Tag Archives: rock

The ten best One Direction songs (according to me)

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Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik. Photo courtesy of Columbia Records, Syco Music and Sony Music.

The passing of another November means that it has officially been one year since my inaugural One Direction post, and the time for another is upon us. Rather than inflict another 1,000-word review of “Four” on the world (we all know I’d do it), I have decided to use my expertise and wisdom to compile a list of the all-time best One Direction songs. I have effectively ranked every single one of them (what did you do with your day?), but here I will share only my top ten:

  1. “Fireproof”

Released as a free download this September in anticipation of “Four,” “Fireproof” is a chill guitar-driven love song that gave me high hopes for the rest of the record. Unfortunately, it also turned out to be the best song on the record. Louis Tomlinson’s usually reedy voice lends itself extremely well to this song, and his verse is the best part: “I think I’m gonna win this time, / I roll and I roll ‘till I change my luck.” “Fireproof” is mature and romantic — a strong collaboration between Louis, Liam Payne and longtime songwriting partners Jamie Scott, John Ryan and Julian Bunetta.

  1. “Strong”

One of the most musically unconventional and experimental One Direction songs. The lyrics are simple, passionate and vulnerable with solid songwriting contributions (again) from Louis. Love the soft, understated rhythm of the verses — particularly the first two, which utilize Zayn Malik and Liam’s vocal talents well. Is that so wrong? Is it so wrong that you make me strong?

  1. “Teenage Dirtbag”

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    I can’t take a picture to save my life. If you squint: Niall at the Rose Bowl in September. SCREAMfmLondon

This is a cover, and One Direction never actually recorded a studio version, so it probably doesn’t belong on the list. But it’s just so damn superb. It’s worth it to sift through the numerous live versions of this Wheatus cover to find one you can hear over the screaming crowds. There are so many things to love: Liam’s falsetto, Zayn’s immense high notes, Harry Styles’ attitude and Niall Horan’s playfully roguish verse and guitar work. One Direction takes this pop-punk jam to the next level of mischievous teenage rebelliousness, and it’s awesome.

  1. “Heart Attack”

Just a generally fun, upbeat track from 2012’s “Take Me Home.” Nothing too complex about this one: the highlights are Niall’s punctuating “OW!”s that kick off every chorus. “Heart Attack” is a well-executed pop track that’ll get you pumped up and on the dance floor despite your broken heart.

  1. “Best Song Ever”

It is a good one. It’s at least the best nonsensical pop song on “Midnight Memories.” The best part is Harry’s verse: “Said her name was Georgia Rose, / And her daddy was a dentist. / Said I had a dirty mouth, / But she kissed me like she meant it.” And the accompanying music video is a work of art with Zayn in drag and the closest One Direction has ever come to a choreographed dance routine.

  1. “Tell Me a Lie”

No one was expecting “Tell Me a Lie” to crack the top five, right? I might be alone in my zealous love for this song, but it’s really great. The track was wise beyond its years when One Direction recorded it for their debut album, “Up All Night.” It comes across as emotional, earnest and experienced, which is unusual for a One Direction song. Kelly Clarkson is actually one of the songwriters, and that resoundingly sad-yet-upbeat chorus really gets to you: “If he’s the reason that you’re leaving me tonight, / Spare me what you think, and / Tell me a lie.”

  1. “What Makes You Beautiful”

Iconic. Where would we be without “What Makes You Beautiful”? It’s One Direction’s 2011 breakout hit, and it still holds up today. I hate the message, but this song sucks you in. What a jam. If you have a room full of people younger than 30, “What Makes You Beautiful” will never fail to get the party started.

  1. “She’s Not Afraid”

    Louis, Zayn and Liam at the Rose Bowl in September. SCREAMfmLondon

    Louis, Zayn and Liam at the Rose Bowl in September. SCREAMfmLondon

An underrated bonus track from the deluxe edition of “Take Me Home.” “She’s Not Afraid” is a slick pop track with an edgier twist, describing the girl who “sneaks out in the middle of the night, / tight dress with the top cut low. / She’s addicted to the feeling of letting go,” but she won’t commit to a relationship (or even being seen in public with you). It’s one of One Direction’s sexiest songs, and it’s very good.

  1. “Kiss You”

This is One Direction at the pinnacle of their boybandom: it is cutesy modern pop perfected. Flawless sound production, immensely catchy verses and an incredibly endearing music video. It’s just irresistibly charming. This is what they were chosen to do, and they do it impeccably on “Kiss You.”

  1. “Happily”

Such an impressive song. “Happily” so amazingly captures the passion and desperation of young love. It makes me wish I was 16, running away from home to be with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks against all odds. With a raw, folksy rhythm to back up an emotional chorus (“I don’t care what people say when we’re together!”), “Happily” is hands-down one of One Direction’s strongest songs.

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LA County Fair: Neon Trees, fried food and superheroes

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Cher Lloyd performs at the Los Angeles County Fair on Sept. 4. SCREAMfmLondon

As promised, I did indeed make it to the Los Angeles County Fair to finish up my 2014 to-eat list of fried fair foods, as well as to check out Cher Lloyd and Neon Trees at the End of Summer Concert Series.

The verdict: the LA County Fair is way cooler than the OC Fair.

The food

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Deep-fried cheesecake on a stick. SCREAMfmLondon

I immediately started by requesting a deep-fried cheesecake on a stick be made fresh. The cheesecake center was still cold from having been refrigerated, and it was wrapped in crispy deep-fried breading, sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled in chocolate syrup. It was everything I hoped it would be.

Another item I checked off the list was an order of deep-fried chicken skins. What a time to be alive! We all know that the skin is the best part of fried chicken, so why not skip the middleman? These were the perfect blend of crispy and chewy with a hint of chicken flavor, highlighted by the greasiness of the deep-frying process.

Finally, I insisted on trying the deep-fried frog legs just because. My theory was that people wouldn’t eat something so odd if it wasn’t delicious, and these turned out to be the best things I ordered at the fair. The presentation was a little disconcerting because it definitely looks like a frog sliced in half. But once you accept that, it’s not too different from eating chicken wings. The consistency is very tender, similar to scallops. And they are juicy and tasty — kind of tasted like fried catfish. I loved them.

The fair

The LA Fair is about three times the size of the OC Fair, and it’s a million times more fun. There are your run-of-the-mill fair sights (deep-fried foods, clearly rigged carnival games, rides, etc.), but there are also a dozen specialized areas full of unique exhibitions.

I spent a lot of time checking out the wilderness area, where they gave camping lessons, allowed visitors in the fire lookout tower, and taught us about California history and westward expansion. Another great exhibit was the Hall of Heroes, an entire hall dedicated to science fiction (and a few real-life heroes, like firefighters), from Dr. Who and Batman to Thor and Harry Potter.

The concert

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Deep-fried chicken skins. SCREAMfmLondon

After dark, the grandstand was opened for the evening’s show: former “X Factor” contestant Cher Lloyd opened for pop-rock group Neon Trees of “Everybody Talks” fame.

The sound was mixed terribly for the show. Lloyd’s backing vocals were way too loud, and the first couple of songs from her set were completely unintelligible. The stage was also set up in front of a very scenic large mound of dirt on the horse track. But I guess that’s what you get when you play the county fair.

Lloyd was still adorable while playing her upbeat pop hits, “I Wish,” “Oath” and, my favorite, “Want U Back.” She seemed truly grateful to be playing, and asked the audience if we would be darlings and sing along to “With Ur Love.” So cute.

Neon Trees took the stage in some flashy outfits: lead vocalist Tyler Glenn wore black sequined pants and a sparkling, fringe-covered jacket, both of which I want to own.

The band has a couple of excellent, catchy songs (“Everybody Talks” and “Love in the 21st Century”), but a lot of filler tracks that were quite boring to sit through, exacerbated by the really uncomfortable benches we were sitting on.

The concert tickets were obviously too expensive, since the majority of the audience sat in the stands and left the $100+ seating area near the front of the stage pretty empty. But it was still a great time, and I ended up staying at the fair from noon until after 10 p.m.

Basically, it doesn’t get much better than a day with fried food, comic books, wild animals, rock ‘n roll and a little history lesson. Well, for me, at least.

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Neon Trees performs at the Los Angeles County Fair on Sept. 4. SCREAMfmLondon

Live: Astronautalis at The Satellite

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Astronautalis performs at The Satellite in Silver Lake. SCREAMfmLondon

The first time I saw Astronautalis, I was well underage. I had to get to the venue — a dive bar on Second Street in Reno, Nev. next to the Triumph tattoo parlor — early enough to talk my way past the bouncer guarding the front door, and then I tried to stand inconspicuously off to the side until the show started.

To this day, that concert remains one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen, and one of the few that has completely blown me away, changed everything. I went home and downloaded the first two Astronautalis albums, knowing that I would be going to see him perform as long as he was willing to play.

On March 22, Astronautalis headlined at the Satellite on Silver Lake Boulevard alongside Playdough, Transit and the Dead Men.

Quite a lot of time has passed since my initial introduction to his music, and a lot has changed. But a lot has not. Astronautalis started as a one-man act with only his laptop full of beats and his own manic energy to accompany him onstage. He’s now backed by a guitarist and drummer. He’s grown a beard. But he’s still effortlessly charming. His music is still a high-energy, lyrically-challenging combination of hip-hop, talkin’ blues and indie rock. A live Astronautalis show is still a vivid experience to be had, and I’m still here.

I valiantly suffered through the abysmal opening acts preceding the Astronautalis set, and to say they were abysmal is not at all an exaggeration. The first group, LA transplants calling themselves the Dead Men, had some good instrumentalists (a harmonica player and keyboardist, in particular), but the songs were so badly written it was almost funny to hear them singing the praises of “Orthodox Jew porn” and violently hurting women. Almost funny.

I hoped the evening would improve when Canadian rapper Transit took to the stage next, but it did not. I remember that he is Canadian because he told the same joke about “sweating maple syrup” roughly 146 times, whenever he wasn’t trying to name-drop someone successful he had once interacted with, including Gene Simmons, who he allegedly turned down for a record deal, opting instead to maintain his artistic integrity and sell CDs in the back room of the Satellite for five dollars. As for his artistic integrity: well, he sang an entire song called “Friend Zone” about a woman who (for some reason) valued his company, but it still pissed him off that she wouldn’t sleep with him.

The final opener, Playdough, had the best stage presence of the three, and being able to command a room is like 60 percent of the battle. Some of his set was amusing, but most of it was pedestrian. He gave an excessively long speech about how great he is at freestyle and how much he loves to do it. Despite the grandiose build-up, his delivery was amateurish. Think “Fox in Socks,” only not as clever.

And, finally, Astronautalis came onstage, sipping whiskey and wearing neatly cuffed jeans over black combat boots. He is so uniquely talented that he easily and consistently blows away his opening acts; he also far outperforms his own band. The fast-moving set included many tracks from his most recent full-length release, 2011’s “This is Our Science,” including “Thomas Jefferson” and “Contrails.”

Astronautalis — a Minnesota native — told the crowd how he made the most of his afternoon in Silver Lake with a picnic and some kite-flying in the balmy spring weather before launching into “Midday Moon.” Through a smirk, he sang the song’s second verse: “It was a windy day, / The kind that makes me hate LA / ‘Cause God gave them a perfect sun, and they think gangs and smog were hardly a fair trade.”

Highlights from Astronautalis’ live set included a few new takes on some of his best-known songs, including a remix of “Dimitri Mendeleev” that he describes as less aggro and more dance-y than the original, as well as an up-tempo, rock-driven reboot of “The Trouble Hunters.” “The Trouble Hunters,” a rousing fight song about the Battle of Trenton, is always a climactic moment at Astronautalis shows, and the song is so great that it deserves to be a huge hit, if we lived in the kind of society that allowed for songs about the American Revolutionary War to top the Billboard charts.

Additionally, the band played a few new songs that are being readied for the next album release, and to my delight, they included “This City Ain’t Just a Skyline,” a previously-unreleased outtake from “This is Our Science.” The track was uploaded to SoundCloud on Feb. 22, and its melodic synth beats against Astronautalis’ jaunty vocals immediately cemented it as one of my favorite new singles of 2014.

One of the staples of an Astronautalis set is his freestyle segment, during which he takes topic suggestions from the audience (can’t be anything he’s ever rapped about before, i.e. nothing about US history) and combines them into one epic impromptu song. The difference between Playdough’s freestyle and Astronautalis’ is stark: Astronautalis doesn’t go on about it, but instead brings an unparalleled frame of reference and incomparably sharp wit in order to deliver a memorable, one-of-a-kind freestyle that speaks for itself.

The most fun topics are those provided by the drunks who have no idea what’s going on but really enjoy shouting, rather than the premeditated topics prepared by the hipsters trying to look smart (the guy who suggested the international rules governing the conduct of submarine warfare as a freestyle topic, I’m looking at you). Back in Reno all those years ago, I remember a wayward frat boy slurring his suggestion of “T-Shirt on Your Head Tuesdays,” and then I remember watching with stars in my eyes as Astronautalis actually rapped eloquently and hilariously about whatever the hell that means.

And that’s the amazing thing about Astronautalis’ live performances: each one is so distinctive. I feel like I always learn something valuable at an Astronautalis concert, in the sense that hanging around truly interesting people makes you want to better yourself. Can’t say that about too many musicians, can you?

Theater: ‘How to Be a Rock Critic (based on the writing of Lester Bangs)’

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This is a captivating photo of the set and also an illustration of my photography expertise. SCREAMfmLondon

A crowd of bourgeois baby boomers filled a rehearsal space upstairs at the Center Theater Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City on Sunday night for a one-time performance of “How to Be a Rock Critic (based on the writing of Lester Bangs).”

The performance took place two days after what would have been Bangs’ 65th birthday had the seminal rock writer not died of an overdose of Darvon, Valium and NyQuil at the age of 33.

To capture his spirit, the theater group condensed some of Bangs’ drug- and alcohol-fueled musical and cultural analyses into a live performance. “How to Be a Rock Critic” is a one-man dramatic monologue propelled by Erik Jensen, who starred in the show and, along with his wife Jessica Blank, pieced it together from thousands of pages of Bangs’ published and unpublished work.

The stage was set with two desks — one holding a typewriter and the other a record player — with a music-stand-as-podium in the middle. Jensen stumbled onstage carrying a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a paper bag full of records to begin his performance, most of which was read from a three-ring binder and interspersed with music clips, real (I think) gulps of PBR and imaginary sips of cough syrup.

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The monologue drew from a wide range of Bangs’ pieces, from his iconic album reviews to his more autobiographical and philosophical pieces. Using an encounter with the Clash as an anchor, the 80-minute performance attempted to illustrate the ups and downs of Bangs’ life as a rock critic and music fan, as well as his questions and beliefs about the general state of the being.

Throughout his encounter with the Clash, Bangs becomes enamored with the revolutionary music and the band’s connection with its audience, and then grows increasingly disenchanted as the experience wears on. This narrative arc is paralleled in many of the other featured stories. His introduction to rock ‘n roll music while growing up a Jehovah’s Witness (he found The Troggs’ “Give It To Me” particularly moving) was followed by a career of disillusionment as he saw first-hand the egotism, corporate control and hero worship that pollute the music industry. His life-affirming work as a full-time writer for “Creem” magazine ended sourly as the issues that polluted rock ‘n roll inevitably polluted rock ‘n roll journalism.

What he really captured was the true ebb and flow of things: the fact that a lifetime will include innumerable occasions of losing then regaining hope, then losing and regaining it again.

The lasting quality of Bangs’ first-person music writing proves that real entertainment journalism transcends re-writings of press releases from record labels and instead serves to connect with readers — music fans — about the way rock ‘n roll speaks about our lives, about society, about the music industry and tells the world how we feel about greater theoretical concepts such as love and life and death and hope.

It was exciting to see this existing onstage for a brief period of time, and I wish it could have been given a larger platform or a longer run.

One of the writings selected to play into Jensen’s performance is a review of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” which is often considered the greatest album review of all time by the kinds of people who tabulate things like that. In the review, Bangs characterizes a 1970 televised live performance of “Cyprus Avenue” at the Fillmore East, saying, “It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it’s sensational: our guts are knotted up, we’re crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we’ve seen and felt something.”

Onstage, Jensen thrashes and shouts along with the audio track, using the space, his body and the music to convey the feeling behind Bangs’ words. On another occasion, Jensen passionately thrusts his pelvis into his typewriter. Although stumbling over his words on a few occasions, Jensen nonetheless effectively made more than an hour’s worth of reading aloud of complicated essays and articles seamless and watchable.

The worst part of the experience was the decrepit audience, who verbally(!!) announced song titles they recognized, tapped their feet and snapped their fingers in efforts to loudly ensure that everyone else knew that they were still cool and still knew how to rock ‘n roll.

But the “How to Be a Rock Critic” experience was altogether a good one. I left feeling a little recharged — confident that there will always be some great music to listen to and some great conversations to have about it. Bangs’ writings remain spectacularly amusing and relevant, even now (especially now, perhaps) that a culture of illegal downloading threatens the foundations of the album release and the steady decline of print journalism changes the way the public consumes media.

Regardless, one thing is certain: rock ‘n roll, of its infinite permutations and expansions, will find a way. And where there is music, there will, of course, be fans… and critics.

Album review: One Direction, ‘Midnight Memories’

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Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles and Niall Horan. Photo courtesy of Columbia Records, Syco Music and Sony Music.

The best thing about “Midnight Memories” is, in fact, that it doesn’t entirely sound like a fully-realized album. It sounds like a transitional stage with evidence of boys becoming men splashed over every track. On the album’s title track, Niall Horan sings, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m finding my way,” and that is exactly what comes across. The album is good, but what makes it interesting is the potential for greatness as One Direction continues to develop as a band.

The most notable difference between “Midnight Memories” and One Direction’s previous two albums is that each of the five members contributed to the songwriting, and only three tracks were written without the band’s collaboration. One of these is the album’s excellent lead single, “Best Song Ever,” which is catchy, straightforward pop that would easily fit in on last year’s “Take Me Home.”

The rest of the album, however, is quite a bit different: largely guitar-driven pop-rock showcasing the personal growth, complex ideas and unique personalities of each member.

Louis Tomlinson leads the group in songwriting, having helped pen 12 of the 18 tracks. Arguably One Direction’s weakest singer, Tomlinson demonstrates on “Midnight Memories” the impressive writing and production talent he has long since been cultivating. Alongside Liam Payne (who co-wrote nine “Midnight Memories” songs with Tomlinson), he has pursued a (yet rather inactive) role as director for One Mode Productions Limited, and is also largely responsible for plucking Australian pop-rock group 5 Seconds of Summer from obscurity and bringing them along as the opening act on One Direction’s Take Me Home Tour.

Tomlinson’s talent truly shines on the superb “Strong.” The song features mature, understated verses contrasted against a sweeping, fast-paced chorus. The musical accompaniment is rhythmic and interesting, solidifying “Strong” as one of the album’s best tracks.

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Photo courtesy of Columbia Records, Syco Music and Sony Music.

Other standouts include “Happily,” “Little Black Dress,” “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” and “Something Great.” From its tender ballads to harder dance tunes, “Midnight Memories” has a lot to offer as it teases a more adult side to One Direction. There is some implied profanity (“People talk shh– but we don’t listen.”) and suggested sexuality (“You say you’re a good girl, / But I know you would, girl.”).  Scandalous!

One of Payne’s most interesting contributions to the album is “Better Than Words,” the verses of which are comprised only of other song titles. It name-drops everything from Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” to Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” representative of the idea that one’s own words are not enough to capture the essence of love. It’s a really intriguing concept, and the resulting song is equally captivating.

The album’s title track is massive — a throwback to solid ‘70s and ‘80s arena rock with a headbang-able chorus to the tune of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” It was designed to translate effortlessly on One Direction’s forthcoming world stadium tour, and it will.

But the album has its weak points.

There is a disappointing lack of Zayn Malik’s presence on “Midnight Memories.” He has the fewest songwriting credits of all band members, contributing only to the group effort, “Story of My Life.” And, although he is one of the band’s strongest and most consistent singers, he is given few opportunities to demonstrate his vocal talent on this release. Instead, One Direction risks entrusting its weaker singers with carrying the meatier parts of songs like “You & I,” on which Horan unfortunately falls flat, leaving the song floundering.

A good chunk of “Midnight Memories” is clearly influenced by modern indie folk musicians along the lines of the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and Mumford & Sons. This works out amazingly well on the consummate and deeply emotional “Story of My Life” and on Harry Styles’ rebellious ode to young love, “Happily,” but less so on others such as “Through the Dark.”

The four bonus tracks are all good — similar in the traditionally over-the-top style of One Direction’s previous albums. “Alive” is particularly entertaining: it seems to be about seeking medical treatment for sex addiction (“My mother told me I should go and get some therapy. / I asked the doctor, ‘Can you find out what is wrong with me? / I don’t know why I wanna be with every girl I meet.’”), then thinking better of it (“Went to a party just after the doctor talked to me. / I met a girl, I took her in up to the balcony. / I whispered something in her ear that I just can’t repeat.”). The moral of the story being that there is really a fine line between nymphomania and youthful exuberance. Or something like that.

On the other end of the spectrum is “Half a Heart,” which also uses some ridiculous lyrics to convey, this time, a more romantic message. The chorus laments, “I’m walking around with just one shoe. / I’m half a heart without you.” The band might not ever top a lyric like “I can make your tears fall down like the showers that are British” from “Over Again,” but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.

Altogether, “Midnight Memories” is a nice third album from One Direction and a tantalizing taste of what the future holds for these five artists. They obviously have what it takes to make a Beatleslike leap from “Please Please Me” to “Abbey Road.” “Midnight Memories” isn’t quite there yet, but the outlook is good.

One Direction

Midnight Memories

Release Date: Nov. 25

Genre: Pop, Rock

Grade: B+