"OMFGG": Sex, Indie Music, and Cable

One of the most interesting things I find about primetime television programming is its use of sophisticated non-mainstream music. Shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” for instance, provide us with soundtracks as musically phenomenal and diverse as the programs themselves are compelling. These soundtracks can even sometimes serve as platforms for rising artists to gain new fan bases and propel them to stardom. Ingrid Michaelson, for instance, was just another struggling singer/songwriter with self released records until one day she recorded the track “Keep Breathing” for the “Grey’s” season three finale, and all of a sudden her first headlining tour found her playing sold out big venues such as New York’s Bowery Ballroom with legions of supporters singing along to every word of her songs, with “Keep Breathing” the clear crowd favorite.

On September 2nd, the newest hot adolescent phenomenon, The CW’s “Gossip Girl,” released their very first soundtrack. Mirroring the controversial posters released this summer for this current season, the album cover features the picture of a fashionista girl holding a pink cell phone with the letters “OMFGG” splattered across it, standing for “Original Music From Gossip Girl.” If you’ve grown up in the age of Instant Messenger, you know very well what the first thing you think of is when you see those letters (for those of you not familiar with internet lingo, the term ‘OMFG’ usually refers to an abbreviation of “Oh my fucking god”). Right off the bat, the soundtrack is channeling the border crossing and conformity defying appeal that made the show everybody under 25’s guilty pleasure in the first place.

In the vein of other teen soap operas such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill,” the soundtrack to “Gossip Girl” is composed of all Billboard chart unknown alternative and indie artists. The most popular band on the soundtrack, Phantom Planet, may only be recognized by the average teen listener because ironically they made a name for themselves by singing the theme song to “The OC” a few years ago. This time around, they contribute the track “Do The Panic,” a song heavily influenced by new record label mates Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy. It’s a fun and upbeat track that could easily be played in the late hours of a Williamsburg bar to get the hipsters to push back their bangs, loosen their neck scarves, chug their last Sparks, and create one last ruckus on the dance floor before retreating back to their toilet sized studio lofts.

Setting the precedent of the lively pulse that pumps throughout the entire record, the album opens with The Kills’ “Sour Cherry,” taken from their critically acclaimed album “Midnight Boom.” Much like the majority of the rest of the songs, this track sounds as if lust and repressed teenage sexual energy could be summarized in a three minute bass line. It’s electronic and libido inspired beat starts the song off sounding like a series of quick thrusts before breaking into the uniquely trademark vocals of Alison Mosshart. Picture The Velvet Underground was still around and performing at a rave where you could sit and enjoy the show while getting a lap dance from uber-hottie Megan Fox – it’s that same sound and raw energy that experience would give you that The Kills kick off this record with.

Following next is The Kooks’ “Do You Wanna.” With its thumping percussion and sly guitar riffs backing the tantalizing moans and screams of the lead singer, the format of the song stays true to its lyrics about tempting someone into the bedroom to, as they like to put it, “make love.” The song sounds like a mash-up between Cold War Kids and Spoon, creating a gem of alternative indie-rock. The same can be said for The Virgins’ “One Week Of Danger,” one of the sexiest songs you’ll most likely ever hear being played on basic cable. Lyrics such as “Well is there something that you like about her? Yes. I like the way her body bends in half,” or “Well is there something that you wanted from her? Yes. I want her legs, her body, and her cash,” prove that like “Gossip Girl” itself, the song means business and isn’t afraid to expose too much. Its covetousness of promiscuity is most apparent, however, when the lead singer starts to whisper in a trembling voice “Let’s get together and get it on, let’s get these clothes off before I’m gone.”

The album then takes a brief turn towards more club infused music, yet manages to stick to its alternative feel. Songs such as Nadia Oh’s “Got Your Number,” Crystal Castles’ “Crimewave (vs. Health),” and Junkie XL’s “Cities In Dust” paint us vivid pictures of the series’ bad girl Serena Van Der Woodsen out on the New York club scene before resorting back to her hotel room for another quick line of cocaine (yes, that did happen on the show). However, the songs are far from your typical techno infused dance music, and instead sound like if the Chemical Brothers and The Ting Tings (coincidentally another fantastic band featured on this album) got together for a series of collaborations. In other words, these songs would quench the thirsts of both avid club goers as well as those music snobs that can’t listen to anything non-indie.

Nearing the end of the record, The Pierces’ “Three Wishes” slows down the lightning pace the other songs provide. One of the top played songs on my iTunes for over a year now, I’m a little biased when I say this is my favorite track off the album. Upon first hearing it, the song sounds like an old Russian folk song one would expect to hear a head scarf wearing babushka playing on her accordion in an outdoor market at the Red Square in Moscow. Then come in the lavish and crystal cut beautiful harmonies of sisters Catherine and Allison Prince (the band’s two members) that manage to sound so simple and so complex at the same time, that one cannot help but get chills skipping down one’s neck in unison with the fluctuating strings of the violin in the background. As it is one of the last songs on the album, it sounds like the winding down post-sex cuddling track one would listen to before falling asleep. “You want one true lover with a thousand kisses, you want soft and gentle and never vicious,” swoon The Pierces, giving the illusion of holding someone tightly and intimately.

The album closes with the Beatles-esque “Everytime,” performed by Lincoln Hawk (not to be confused with Linkin Park), the fictional band on the show fronted by leading man Dan Humphrey’s father. Even though technically Lincoln Hawk are not real musicians, one would never have known that from just listening to the track. It’s without question one of the record’s highlights, and could easily be a song featured on a Rooney album. It’s the 2008 version of The Wonders’ “That Thing You Do,” – a piece of rock and roll influenced pop by a fake band that resulted in real, decent music. Don’t let the initial qualms of it being labeled as a fictional musician deter you from giving this track a chance (hands down the best song on any of the “One Tree Hill” soundtracks was “Halo,” performed by actress Bethany Joy Galeotti, yet on the record itself the artist was marked as Haley Scott, the name of Bethany’s character on the show).

It makes a lot of sense that the accompanying soundtrack to “Gossip Girl” would attempt to push the same envelope musically that the show does visually. Yes, this album feels like it was hand picked to be played in the background of an orgy at a convention for nymphomaniacs, but essentially that is what the show is, and that’s why we love it and tune in every Monday at 8:00 to watch it. It’s a compilation of up-and-coming indie and alternative artists without a single bad track in the mix. Kudos to whoever does the music for these shows because it would be so easy to plug in whatever Top 40 music was around at the time of a given episode to match teenagers’ radio stations and television sets. Instead, they opt to go different routes in attempts to broaden musical horizons and give different genres and musicians a chance. Thereby, even if you disagree with everything “Gossip Girl” stands for, you can’t help but respect it for what it is.

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Jack’s Mannequin Invites Us To Be "Passengers" Of Life Through Art

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(Andrew McMahon, Myself)

Hailed by many as the messiah of the Warped Tour generation, Andrew McMahon is not your everyday heartbroken and emo-bleeding-all-over-the-piano-keys type musician. When the world first heard his voice as the front man of Something Corporate in their 2002 debut album “Leaving Through The Window,” it was immediately apparent that this was an artist unlike any other in the mainstream media. The success of SoCo’s first album led to a second album, “North,” which garnered enough attention to win a slot on tours alongside big name acts such as Jimmy Eat World, 311, Good Charlotte, and Yellowcard. Once he had built up a diehard fan-base, Andrew decided to step it up and approach songwriting from a different, newer, and rawer angle. The result: he created Jack’s Mannequin, his solo project to express himself through his music in ways he had never done before.

Then came huge, unexpected, unwelcome personal news. Three months before Jack’s Mannequin debut album “Everything In Transit” was released back in 2005, Andrew was forced to cancel all upcoming concerts, appearances, and press for his new musical baby. At the age of twenty-three, he was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia. Legions of fans immediately started raising money for leukemia awareness. There was a fundraiser which featured orange rubber bracelets with the words “I Will Fight” on them, a lyric from Something Corporate’s “Watch The Sky.” Just through one website, absolutepunk.net, over six thousand bracelets were sold raising twenty thousand dollars for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation. “Everything In Transit” was released on the same day Andrew got a stem cell transplant thanks to his sister Katie coming forward as a donor. The album immediately jumped to #37 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Later that year, Andrew started to tour again and began properly promoting the release of his record. At a concert in July of 2006, he announced that this was the last night he had to take medication and that starting the next day he would be completely cancer free. A documentary about Andrew’s struggles entitled “Dear Jack” which includes self-recorded hospital footage, is currently in post-production, and also shares the name of the non-profit charity Andrew founded to raise funds for cancer research.

Now, three years after the biggest year of his life, Andrew is back in full swing, and Jack’s Mannequin sophomore album, “The Glass Passenger,” will be released on September 30th. It is already featured on the cover of Alternative Press Magazine’s “Most Anticipated Albums” issue at the beginning of the year. With so much hype around the release of the record, you might think you’re in for a disappointment. But you’d be wrong. After listening to it for the first time, I can honestly say it is the god-sent album we have all been waiting for.

The record opens with the lead single “The Resolution.” The moment I heard the first piano chords and Andrew’s voice, I was close to tearing up. It was really true: he’s back. “I’m alive and I don’t need a witness to know that I survived, I just need light, I need light in the dark as I search for the resolution,” he swoons over his trademark dominating piano hooks and rocked-out band.

I had the pleasure of seeing him perform this track live recently during his opening summer stint for Paramore, and, let me tell you, the crowd went insane. It was the only track from the new album he played during his set because he wanted his fans to be able to sing along with the songs they already knew, but this was by far the highlight of his performance. The song ended with his signature move of him standing up while pounding away at the keys with one foot on the piano, before he jumped on top of his instrument and dragged his stool along the keys for the dramatic finale with one outstretched arm holding his microphone up high in the air. If any rock star is truly a modern rock star, it’s Andrew McMahon.

After this show, I spoke to him backstage and asked him about what direction he hoped this album would take Jack’s Mannequin. He told me that he just wanted his songs to be heard because he had a lot to say, but that people should not expect an album full of sad songs about being sick, but rather a record celebrating everything that it means to be alive. This theme is most apparent on the beautiful track “Swim,” a song about what it means to go through something bad in order to be able experience something good, and how important it is to fight through the setbacks of life.

Featuring guest vocals of indie-pop up and comer Stacy Clark, “Spinning” has arguably the catchiest chorus Andrew has ever written. The track sounds like it was written while Andrew was waiting to find out if he had been cured or not. The listener can truly sense the desperation he was feeling, as well as his desire to shut out the world (including his own thoughts) and put it on hold until he knew whether or not he would live. Lyrically, it’s a very somber song; however, it’s far from any type of ballad and instead serves as a pop/rock track whose chorus you will be humming long after the record is over.

The album is full of songs that still fit into the usual Jack’s Mannequin “California piano rock” genre, but they are clearly more influenced by older musicians than the first record. “Suicide Blonde,” for instance, sounds what I would imagine the Beach Boys would sound like if they were to come out today. The song somehow manages to make you feel like you’re wearing big sunglasses and driving a convertible down Sunset Boulevard on a hot summer day. It’s also one of the most heavily rock numbers on the record, with far more percussion than one is used to hearing accompany Andrew’s voice.

While all the songs on the record are special in their own ways, the true standout track is “Lullaby.” If anyone expected to buy this album and listen to heart-shattering songs about the fine line between life and death, then this is the song you’ve been waiting to hear. The song tells the story of Andrew’s friend asking him to write her a song because she lost her will to live and wants something to hold onto that’s hers. “Give me something to believe in, a breath from breathing, so write it down. I don’t think that I’ll close my eyes, ‘cause lately I’ve been not been dreaming so what’s the point in sleeping? It’s just that at night I’ve got nowhere to hide, so I’ll write you a lullaby,” Andrew sings in a voice reflecting both his and her internal suffering. The momentum of the song builds up until it reaches a crescendo of beautifully intense piano playing. I defy anyone not to feel chills down his or her spine at that moment.

Andrew McMahon has been through more at age twenty-six than the average person goes through their entire life. What makes him a true artist is how he doesn’t allow these experiences to hinder him, but rather uses them as tools to reach out and get others to feel and understand how lucky they are and what it truly means to be alive. When it is released in a few weeks, “The Glass Passenger” will not only be a shoe-in as one of the best albums of the year, but will serve as inspiration to millions of people in need of reassurance. Do not let September 30th go by without buying this record. I guarantee that it has the power to change your life.

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