Wrongsmith collects the “best” of Songsmith

Total hat-tip to Webomatica for this.

The web is slowly filling up Songsmith “remixes” of popular songs.

It’s a program recently released by Microsoft Research that purports to make anyone and everyone a songwriter. Just select a musical style and sing into a microphone and the app will automatically generate accompanying music. Arrangements and chords can all be customized.

Of course it didn’t take long for enterprising users to figure out that Songsmith accepts pre-recorded vocals as well. Just isolate them from the original recordings, feed them into the program and customized the settings. Songsmith does the rest.

The results can be hilarious and a steady stream of new mixes are making their way to YouTube. The website Wrongsmith [which is no longer online, oct 2012] is doing a pretty good job of collecting the best of them.

Here’s a few of my favorites so far:

Michael Jackson – Beat It

Envisioned as a spastic techno carnival.

Queen – We Will Rock You

A calypso anthem.

Billy Idol – White Wedding

Bluegrass style.

To its credit, the program does a pretty decent job of staying on key and and tempo. Though it’s not perfect, it’s often “close enough for rock and roll.”

Songsmith is one of my new favorite things.

Kelley Polar – I Need You to Hold On While the Sky Is Falling: A cool and special place that is good for thinking

Before the beginning of this year, I had barely heard of Kelley Polar or his music. Toward the end of ’07, I ran across one of his songs and checked out his debut album, Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens. I was hooked in short order. Color me exultant when I learned a new album would be coming out just as I was really getting into Polar’s music.

And that anticipation and excitement probably affected my initial reactions to Kelley Polar’s follow up record, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling, released earlier this month. Whereas I’ve only just begun listening to Polar’s music and at the most basic level had merely been wanting more, he’s had nearly three years to grow and change as an artist.

I must admit that I’ve been listening to this record for several weeks now and it’s taken a little longer than Gardens did to grow on me. Yes, the peculiar combination of classical, spacey electronics, disco and catchy pop gratuity that made the first album so compelling is present. I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a very good follow up record, but in its first few moments, it becomes clear that while it is largely the same, it is also different, closer and more intimate.

Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens struck me with its expansiveness, by how much room there seems to be between its sounds. Falling, for the most part, feels like its standing right next to you. It’s also much more vocal. Kelley Polar has said in interviews that he’s spent some time actually trying to sing on this one and for the most part it works, though there are a handful of moments where it could have been toned-down a notch.

Appropriately for an album premised on the sky falling, the music feels much more serious and less carefree than an album of interstellar love songs. Chrysanthemum is downright foreboding and grim, talking about people being killed in bed.

It’s not all dour though. Entropy Reigns (in the Celestial City) is the most straight-ahead pop in the entire repertoire, while Sea of Sine Waves continues that early-career Michael Jackson danceitude that hooked me the first time.

All in all, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a worthy and eminently listenable sophomore opus.

Chrysanthemum video:

eMusic interviews Kelley Polar and they discuss the numorous classical influences on Falling.

Kelley Polar – Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens: Disco auteurship

Is that not a magnificent album cover? It’s almost worth picking up Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens just to have that, especially if were available on vinyl, which sadly it is not. The image is a generally well-regarded photo of the Eagle Nebula, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. It’s a striking visual, but more notably, its use here is a near perfect metaphor for the immense space between the sounds of Kelley Polar’s 2005 full-length debut album.

Polar (aka Mike Kelley) is a bit of musical prodigy, having picked up the violin at age 3 and become an award-winning viola player by 18. He studied at, and was expelled from Julliard, but not for lack of ability.

He has a self-confessed obsession with 1970s-era disco orchestral music, particularly, for obvious reasons, their string sections. So it’s no surprise that this record has a heavy disco feel to it. Though you’re not likely to think Love Songs is a throwback or “homage” to polyester suits. Disco is very much present, but more as a foundation to be built upon, holding together tendrils of pop and house.

Make no mistake, at first listen, Love Songs feels like a classic “bedroom auteur” boy-and-his-keyboard style electronic album. But within the first ten seconds, it’s clear that its spiritual home is closer to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall than The Postal Service.

That is to say the music is quite catchy; it pulls at you with pulsing with heady rhythms, ass-shaking grooves and a surprisingly high level of singability. The aspect that strikes me the most however, is how the music simultaneously seems to sound sparsely populated yet vast and teeming with activity. A bit like the seeming emptiness the heavens above, which when looked at closely is full of magnificent detail.

This is one album that is sure to be on heavy rotation for a long time.

KelleyPolar.com

Underworld: Bruce Lee

From the album Beaucoup Fish (1999)

Life, kid, suck, drink from the box, the juice kicks up.

yeah.

bruce lee.

High energy and repetitive, Bruce Lee basically sounds like it was recorded on a manufacturing line. With one verse repeated again and again, Underworld performs an exercise in rhythm and variations on a theme.

Using brute force, this thing will pound its way into your head, but for a form of House music, strangely you won’t feel like dancing. So just sit back and let your brain take a beating.

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What I love: That cold, industrialized beat.

Bonus Separated at Birth entry

I’ve been listening to this song for roughly eight years now, but it wasn’t until I posted the above that I noticed that the beat I’m so fond of bears a striking resemblance to Michael Jackson’s Speed Demon from Bad (1987).

Once you’ve listened to Bruce Lee, check out this sample and then tell me it doesn’t sound a little “inspired by.”

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The Weird Al Paradox

Simpsons Weird Al Yankovic

So the news recently hit that Weird Al finally has a Top 10 record after all these years. According to Billboard, that’s 73,000 copies of Straight Outta Lynwood sold. Congrats to Al; he deserves it.

It’s worth noting, though, that album sales are down overall and that nearly equal sales of 72,310 only ranked a 16 on the Billboard 200 for 1999’s Running with Scissors.

But really, that news has got me thinking. 1) about Weird Al’s sustainability, and 2) About what his sustainability says about the state of the music industry.

Weird Al’s longevity over the years is based on the simple premise that he continues to draw his inspiration from current music trends and hits. Sandwiched between his original songs about food, dysfunctional relationships and extreme bodily injuries (as well as the ever-awesome polka medleys), one is always sure to find several tracks based on the trends and ideas that define the moments his records are released.

It’s his thing; that’s what he does.

The effect of this approach is that Weird Al tends to remain relevant in the here and now, ages after his older parodies (and the songs that inspired them) have become well-worn. Frankly, it’s quite amazing that he’s been able to adapt so successfully as musical culture has changed. White and Nerdy is a far cry from My Bologna.

Underlying that ability to remain relevant, however, is ubiquity. A large portion of Weird Al’s success is wholly dependent on his audience’s familiarity with the songs and artists he parodies. In other words, Weird Al’s appeal is strongly rooted in the appeal of his sources of inspiration .

I say this as a person who has paid little attention to radio hits and the comings and goings of would-be superstars in recent years. As a result, I’ve largely not been “hip” to the so-called mainstream. But don’t construe that as being out-of-touch; there’s plenty of culture going around that doesn’t make a blip on the big corporate media radar. It’s just that Eminem and Chamillionaire mean so little to me as a connoisseur of music that Al’s recent works have fallen a little flat.*

It illustrates the nature of the music market specifically and American consumerism in general. The truth is that the market for music is fractured, and increasingly so. More and more often, people aren’t relying on a single source for their purchasing recommendations.

Audiences for different styles of music are becoming progressively more mutually exclusive. The top of the music charts has become a battle to see which fan base niche market will turn out and buy the most records in a given week. But that fan base is only a relatively small portion of all music sales (think the long tail). That’s markedly different from twenty years ago when Michael Jackson could generate massive audience appeal in a more solidified market.

That’s the line Weird Al is going to have to walk in the future. In that regard, his latest album already has one casualty from my perspective: Before researching this, I had absolutely no idea who Taylor Hicks was, and still don’t understand why he’s inspired a Weird Al parody.

I imagine many people would have a similar reaction if Al released a parody of LCD Soundsystem’s Daft Punk is Playing at My House, a song that took the indie scene by storm last year (Though that song has 41,090 listeners on Last.fm vs Hicks’ 1492).

He’s still a clever and funny guy, but to me, there’s a connection that’s missing from his lastest offerings and it’s likely to remain that way in the future. That’s ok I suppose; I’ve still got Smells Like Nirvana.

*That said, his parody of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet (Trapped in the Drive-Thru) is freakin’ spot-on.

Straight Outta Lynwood
"Weird Al" Yankovic - Straight Outta Lynwood - White & Nerdy (Parody of "Ridin'" By Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone).

Michael Jackson, P.Y.T.

Here’s today’s song of the day. Michael Jackson’s Pretty Young Thing from Thriller. For all Michael’s recent problems, the fact remains he was absolutely amazing in his time. Thriller, Off the Wall and to a lesser extent, Bad are still phenomenal albums.

I like the quasi-funk backing on this song. Groove it.

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Michael Jackson - Thriller - P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)

Oh, and tomorrow is Halloween; you know what that means.