Monday, June 22, 2015

Deconstructing Sia

 Is this a "bob" or a "weave"?

I really liked a post that I had made on Facebook back in January.  It started from a fairly benign post stating how I felt about the artist that Sia has become.  After seeing her perform singles from her new(er) hit album, 1000 Forms of Fear -2014, and hearing the tone of where she was going as an artist, it became quite clear that she’s gone from being the quirky lovable indie artist to a mainstream popular powerhouse.  Is that necessarily a bad thing?  Not inherently, no.  It is however troubling in the sense that a lot of artists do this often with long term consequences.  What sucks is, artists that had such a loyal hardcore following, by doing this tend to alienate that base.  The very people that got them to that level originally.  Since the original FB post, I’ve definitely softened my feelings, but I’m really not going to edit a lot of what I posted that night.  This is in no way meant to condemn Sia as a person, or to question her ability as a performer.  This is simply 1 dude’s thoughts on an artist that for better or worse really shaped a good chunk of my life when I discovered her.  Things to note: I really did love Sia once.  I loved her talent, her music, and her personality.  I loved going to her concerts, I loved hearing her jokes, and following her on Twitter.  I loved staking out her website for inside information about tickets and passes.  She opened me up to a whole genre of music that while I may have stumbled onto eventually, I am able to appreciate more today.  It’s the fact that I love music more, and therefore I no longer love Sia.


{Edited from a Facebook Post January 18, 2015}

Sia’s performances are just that, performances. I've seen her enough live to know that she clearly cannot handle her celebrity status now, (Not well anyway).  She actually used to live for being in front of and playing to audience. Now she hides in plain sight and choreographs her "art". It's just maddening to watch. It really feels like you losing a good friend because they get into a relationship with someone. They kind of lose themselves.  Here’s a few pictures from her solo show in NYC.  (June 26 2006)  Side note, almost exactly 9 years ago, yikes, I’m getting old.) Also note, she actually has a face! 

Sia hooked up with the group Zero 7 for their ridiculously epic 2001 debut album, Simple Things as lead singer.  Wow.  Talk about a set of pipes.  It was the first time that I had ever heard of her, and obviously the first time that I had ever heard of Zero 7.  Frankly, I thought she was black.   Seriously, listen to this:

In The Waiting Line

That album may change your life.  If it was less than $100 on vinyl it would be a no brainer.  The fact that it is so expensive screams a must have Holy Grail of record collecting.  The day I ever land Simple Things on vinyl, rest assured, there will be a week long Vinyl Monday taking one single per day.  Actually, screw it.  AmazoniTunesGooglePlay whatever your poison, download this album, like right fucking now.

This is the point where I break down a mini discography of releases either by Sia, or featuring her involvement to show progression toward 2014, along with a bonus spoken word entry.

From Sia’s 2004 album, Color The Small One, the lead track, Rewrite, was about as soulfully somber as one could get when starting off an album. Most artists try to grab you and hook you with something upbeat and defining. She kept you close with gritty soft soul.


Also from this album, you need to hear Sunday, which is my favorite, and The Bully. Overall, this a great down tempo borderline electric folk album that should be part of your collection somehow.  It’s so full of being personal, that I doubt anyone could walk away not finding some level of sympathy over.  Seriously, download this album too.

Moving backwards, toward 2002, Sia came out with a far underrated album, Healing Is Difficult. At the time, or until very recently, I thought this was as personal as she got. Turns out it is. This album is raw and blunt. You can get that from the titles alone.  Beginning with the lead track, Fear, you’ll get an immediate feeling about the direction this album is going to go.


Easily that’s the lightest track she’s ever done and it’s a commentary on crippling fears of things and confronting them. It’ very empowering actually. From there you need to listen to Drink to Get Drunk and Blow it All Away. (Particularly Haunting as fuck)

Blow it All Away

In 2001 she got noticed when she joined Zero 7. (My 2nd favorite group of all time) Who hasn’t heard Destiny? I’m sure someone hasn’t so check this out.  But then you really should listen to the whole damn album.  Oh, and Distractions also happened.  I don’t think there was song on this album that isn’t worth repeating multiple times over.  Christ.  It’s musically, perfect.


 Her debut solo album, OnlySee in 1997 was very under the radar. I didn’t get it till I heard her with Zero 7, and this blew me away. I thought she was black. Her voice overpowers every track on this album and the album as a whole is so jammed with different styles you can tell that she was young and too talented. Kind of reminds me of early coffee house jazz fusion. It’s so random, it’s good. Listen to Stories.


Hell, she could even funk too? Check out the lead track, Don’t Get Me Started to see the range of music we’re dealing with here.

Don't Get Me Started

From the same album, if you can believe that, she has a raw spoken word song that is so hard hitting it makes you wonder WTF happened. Before Adele made you feel sorry for her, before pain was a badge of honor in R&B, there was this. This was truly some deep, deep stuff.


My point here is, and I really don’t know why this eliciting such a response from me, Sia is a lot deeper than whatever it is she’s turning out for money right now. I just can’t wrap my head around how someone so humble, so personable and clearly so free, could even come close to making music so, generic.  Obviously, she’s talented as all hell.  I will never take this away from her.  She’s written some of the greatest songs for the most popular artists out now.  Everyone from Rihanna, (Diamonds), to Christina Aguilera, (You Lost Me), Beyonce, (Pretty Hurts).  This Sia’s has said in many interviews is her passion now, writing for other artists.  Fantastic!  Then why on earth 1000 Forms of Fear?  In her defense, it was reportedly to get out of her record contract.  That’s fair enough, how many artists shit out horrible albums to end crappy contracts?  But, it’s what she followed that statement up with that burns me the most.

In a July 2014 interview with Chris Connelly from Nightline, Sia came clean about why she refuses to show her face on television – including interviews.
“I don’t want to be famous or recognizable. I don’t want to be critiqued about the way that I look on the Internet.”Um, ok, then explain this:In a February 17, interview with NME Magazine written by David Renshaw, she announced a folowup to 2014’s 1000 Forms of Fear.However, the success of the album has spurred her on to make more music. "I'm super productive. I have a full album ready to go and it's much more pop," she revealed. "I'm calling it 'This Is Acting' because they are songs I was writing for other people, so I didn't go in thinking 'this is something I would say'. It's more like play-acting. It's fun."

Nothing irritates me more than an artist selling out. Sure, it’s every artists dream to make it big, but if you can’t do it on the strength of what made you famous and you have to resort to changing and dumbing down your craft to appeal to the masses, then you simply become no better than anyone else and it’s a great way to shorten a career. Just look at every other modern pop star.  This is Acting?  I bet... 

Next week, hell because this post was such a downer maybe this week, I’m back to the vinyl with an awesome pick from Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sirius/ly - Beck - Dreams (2015)

Beck is like a box of chocolates...  You never know what you're going to get.  He's all over the musical map.  If there's any question in anybody's mind as to how good of an artist he really is, it should all be put to rest, and if this song is any indication as to where he's going next, it's someplace different.  


Monday, June 15, 2015

Steve Miller Band - Sailor (

Steve Miller is somewhat of a rock & roll chameleon.  Getting his start in 1966, his travels about the country changed where he was musically.  He started as a harmonica playing, guitar stringing singer in California and later, took his act to Chicago to play the blues.  It wasn't until he went back to San Francisco where the psychedelic music movement was booming that he and his newly formed band hit their stride.

Rockers were still reeling from the Beatles brand experimental-ism in their late era, when they themselves did a lot to make psychedelic popular.  As you could imagine, through the 60's was ripe with psychedelic rock.  When the Beatles kicked it off in 1966 with Revolver, Jimi Hendrix making it glamorous in 1967 with Electric Ladyland, and Cream, and Santana, and everything leading up to Blues Rock that fuel the hard rockers in a few years like Zeppelin.  Somewhere in the mix was Steve Miller.  Just laid back enough to be approachable, and just Rock & Roll enough to be considered, well Rock & Roll.

Sailor, Steve Miller's 2nd release, and ironically the 2nd oldest LP I own, is the first release they had where they were taken seriously as a group.  The strength of the genre at the time and Steve Millers ability to be tongue-in-cheek with his lyrics made this album a moderate success in a crowded field of burning out rockers.  Have you listened to the lyrics of any of the Steve Miller catalog?  I could do a whole post on Jet Airliner alone.

Living In The U.S.A.

This was the last Steve Miller Band Album that would feature Boz Scaggs, who for whatever reason went on to do some odd things over the next 20 years or so.  So, why is this album so great to warrant a pick of the week?  Well;

Gangster of Love

...Anybody that can pull Wolfman Jack onto a record, and basically jam out while telling a story backed up by a cool song earns my respect.

Look, long before Steve Miller became part of the list of musicians that "redefined" themselves in the 80's, he and his bad was all about rocking and tripping out till there were no stories left to tell.  Right up till about the mid 70's, he was telling tales and making you think about what he really meant.  Before Abracadabra...  Thank god he was great before that.  This album is kinda hard to find, but should you happen upon it, it'll be cheap.  Definitely well worth spinning one day when you want hear what the 60's felt like before disco happened.

Next week, some blues perhaps....

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pointer Sisters - Break Out (1983)

How awesome is this record player!?

If you're over the age of 35, you'll probably remember the day you found out that Boy George was in fact, a man.  How about the day you found out that Mike Score was actually a hairdresser before singing with Flock of Seagulls.  OK, when you learned that Eddie Van Halen was the one responsible for the epic guitar solo in MJ's Beat It?  Here's another one.  The lead vocals on the Pointer Sisters 2nd single from 1983's Break Out, Automatic, was in fact not a man.  -Gasp  Those hooks belong to Ruth Pointer.  


This is was an interesting release for the time.  In 1983, we were literally just hearing about CD's.  Seriously, not factoring ABBA into it, Billy Joel's 52nd street was the first album spun to that devil plastic in 1982.  This album shot way up the charts on the strength of it's vinyl only release. in 1983.  It spawned 5 singles, went platinum 3 times, and won 2 minor Grammy awards.  I say minor because 1 category thankfully no longer exists, and the other is an arrangement award.  (Let's thank the resurgence of pop for killing that award a few years ago!)

The album had 2 initial releases.  Originally, a rather bizarre synth-pop, (Think super early Thomas Dolby stuff, or super nostalgia Eddie Murphy stuff.), song called Nightline, which was intended for Michael Jackson's Thriller was pressed for and recorded by the Pointer Sisters.  Wisely it was subbed out for the now immortal, (Thanks Jesse!), I'm so Excited on later releases of this album.  

This is one of those albums that you would be hard pressed to not find a favorite song.  Who didn't rock out to the Neutron Dance?  Their first single on the album, I Need You, which was more soul than pop. I'm going to call the lead song on the record their opus, Jump.  Hell, I even remember the first time I heard that song on the radio. 


This album also marked the early signs of the downfall of solid albums.  It's painfully obvious that all the most popular, (Note: I didn't say best), songs the Pointer Sisters have ever done on their most commercial record ever, (They've released 7 original albums) are all on the "A" side of this album.  That's not done by accident.  This album draws a clear line where popularity ends and album filler or "B" sides begin.  Sure, the practice has been around long before the 80's, but to a degree it wasn't obvious.  "A" sides historically had a way of just being hits.  They were the songs that would be played first and often.  Didn't feel like flipping a record or tape?  Just replay.  "B" sides on the other hand at one point in music history were at least manufactured to become great. at some point by some artists.  There was a period where an artists entire album had to be good for people to buy it, and people certainly did exactly that.  That's where we get the Classic Rock and Blues era.  These day's it's ultra rare for an artist to release an overall great album, why?  Well, progression.  Now we have the choice to pick whatever songs from whatever artists we want based on little more than what sounds great in the moment.  Heard something on the radio that was catchy?  Download it.  Out and about around town and hear a song that could have legs?  Bust out SoundHound, search it, tag it, and download it later.  So called "artists" know this, and therefore why on earth do they have to put any measurable effort into creating good music?  All they need is a hit or two, everything else is filler.  

With regard to the Pointer Sisters, their whole career was based on building up to this album.  They were consistently great from their inception with their first single, a country song mind you...


They went on to release their first album, a self titled gold certified, soul album, The Pointer Sisters in 1973.  From there they weathered through the disco 70's by weaving soul with pop all building to something that had to break out in a post Michael Jackson Thriller world.  You know, Thriller?  It's release basically changed music permanently, killed disco, and gave birth to cinematic music video's.  Yeah, that Thriller.  I would say that given the all the hidden little gems behind this album, all the hits, all the history of the group, that this was exactly why this album more than most of that age just stands the test of time.  So yeah, if you remember any part of the Pointer Sisters, you remember this album.  You remember your parents owning.  You remember rocking out to it before going out.  That's kind of the hallmark of a great overall album.  You don't forget it.  

Neutron Dance

If you have a turn table, get to a record store and get this album.  It was so popular it'll be cheap,but it won't be easy to find.  Not in great condition anyway.  Hell, I found mine doing some good old fashioned roadside crate digging.  Go own this album.  Next week, we're going to finally do some classic rock!