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State of the Airwaves

Ben, barrels, and bliss

By Daniel J. Katz

Staff Writer

When the gimmick gets old, expand on it. Apparently the way to expand on a piano is with an orchestra. Both Tori Amos and Ben Folds Five have gradually moved from a simplistic piano-based approach to deeper, more spacious material utilizing additional instruments on recent albums. Both Tori’s “Bliss” and BF5’s “Don’t Change Your Plans” illustrate this evolution, featuring orchestral accompaniment that increases the music’s beauty and contrast, but at the same time somehow seems to lessen the emotional impact. While “Bliss” is very powerful, it doesn’t really capture the frustration of, say, “Caught A Lite Sneeze.” Along the same lines, “Don’t Change Your Plans” isn’t nearly as haunting as “Mess,” which several radio stations added to their playlists before a second single was formally released. You have to admire both artists’ voyage into a different style, but my first reaction is nostalgia for the old stuff.

A few weeks ago I mentioned how pleased I was about the increasing exposure of Philadelphia’s G. Love and Special Sauce. On a more local note, Guster’s “Barrel of a Gun” (not to be confused with the Depeche Mode song, although both are terrific) has been picked up on a national level. Stylistically, the song has a very alternative rock feel in its music, but rhythmically it follows a laid-back punk mentality. There’s a major underground following of Guster fans in Philly; if support is as strong in other cities, Guster may truly be on the verge of something big.

Hey, “Sweet Home Alabama” is a pretty good song. Why don’t I change my name to Zen Mafia, come up with some lousy rap verses, swipe the chorus to “Sweet Home Alabama,” and (and here’s the ingenious part) change it to “Sweet Home California.” What? That sounds like a stupid idea? I agree, but for some reason, radio stations are playing it anyway.

Versatility, thy name is Citizen King. I recently heard a song playing on the radio full of beats and scratches that reminded me of a cross between Fat Boy Slim and Beck. Turns out it was Citizen King’s new cut, “Under The Influence.” After hearing this killer track coupled with the much more earthy but just as catchy “Better Days,” I firmly believe that this band can play almost anything and play it well.

Here’s irony for you: I really disliked Staind’s first single because the guitars were too thick and muddy, translating into noise rather than music. Their new single, “Mudshovel,” is a lot less dirty than it sounds. Much clearer guitar riffs, a more accessible melody, and less gratuitous cacophony make it a marked improvement over its predecessor.

Now, for your up-and-coming band of the week. The single is “Muscle Museum,” the band is Muse, and Radiohead should be looking over their shoulder. Muse has the high anguished vocals, the elaborate song structures, and the mix of jangly and distorted guitar tones down pat, and apparently they’re very young. Who knows what these boys could be doing in couple of years...

Is there a song or band that makes you want to hug your radio? One that makes you want to throw it out the window? One that has made you throw it out the window? Tell me about it at Until next time, have a good week and keep expanding your horizons.