The decision is made at 2 a.m.. It is an easy enough one, sitting as we do, a mere road crossing away from that warm, greasy beacon known as Pizza X. The X, a crossroads of listless second wind energy and thoughts impaired by a veil of early morning fog. The X, marking the destination of a moment of amusement, a reason to stay up ever later than anyone should. Easy enough to slip on coats and boots or jackets and flip flops, whatever gear deemed appropriate for the weather outside – inevitably colder than you’d want or warmer than you can stand. We make the voyage in groups – no one journeys alone. We pool our resources, dig change out of wallets or debit cards out of phone cases and set out for that golden place. We come to a crossroads. Carry straight on and over a parking lot stands the formidable SRSC, filled with rows and rows of ellipticals and strength machines, crisscrossed by running tracks and pool laps. A promise of subtracting the calories we hope to add. Perhaps it is our last chance to make a good decision, but in that exact moment, at 2 a.m., the SRSC’s doors are closed tight, and we cannot make that better decision. So we turn right and carry on. We pick over pavement dotted with dents and holes seemingly carved out by a great, immortal hand. If it has rained recently, these holes become dank lakes for us to tiptoe over, wary of whatever foul microbes might be lurking beneath the surface. And then – there it is. A vision in neon, the warm glow of the insides spilling out onto the beaten pavement. Our skin is suddenly bathed in yellow light as we push open the doors, step into the garlic and parmesan air. It is always much smaller than we picture in our minds, a space no wider than a hallway. Two normal TV screens hang over the counter, displaying the names of the treasures we seek. In fact, on this journey, one of the TV screens is inexplicably missing, but it matters not. We know what we have come for. One person is Chosen, and they step forward. The Cashier waits. It is 2 a.m. and yet, impossibly, we have been brought together, the Cashier and us. The earth turns, the wind blows outside, somewhere, in some vast forest, a mother bear herds her cubs into the safety of a cave. And yet we are here, facing each other. The Chosen person says the words. “Cheesy bread. Large.” Cheesy bread is not an item on the menu, but the cashier knows what we want. And now, perhaps the most important of decisions – what sauce must accompany this bounty? Shall we choose pizza sauce, the classic? Pesto, the bold? Ranch, the wise? Nacho cheese, the foolhardy? Shall we dip into the more exotic options? Alfredo, buffalo, mojo, salsa, sausage gravy? Whatever we choose, the order is processed. A mysterious process takes place in that vast back kitchen, and we are left to wait. Three plain stools sit in front of a bulletin board bearing information on all manner of events – concerts, classes, study sessions, animals for adoption. It is here we discuss our lives. Having braved a perilous journey, we are frank and honest with each other. Truth is closer to our grasp at Pizza X. And then, it is done. The Cashier calls the name of the Chosen, and the prize is handed over. A warm brown box. The Chosen holds it tightly, thanks the Cashier for their service. And then we push into the elements once more, goaded on by the glittering gold in our pizza box. Back over the teeming puddles, the pockmarked pavement, the roar of 10th Street. Back home, to the flat green couches we call home. The box is opened, and we observe our treasure for the first time. Impossibly large, glittering with mozzarella, the cheesy bread greets us like old friends. We rip it apart along its pre-cut edges, and scatter to the corners to devour it. No matter what cold we pushed through to get here, it is hot, and depending on the sauce we have chosen, the flavor is bold or comforting, spicy or sweet. We have chosen to be here, and here we are. Inevitably, we eat too much, and suddenly the magic of 2 a.m. is gone. It is 3 a.m. and we ache. The energy has left us. We speak not, retreat into our beds to think about what we have just done. We promise never to take on such a task again. But one day, 2 a.m. comes again. And Pizza X glitters in the distance, always. And we will take that journey again. It is simply what must be.
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I think most everyone can agree that as soon as an artist attempts to cover a well-known song, no matter what that song is, they take on a great deal of responsibility to the original artist and song to create a faithful tribute. This has gone well really only a handful of times, often due to missteps in instrumentation, weird genre changes that don't make sense, or just a lack of musical talent as compared to the original. But I think one of the easiest ways to curse a cover is to change the lyrics. This often occurs when a singer attempts to make a song written by someone of another gender "comfortable" (i.e.: “straight”) for their own gender, and it can create some... awkward results. One such example is Michael Bublé's cover of "Santa Baby". It's a truly puzzling and hilarious example of lyrical changes, and it also says a lot about the strange and often ridiculous world of gendered norms and expectations. Orignally recorded by Eartha Kitt in 1953, "Santa Baby" has been a staple holiday classic for all sorts of singers. Madonna's cover is probably the most well-known, but Kylie Minogue, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Gwen Stefani, and even more artists have had a crack at this song. However, you might notice that most of the artists who choose to cover this song are women. After all, the character presented in this song is hoping to cheat Santa Claus out of his most expensive gifts in a quite... shall I say, lascivious manner. While there's no requirement, technically, for this character to be female, the gold-digger who uses sexuality for gain is almost always a woman. So Michael Bublé faced an interesting societal challenge when covering this song. Does he simply sing the original lyrics and not worry that other people will think him less of a manly man for singing a song in the perspective of a character traditionally seen as female? Or does he try and adapt this pretty unadaptable song to make it manlier? (I'm sure you can guess what he chose). So, in the spirit of the holiday season, let's take a look at some of these lyrical changes, and what they say about the difference between masculinity and femininity. Original (Kitt) Bublé Santa baby, just slip a sable under the tree, For me. Been an awful good girl,Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight. Santa baby, slip a Rolex under the tree, for me. I've been an awful good guy, Santa buddy, and hurry down the chimney tonight. For anyone unaware, and don’t worry, I’m sure that’s most everyone, a sable is a species of marten, which is a weasel-like creature that lives in Russia. The original song is probably referencing a coat made of sable fur, which is something that, today, sells for upwards of $250,000. On the other hand Bublé opts for the far less expensive Rolex watch, which still fetches around $9,000. I think of all the changes made from the original to Bublé’s version, this one probably makes the most sense, logically. I still think lyric changes are usually unnecessary, but in this case most people probably don’t even know what a “sable” is, and even if they did would probably object due to the animal cruelty factor. But ah, never fear, because we also get the first truly hilarious change in the last part of this verse. The change from “baby” to “buddy” brings up the very reason why this lyric rewrite was doomed to fail from the start. “Santa Baby” is definitely one of the more controversial Christmas songs due to its sexual connotations. Bublé’s attempt to sidestep this issue by simply changing “baby” to “buddy” does absolutely nothing to address any other part of what makes this song so inherently sexual. The slow, sensual delivery in front of jazzy instruments – Bublé still does that. And he expects his lyric changes to turn this song from sexual to just friendly. You know, just guys being dudes! Instead, due to the connotation and already existing knowledge of the meaning of the song, his attempts to change it falls flat. This is why changes to existing material in covers so often fail, as it’s usually the original’s meaning that trump any changes. Original (Kitt) Bublé Santa baby, a 54 convertible too, Light blue. I'll wait up for you dear, Santa buddy, a 65 convertible too, steel blue. I'll wait up for you dude, I’m not entirely clear on why Bublé chooses to change the year of the convertible. I’d be willing to guess that it may be because of simple preference on Bublé’s part. However, it may be worth noting that since the original was written in ’53, this makes the car Kitt desired the newest model at the time. In his version, Bublé wishes for something a little more vintage. What I do want to call attention to is the color change of the car. In the original, Kitt’s assertion of exactly what color convertible she wants is meant to convey that she is incredibly specific about her wishes. However, Bublé’s change seems a lot more to do with handwringing over the perceived masculinity of certain colors of car. Kitt’s wish for a light blue convertible, I guess, was a little too froufrou and girly for Bublé, so he wants to make sure everyone listening knows that he wants his car to be masculine. Steel blue, not light blue. It’s a pointless change, but it certainly shows off the weird anxieties that come along with aligning to gender roles. I guess the ’65 convertible isn’t good enough for him if it’s a “girly” color. In addition, there’s a change from “dear” to “dude”, which is basically the same, contextually, as the change from “baby” to “buddy”. Doesn’t do anything to sidestep the connotations of the original. You’ll see a few more similar changes throughout the song, and they all sound just as silly, I promise. Original (Kitt) Bublé Think of all the fun I've missed, Think of all the fellas that I haven't kissed, Think of all the fun I've missed, I think of all the hotties that I never kissed, I bring this line up because I think there’s a huge, huge difference between the word Kitt chooses to use and the word Bublé chooses to use to refer to their prospective admirers. While “fellas” is definitely slang, it doesn’t carry quite the objectification of “hotties”. Instead of whittling her male admirers down to one trait, Kitt simply calls them as they are. Contrary to this, Bublé calls the women he likes “hotties” because all he cares about in them in that they’re hot. “Fellas” are people, “hotties” are one-dimensional images of conventionally-attractive women. Bublé could have easily changed this lyric to “ladies” if he wanted to at least refer to the women he likes as, you know, people. But he didn’t, which sure does show one huge difference between traditional femininity and traditional masculinity. Original (Kitt) Bublé Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with a duplex, and checks. Sign your 'X' on the line, Santa buddy, fill my stocking with Canucks tix, for kicks. Throw me on the first line, Here’s another weird change. The original asks for a duplex, as well as the checks to fund a lavish lifestyle, two very expensive wishes. But Bublé asks for… hockey tickets? If Santa is truly willing to give the singer of this song anything they want, isn’t it kind of a copout on Bublé’s part to request just… hockey tickets? Boy, masculinity sure is puzzling. But I guess choosing sports over a living space probably worth a few million dollars, generously, as well as the promise of more wealth in the future is just par for the course for a red-blooded man like Bublé. Okay, okay, I will say that this line’s change probably has more to do with trying not to imply that he wants Santa to leave him an “X” (a kiss, as in XOXO), since he’s been trying so hard this entire song to imply his freeloading on Santa is entirely platonic. But still, the sport thing is pretty ridiculous, right? Just me? Alright. Original (Kitt) Bublé Come and trim my Christmas tree, With some decorations bought at Tiffany's, Come and trim my Christmas tree, With some decorations bought at Mercedes, While the original song references Tiffany’s, a luxury jewelry brand, I am still completely in the dark on what Bublé meant by decorations bought at Mercedes. I feel like he’s referencing Mercedes-Benz, like the car, but I have no idea what trimming a Christmas tree with decorations from a car dealership, even a luxury one, would entail. Still, Bublé makes another odd choice to dodge the $175-per-ornament cost for Tiffany Christmas ornaments in favor of something much manlier. Cars, I guess? Even when the line makes no sense, at least he’s not implying he wants Santa to buy him ornaments from a girly place like Tiffany’s. Right? Right? Original (Kitt) Bublé Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing, A ring. I don't mean on the phone, Santa poppy, forgot to mention one little thing, cha-ching, No, I don't mean as a loan. And here, I suppose, we find where Bublé is making up for all the expensive girly things he avoided earlier in the song, while also implying that he doesn’t want any jewelry, at all. This one is particularly silly though, since rings are not only for women. Lots of men wear rings, and not just wedding ones either. Perhaps Bublé didn’t want to imply he wanted Santa to propose to him as the original might be doing, you know, because this song is super platonic. And, beyond a few other small changes, that’s it. A tour of some of the oddest lyrical changes from Eartha Kitt’s original “Santa Baby” to Bublé’s super manly version. I think it goes to show how impossible it is to disregard the original context of a song you’re covering. I’m sorry, Bublé, but no matter how hard you try, you still sound like you want Santa to be your Sugar Daddy. No amount of hockey tickets, steel blue convertibles, or objectification of women will change that fact. I will say that I do admire this rewrite of the song only as an example of just how ridiculous gendered expectations are. Logically, expensive gifts are expensive gifts, but in Bublé’s world it doesn’t matter how expensive the gift is – if it’s jewelry or from a jewelry store or even in a color our society has deemed “not masculine enough”, he doesn’t want it. Funny how songs about excessive greed point out just how excessive our cultural anxieties about gender roles truly are. Happy Holidays!
Release Date: 11/10/2017 Rating: 6/7 I want to begin this review with a disclaimer. I’ve been a super-fan of Walk the Moon since Spring Break of 2015. Inspired by the breakout popularity of “Shut Up and Dance” and my previous enjoyment of “Anna Sun,” I sat down in the living room of my grandparents’ Florida vacation home and fell in love with the band’s entire discography. I was addicted to their sunny, 80s-inspired sound. In the years following, I attended two live performances of theirs and bought both of their studio albums on vinyl. I know every lyric to basically every single one of their songs. My friends turn to me whenever they come on the radio. Basically, I’m crazy about this band. So that’s why its hiatus after its last album Talking is Hard was, well… hard. And it's why this review is probably going to be more than a little biased. That being said, this album isn't perfect. It's definitely good, but there's at least two tracks here that I didn't care for. (And considering I hadn't met a Walk the Moon track I didn't like before this album, that's a fairly big deal.) What If Nothing is obviously an experimental album for this band. It's honestly a little all-over-the-place as far as style is concerned, but as a huge fan of this band, I kind of appreciated it. I love to hear four of my most favorite musicians in the world experimenting with the limits of their abilities and stretching their style. In a vast majority of cases in this album, this experimentation is a huge success. My absolute favorite track off the album, "Can't Sleep (Wolves)," definitely takes on this new atmospheric, spacey sound the band is experimenting with while also, I think, remaining true to the same optimistic, energetic sound I've always loved from them. This track, as well as "Surrender" and "Kamikaze" draw both from the band's past as well as its new sound evenly. Then there are wild, out-there experimentations like "Headphones" and "Sound of Awakening," which seem more interested in trying new things than sticking to what Walk the Moon has always done. For me, both experiments were huge successes. "Headphones" is an absolute banger, and highlights the instrumental talents of Kevin Ray, Eli Maiman, and Sean Waugaman. "Sound of Awakening" is a song with an intense build and beautiful payoff - probably a surprise favorite off of this album. I also want to shout out to "Tiger Teeth." Until this album, this track could only be heard in live recordings,as the band felt that it never quite fit onto any of their former albums. So now, for the first time, "Tiger Teeth" has its own studio recording. I think there was a lot of anxiety surrounding this song's transition from acoustic to recorded, but I thought it made the transition well. A lot of the simplistic beauty of the acoustic is preserved in the clean, electronic sound of the studio version. It was a joy to hear. Not every track worked for me, though. "All Night" had some nice musical ideas, but I felt it really needed to push a little harder. The vocals get pretty intense, but the rest of the song never seems to catch up with where the vocals lead. "Kamikaze" actually takes some of the same musical ideas of "All Night" and pushes them enough that the song becomes a success. Unfortunately, the fact that these two songs are back to back in the album highlights the faults of the former even as it shows off the merits of the latter. In addition, I felt "In My Mind" was too repetitive and boring for my tastes. Overall, however, I think the majority of this album is incredibly refreshing for me. As a huge fan of this band, I'm excited to see them experimenting with their sound and striving to better themselves. It bodes well for their future that they're not complacent to rest comfortably on the style they established in Talking is Hard. Perhaps it wasn't perfect, but I think a lot of the ideas introduced in What if Nothing have a lot of potential to evolve into something absolutely amazing in the future. I'll be looking forward to watching that progression in the years to come.
Release Date: 9/29/2017 Rating: 6/7 I was first drawn to Wolf Alice’s new album “Visions of a Life” by their single “Don’t Delete the Kisses.” It was a pretty little tune that stuck with me from the time I first heard it on Sirius XM Altnation until I finally looked it up, listened to it a few times, read the lyrics, and subsequently cried myself to sleep over how beautifully they went with the music. (True story.) So, how did the rest of the album stack up against that – ahem – memorable first single? Actually, pretty well. From only hearing “Don’t Delete the Kisses,” I assumed Wolf Alice’s sound would probably be a very atmospheric pop sound, pleasant, but probably not too memorable. I’ve heard a lot of bands with a similar feel that tend to be forgettable in their quest to be pretty and pleasant. What I didn’t know is that “Visions of a Life” has the atmospheric sound I expected, but it also had this rock sensibility that I really can’t help but vibe to. It plays around with form and experimental sounds to keep things interesting. A lot of this album reminds me of the kind of vintage rock you’d hear played in a hip little record shop or something. The vocals throughout this album are notable for how varied they can be – whispered at some times, screamed at others. I really appreciate the variation in emotion throughout this album. It’s definitely unique, definitely likeable, and definitely an album I would see myself listening to multiple times and recommending to others. Some of the standouts of the album include, of course, “Don’t Delete the Kisses” (lyrics that will make you cry and music that sells the emotion of those lyrics so well it’s crazy), “Beautifully Unconventional” (a perfect “walking to class song,” immediately made me bob my head along to the beat the first time I heard it), “Formidable Cool” (a really sick vintage sound with some good ol’ bad boy angst), and “St. Purple and Green” (somehow makes church-style chorals work with a subtly intense rock feel). That’s not to say this album is perfect – certainly not. Sometimes it pulls too hard from either end of its musical influences. For some songs, like “Yuk Foo,” the experimentation goes too much into the “unpleasant to listen to” zone for me, using too much scream-like vocals and repeated, needless swearing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a few songs are just too atmospheric and pretty to be particularly memorable, like “Sadboy” and “Space & Time.” Still, despite these few missteps, I think this album as a whole is strong. It has a really nice, unique sound that I’ll definitely want to come back to. While I can’t say I haven’t cried myself to sleep over the rest of it, it was definitely an enjoyable ride from the first to the last track. I’ll be keeping my eye on this band.