Tag Archives: hollywood boulevard

Album review: Taylor Swift, ‘1989’

Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records.

In a schadenfreude kind of way, I like that “1989” represents Taylor Swift’s further descent from hopeless romantic toward bitter cynicism. Thanks for joining us, Taylor.

She’s always been great at capturing a uniquely Millennial kind of loneliness characterized by a desperation for love but an inability to figure out how to really connect with anyone. This is especially evident in “Out of the Woods,” a haunting song about struggling to hold onto a new relationship with the chorus repeatedly chanting, “Are we out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet?”

Another excellent melancholy song about ill-fated love is “I Know Places.” Again, Taylor depicts clinging to a doomed relationship, singing, “See the vultures circling, dark clouds. / Love’s a fragile little thing, it could burn out. / It could burn out. / ‘Cause they got the cages, they got the boxes, / And guns. / They are the hunters, we are the foxes, / And we run.” The dark tone of the song is enhanced with a few edgier vocal embellishments and an overall lower, more somber pitch to the music.

Probably the best straightforward pop song on the album is “All You Had to Do Was Stay.” It features a strong chorus and deals with an all-too-relatable subject matter, which is Taylor’s specialty. The ultra high-pitched punctuation of “stay” throughout the song is an amazing touch.

I do wish that we, as a society, knew less gossip about Taylor’s personal life, because I found it essentially impossible to separate what I “know” about her from the music itself. Maybe I would have liked “Bad Blood” more if I could have heard it as a song about being betrayed by a friend rather than a song about that time Katy Perry snatched all of the dancers from Taylor’s tour to use for her own, but we’ll never know because Taylor’s music can’t really stand on its own anymore. (Although I would venture a guess that the song would still suck either way.)

In addition to “Bad Blood,” there are some real weak points on the album.

taylorswift-1989polaroid-03

Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records.

The first single, “Shake It Off,” is quite bad, but it still gets stuck in my head all the time. It’s an obnoxiously catchy pop song that sounds like Avril Lavigne circa 2007, which is also coincidentally the last time it was clever to use the phrase “Haters gonna hate.” The worst part is the horrifyingly embarrassing spoken word bit in the middle: “Hey, hey, hey! Just think: while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world, you could’ve been getting down to this sick beat.” Let’s not and say we did.

“Wildest Dreams” is such an overtly obvious attempt at a Lana Del Rey track it’s a little painful. It’s not a bad melody, though. I also enjoyed it when it was “Without You” on Lana’s 2012 album, “Born to Die.”

Overall, I think Taylor is a good storyteller, a strong songwriter and a great businesswoman. She’s phenomenal at marketing herself and interacting with her fans. The deluxe edition of the album includes three “voice memos” that detail Taylor’s writing process for a few choice songs, which is a cool insight and makes me kind of want to hang out and write music with her.

However, I don’t think she has a commanding presence or any star power, which is weird because she’s become a huge star. She doesn’t have much vocal range, and she was wildly disappointing when I saw her perform live a couple of weeks ago on Hollywood Boulevard.

Altogether, I can’t really say that “1989” is any better or worse than any of Taylor Swift’s previous albums. It has about the exact same handful of good songs as ever, alongside the same number of boring ballads and boring dance-pop tracks. The tl;dr of it is that she attempted to go in a different direction but achieved basically the same result.

Taylor Swift
1989
Release Date: Oct. 27
Genre: Pop
Grade: C+

Advertisements

Album review: Gerard Way, ‘Hesitant Alien’

“Do you miss me? ‘Cause I miss you.”
— Gerard Way, ‘Action Cat’

gerard-way-2014-09-20

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Records/Reprise Records.

It’s been ten years since I spent my nights listening to “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” on a loop using my dial-up Internet connection. My Chemical Romance was a big thing for me. To say the least. In fact, when the band officially announced its separation in March 2013 coinciding with this year’s release of a greatest hits album, “May Death Never Stop You,” I received a number of consolation messages.

I’m okay now. (Trust me.)

But I still found myself waiting in line for five hours outside of the Hot Topic where former My Chem frontman Gerard Way was signing copies of his solo debut, “Hesitant Alien.” There, I made fast friends with my linemates, who ranged from a sophomore at Beverly Hills High School who came with his parents (but made them stand a distance away from us because embarrassing!) to a woman who has a five-year-old child of her own. Most of us are now in our 20s, wearing more color than we used to but still able to get a good harmony going as we sang “Welcome to the Black Parade” a cappella out back of the Hollywood & Highland Center. The MCRmy has grown up.

And the comic book nerd-cum-rockstar who helped us get through high school in one piece is now asserting himself as a solo artist: “Hesitant Alien” showcases what life is like for the now-37-year-old Gerard Way, who is more self-assured and stable but nonetheless a weird outsider.

If we’re being honest, My Chemical Romance was also more or less Gerard Way’s solo project all along. He just happened to be able to assemble a group of musicians who, bless their hearts, let him dress them up in silly outfits and played along with his grandiose visions of serial killers with Catholic guilt and Technicolor dystopias and personifications of death.

One of Gerard’s greatest strengths as an artist has always been his holistic thinking: each release arrives fully-formed, complete with a consistent and strong sense of setting, backstory and personality.

IMG_20141006_074056

My prized possessions. SCREAMfmLondon

“Hesitant Alien” is another well-rounded creation. The overall vibe is sort of that of a ‘70s glam rock group trying to predict what music would sound like in 2014. It’s all retro-futuristic with fuzzy modulation, music videos reminiscent of MTV’s 1980s debut era, and an obvious Britpop influence in lyrics that could have been penned by Blur or Pulp.

“No Shows” is by far the best track on the album. It is vibrant noise-pop perfected with slick, reverberating lyrics like, “Weak knees from the level, I’m sick from the treble, I’m your type of metal.” The instrumental breakdown near the end of the song is an excellent touch, and the song as a whole is a great representation of the direction taken on “Hesitant Alien.”

“Brother,” a slower track, offers some insight into the final days of My Chemical Romance. Backed by a rhythmic beat, echoing vocals and his own minimalistic piano accompaniment, Gerard sings, “Does anyone have the guts to shut me up? / ‘Cause I believe that every night / There’s a chance we can walk away.”

Other standout tracks include “Maya the Psychic,” “Action Cat” and “Juarez” (“I can’t swim, don’t rub it in,” Gerard reminds us on the latter in a weirdly catchy hook). On “Millions,” Gerard’s younger brother and former My Chemical Romance bassist Mikey features as a backup vocalist.

Altogether, “Hesitant Alien” is a solid album and a sign that Gerard made the right move in going solo. There are a few skippable tracks (“The Bureau,” “How It’s Going to Be,” etc.), but they all work together well regardless.

Had My Chemical Romance not released 2010’s “Danger Days” and had instead released the “Conventional Weapons” EP as a formal album (as they should have), “Hesitant Alien” would seem like a completely separate musical style from Gerard’s work with the band. However, as it is, it seems like a natural continuation of the music he’s created in the past and is an easy transition to accept.

Onwards and upwards, Gerard. Unleash the fucking bats. Again.

Gerard Way
Hesitant Alien
Release Date: Sept. 30
Genre: Alternative Rock
Grade: B

I took a sightseeing tour of my own neighborhood

IMG_20140822_153958

The famed RastaBus. SCREAMfmLondon

I hear talk that sightseeing tours are a great way to explore unfamiliar neighborhoods in big tourist destinations full of historical landmarks, just like Hollywood. I wasn’t sure what I’d take away from one, considering I happen to live in the aforementioned big tourist destination full of historical landmarks that is Hollywood. Maybe I’d learn something new and come away with a fresh perspective? Maybe it would suck and be boring. I was down to find out.

I set off on an “A Day in LA” tour hosted by the RastaBus — a tri-colored van, carefully decorated with “One Love” bumper stickers and peace signs, that played one reggae song at the very beginning of the day.

At 10 a.m., we clamored onto the bus from our starting point at the Santa Monica Pier. It didn’t take long for my boisterous fellow riders to commandeer the sound system, start blasting “No Diggity” and pop open a few bottles of champagne. Whenever I’d previously encountered a RastaBus in the wild, the passengers have always been really drunk and exceptionally annoying. But the thing about annoying, drunk people is that it’s much more fun to be with ‘em than against ‘em. So, I filled a red Solo cup and kicked back as we headed up the Pacific Coast Highway.

IMG_20140817_112307_149

Brunch on the water at our first stop on the Malibu Pier. SCREAMfmLondon

Malibu

The first stop was definitely the best part of the whole damn thing, and it was totally an anomaly. This is kind of deluxe treatment is highly atypical for a RastaBus tour, I assume. I just happened to be rolling with some well-connected sightseers who managed to surprise us with a hook up for free food. Individual results may vary.

We were dropped off at the Malibu Pier, where we were served an elaborate array of breakfast food at Malibu Farm, a ritzy farm-to-table restaurant located at the end of the pier. After weaving our way through fishermen with their wriggling mackerels, we were escorted into the Surfrider Room, a private dining area on the second floor of the restaurant that overlooks the gorgeous Malibu beaches.

We were treated to fresh-squeezed orange juice and local syrah rosé wine. Quinoa oatmeal with pomegranate and chia seeds. Swedish mini pancakes with homemade whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Vegan chop salad. Grilled chocolate and whole wheat olive oil cakes. And my personal favorite: a fried egg sandwich made with bacon, arugula and baby potatoes on top of country wheat toast.

Next time, I’d skip the rest of the tour and come straight here.

IMG_20140817_113222_932

Malibu Farm’s fried egg sandwiches that made it all worthwhile. SCREAMfmLondon

Beverly Hills

There was supposed to be a tour of celebrity homes, but we mostly just peered up at Will Smith’s and Prince’s houses as we headed back eastward on the freeway. Seriously, that was it. Oh, and the tour guide also pointed out some scenery that appeared in a panoramic shot of “Two and a Half Men.” You know, just the essentials.

We drove in abject silence to a backing track of old school East Coast rap (for some reason) toward Beverly Hills, where our driver shared some fun facts about Rodeo Drive and offered to let us stop to walk around for a while.

“Keep driving!” someone yelled from the front of the bus. “Unless anyone has a black credit card we can use.”

The Grove

We had a scheduled lunchtime stop at the Grove and Original Farmers Market, where we had about 45 minutes to explore by ourselves. It’s a cool place to hang if you have a pocket full of cash and longer than 45 minutes.

As we left the Grove, we took Melrose Avenue followed by Sunset Boulevard, and our tour guide finally began sharing some information about the area via the RastaBus intercom system.

I was glad to finally hear from him. I was beginning to worry that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately, just as I feared, most of his information was pretty basic. Like, he explained who Judy Garland was. I kind of wished I was giving the tour myself; I’m full of useless historical and pop culture trivia. It took a lot of self-restraint to keep from interrupting his monologues.

IMG_20140817_152312_971

Griffith Observatory. Not pictured: nachos. SCREAMfmLondon

Griffith Park

Our next stop was the Griffith Observatory, where we were given another 45 minutes to wander aimlessly and not really accomplish anything. I must admit I was getting a little tired of being forced out of the pleasantly air-conditioned bus into the actual great outdoors.

Since there isn’t much science you can accomplish in 45 minutes, I headed straight for the café and emerged with a plate of nachos. The Café at the End of the Universe is significantly less cool than it sounds with a name like that, but they did sell me a plate of tortilla chips covered in fake cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo, so what more can you ask for?

Hollywood

Cruising through Hollywood, the tour guide actually shared some interesting information! Did you know that the blinking light atop the Capitol Records Tower spells out the word “Hollywood” in Morse code? I did not.

Shortly, my tourmates grew jealous of my uncanny ability to locate and devour nachos under strange circumstances, so they insisted that our driver stop at Chibiscus Asian Café and Restaurant on Sunset for some food. We called the restaurant from the van (“Hello, there are about 13 of us, and we’re coming in right now.”) and filled the entire small space with our raucous presence. I watched K-pop music videos while everyone else ate ramen.

And, then, very awkwardly, I said, “Hey… Would it be weird if I asked you to leave me here?”

They didn’t seem to think so, so I ditched the RastaBus and hiked back home by myself rather than sticking around for the ride back to Santa Monica.

And, well. I did learn the thing about the Capitol Records Building.

IMG_20140817_162103

View of my ‘hood from the RastaBus. SCREAMfmLondon

Here are some cool tours to take in LA that will circumvent the RastaBus experience:

Pamela Des Barres Rock Tour

Rock groupie Pamela Des Barres guides groups around Hollywood and Laurel Canyon, reading excerpts from her book, “I’m with the Band,” which details her escapades with Led Zeppelin and other classic rockstars.

Esotouric Literary LA Tours

Tour the hangouts of famous Los Angeles writers, including a jaunt to Charles Bukowski’s favorite liquor store, a Raymond Chandler-themed gelato shop and settings from James M. Cain’s “Mildred Pierce.”

Dearly Departed Tours

Creepy tours include the classic Tragical History Tour of celebrity death locations, the epic three-hour Helter Skelter tour of the Manson Family murder locations, and a horror movie location tour, among others.

Esotouric True Crime Tours

These morbid tours dig into LA’s most famous crimes, including the Black Dahlia murder, the serial killings of the Night Stalker and “hotel horrors” at hotspots like the Alexandria and the Cecil.