It’s always nice to think that if you had a lackluster 2014, you can wipe the slate clean in 2015. A new year means a new chance to do all the things you wanted to do in 2014, but didn’t get around to. However, by the end of January, the gyms are already emptying out. Perhaps the key to making changes in the new year is to not get overwhelmed by taking on too much. As Martin Luther King once wrote: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” This is good advice for those of us who have already given up our New Years resolutions or haven’t made them at all because they seem like a waste of time or too much trouble.
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Christmas music is built on duality, a lopsided mix of saccharine falsity and genuine emotion. For every decent tune we don’t mind hearing every December, there’s more than a few others that make us want to overdose on spiked eggnog. But Christmas is about taking the good with the bad, the head with the heart, and the joy and humility of the season.
Classic Christmas tunes have dominated the charts for far too long, so don’t expect to see any of these ten tunes cracking radio playlists any time soon. In fact, some of these songs aren’t even about Christmas specifically; just more about the feeling of longing and nostalgia that accompanies the memories of bygone Christmases past. Some evoke happiness in their desperation, and some call despair to the forefront and parade it about. All are reflective and more than a bit downtrodden, so fair warning to those whose emotional state is perilous enough on frozen winter nights. But if you open your heart and let the good of the season in, there are more than a few songs that surface around Christmastime that can illuminate the beautiful and spiritual side of an otherwise commercially-ridden holiday. Here’s hoping you can identify with some of the purity put forth by these indie artists.
In honor of Jack Bruce’s recent passing, and as a companion piece to my tribute to the late bassist, here’s my take on the ten best Cream songs. This list is offered with one caveat: it’s mostly going to avoid the ones everyone knows, so we’ll assume it’s more or less a given that the cream of Cream’s crop necessarily includes “Strange Brew”, “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, “Crossroads” and especially “Sunshine of Your Love”.
These ten selections, some more obscure than others, are chosen to represent the songs where Cream was most focused, most locked-in, and most original. As such, many of the trio’s blues covers or blues-influenced homages (whether more paint-by-numbers like “Spoonful” and “Rolling and Tumbling” or more inspired like “Born Under a Bad Sign”) don’t rise all the way to the top. When Bruce, Eric Clapton, and Ginger Baker were properly locked-in, they not only used the blues as a successful point of departure, but they carved out a unique—and oft-imitated but seldom matched—blend of psychedelia and proto-prog (the frenzied “Deserted Cities of the Heart” is a scorching hand grenade of a song, planting a signpost of where rock had come and where it was headed): they took the British Invasion’s obsession with blues masters as far as it could (should) go, using their power trio pyrotechnics to blend a distinct English sensibility (“Wrapping Paper”, “Mother’s Lament”) with a more American rock ‘n’ roll aggression, which itself was a triumph of traditional music combining blues and folk, along with a more experimental edge influenced by jazz and the avant-garde (“SWLABR”, “Those Were the Days”).
Wayne Coyne and Co. recently released their version of the Beatles’ epic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but titled their version With a Little Help from My Fwends. “Fwends“ are what the Flaming Lips call the pals that bring their musical talents to records like 2012’s The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. The collaboration included a diverse mix of musicians, including Kesha, Nick Cave, and Yoko Ono. On this album, the line up features acts like Moby, Foxygen, My Morning Jacket, Jay Mascus, and, surprisingly, Miley Cyrus. The even bigger surprise is that Cyrus’s duet with Coyne on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds“ is what keeps the album from being a total free-form freak-out.
This is not to say the parade of eccentricity that is the Flaming Lips isn’t brilliant. It’s just that when that eccentricity is kept within the confines of the band, it’s a lot more dazzling. There are few bands that would attempt to pull off a project like covering an entire Beatles classic, but then again this isn’t the first time the Lips have attempted such a feet. In 2009, they covered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with the assistance of Henry Rollins, Peaches, and Stardeath and White Dwarfs. The result was an offbeat rendition of the original, replete with singing saws, coughing, panting, and howling.
Arrogant. Provocateur. Genius. These are some of the adjectives that have been used to describe the one and only Kanye West. Before the memes, before the infamy, there was the artist. Not only one of the most notable hip-hop artists of this generation, but one of the genre’s biggest luminaries, period. With each of his releases, West has continually brought something new to the table. Through every evolution, West’s razor-sharp lyrics have remained one rock-steady constant. Socially aware with a flair for the superficial (and “so much emphasis”) since his 2004 debut, The College Dropout, Kanye’s words and self-conscious mentality have been just as his important as his self-made, powerhouse beats.