artist like Taylor Swift works, bless her heart.
See what you think, here’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
And the obligatory horrible dubstep track, “I Knew You Were Trouble”