Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Where’d You Get Your Band Name? Edition

G-Dead-welcome-marquee Can we talk about band names for a second?

I don’t know where people get them, and I don’t understand where exactly the moment occurs that a band’s fans simply give up on fighting a silly name and just give accept it.  Metal fans knew what they were getting with Metallica, but Anaal Nathrakh?  Are you serious?  What about Green Day, whose fame and success long outlived an adolescent pot joke?  Then there are the stories behind Nickelback, Goo Goo Dolls, and 3 Doors Down, which just annoy the crap out of me.

Now we come to this week’s Audiosurf acts.  John Q plays up their Average Joe-ness with a nearly century-old synonym for Joe Six-Pack.  Despite knowing that the band is four white guys from Tampa Bay, I can’t shake the feeling they’re somehow connected to Denzel Washington.  Maybe I’ve just been watching too much weekend TNT.

I don’t quite know where to begin with The Freak Fandango OrchestraI’m thinking Freakazoid in a tux with tails, conducting some kind of Uruk-hai big band.  Unfortunately, according to their website, they’re a multi-ethnic band from Barcelona that implores you to “move your ass, drink some beer, sing, dance, jump…and enjoy their punky-folky songs and crazy lyrics!!!” 

They may have the correct number of exclamation points, but how does the Orchestra measure up to the Southern Americana of John Q?  Find out after the jump.

The Songs

If Grunge had been invented in Louisiana marshland instead of rainy Seattle, John Q’s “Brushfire” might’ve led the charge.  The guitar twangs, and the mood is rather dank.  But the muttering verses that alternate with high-register, shouted choruses; the palm-muted guitars; the noodling, flange-heavy guitar solos: it’s all so emphatically Nineties.  Keeping the mix fresh, however, is the twelve-bar blues structure that reaches back – skipping the Eighties entirely – and summons forth the spirit of Zeppelin’s fatter grooves.  Even when the chunkier version of the opening twang sets in, that sensation of perpetual misfortune rolls on.  The teeth-gritting, smoldering rage of the lyrical narrator connotes a biker whose prized steel stallion’s been roughed up by hooligans or a man whose wife’s been hollered at by one too many fellas at the bar.  Either that or men like that would kick this singer’s ass and start the brushfire their damn selves.  Play this song, lest these angry brutes start off in your direction.

There was a moment at the beginning of “Scared Shitless” where I wondered if this was the same band that wrote “Brushfire.”  It’s still sort of nineties, but it’s edging closer to the dawn of the millennium.  Pop sensibilities dominate this song.  Fuzzy, choppy guitar is replaced by dreamy chord strums, echoing in the ether.  It isn’t executed poorly or anything (and the drummer can still take you on a mean tour around his set), but the end result is a far less original sound.  It doesn’t help that singer still can shake his grunge-isms.  Go to a bar on karaoke night.  Find the guy who grew up listening to nothing but Pearl Jam and ask him to sing a U2 song.  The growl will still be there (“you can take the animal out of the jungle…”), no matter how saccharine the music.  Songs like this are what cause fans to say, “I liked [clever band name] when they played in the garage next door!”  Stay true to your roots, John Q.  You needn’t stray this far.

“Sad Passengers Waltz” certainly sounds like it was performed by some kind of bizarre, nonsensical symphony.  You have your standard guitar, bass and drums mixed in with saxophone, violin, and accordion.  There may be other instruments at play, as well, but I couldn’t hear them over the bar-rousing vocals.  This is little more than a “Let’s all get pissed” sing-along, but if you’ve a penchant for triple-metered drinking songs, you’ll probably have a good time.  Unfortunately, the predictable nature of the Irish drinking song means the ride gets a little pedestrian by the third uphill.  A quarter-note-ticking waltz lilt can only generate so much interesting traffic.   If you take the time to fight through the brogue and learn the lyrics, it could be a great tune to share over pint.  Me?  I’m sticking with Journey.

Author’s Note

All songs were played at least twice on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser character.  I’ve been having such a good run with Eraser, placing on the global leaderboard every few weeks, that Vegas has kind of dropped out of rotation.  Maybe I’ll try Pointman one of these days.

The Comments section quote of the week has to go to That Aussie Guy who summed up his appreciation for “Sad Passengers Waltz” excellently, “Nothin’ like a good ol’ Oirish wahltz.  While tyapin’ wit an Oirish acksent.”  That’s some spot on Irish typing, I must say.