Monday, November 19, 2007

The Fifty States In Rhyme

I tend to be drawn to things that seem impossibly big or difficult, something about the challenge of an unscaleable mountain. Maybe it is because if you DO manage to finish the task at hand it’s difficulty makes it thousands of time more impressive, but if you don’t then, well, not a big deal because that shit was CRAZY hard, NOBODY thought you were going to actually finish that… it’s cool. Maybe it’s because when you set out on these big legendary tasks you always know where you are headed, and that makes the work a lot easier to keep track of. I’m not really sure, but Sufjan Stevens apparently feels the same way.

In 2003 Sufjan released the record, “Michigan”, which was a concept record about the people, places and history behind the great lake state. He also announced that he was going to make a concept record for each and every of the 50 states of the union. He stayed true to his word with the release of “Illinois” in 2005.

I honestly think that the best word to describe Illinois is a masterpiece. Let me explain my criteria for this revered acknowledgement.

There are two kind of records that I enjoy. The first catches you right away; the instant that it hits your ear you like it you know that you like it. It’s like candy. Unfortunately, once that initial phase passes those songs are just not as sweet, it still has flavor, but nothing like the first few times you heard it. It’s like looking at an amazing painting from far away and then getting up close to realize that it’s really not as intricate as you thought. Or seeing a babe from far away and then getting up close and realizing, oh, wait, that is definitely not a babe. Whatever metaphor suits you, painting or babe, I’m sure you get the point. Regardless, it’s never really that much of a bummer because catching ones ear is hard enough, it was great while it lasted and for the most part everybody goes home happy. Not quite full, but happy.

Anyway, the next kinds of record that I like are the exact opposite. They are intricate, like a huge mansion with all sorts of rooms and hallways to explore. They reveal themselves slowly and over time, and they might not even catch a hold of you the first time you hear it. Maybe not even the second, or the third. But the reason that these records are better (only slightly, there ain’t nothing wrong with candy either) is that eventually they end up meaning so much more than if they would have just come right out and said, “Hey, this is what I’m all about, lets hang!”

I think that the best records, the real masterpieces of recording, are somehow both. They are instantly catchy and seductive and yet at the same time they hold these huge mysteries that you only notice after listening for months. I think that “Illinois” is one of those records.

Here is my favorite track off of that record, I will probably post more Sufjan later as he is probably my favorite artist of the moment. Enjoy.

The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us! by Sufjan Stevens
(Right click and "Save As")

Buy Illinois by Sufjan Stevens

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Anti-War Detour, The Rest Coming Soon...

Annnnnnnd we’re back.

Sorry about the wait folks. Does it seem odd to you that I could go from posting here almost every day to going an entire month and a half without any sign of returning? It shouldn’t, because, as I am sure most of you are already aware, I am a member of a little band called Idiot Pilot and as such, I need to be on tour, a lot. Touring is not quite as glamorous as some people may be inclined to believe, in fact, it is downright grueling. If you like driving for 12 hours straight in a cramped van, carrying a bunch of shit around, playing your show (more often than not, a good thing), getting assaulted with hours of heavy music that makes your head hurt, and then repeating that for 2 months, you should totally start a band. Needless to say, there isn’t a lot of time to explore the finer points of music blogging.

But that is exactly what I intend to do. Something tells me a little writing will break up the monotony, and it’s going to give me a reason to start diving into some of my favorite music, which is always fun.

Based on some of the pervious posting that I have done it should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of folk music. These days, in fact, I find myself identifying more with it than, say, good old-fashioned rock and roll. Tonight, I want to shine the spotlight on a subgenre of folk that am particularly enthralled with at the moment, which I am going to be calling Contemporary American Folk, otherwise known as Indie Folk Revival, which is probably equally as fitting. We already talked about Scottish songwriter Donovan, who’s lesser-known, melancholy tracks are some of my favorite songs ever written (but are, none the less, not very Americana in there themes) and of course, composer Aaron Copeland who’s songs are overwhelmingly American but certainly not folk, at least in these terms.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly when this particular movement of music took shape, but where the listening public seems to have first taken notice of the folk revival would be Omaha’s Bright Eyes. Now Bright Eyes has been around for a while (I remember listening to his EP’s while I would skateboard around town as a 7th grader), but with the release of 2002’s Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil the larger public took notice. I like Lifted, but it’s definitely not my favorite Bright Eyes record because the songwriting on it is much more in line with Alternative Rock than Folk. If that sounds better to you (which it probably does) then you should check out Lifted.

But I don’t want to talk about Bright Eyes just yet. I mean, come on, everyone knows Bright Eyes right? Right?

Okay, well we can take a SLIGHT detour into Bright Eyes land if we must (not that I mind, this song is amazing). I recommend that you check out this little ditty off of one of my favorite Bright Eyes records, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.” Also, as a side note, the backup vocals in this song happen to be none other than the legendary Emmylou Harris.

Landlocked Blues by Bright Eyes

Buy I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

I was going to move on to the real point of this article but you know what, now that I think about it, I am going to leave you with this. This song is fucking sweet. Sit on it for a while, enjoy it, cherish it. I have been rambling for to long anyway. Gotta keep these short and sweet. We are going to pick up where we left off in a few days, hopefully just one day, actually, and THEN I will let everyone in on my absolute favorite artist of this little folk-rock revival. Besides, I am in a loud shitty club that’s full of smoke right now, and I need to get the hell out of here. Until next time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Better Than Sex

There is an inevitable point in the career of every celebrity or musician when that age old question comes into play. That question, of course, is "Are they gay? I think they might be gay." I don't know why this is, espically because at the end of the day it doesn't really matter does it? Historically, the most common answer is flat out denial, which makes perfect sense because rarely do any of these accusations have any basis in well, fact. Easy. In situations when the person actually IS homosexual, they may be inclined to say, "Yeah, I am gay, what the fuck is your problem?" which is, of course, awesome.

But then along comes Morrissey and blows everyone else out of the fucking water. When people started asking if he was gay or straight, the Moz decided to go all out and claim to be 100% asexual and 100% celibate. Sweet.

Despite these claims, which may or may not be true, Morrissey played this video before going on stage during his 2007 US tour which I had the pleasure of attending myself.

You be the judge.

Anyway, my point in bringing this up is that Morrissey has an approach to things that is all his own. From questions about his sexuality, to his approach to music. In particular, his lyrics. The Moz found his voice in honesty, and in a stream of conciousness approach to vocals, with conversation-like lyrics sung in complex weaving arrangements over the music.

Much like David Byrne, who I talked about in a previous Talking Heads post, I actually prefer Morrissey's more recent solo work to the stuff that he performed while in The Smiths, although both are absolutely amazing in their own right. For the sake of going chronologically though, I am going to post a song by The Smiths today. This is my favorite Smiths song.

Ask by The Smiths

By Louder Than Bombs

"Ask" was released seven months after I was born, in 1986, as single without any actual album. Apparently, The Smiths did this a lot back in the day, a time that is oddly foretelling when you consider the current musical climate we are approaching, where bands may simply just start releasing singles on iTunes without them ever appearing on an album. The single went to #14 on the UK charts. "Ask" eventually appeared on a Smiths CD titled Louder Than Bombs, which was a compilation of singles and B-Sides that was originally only released in the US.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What It Sounded Like When Doomsday Killed Superman in Issue #75

In case the three of you that actually read my little blog noticed, I have been off line for about a week or so. The server that I was using to host my MP3 files disappeared for no apparent reason, and so I have been searching for a new place to host files for a while now. Looking for a new host sucks, but I finally found what appears to be a decent free server and have reuploaded all the MP3s that I had previously posted. Feel free to backtrack and download some of those older MP3s you might have missed.

I will continue to post as often as I can, kicking off with a bad ass instrumental jam by Tristeza.

(Tristeza, bumming on something?)

Tristeza are from San Diego but, like most "post rock" bands, sound like they are from a cold European country where everything is made out of ice crystals. You know, somewhere kind of like Superman's Fortress of Solitude? Unfortunately this illusion is hard to maintain once you notice that most of there album and song titles are in Spanish.


The band has somehow managed to release fourteen (yes, fourteen) EPs or CDs between 1998 and 2006, the latest of which also contains a DVD full of music videos for songs that aren't actually on the CD that comes with it (Sweet!). In 2003 guitarist James LaValle left Tristeza to work on his solo project, The Album Leaf, full time, a group which more than a few of you may already be familiar with. The song I am posting, though, was released on the album "Dream Signals In Full Circles" in 2000, when James was still part of the group.

Building Peaks by Tristeza

Buy Dream Signals In Full Circles by Tristeza

I highly suggest vibeing on the classic 1993 Superman cover while you listen...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Look Who's Back

I made a post about a week ago where I talked about what I see as the trademarks of true American music. I realize now, upon further reflection, that that post could have really just been summed up in two simple words:

The Boss.

(Fuck yes)

I'll just come right out and say it, Bruce Springsteen (aka The Boss) has absolutely got to be one of the coolest dudes on the planet. You could describe him as a lot of things; a simple folk singer from New Jersey, the mouthpiece of blue collar America, or even as Max Weinberg other boss besides Conan O'Brien.

With all of these titles, it's safe to say that Bruce has accomplished a lot, not just because of his amazing talent as a songwriter, but also because he has been around for a really fucking long time. Born in 1949, Bruce decided to take up music after watching Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show when he was just seven years old. He started playing gigs around New Jersey when he was in his early twenties and was eventually picked up by Columbia Records in 72'. Apparently back in those days people liked to talk about how much he sounded like Bob Dylan.

Anyway, fast forward to 1984 and The Boss is putting out Born In The USA, which had literally seven top-ten hits, more than half of the album (It's 12 tracks deep). Keep in mind that this is probably one of the most gratuitous fast forwards ever because during the time between Bruce also released Born To Run, which totally rips, as well as the folk milestone, Nebraska. But like I said, Bruce Springsteen's career is pretty long so let's fast forward again to October 2nd, 2007.

This is the day that The Boss is coming out with a new record, called Magic. Now as far as favorite Bruce Springsteen albums go I am pretty parshall to 1992s Human Touch, mostly due to the fact that it contains both the tracks "Real Man" AND "Man's Job", but I have to say that, from what I have heard thus far, Magic could be a possible contender for that position. The track "Your Own Worst Enemy" sounds like classic old school Springsteen, filled up nicely with strings, a tambourine, horns, bells and more courtesy of the E. Street Band. I highly, highly, highly recommend picking up this CD when it hit's stores or ordering it from the below.

Your Own Worst Enemy by Bruce Springsteen

Buy Magic by Bruce Springsteen

Also, the single off of Magic is a song called "Radio Nowhere" and it is fucking awesome. It is available on iTunes right now.

Download "Radio Nowhere" Free from the iTunes Store

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What I Don't Hear, Usually

Personally, when I hear a song for the first time I very rarely hear the lyrics. The things that I instantly pick up on are the melody and the production, most of all, and then after many, many listens to I finally hear what the words actually are. I have plenty of friends that are the exact opposite, though, even to the point that they can repeat entire sections of a song after the first listen. For some reason words just don't stick with me.

Elliott Smith is one of those artists who's words, regardless of how much you would normally hear lyrics, will stick with you. I think that that is why so many people loved him, because his songs usually feel like they are written as a conversation between friends. It's not an everyday conversion, not like you ran into someone on the street and the two of you are just catching up, more like you are at a diner at 3:00 in the morning and the two of you are tired enough, or maybe drunk enough, to be really honest with each other for a while. That is a really personal feeling.

Angel In The Snow by Elliott Smith

Buy New Moon by Elliott Smith

The song Angel In The Snow was released after Smith's death on the double album New Moon, which consists of b-sides and unreleased tracks. I personally think it is the best song that Elliott Smith ever wrote. Much life Elliott's life, Angel In The Snow is a work of beauty that's only drawback is how quickly it's over.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Talking Heads vs. Ice-T

In 1992, Ice-T changed music history with the release of "Cop Killer" by his short lived heavy metal band, Body Count. Sire Records, Body Count's label at the time, eventually dropped the band, even after the track had been removed from the album by Ice-T himself. The song sparked a nationwide discussion about music and censorship while the bands record label received death threats. Fun stuff. But none of this would have been possible without the help of New York art rockers, Talking Heads.

What I always loved about the Talking Heads is that, at their heart, they were one of the world's few, real life punk bands. Even better still, you would never know that just from listening to them. This is the genius of Talking Heads singer and songwriter David Byrne, he understood that punk could be more than just an aesthetic choice. While most other punk bands in the late 70s and 80s certainly sounded different then what was playing on the mainstream radio, they were also sounding exactly the same as one another. The Talking Heads, on the other hand, were entrenched in the same scene, but developing a sound that was completely different. They are now regarded by most as the founders of "New Wave".

(Talking Heads, looking hella punk)

The Talking Heads formed in 74, but didn't really get going until a few years later when they started playing at legendary punk club CBGBs, just before releasing there first album, titled "77" in, you guessed it, 1977. CBGBs may have stood for "Country, Blue Grass, and Blues" but there was no doubt that by the time the Heads started playing there it was a punk club, home to bands like The Ramones and The Misfits. The band was quickly signed to Sire, which was a legendary punk label at the time.

The next year Talking Heads released "More Songs About Buildings And Food," which contained their oft quoted track, Psycho Killer. More than two decades later, the song would inspire Ice-T to write Cop Killer, causing him to part ways with, ironically, the same label that Psycho Killer was released on.

Years pass. While the punk scene was saying "fuck you" to everyone else, the Talking Heads said "fuck you" to the punk scene. With each following album the lyrics became weirder and more experimental, and the music became everything but rock and roll, falling more often then not into world music. The track that I am going to be posting today is off of their last album, "Naked". By this time the world music aspects of the band have taken a front row seat, which I think causes some of the fans of Talking Heads earlier work overlook this record. Lyrically, (Nothing But) Flowers is just as heady as anything David Byrne has written, detailing some sort of end to technology that has everyone pineing for the good ol' days of Pizza Huts and 7-11s.

(Nothing But) Flowers by Talking Heads

Buy Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads (Sweet boxed set)

Even though the Heads have since broken up (save for a one show reunion in 2002 at the Rock and Roll hall of fame), David Byrne is still pumping out killer, melt-your-face-'cuz-I-shred-so-hard-on-these-bongos world music albums, which I will probably be posting tracks from later. More than anything, the most impressive thing about the Talking Heads and later about David Byrne is how consistently good their songs are, whatever stage of their careers.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Band's from the 90's with the word soul in there name that aren't Collective Soul or Soul Asylum.

"Cool" can mean a lot of different things. In the current day and age it is thrown around pretty lightly, essentially having become synonymous with "good", "swell", "just fine." How was the movie? Pretty cool, whatever. There was a time, though, when being cool was a veritable badge of honor, reserved for only the most bad ass jazz-club-lounging trumpet-playing motherfuckers. There is not much to argue that Miles Davis was the original cool jazz guy (his first CD was called The Birth of Cool, after all, and that came out literally half a century ago in 1957.) Despite the fact that "Cool Jazz" as a genre started in New York City as early as the 40s, Miles Davis is where the idea of the cool jazz dude was literally defined.

From there, the word began seeping deeper into our collective vocabulary, spinning off into a description of most jazz guys. Although I would imagine that most purists were probably arguing the validity of one anothers "coolness", to the rest of the world most jazz clubs in NYC were probably just really fucking cool.

Eventually, though, the word became so widespread that the NYC meaning kind of just, disappeared.

Which brings me to my band of the day. Soul Coughing released only three albums in their short lifetime during the 90s, and despite what anyone may have told you otherwise, they are COOL as shit. The band was born in NYC, from the same (but now hyper evolved) scene that we spoke of earlier, this time in 1992. Made up of essentially what was a bunch of music school grads looking to experiment with a really funky, left field line up, they created a genre that to this day has not been recreated.

(Soul Coughing, in some super-fresh bear hunting gear)

Soul Coughing's rhythm section is firmly rooted in deep funky jazz and hip hop, eventually drawing from electronica and drum n bass as well. The bass used is an upright bass, always. To accompany them is a sampler player, who uses ironic and iconic soundtrack samples, mostly from old Warner cartoons, in very avant garde ways. Over all of this flows singer/talker/rapper Mike Doughty, whose voice is almost as original as his beat poetry, stream of conscious lyrics.

I am posting two songs today, because I think that Soul Coughing deserve it.

Super Bon Bon by Soul Coughing

Buy Irresistible Bliss by Soul Coughing

"Super Bon Bon" is off of their second album, titled Irresistible Bliss, and is a perfect example of Soul Coughing's earlier, more hip hop and jazz influenced sound. This song is also a great showcase of their creative use of samples, which are placed in seemingly random spots throughout the verse in dissonant bursts, and then used as a single distorted note to elevate the song at 40 seconds in, without changing any other elements. This concept is used again in the chorus.

$300 by Soul Coughing

Buy El Oso by Soul Coughing

The song "$300" off of their last album, 1998's El Oso (or, the bear, for those of you who aren't Spanish inclined) showcases the bands later, more drum n bass leaning, sound. Again, this song shows of unique sampling, by creating the vocal hook in the chorus out of a looped sample of some random dude.

Unfortunately Soul Coughing broke up in 2000. Bummer. Here's hoping they decide to set aside their differences and continue to bring deep slacker jazz back to the masses (or just to indie radio.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Blacklights, Flowers, Peace, Etc.

Today I would like to talk about one of my favorite folk singers, an effeminate Scottish guy by the name of Donovan.

I have to be honest, most of Donovan's catalog doesn't thrill me very much at all, particularly the songs that everyone seems to know. Even more specifically, Mellow Yellow. I don't understand what practical use this song could have except for a soft drink commercial. My point is, the songs that people seem to gravitate to by Donovan sound nothing like what I consider to be his best work, which is a fucking phenomenal CD from 1965 called Fairytale.

Fairytale is Donovan's second album and is followed by about 15 or so more records up until 2004's Beat Cafe. The instrumentation on it is incredibly sparse, with most songs never containing more tracks than a guitar, vocals and harmonica, and it seems to be overlooked by most Donovan fans who are more familiar with his later singles (later being an incredibly relative term, he hasn't had a song in the US top ten since 1968). Not surprisingly, the track listing for "Donovan Super-Hits" doesn't contain even a single track off of Fairytale.

In my eyes, though, this record is a gold mine. It contains at least five of the best folk recordings I have ever heard. The feel of Fairytale is a lot more somber and dark than what most people would associate with Donovan, full of guitar progressions that sound a bit like something Nick Drake would write, but is also sprinkled with some choice upbeat tracks like "Colours" (which actually was a minor hit in it's day) and "Candyman."

But enough talk, you should listen for yourself. Time to throw on your peace bracelets, hang a sweet blacklight poster of a dragon battling a mushroom, and then vibe on some of this far out Donovan shit.

The Ballad Of Geraldine by Donovan

Buy Fairytale by Donovan

Thursday, September 6, 2007

More American Than Apple Pie

Alright, let's see just how uncool we can get. One thing that I really love is music that is uniquely American sounding, in a very traditional sense. I am not talking about rock music really, because traditional American rock is more what you would call "Classic Rock" now-a-days, and really there isn't much about "Classic Rock" it that is uniquely American. When I think classic rock, I think Zeppelin, which takes us to the UK, which means we are already out of our element... Donny. No, the vibe that I am talking about actually probably stems from American Classical Music, although it's influence is prevalent in Folk and plenty of old school Pop.

What is it that makes this music so American to me? I think that the answer is actually pretty simple. This is soundtrack music, literally, because what is more American than Hollywood?

When Classical composer Aaron Copland finished music school, he actually did set out to make "American music", first choosing Jazz as the backbone of his work, simply because he thought that Jazz was what defined America at the time. Eventually though, he left Jazz behind and his influences became consumed almost entirely with traditional American Folk song. Between the 40s and 60s Copland's music somehow worked it's way into every soundtrack and film that crossed the silver screen, most notably the song "Hoe-Down" from the ballet "Rodeo." His work at this time is something that I guarantee you have heard thousands of times, it is filed back somewhere in your subconscious between to lines from Star Wars and how to bake an apple pie. More often than not, though, I think that people associate Aaron Copland specifically with films that are Westerns, and truth be told, it's hard not to imagine cowboys galloping across the desert to most of his compositions.

I see this style of Country, Folk, Classical-soundtrack-pop turn up every once in a while in more recent music. Randy Newman definantly follows a lot of the Aaron Copland conventions, even down to having a song catalog that has been almost entirely used on soundtracks. "Louisiana 1927" is a perfect example of this, even going as far as to make lyrical mention of Calvin Coolidge. Even more recently, artists like Sufjan Stevens are drawing heavily on this American folk style, which officially brings this entire post from music that your grandpa thinks totally slays to music that actually belongs in a music blog. That being said, I love Sufjan Stevens but I am going to save him for later posts. For now, you and your grandparents can rock the fuck out to some sweet Aaron Copland jams. You're welcome.

Appalachian Spring - Allegro by Aaron Copland

Buy The Essential Aaron Copland

The Big Bang

So, here it is.

I suppose it is about time that I got myself one of these little blogs, although other peoples interest in my musical ramblings is yet to be seen. One would think that, as a musician, the topic of what I am listening to would come up fairly often... It doesn't. And, when I do get asked the occasional, "So what new band is playing in your iPod at the moment?" I very rarely have a good answer.

There are two reasons for this; Number one, I listen to A lot of music on a daily basis, and most of the time it is spread out between the same ten to twenty bands that I have listened too since I first picked up headphones, most of which you're average music connoisseur wouldn't admit to liking even if they were held at gunpoint.

Number two, I just haven't been "feeling" a lot of new music these days. Don't ask me why, because I don't know. Could it be the fault of a fearful music industry? Could it be record labels, sucking the originality out of there artists in a desperate attempt to kick start the heart of a dying business model with safe, meaningless rock and roll? Maybe, but I will be the first to admit, it's probably just me.

So if you want to hear that cool music that all the kids are raving about, look elsewhere. If you want to put your finger on the pulse of alternative leaning, college-radio music critics, look elsewhere. But if you want to read daily posts about how hard Pearl Jam shreds balls, you've come to the right place.

If anything cool does actually happen to end up in here, it's not my fault. I just listen to what I like, and hopefully you guys will dig it too.

I suppose that since this is my first post I should kick things of with my one and only favorite song of all time. After all, the chorus of this particular song is also where my little music blog derives it name.

40 by U2

Buy U2's album "War"

I love the simplicity of this song. From the minimalist arrangement to it's succinct length, I feel like this is a piece of music that totally encompasses the idea of short, sweet, and to the point. Even though I am not a religious person, I find Bono's lyrics (lifted almost entirely from Psalm 40) in this song to be incredibly moving. There is a conviction in the vocal preformance that is overwhelmingly honest, it's like you can actually hear the belief literally oozing out of this recording. This song eventually became the traditional closing song of U2's War tour in 1983, a tradition that was later brought back during the most of 2005's Vertigo tour, which I had the pleasure of witnessing first hand.