Ever wonder what your favourite local musicians like to listen to? When Mark Bragg gets off stage, who gets his own toes tapping? When Andrew James O’Brien puts down the acoustic guitar, whose lyrics get him nodding? When Meg Warren’s not performing with Repartee, where does she find inspiration? The Telegram sat down with these three Atlantis Music Prize-shortlisted musicians, played them 10 of the biggest or best songs from the past year, and turned on the recorder.
“Sexy and I Know It” — electro-hop party anthem from LMFAO
Andrew: (to Mark) Is this you? (everyone laughs)
Mark: This is gross. I’ll be more constructive later.
Meg: See, I actually listen to a fair bit of mainstream music, and mainstream pop, and I’m a little influenced by it. I find, lyrically, yeah, it’s gross, and —
Mark: This song’s also musically boring. You put this up against any of the Britney Spears productions, which are all brilliant, and —
Meg: Yes, they are.
Mark: — and in the same vein, and this song just does nothing. It’s just (blows a raspberry).
Meg: I’m glad you agree with me on the Britney Spears.
Mark: No, I love it.
Andrew: It’s all subjective, obviously, but for me, when I listen to music, I’m very direct about — like for me, if a lyric doesn’t catch me personally then I tend to tune it out. Not purposefully, but inevitably, that’s what happens. And that kind of pulse and repetitious beat can be a great thing and it can also become monotonous. I think that this type of tune — I mean, it’s great for a specific environment, and they’re created with specific environments and scenarios in mind, just not typically an environment that I would necessarily be hanging around in.
Mark: Yeah, this is just dragoff music, right?
The Telegram: Does anyone know who that is?
The Telegram: It’s LMFAO. That song is called “Sexy and I Know It.”
Mark: LMFAO? (laughs) Well, they’ve probably got a lot more money than we do, so I guess they are laughing their effin’ asses off at all the … haters. I guess we’re haters! Well, me and Meg hate it. (to Andrew) You’re saying you like it? This is your thing? Dragoff music? You feel like there’s a time and place? I guess there was for you at one point.
The Telegram: Do you want to hear the rest of it, or —
“I Might” — first single from long-running Americana stalwarts Wilco’s eighth album
Andrew: I am an intensely savage Wilco fan.
Mark: This is Wilco?
Andrew: This is the new Wilco, yep. This is more up my alley. Wilco are actually my favourite ongoing band. This new record, though, it was a grower for me. It didn’t immediately hit me. I didn’t immediately go, “Wow,” like when I heard “Sky Blue Sky,” I immediately went, “Wow, I love this record.” I’ve listened to this new album, “The Whole Love,” probably 10 or 15 times, and I really do love it. I love the old school feel of this, especially the organ. It’s got a great tone.
Meg: Yeah, Wilco is pretty deadly.
Andrew: To me, they’ve found the formula of interesting, super-catchy pop, for the most part. Some of it’s a bit out there, but this one is immediately infectious and it’s got a great driving beat. The other one had a driving beat, but I think this one for me personally hits a little more immediately. And also, Jeff Tweedy’s a great, kind of obscure lyricist, which I find pretty neat too.
Meg: I find Jeff Tweedy, I’m so impressed by his ability to churn out pop songs. He’s been doing it for a long time, and they always, to me, sound really fresh. I don’t know Wilco that well, but I do know some of their older stuff, and I think that the way he consistently is able to keep churning out catchy pop tunes without making them sound monotonous or like he’s repeating himself.
The Telegram: Mark? Your thoughts?
Mark: I never heard that song before.
The Telegram: What’s your reaction to it?
Mark: I still haven’t heard it! (Keeps listening) That’s good, I like it.
The Telegram: Wilco’s starting to get tagged with that “dad rock” label lately.
Mark: What’s “dad rock”?
The Telegram: When hipsters get older, have kids, and think Wilco is edgy.
Mark: (laughs) Well, I’m a dad, I like this, but it doesn’t sound in any way edgy to me. But it sounds good.
Andrew: I don’t think Jeff Tweedy would classify their music as edgy. It’s not pushing any kind of … I don’t know if “censorship boundaries” is the right term. I think they’re just trying to write good pop songs, seems to me, anyway.
“Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” — Beastie Boys joined by Santigold
Andrew: Beastie Boys. (Lyric refers to “20 years of schooling and they put you on the day shift,” cribbed from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”) Dylan!
Mark: I hate people who quote — no, I hate it when people throw Dylan lines into their songs.
Andrew: Because it tends to be taken out of context?
Mark: It’s presumptuous.
Andrew: It’s one of those things — I mean, it’s hard to be original in any way, and when you take a line that had a definitive meaning in one song and you take it out of the context of that song, then I think the meaning becomes a little weak.”
Mark: Yeah, “Joni Mitchell never lies.” Remember that one?
Andrew: That’s a tough thing. Maybe they don’t look at Bob Dylan the same way. Or maybe they do — maybe whoever sampled that would say, “Bob Dylan changed my whole outlook as a songwriter.” … I mean, I rip off Bob Dylan every time to play a G chord and do a hammer on the C, but it’s because I’m not that good at guitar. (laughs)
Mark: Who is this?
The Telegram: The Beastie Boys, featuring Santigold.
Andrew: We’re going to be hated on. This is going to come out, and people are going to say, “What are you slagging the Beastie Boys for? I like the Beastie Boys!”
Mark: I like the Beastie Boys too.
Meg: I don’t mind this tune.
Mark: I’m not so into the tune.
Andrew: It’s pretty good. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve recorded a record now, but I find that immediately I start dissecting production values and things like that.
Mark: This is really horrible for the Beastie Boys, compared to the stuff they’re good at.
“Little Black Submarines” — ballad that becomes a stomper by blues-rock two-piece The Black Keys
Mark: I like this.
Meg: Me too. The chord progressions are beautiful and surprising.
Mark: It’s hard to go wrong with that picture of the narrator singing into a telephone. It’s instantly lonely. And if you treat the scene well, and the images are good and the message strong, it’ll go somewhere good. It’s a classic theme. I like it. This guy’s doing a good job with it, whoever this is.
The Telegram: It’s the Black Keys.
Andrew: This kind of reminds me of (singer Dan Auerbach’s) solo record. Is this the new Black Keys record? Yeah, he’s got a distinctive voice, that’s for sure. I love the riff-rock and stuff that the Black Keys do, but I think he’s equally strong at this — I guess it’s a ballad at some level. He’s got this tune on his solo record called “Trouble Weighs a Ton” — same kind of vibe, really. (song amps up the tempo, goes from acoustic to electric) Is this the same record?
Mark: Same song, I think.
Andrew: I like the Black Keys. I think they’re good.
Meg: Me too.
Andrew: The riffs are more — The “Brothers” record had a staccato groove. It wasn’t as lush, like the chording wasn’t as thick. This is a bit different from the last record, for sure. I only really got into the Black Keys on their last record, so I can’t speak to their older stuff, but this is cool. They’ve got a sound, for sure.
Mark: Yeah, it’s heavy.
Meg: It is heavy, and I feel like this would be cool to see live. Starting off melancholy, and givin’ ’er. Seems like it would be really effective.
“Welcome to the Jungle” — hip-hop teaming of rapping juggernauts Kanye West and Jay-Z
Andrew: Kanye West, right? I think he’s a great lyricist. One thing that gets me engaged in a tune is when — like the super-long intro works great in a live scenario, but I find when I’m listening to music, I like to get to the meat of things as opposed to drawn-out. This long intro didn’t sound purposeful — obviously Kanye West knows what he wants when he’s creating songs, but it sounded to me like, “OK, let’s hear what you have to say now.” But I will say I think he’s a great writer.
The Telegram: It’s Kanye West and Jay-Z.
Mark: I think this is great.
Meg: Me too.
Mark: He’s got a way, just the way he mixes really modern grooves and patterns, with really classic, warm sounds. A lot of people in his genre just cheap out and sample by rote, but he takes the best of those sounds and actually makes something new. It’s not like just taking the best hook from a classic song and repeating it over and over again like “Ice Ice Baby” — not that I don’t like “Ice Ice Baby,” because I do. That’s just an example of it being done poorly, but the cheese carried that one. (Kanye’s) hooks are his own, and he borrows the vibe and the sound from classic sounds, which I think is brilliant.
Meg: I like how he plays with textures a lot too. The neat part of that tune is that they’re rapping over this really simple — it’s just the snare and that one note, and then every now and then the full chord will come in.
Mark: Yeah, but it’s not simple. It’s probably really well thought out. It’s really creative and cool. Anything I’ve heard from Kanye, I’ve really loved.
Meg: Yep. Me too.
Andrew: I love the way that they spin words.
Mark: Yeah, the way it sounds, the way it rolls off his tongue.
Andrew: The delivery is really great.
“Lotus Flower” — trademark skittery electronic rock by Radiohead
Mark: (Listens to long intro) I like this so far. It’d be hard-pressed to ruin this once it kicks in. Or maybe if it doesn’t kick in, it’ll ruin it for me.
Meg: (Recognizing Thom Yorke’s voice as vocals start) Oh, there we go. That’s why it’s so awesome.
Mark: It’s great. Who is this?
The Telegram: It’s Radiohead.
Andrew: (Pretending) “I hated it until you said that! Oh my god, this is so cutting-edge!” No, this is cool, for sure. I was always partial to “The Bends,” and the most out-there record that I got into with Radiohead was “OK Computer,” and that was pretty accessible, right? “Kid A” — I like elements of most Radiohead records. This is cool, for sure — but I’m definitely a “Fake Plastic Trees” kind of guy.
Meg: That’s a classic.
Andrew: My influences are on my sleeve, pretty much.
Mark: I like this, but I like a good hook too. If they had hooks too, they’d be, just —
Andrew: They’d be millionaires! (Everyone laughs)
Meg: This is what I find so amazing and intriguing about Radiohead is that you can go from a tune like “Just” or something that is really rocking but still structured and safe, like “No Surprises,” and it’s like, how do they keep their popularity doing stuff like this? I don’t understand how they did that. We’re all taught in the business that stuff like this, out there, stuff that isn’t structurally predictable, commercially doesn’t tend to do well. And maybe they haven’t done that well commercially, but critically? I feel like when bands have gone this direction before, their popularity wanes, but it seems like with Radiohead it hasn’t.
Andrew: I think with Radiohead, their fanbase is so devout, though, they just trust that, well, this is the direction they’re going in now, so let’s follow them, and see where they go next. If another up-and-coming band put out a Radiohead song, I think a lot of people would go, “Oh, god,” and even Radiohead fans would say, “Oh, that’s no good.” But Radiohead just have this fanbase that will go to battle for them every time.
Meg: Yeah, but it just seems like this tune and their older stuff is so different.
Mark: They also do it exceedingly well. Like when you get guys like Neil Young putting out “Trans,” he’s just screwing around. But Radiohead, there’s obviously a lot of work, so they can go wherever they want because they’re committed either way. It’s not like, “Oh, maybe I’ll be a fireman today!” “I’m going to be experimental today!” They’re not choosing to be experimental, for the sake of it, like so many people would. They really are it.
“Pumped Up Kicks” — irrepressibly jaunty breakthrough single from Foster the People
Meg: Oh, I love this song!
Mark: Yeah, this is my favourite song this year. This song has come on, right before I have to get out of the car, and I will never get out of the car. I will sit in the car and turn it up. But I refuse to download it or purchase it, because I’m so delighted that a song this good actually comes on the radio, that I’ve just got to be surprised by it all the time.
Meg: Yeah, it’s wicked.
Mark: It’s got everything for me. It’s poppy, and it’s got a dark story, but it’s a rich one. It’s picturesque, and it sounds cool. And I still don’t know who they are. Who is this band?
Meg: Foster the People.
Andrew: Oh, is this the “Pumped Up Kicks” tune?
Meg: Yeah! It’s so catchy!
Andrew: Here’s the test of a really great song. I saw on Twitter the other day, someone had tweeted, “Dance party with my three-year-old niece to ‘Pumped Up Kicks.’ Best time ever.” And then I go to dinner with my girlfriend’s parents, and her mom is singing the chorus. It’s like they have it right across the board. It’s immediately catchy, and it’s got cool sounds. There’s cool, atmospheric kind of stuff happening. This is like Friday, 9 p.m, getting ready to go to the bar, you put it on, and then it comes back on at the bar and it’s not annoying.
Meg: I was so confused too, because I usually don’t like tunes that have the same chord progression throughout the whole song, like there’s no change in this at all. I’m pretty sure not even in the bridge. Yet the way they play with the textures and the atmospheric sounds … they’ve done it brilliantly.
Andrew: At first I thought they were from Atlantic Canada, then I found out, I guess they’re from the States?
Meg: Yeah, they’re from L.A.
Mark: I thought they might have been Canadian, because I first heard them on CBC Radio.
Meg: It could just be my naivete, but I’m always a little suspicious about popular bands that come out L.A., like I wonder if they could have been …
Mark: Yeah, who cares? I don’t care. (laughs)
Andrew: Ultimately, it’s not the journey, I think it’s the destination in this case. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. If a great tune comes out of it, then we’re all a winner.
Mark: If this is fabricated — the problem with fabricated or commercially assembled bands, is that they suck. So this doesn’t suck. Nobody’s going to sit around a board table and say, “I really want to write a really creative song. I want to reach out to all the edgy kids out there. So let’s write a song about the shootings and blah blah blah. I wanna write something that sounds really cool,” and then comes out with something that’s cool.
“Lose It” — orchestral electronic music with operatic vocals by Austra
Andrew: Is that Florence?
Meg: No, it’s Austra. I’m a little biased here, because I’ve seen their live videos and I think they’re just trying way too hard visually. They’re using their arms, and just — I don’t know. You’ve got to see them live. This song is fine.
Mark: You’re not so into the way this band uses their arms, hey? (everyone laughs)
Meg: I’m not so into the way they use their arms, no. They could be utilizing them in a different way.
Mark: Like this? (Pumps his arms up and down, like The Monkey dance)
Meg: (Laughs) Exactly.
Mark: Is that how they do it or how they should be doing it?
Meg: How they should be doing it.
Andrew: I like the voice.
Meg: Yeah, the voice is cool, and it’s cool because the band is primarily made up of women. If I was just focusing on the song, I do like the song a lot.
Mark: It doesn’t do much for me.
Meg: I think the vocalizations are neat.
Mark: Yeah, that’s true. But the melody is boring. It’s not really a soundscape, compared to some of the stuff we’ve heard today. It’s that same thing over and over again. It’s not really that strong a hook, so just by hammering it to death, doesn’t make it stronger, just makes it weaker, I think.
Andrew: It kind of reminds me of the Eurythmics, a little bit.
Mark: Yeah, except shittier.
Andrew: Wouldn’t it be funny if you replaced these 10 songs with 10 local songs and just put our comments on those?
Mark: (drily) Yeah, wouldn’t that be funny.
Andrew: We’d have to move to Clarenville.
The Telegram: “Here’s what they had to say about Hey Rosetta!: ‘Like the Eurythmics, only shittier.’” (everyone laughs)
Andrew: But that’s the nature of music. Most people who take an active appreciation and make it a point to listen, think critically. That’s what we do. People do it about our records too, I’m sure. Hopefully. I’d rather people hear it and think negatively than not hear it all.
Mark: I’ve got a database of everybody who’s ever said anything shitty about my music, and I keep trying to find their addresses. (everyone laughs)
“Till the World Ends” — return-to-form dance-pop by Britney Spears
Meg: Nice! That’s our girl!
Mark: Who’s that, Britney Spears? Yeah, well, we’ve already talked about her. I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it.
Meg: Me too. Brilliant. Specifically, her writers for this album, “Femme Fatale,” are so up on what is hip and happening in the club scene and the dubstep scene, and a lot of this album seems pretty heavily influenced by that.
Mark: Yeah, this is great. It’s not as good as “Womanizer,” though. That song demolishes. But this is great. This team, whoever she’s got, can’t really do any real wrong.
Meg: She did this album called, I think it’s “Blackout,” maybe, and it was right at the peak of her craziness, and you can totally tell she’s not really present on the album. Her vocal takes are half-assed and way lower, and it’s so auto-tuned. There’s a lot of backup singers taking more of a forefront position than they should be — but this album, she’s come back. Like the dropout of the percussion, and the choruses? I love it.
Mark: Andrew, are you sharing our love for Britney Spears?
Andrew: It’s not something I listen to actively, but when I listen a song like this — my whole thought during this whole tune is I’m amazed at how varying music can be and how many styles there can be, and likewise, how many people can be into or possibly affected by all those different styles. It’s amazing, man. I can’t think of anything in the world that affects more, really, that I’ve found, anyway. Millions and millions of people love this, and millions and millions of people love Ray LaMontagne, and millions and millions of people love the Chieftains, and millions and millions of people love Bob Marley. It’s amazing, man. I think it’s incredible. That’s what I think about when I hear a song like this.
Meg: Her videos on the other hand … but that’s not the tune.
Mark: I don’t know if I’ve seen any recent Britney Spears videos.
Meg: They’re terrible.
Mark: Are they bad?
Meg: Yes, they’re awful.
“Rolling in the Deep” — massive worldwide hit bluesy gospel disco song by British singer Adele
Andrew: I love Adele, man.
Meg: Yeah, this song is amazing, but I’m really sick of it.
Andrew: I gotta tell ya, b’ys, this is my favourite record of 2011. I love it, man.
Meg: I just wish it wasn’t so goddamned overplayed.
Andrew: Yeah, but that’s not the fault of the record. Well, I guess it is, in a way, but I don’t think it takes away from how good the record is. I really like it.
Meg: Yeah, this song is amazing.
Andrew: She’s so young, man, and she knows what her capabilities are.
Mark: How old is she?
Meg: She was 21 when this was released. She’s fierce, man, and a big thing for me is being an overweight white woman that is really successful in pop. I can’t think of another example.
Mark: Who is?
Meg: She is. She’s a big girl.
Andrew: She kinda reminds me of a super-beautiful Mama Cass, like that presence. I find this wicked, man.
Mark: Yeah, this song’s amazing.
Andrew: I asked for this record for Christmas, man. I got the live Royal Albert Hall. Myself and my girlfriend were watching her videos last night. You gotta see this, man. It’s unreal.
Meg: But she’s always been unreal. Her last album was really good. But this song is the jam, man.
Andrew: Such a powerful voice. But at the same time, heavy smoker, had to give up a bunch of touring because it was just too much.
Meg: She’s bad-ass and British.
Andrew: And she’s super-nice, it seems. Like on stage and interviews, she seems almost taken aback by how successful it’s been. She’s just this young girl from England who’s super-nice and just happens to be wicked. I’m a big Adele fan, for sure.
Meg: You can’t deny musicality. You can’t.
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