Alex Sobel

Alex Sobel is a freelance writer and musician living in Toledo, OH. Likes: bothering his cat and dog while they're trying to sleep, tongue-in-cheek dancing in music videos. Dislikes: introducing himself to strangers, being asked to describe "what kind of music he writes." Fiction has appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post Online; Foundling Review; Ink, Sweat, and Tears; theNewerYork; Treehouse; and others. His articles appear regularly in The Press, a newspaper out of Oregon, OH.

Sep 252015

1989Last year, when Ryan Adams released “Gimme Something Good,” the first single from his self-titled album, my first thought was this: That chorus sounds a LOT like “Mine” by Taylor Swift.

Even though they do sound similar, the thought of Ryan Adams – a guy known for intense genre-hopping, releasing albums like a song factory, and being an all around cool guy – being a Taylor Swift fan seemed unlikely.

Apparently, he’s a fan. Enough of a fan to cover her newest record, 1989, in its entirety.
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Apr 142015

Listening to Wallflower, Diana Krall’s new covers record, a question comes to mind:

Who’s the intended audience for this?

It’s a strange beast of an album, in which the jazz star (is she even really a jazz artist these days?) takes some of the most obvious choices from the pop/rock cannon and goes full lounge singer on them.

A lot of the blame for this album can probably be tossed onto producer David Foster (whose daughters, weirdly enough, currently have a mockumentary-type show on VH1). The whole album is drenched in dreamy strings, gentle (or non-existent) percussion, and whimsical piano. Not that the production on any one song ruins the whole thing, but the arrangements all seem to be exactly the same. If these songs weren’t currently playing in every dentist office in the country at this exact moment, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
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Mar 242015

Let’s get this out of the way first: Elliott Smith’s songs are not easy to cover. This isn’t necessarily related to virtuosity, but might even be related to the exact opposite. Smith’s voice (squeaky, usually double-tracked, always on the verge of slipping off key) was something that he used as a weapon, tearing right into the heart of his music. Pairing that voice with soul-baring lyrics and melodies that never strayed too far from the Beatles and Beach Boys school of pop music, Smith carved out a segment of the singer-songwriter genre that was all his own.

That being said, Seth Avett (of the Avett Brothers) and Jessica Lea Mayfield have a decent go at it on the informatively titled Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith. Upon first listen, the album’s most glaring problem (for Smith fans, at least) becomes apparent: most of the selections fall very close the originals. “Between the Bars,” probably the most covered song of Smith’s songs (over-covered, if you ask this reviewer), hits all of the original’s beats. “Angeles,” too, is played (albeit a little slower) like a straight transfer of the Either/Or cut. Though, this does raise a question: what’s the alternative? How do you rearrange “Angeles” (perhaps the best candidate for the most wholly representative song in the Elliott Smith catalogue) without losing what makes it special? I imagine these are the questions that Avett and Mayfield asked themselves, too – presumably without finding any satisfactory answers.
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Jan 272015

“She may be young, but she only likes old things. And modern music ain’t to her taste.”

Death Cab for Cutie only released one album, Codes and Keys, during lead singer Ben Gibbard’s brief marriage to She & Him singer, Zooey Deschanel, but that album gave us with the lyric above, from the song “Monday Morning.” The line is likely about Deschanel, and perfectly sums up Classics, She & Him’s new covers record. The selections were all written before the 34-year-old singer was born, and the production (the album was recorded live with an orchestra) does nothing to make these songs sound like they came out any time recently.

For the most part, that’s okay. She & Him is a band that sounds like they belong from another era, so you have to come to their albums with expectations about the song. While it might have been more interesting to hear newer songs performed in the style of older hits, what they give us is still charming in its own right.
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Dec 052014


That’s the first question that comes to mind when listening to A Little Help From My Fwends, the Flaming Lips’ album that covers all of the Beatles’ seminal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This isn’t an inherently bad question to ask, though, especially with this band. From making a 4-disc album meant to be played simultaneously (or in any combination) to releasing a USB drive of love songs inside a chocolate, anatomically correct heart, the Lips have always had a degree of quirky, unbridled (and seemingly unchecked) compulsion guiding their career. This seeming inability to reign in their impulse to do whatever idea comes to mind has resulted in a ton of great music and a feverish cult following.
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Nov 282014

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

“This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody),” which first appeared on their 1983 album Speaking in Tongues (as well as on their incredible 1984 live album / soundtrack Stop Making Sense), is one of the few songs in the Talking Heads catalogue that could be considered a “love song.” In interviews, the band’s singer/lyricist David Byrne says that he made a conscious choice to make it a “real love” song, but sought to avoid making it too corny or simplistic (the “naïve melody” parenthetical shows the kind of self-awareness that made Byrne such a strong and strange creative force). The result is a song that, while lacking any kind of narrative, is brimming with poignant single lines that makes up for an emotional experience.
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