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There's Nothing Wrong With Dad Wrong

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A quick Google search for the phrase “Dad Rock” brings up 200,000 results. The top hit is an Urban Dictionary definition, followed by an interview with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, where he reclaims the term and defends his music's relation to it. While this goes on, just months ago The Toronto Standard wondered if the new Feist album was more pleasant dinner party soundtrack and less innovative than the Top 40 scene it's supposed to contrast. It's an interesting question. These are all fixations on the same small fear, wriggling in the back of our minds: Our vital, cutting edge youth culture may have unknowingly accepted a bunch of boring music our parents would like into our ranks.

Music criticism has embraced the term “Dad Rock” for years now. It's meant to easily categorize and identify music that is too traditional, too conservative, too content with being easy and comfortable. In a word: boring. If MTV can be marketed as, “This ain't your daddy's music,” then anything that goes against their ideals must surely be your daddy's music. And for some reason, that's terrible. The problem with the term “Dad Rock” and attaching it to all “safe” music is that it's a broad, easy dismissal. The word allows people to get away without deconstructing music further, acknowledging what does and doesn't work. It doesn't matter if it's Wilco, or Feist, or Bon Iver. If it veers a little too close to Phil Collins or Fleetwood Mac, it can be written off with a shrug. “Meh – Dad Rock.” If the idea is that boring music is bad music, I'm right there with you. But adhering to an out-of-fashion, middle of the road tradition, without any snarl or attitude, is not synonymous with boring. Even the radical cutting edge of music can put out some real, soulless clunkers. Who hasn't felt compelled to skip track after minute 9 of a repetitive techno beat? The complaint of Dad Rock isn't really about Dad Rock; it's about music critics faced with something that is so normal it doesn't fit into the many waves and genre movements in modern music. How we came to this point has everything to do with the misleading nature of the term. Indie rock culture is generally intent on being against the grain, an alternative to alternative that everyone is still struggling to completely define. In this conversation, we found ourselves going against the grain for so long that the grain isn't even in the picture anymore. It turned out, that after so much of the rebellious, arty ideals of indie culture became commonplace in everything, suddenly the grain was the outsider. It was a challenge to take the uncool and make it cool. It strikes me that embracing traditions like adult contemporary shouldn't be inherently bad. Like anything else, it's a move that can be done well or poorly, and we've done pretty well of sussing out the cream of the crop so far. If your sweater vested father walks into your room where you're blasting Sky Blue Sky and he gives you a thumbs up, feel no shame. I wonder sometimes if the fear of falling into Dad Rock is tied directly into the fear that we are becoming our parents, or that we are getting older and less interesting. But that fear is never properly combated by broad dismissals of some great music traditions. In doing so, we've unknowingly recreated that poisonous conversation about what is and isn't trendy. So the new Kathleen Edwards isn't particularly innovative or even fresh. If youthful indie culture is to be as counter cultural and diverse as it claims to be, then it can embrace a broad palette of sensibilities – even the conservative dinner party kind.

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Vitamin String Quartet Performs Bon Iver

Available at iTunes and Amazon

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Halftime Shows Are Weird

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America's sporting events provide some of its biggest and best spectacle. But what would a spectacle be without a musical interlude for the half-time show? The most recent one that had people talking was Pitbull, Ne-Yo and Chris Brown at the NBA All-Star Game. However, the granddaddy of them all is and always will be the Super Bowl. This year saw controversy yet again with the half time show featuring Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj and MIA; a big brouhaha generating the most significant chatter since that thing with Justin Timberlake & Janet Jackson. But you know what? At least it's something to talk about. It's better for a halftime show to generate some controversy to add to the spectacle than for it to be just plain bad. Case in point, the halftime shows of Super Bowls past. Although the game itself has always been a major event, it was not always such a prestigious venue for the biggest acts in pop music. At its worst, it was awkward and poorly-chosen filler. It was January of 1989 and the San Francisco 49ers were taking on the Cincinatti Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. In the months before, the likes of Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, Guns N' Roses and Whitney Houston were tearing up the charts. But superstars like these were not scheduled to perform. Instead, a singing magician/ Elvis impersonator, by the name of Elvis Presto, performed a giant card trick. Check this out: There is absolutely no reason for this guy to have to sing his magic tricks – or, rather, lip sync his magic tricks. He doesn't really look like Elvis, either. As far as I can tell, the only possible reason for his shtick could be that he came up with that Presley/Presto pun, and justified it by building his entire career around it. But the ultimate legacy of bad halftime performances has to be that of Up With People, which Wikipedia insists is an educational organization, yet they keep on dancing and singing. Seriously: Up With People performed during the Super Bowl halftimes for '76, '80, '82 and '86. One man with a narrow sense of entertainment must have been booking the show for the better part of a decade. If you watch the performances today, it is amazingly dated, yet somewhat entertaining in a bewildering, ludicrous nature. The tacky fashions of the day, the decidedly uncool choreography, the complete absence of youth; it is the type of pop culture time capsule that makes you think “I can't believe that people once considered this to be the pinnacle of entertainment”. Of course, it's possible that you're just not jaded or cynical. Maybe you see these Up With People shows as good, old-fashioned, harmless fun. That's okay. But you have to think about this: Why, at America's biggest sporting event, was it decided that the musical entertainment would be an educational organization (sporting bad mustaches and bell bottoms, no less) doing musical theater renditions of other artist’s hits? Halftime shows, in whatever sport, are always going to tread into some weird territory. Because of the one-time crossover audience, they often book acts that are irrelevant to the average sports fan. I doubt many NFL die-hards are big Madonna fans, let alone enjoy spending their off-nights watching Elvis Presto dazzle the crowds at the local VFW. Still, it's better to do it big and bold, rather than bad and butt-ugly.

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Top Ten Covers of 80's Songs In The Last Decade

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Ah the 80’s, you simultaneously shame me and make me want to break out into dance. 80’s covers have always sort of been horrible, why is that? I’m guessing that has to do with the overall quality of music in that time period. No one seemed to know what the hell was going on (except Michael Jackson). Here’s a list of some odd covers coming from some odd bands in the last 10 years.

10. Dinosaur Jr. “Just Like Heaven” (The Cure)

Every band has covered this song, but no one makes it their own like Jay Mascis. The amount of distortion and sloppy shredding going on before the lyrics come in is truly inspiring. It’s the most ballsy a Cure song has ever sounded.

9. Kings Of Convenience "Free Fallin’” (Tom Petty)

This is one of those songs that guy at the party who brought a guitar always plays. Luckily, these guys do it so well, that you’re free to smash that guy’s guitar and play this instead.

8. Postal Service "Against All Odds" (Phil Collins)

The first time I heard this cover I almost thought it was an original until I heard the chorus. Postal Service does it so well, adding a good amount of desperation in a way only Ben Gibbard can.

7. She & Him "Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want" (The Smiths)

I’m admittedly not a fan of sad British pop music from the 80’s, but I do love me some Zooey Deschanel and I very much enjoy this cover that was set to 500 Days Of Summer’s soundtrack.

6.  Band Of Horses "You Make My Dreams Come True" (Hall & Oates)

Come on, you knew I wouldn’t make a list like this without some Hall & Oates, the king and queen of the 80’s (I’ll let you decide who the queen is).  This song makes me want to get up and just kick the air.

5. David Byrne "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" (Whitney Houston)

David Byrne makes this song funky, not that it already didn’t have a good rhythm for dancing. I remember my sister all scrunchied up dancing to this song back in the day.

4. Gnarls Barkley "Gone Daddy Gone” (Violent Femmes)

Hearing Ceelo sing this song works, but it’s really all about the xylophone, and Danger Mouse does the Femmes proud here. Yes he can play instruments, no he’s not just a DJ anymore.

3. The Lemonheads “Skulls” (The Misfits)

This is one of my favorite covers of all time, and I’ve spent many weeks attempting to find it after it disappeared from my iTunes. While most of the Lemonheads’ other work doesn’t quite hit me, hearing Glenn Danzig’s song about mounting skulls on his wall sung so sweetly is just perfect.

2. Gary Jules "Mad World" (Tears For Fears)

Thanks to Donnie Darko, Gary Jules came under most peoples’ radars with his whisper soft cover of this totally 80’s hit. This version just makes a bit more sense to me without a lot of overused synthesizers.

1. Tori Amos "Raining Blood" (Slayer)

Yes, this really happened. I actually don’t like Tori at all, she’s very much a diva and is not polite to those she doesn’t know. But, behavior aside, this is one of the more interesting covers of any band ever. I wonder if Slayer enjoyed it? Honorable Mentions: Gossip "Careless Whisper" (Wham!) Boy Least Likely To "Faith" (George Michael) The Flaming Lips “Borderline” (Maddona) The Arcade Fire “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”  (Cyndi Lauper) What are your favorite covers of songs from the 80's?

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