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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

Morning Music: Clown Core

Clown Core

On we go through Sheep in the Book. This time we get Clown Core. When I first heard it, I figured it was a style. You know, like my beloved sadcore. And after all the bands we’ve visited, with many dozens of Viking-themed metal bands, why not a bunch of clown-based bands?

Sadly, this was not to be. Clown Core is a band that Sheep refers to as “utter madness.” He also says, “I’m fairly sure that Clown Core is just a joke thing.” That may be true, but I wouldn’t dismiss these guys.

Clown Core is an incredibly talented jazz duo. There are certainly comedic elements to the music like the sudden shifts in style — especially from a kind of free jazz with Bebop intensity to a kind of smooth jazz Kenny G would be proud of.

The thing that holds their pieces together is a commitment to minimalism. Yet they know just how much to vary this to never slide into boredom the way minimalism often does.

Brendan Fraser

Here is their song “Brendan Fraser.” This is from over a decade ago. The stuff they are known for — their bathroom songs — are from a year ago. And I do think they’ve improved in that time. But their early stuff shows that this is serious music.


Clown Core image via Amazon under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Ghoultown

Ghoultown - Life After Sundown

Another Sheep in the Book pick: Ghoultown.

They are a southern rock band who sing a lot about horror. But their style is varied and they are good enough to play just about anything.

Sometimes they push far enough into pop that they sound like 38 Special. At other times, it’s more standard heavy metal. There are also Mexican elements to their stuff — at least in the production. And sometimes they show off very clear country roots.

Drink With the Living Dead

One such example of this is their song “Drink With the Living Dead” off their 2008 album Life After Sundown.

This song is almost a rip-off of The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” But “Drink With the Living Dead” is better because it offers more recent myths and I don’t have to stop myself from thinking that Charlie Daniels is a reactionary fool and a symbol of the worst tendencies of America.

Also: it’s not a rip-off of black mythology by an all-white band that made tons more money than their poor forebears

In this case, it’s about a man who was hanged for shooting another man to steal his drink. Now he must walk the Earth challenging men to a drinking contest each night until he finds one who can beat him.

So when the zombie necessarily loses, it’s actually a good thing because he gets to rest in peace. I love little as much as a feel-good horror story.


Life After Sundown album cover via Amazon under Fair use.

Morning Music: Alestorm

Alestorm - Sunset on the Golden Age

Sheep in the Box brings us to something sublimely silly: pirate metal. And our example today is Alestorm from Scotland.

Of course, just because it is silly doesn’t mean that the bands don’t take it seriously. Running Wild (perhaps the first pirate metal band) seems rather serious about it all — focusing on pirates as they were rather than their legends.

But for whatever reason, Alestorm seems well aware of the joke. Here are a few lines from today’s song “Drink” off Sunset on the Golden Age.

We live each day like there’s nothing to lose
But a man has needs and the need is booze
They say all the best things in life are free
So give all your beer and your rum to me!

And once again, we have a song with tens of millions of views that I have never heard of. Meanwhile, I was looking at a short film by the great director Michael Kallio that has been available for a year and a half that has 141 views.

Not that Alestorm is bad. They are fun. I just feel sorry for anyone who is cursed to be liked by me. Lucky are the artists I’ve never heard of!

Sunset on the Golden Age cover via Amazon under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Sabaton

Sabaton - Primo Victoria

Sheep in the Box sends us to another metal band: Sabaton, which he says “seems to make music exclusively about historical battles.”

This relates to my day. I’ve been charged to put together some articles for a website about tanks. And I don’t know much about tanks. I’ve never found military history all that interesting.

But I was confronted with some facts that reinforce my major prejudice: that there is no magic in war. Things like technological innovation and strategic brilliance are extremely rare. Normally, the better army wins.

It was interesting to see that in World War II the Allies had far more resources than the Axis powers: troops, tanks, warships. The only reason they did as well as they did is because they started the war. There really was no question what the ultimate outcome would be.

In fact, the war was effectively over with the failure of Operation Barbarossa — the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. And that was at about the same time as the US joined the war.

(I feel it necessary to pre-defend myself here. I’m afraid some WWII buff will come along and point out that the Nazi’s almost took Moscow. Yes, they came about 8 miles from it. And then the Soviet army pushed them back a hundred miles. Regardless, I don’t know why people think that taking the capital of a country means the country is destroyed. The war would have continued. The mistake was invading the USSR in the first place. No good was coming from that.)

Stalingrad

I like Sabaton a lot more than I do Amon Amarth. But they are still heavy metal and offer up that combination I just can’t get excited about: serious style and silly content.

Today, we listen to “Stalingrad” off their first released (second recorded) album Primo Victoria. Musically, it’s pretty good with an awesome instrumental part in the middle. The lyrics are banal.

Having said this, I could listen to Sabaton for a long time without hating it. And for a style I don’t like that much, that says a lot.


Primo Victoria cover via Amazon under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Klenginem

Klenginem

Sheep in the Box mentioned a rapper who did songs in the Klingon language. Okay. I understand that people are pretty into this kind of stuff. But then I found out his name was Klenginem and I knew it must be a joke. (I’m not that disconnected from pop culture.)

And according to the Klenginem website, it did all start as a joke. And why not? Half the bands I really like resulted from their incompetence at performing the kind of music they wanted. As regular readers know, I’m not a big fan of professionalism. It rarely produces transcendent art. (But it’s nice to have.)

The genius behind Klenginem is Quvar muHwI’ valer who grew up on Klingon starbase Morska. He learned rap-music by listening to incoming waves. As Mr Universe said, “There is only the truth of the signal.”

There aren’t a lot of Klenginem’s songs on the internet. In fact, there don’t seem to be many Klenginem songs at all. But he has released “SuvwI’pu’ qan tu’lu’be’.”

Google Translate does not include Klingon as a language. Fortunately, there are independent sites to perform this important work. So I know that the title of the song is, “There Are No Old Warriors.” The rest of the lyrics go along with that.

It’s a pretty catchy tune. Enjoy!


Image cropped from one on Klenginem website under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Amon Amarth

Amon Amarth - Jomsviking

Sheep in the Box next mentioned Amon Amarth. They are a Viking-themed heavy metal band that has been around for almost 30 years.

If you’re like me, you might think that a Viking-themed band was unusual — like a band that only performs songs about Toonces the Driving Cat. But no.

Wikipedia lists over 5 dozen Viking metal bands. Not surprisingly, most of them are out of northern Europe. A number of them started in the 1980s but the vast majority started in the 90s.

Over-Serious Metal

I’ve never been much a fan of metal. This can seem odd because I really like punk and in a purely musical sense there often isn’t much that separates them. But there is something very important that separates the punk I like (eg, Minutemen) from the rest: sense of humor.

So much of metal is so serious that I would find it funny if there were any indication at all that it was intentional and that I wouldn’t be beaten up for laughing.

The Way of Vikings

Amon Amarth is fully in this tradition. There is not even a hit that this should be fun. It is filled with self-importance. But what else would you expect from Vikings?

This is on me, but I don’t hear much difference between any of their songs. Or albums. The earlier ones seem a little more raw and that’s about it. Otherwise, it’s the usual kind of death metal with lots of tremolo-strumming and lyrics that I can’t even begin to make out.

They are clearly a great band in terms of musicianship. I can see why they are still going strong after all these years. But I won’t be checking in with them in the future.

Here is “The Way of Vikings” off their 2016 album, Jomsviking. I can actually make out the lyrics on this. It also has a nice guitar solo.


Jomsviking album cover via Wikipedia under Fair use.

Morning Music: Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly - Float

Today we listen to another song that has millions of YouTube views and I missed it because I haven’t gone outside much the last twenty years or so.

The band is Flogging Molly out of Dublin. They are more or less Celtic Punk. Their 2002 song “Drunken Lullabies” sounds a lot to me like The Pogues with a sprinkling of The Clash.

Their palette is broader than that, however. I’ve been connecting more with their softer stuff but that probably says a lot more about my mood than anything else.

Float

I want to highlight their song “Float” off the album of the same name. It has a certain American Music Club feeling to it and I am not simply referring to the opening lyrics.

But I’m most taken with the chorus:

But don’t, don’t sink the boat
That you need, you build to keep afloat

That’s heavy stuff. To me, this says that we do things in order to do things. There is no meaning to life. We simply pretend. We build a boat so we will have the act of keeping it afloat to occupy us.

Cue some idiot, “I heard the lead singer on MTV Dipshits and he said it was about the break-up of his fifth marriage!”

I haven’t spent that much time with the song so I can’t even say what it means to me. It may just be my mood affecting what I hear. Or it could be my mood caused me to pick this song.

Regardless, it’s a good song!


Float album cover via Amazon under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Timber

Timber - Pitbull ft Ke$ha

You may remember that the first Sheep in a Box selection was The Hu and I noted how unplugged I was from modern culture that I had never heard of them despite their videos have tens of millions of views. Well, my friends, let me introduce “Timber.”

Sheep uses the song to mock Thoughty2 because he pronounces “timbre” as “timber” rather than the established “tamber.” This is one of those things that drives me a bit crazy. Most people do pronounce it the “wrong” way and it is a lot like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. But what bugs me is that I know I can’t correct them because they aren’t exactly wrong and I would be a dick to correct them even if they were wrong.

Not that I have a problem with Sheep mocking Thoughty2. In addition to him being very unsympathetic, who goes back and fixes one of his mistakes (badly) but leaves the other? But most of all: you learn how to pronounce “timbre” when you study music. Thoughty2 is showing that he’s never taken music seriously. But we already knew that.

The Billion View Video I Missed

Anyway, Sheep put on a bit of the song “Timber,” which unknown to me, was an international mega-hit in 2013. It was so big it made the US Billboard Hot 100 for the decade. Its video has over a billion views on YouTube.

Now you might be wondering, “How does Frank manage to avoid hearing such a phenomenon?” As all my grammar school teachers could have told you: I don’t pay attention. And as all my friends can tell you: I don’t go out much except for walks where I’m alone with the crows.

“Timber” is by Pitbull with Ke$ha sharing vocals. I can see why it was a big hit. It’s very catchy and it combines hip hop with that Shania Twain style of country music. And the video features an adorable donkey.


Timber Pitbull ft Ke$ha cover via Wikipedia under Fair use.

Morning Music: Allah-Las

Allah-Las LAHS

Sheep in a Box mentioned Allah-Las as a good comparison to The Kinks.

In the original video, Thoughty2 claimed that The Kinks were much better than Lady Gaga. This is one of many absurdities of that video. It shows that Thought2 really doesn’t take music seriously.

The Kinks are fine. And they are notable in their way. But to hold them up as a band that indicates the days when music was good is ridiculous. What they most offered was a kind of musical primitivism. And if you like that, you should certainly like the Ramones who improved so much on that formula.

The fact that Thoughty2 included The Kinks in his list shows that he started with the idea that old music is just better. He probably assumed that if it came to it, there would be someone around who would be able to justify his pick.

Anyway, Allah-Las is a band from Los Angeles. They don’t sound like The Kinks to me. Their first album sounds more like The Zombies without Rod Argent’s amazing organ work. And they’ve grown from there with some of their more recent work sounding like early Pink Floyd. I mean all of this as a major compliment.

It’s their later work that I find most compelling. So here is “In the Air” off last year’s LAHS, which I love:

Check out the playlist of 16 of their music videos.


LAHS album cover from Amazon via Fair Use.

Morning Music: David Rovics

David Rovics - For the Moment

Sheep in the Box noted in his video that it is wrong to say, “Music’s gone to hell!” And then to justify it compare Bob Dylan to Britney Spears. (For the record, I think Spears is pretty talented. It’s not my kind of music, but that hardly matters.) Sheep said that Dylan should be compared to David Rovics.

It’s a good comparison. They are both folk+ singer-songwriters who are both on the left politically. Of course, I’ve never been especially certain about Dylan’s politics. He’s always seemed too fluid a person to have really static thoughts on the matter. Rovics, on the other hand, is a clear leftist.

He gave an interview back in 2009 when he said a number of things about the US and Israel that would be controversial today — much less then. I agree with pretty much everything he said. But we live in a nation where it is taken as accepted that Israel is Good and any bad thing they do must be due to some justifiable circumstances. Certainly, Israel can’t be held responsible for anything it does!

(I just saw that Intelligence-Squared is having a debate on whether anti-Zionism is antisemitic. That’s very interesting given that all the notable anti-Zionists I know are Jewish. And it’s weird. Jews still die of hate crimes in the US. Yet elites — for example, Bari Weiss — complain that the real antisemitism is people trying to hold Israel accountable for its actions.)

For the Moment

David Rovics is a prolific guy. Most of his work is produced much; it’s just him and a guitar. And he definitely has a lot to say.

He produced a number of albums during the early years of the Iraq War. In 2006, he release Halliburton Boardroom Massacre, which is really good. It reminds me a lot of Bruce Cockburn.

But I’m highlighting the first song off 2005’s For the Moment, “After We Torture Our Prisoners.” I’m using it mostly because it sounds so much like early Dylan. But there’s tons more to listen to. It isn’t necessarily fun but it is good.

Check out David Rovics’ playlist with over 200 songs.


For the Moment cover via Amazon via Fair Use.

Morning Music: Dead Cat Bounce

Dead Cat Bounce

Today, we are going to listen to the band Dead Cat Bounce.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been writing a lot more about business. And most recently, I’ve been writing about commodity trading. It’s in this capacity that I heard the term “dead cat bounce.”

The term refers to a slight bounce back after a security loses a bunch of money. I thought the term was so evocative, there might have been songs written about it. I didn’t find any. Instead, I found a band.

Now, there is currently a DC-based band called Dead Cat Bounce. They appear to be a cover band — but a really good one. There is also an impressive jazz sextet called Dead Cat Bounce that has released a number of albums. I’m not talking about either of these.

Instead, I’m talking about the Irish comedy band, Dead Cat Bounce that was active from around 2008 through 2012. I’m featuring them here because they represent a bit of a problem for me.

Funny, Offensive, or Both?

You see: I find them incredibly funny. But they are also extremely offensive.

Take, for example, their work-in-progress, “Famine: The Musical.” It is subtitled, “Two lovers, one dream, no potatoes.” But don’t misunderstand (because everyone I introduce them to does), they offer very thoughtful social satire.

For example, the characters in “Famine” go to America, “Where the cotton grows high in the south / And it practically harvests itself.” And then there’s this:

We’re all going to America
To become policemen
We’re all going to America
Just like Brendan Gleeson!

Midget

Which leads us to the first song of theirs that I heard. It actually made me choke. On the other hand, I felt kind of guilty about it.

Another song that shows their satirical strength as well as their tendency to take it to an uncomfortable level is Overenthusiastic Contraceptive Lady. Just wait until the end.

The final thing to note about these guys (and you don’t see it so much in the songs I’ve linked to here) is that they can really play. They’d be worth listening to even apart from the humor.

The last two songs are off You’re Welcome for the Music.


Dead Cat Bounce promotional photo under Fair Use.

Morning Music: The Axis of Awesome

Axis of Awesome

Yesterday, I discovered a new band — because I was researching something about commodity trading of all things. (I’m going to feature them tomorrow, so you’ll just have to wait.) They are a comedy band. And while at a festival, the lead singer said, “There’s obviously a lot of philistine out there in the world of musical comedy. Axis of Awesome. Benny from The Axis of Awesome…”

It’s a standard joke. The Axis of Awesome were huge and this band never particularly took off. The joke is that they are really upset about it even though they were friends. Also: The Axis of Awesome is an Australian band, so the venue makes it funnier.

I V vi IV

But it reminded me that Sheep in the Box had mentioned the band. In particular, he mentioned their song “4 Chords.” In it, they do a medley of songs that use the chord progression: I V vi IV.

It’s a very folky progression and it has been used excessively. But it’s very pleasant and people like hearing the same stuff over and over.

This video has over 42 million views. And it’s really well done. It’s not so much the idea but its construction and production. (I love that annoying pitch correction!) And they seem like such nice nerdy boys.

i iv VII III

I’ve seen people do similar things but on a much less ambitious level. You don’t have to be writing music very long before you start noticing that it’s all very much the same. In fact, I’m amazed there isn’t more unintentional plagiarism.

More recently, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain did a similar medley using the common but must more obscure i iv VII III chord progression.

I really like it, although it does annoy me a bit that they throw in “Hotel California” when it doesn’t have the same progression. It’s similar, but not the same. It does, however, add a nice quasi-bridge that opens it up.

It also ends with an absolutely fabulous fugue that never fails to thrill me.


Axis of Awesome cover taken from Amazon under Fair Use.