April Smith and the Great Picture Show: Songs for a Sinking Ship

RIYL: KT Tunstall, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Liza Minnelli

Sometimes great singers try a bit too hard to prove that they’re great. April Smith is not one of those singers. The arrangements on her latest and most impressive album Songs for a Sinking Ship fit her sultry voice like a glove and her songwriting is both playful and intellectual. April Smith is clearly capable of controlling the whole circus when it comes to vocal acrobatics but possesses the restraint to allow each song to shine as bright as her ability.

After numerous listens, I’ve yet to find a track that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. A standout track on Songs for a Sinking Ship is “Wow and Flutter” which combines semi-dark theatrics with a refrain that could have found a home on a Ratt record. Odd, I know, but it totally works. Additionally, the closer “Stop Wondering” is easily the most delightful “fuck you” to a former lover ever recorded.


Aside from her glowing talent behind the mic and the pen, she’s clearly figured out the business side of things as well. She used kickstarter.com and her ever-growing fan base (acquired from near constant touring over the past few years) to fund this release. We always hear stories of bands collecting cash online to fund their latest projects but many of those bands were once privileged enough to receive that initial “major label” push. April did it her way from the start and we can only hope that in the years to come she will be recognized as the fearless trailblazer that she is.

There are no gimmicks on Songs for a Sinking Ship. Only great writing and performing which is a very welcome change of pace from your typical release. You’re going to want to sing along with April Smith but you had better stretch out before attempting it or you will most certainly hurt yourself. (Little Roscoe 2010)

April Smith and The Great Picture Show | Official Website
Click to buy Songs for a Sinking Ship from Amazon


The low cost of recording equipment: good thing, or bad thing?

The other day, I had a random thought: will anyone ever be nostalgic for the ’00s? From my admittedly biased perspective (I didn’t come of age in this decade, so my perspective isn’t as rose-colored as it may be for others), the answer is an emphatic ‘no.’ The political climate was as toxic and divisive as the country has ever known. The music business fell to pieces. Baseball suffered, and is still suffering, its worst scandal. A football player was caught killing dogs. Tweens started dressing like strippers. Sexting. Paris Hilton. Television was as good as it’s ever been, but so what? It’s only television.

Then again, we’re sometimes nostalgic for days gone by not because of what happened in the world, but because of what happened to us. (Again, that whole coming-of-age thing.) Someone will lose their virginity to a Creed song, and have a soft spot for the band for the rest of their lives because of it. That’s how nostalgia works; it can’t be reasoned with, which means that someone will think of these as the best days of their lives. Yikes.

And yet, it would be wrong to say that the ’00s were without their charms. As I said, television was pretty awesome, and that “Umbrella” song will bury every man, woman and child currently living today. As the Bullz-Eye staff assemble their lists for favorite this and that of 2009 and the decade as a whole, I began with something a little more personal: the ten things that had the biggest impact on my life and those around me, both good and bad. Here is one of the bad things.

The low cost of recording equipment

Let me guess: you just said, “You’re arguing against the low cost of recording equipment?” Absolutely. Now that virtually anyone can make their own music, every spoiled, over-privileged teenager now feels that it is their God-given right to do so.

It’s not.

Say what you want about the major label system before downloads brought them to their knees, but there was some quality control taking place when they were the gatekeepers. That filter has since been removed, and now all it takes is a few million fake hits on a MySpace page, a greased palm on this or that music blog (writers are ridiculously easy to bribe; start with booze), and boom, suddenly Johnny Bedroom is a big deal. (In fact, our own Jeff Giles is convinced that the success of Conor Oberst is a practical joke hatched by the editors of Pitchfork gone horribly wrong.) Where bands used to have to gig for years – and thus improve in the process, which benefited all concerned – they can now make waves with little more than sleight of hand.

This isn’t good for anyone. The marketplace was already overcrowded; now it’s ten times worse, making it virtually impossible for a band to maintain a high commercial profile for more than an album or two. As bands have struggled to maintain chart success, listeners’ tastes have become more liquid (which is a nice way of saying ‘fickle’), compounding the problem even more and all but ensuring that only the most mainstream of pop acts ascend to the upper reaches of the Hot 100. New bands now have to literally give their songs away in order to be heard, with little thought given to how that only further devalues their product.

The idea behind cheaper recording equipment is that it will level the playing field. The reality behind it is that the upper class is unaffected – and in fact are getting much, much richer – while the lower class has suddenly tripled in size. (The middle class, ironically, remains the same because it consists mostly of heritage acts who spend more time on the road than in the studio.) And on the off chance that some unknown artist scores national attention thanks to their bedroom pop record, what is the first thing they do with their newfound name recognition? Sign to a major label, of course. Not exactly the act of rebellion that home recording was supposed to inspire.

The bottom line is that music is subject to the same principles of supply and demand as everything else. When supply goes up but demand stays the same, the value drops. (Technically, it’s the price that’s supposed to drop, but we all know that that’s not going to happen.) Releasing an album used to be a big deal; it meant that you had talent – or at the very least, a marketable quality – and someone in a position of power believed in you enough to pay for your studio time. Now, it merely means that you were able to save up a little bit of cash.

To read the entire article, which also includes a handy comment section translation table, click here.


Dress up like Weird Al, and he’ll call you!*

All right, so Bullz-Eye is doing their most off-the-wall giveaway yet. They are giving away The Essential “Weird Al” Yankovic, a two-disc retrospective of what can only be described as satirical genius. Three runners-up will receive the CD set, and one grand prize winner will receive the CD and…a five-minute phone call with Weird Al himself! Suh-weet!

Ah, but there’s a catch. This isn’t one of those contests where you just send your name in and sit by the phone. Nope, all entrants must provide a photo of themselves dressed as Weird Al. Happy Halloween! So break out your curly-haired wig and start mugging for the camera. But before you get started, take a look at the clip that Jib Jab put together of Al’s White Stripes-riffing homage to “Match Game” panelist Charles Nelson Reilly. Funniest clip we’ve seen all year. Giddy-up, Gene!

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

For more information on Bullz-Eye’s Weird Al Yankovic contest, click here.

*- Odds of winning based on the number of entries. And how much you already look like Weird Al.


I’m Gonna Make You Love Me: 15 Great Bands We Used to Hate

They say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression…unless you’re a musician, of course. In what other world can you hate something with the white-hot fire of a thousand suns, only to discover one day that a switch involuntarily flipped in your head that makes you think, “You know what, I really like these guys!”? Truth be told, it happens to us nearly every day, and most of the time it’s with a band or artist that we as music reviewers are supposed to love unconditionally but, for whatever reason, we just don’t. Or at least didn’t up until recently.

Call this the companion piece to our list earlier this year of bands that we just don’t get – which was almost universally misinterpreted as a staff-wide condemnation, rather than each writer speaking for himself – only with a much more positive vibe. The Bullz-Eye writers bare their souls and confess to previous biases that have since turned to heartfelt crushes (or at the very least, tolerance of a band’s existence). The list of acquired tastes is a who’s who of Hall of Famers, critical darlings, and…Cobra Starship? Who let that guy in here?

Flaming Lips
My first exposure to the Flaming Lips was seeing the video for “She Don’t Use Jelly” on MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead” show, which immediately pegged the Lips as a novelty in my mind (and not one that I even enjoyed all that much). How could one not see novelty in a song with a character who spreads Vaseline on her toast? This was kid stuff, and yes, I could be a silly kid, but where I drew my lines of tolerance for silliness were admittedly very arbitrary (example: I unironically enjoyed Mister Ed). As such, I completely shut out the Lips.

Fast forward five years later: I was just about finished with college, working at a record store, yet still very skeptical when a respected friend and coworker slipped me an advance copy of The Soft Bulletin in 1999 (10 years ago already?). His taste was generally pretty spot on, so I gave it a shot. From the first song, I heard a completely different band, one that was drawing inspiration from one of my all-time favorites – Brian Wilson. I came around almost instantaneously upon hearing “Race for the Prize,” and even grew to dig “She Don’t Use Jelly” too. How stupid could I have been all that time? Blame it on my youth. – Michael Fortes

Guided by Voices
The buzz was loud and clear on Bee Thousand, the lo-fi masterpiece by Dayton alt-rockers Guided by Voices. This was the record that everyone positively had to own, so I borrowed it from a friend of mine…and totally didn’t get it. The songs aren’t finished! Are these demos? When lead singer Robert Pollard – whose last name should be a synonym for ‘prolific’ – saw a song to its completion, as he did on “Tractor Rape Chain,” I was definitely into it, but too many of the songs felt like piss takes to me, so I politely stayed off the bandwagon. Five years later, he made “Teenage FBI” with Ric Ocasek, which I loved, but still didn’t buy any of their records. Then they dropped Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, a compilation of Pollard’s more, ahem, finished songs, and I finally bit, and the disc scarcely left my CD player for months afterward. And then, of course, the band broke up just when I was beginning to appreciate them. Luckily, they recorded 16 albums in 17 years before calling it quits. The only question now is: which one do I start with? – David Medsker

To read the rest of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me: 15 Great Bands We Used to Hate,” click here.


I Swear I’m Gonna Make You Love Me: 15 Great Bands We Used to Hate

Chances are, you don’t love all the same music you were passionate about five, 10, or 20 years ago. Some artists seem like a perfect fit for us at first, but we slowly outgrow their work — and with others, it’s just the opposite, and the stuff we couldn’t stand to listen to winds up becoming some of our favorite music. It’s a common experience among music lovers, and one shared by the Bullz-Eye music staff in a new feature called “I Swear I’m Gonna Make You Love Me: 15 Great Bands We Used to Hate.”

Taste is subjective, of course, and we have all sorts of odd reasons for being rubbed the wrong way by music, whether it’s the vocals (in his essay about coming around on Coheed & Cambria, James B. Eldred describes lead singer Claudio Sanchez as sounding like “the bastard lovechild of Geddy Lee and Neil Young”), subject matter (Michael Fortes dismissed the Flaming Lips as “kid stuff” after hearing “She Don’t Use Jelly”), or even an allergic reaction to hype (Mike Farley was tired of Kings of Leon before he even heard a note). But it’s funny how our tastes change over time — we burn out on some stuff, experience new things, and develop an appreciation for what once drove us up a wall. Hence Jason Thompson’s slow-burning love for the Velvet Underground (“Life without them now would be pointless”), Taylor Long’s hard-earned Sleater-Kinney fanhood (“I like them so much now that I’m embarrassed it took me so long to “get” them”), and Jamey Codding finally overcoming his “irrational aversion” to Tom Petty.

And those are just a few of the artists mentioned in the article. See how the Bullz-Eye staff’s tales of musical evolution match up with your own by following this link!