Tag Archives: music

do yourself a musical favor


On a whim, I dropped by Nickel Creek’s website the other day to see some encouraging news: they’ve made a reunion album, called A Dotted Line, to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Of course, it’s a bit disingenuous to declare 25 years of Nickel Creek when they haven’t released an album in the last nine. But I’ll take it! They’ll also be touring together later this year.

It’s only slightly suspicious that the album is set to be released on April 1st.

Nickel Creek has such a distinctive and inimitable sound. If you preorder, you’ll get access to two new songs (each can be heard on YouTube). It’s great to hear the guys together again.

Also in music…

Highly recommended: Noah Gundersen‘s first full-length album, Ledges. Highly anticipated: Matthew and the Atlas‘ first full-length album, Other Rivers.

the good, the bad, and the ugly


So let me just say this…Bob Schneider‘s new album is quite good. The whole thing can be streamed from his new website, which is also quite good; I’m especially fond of his depiction therein. The album has an impressive studio version of “Blow Me Back to You” (now entitled “Wish the Wind Would Blow Me”), and there are plenty of feel-good tracks as well. I have to be thankful for a man who can continue his dedication as he approaches his quintessence (or prepares to become a quinquagenarian).

While on the topic of music, let’s talk country. Country has all the right ingredients to be good: a leading guitar (often with piano accompaniment or additional strings), heartfelt vocals with an emphasis on storytelling and chorus, but often de-emphasizing repetition and eschewing electronic distortion or ubiquitous unimaginative percussion (i.e. it bears no resemblance to common night club music). But the stories are all the same, and are often overtly contrived or beer-inspired. And then there’s that twang, that unnecessary desire of every country singer to contort his or her voice in such a way that makes them all virtually indistinguishable to the untrained ear. And there are songs like this and this, some of the worst contributions to music in the history of modern humanity and a true stretching of the definition of “art.”

Breaking News: I had no idea that there is, in existence, a collaboration between will.i.am and Justin Bieber, and its title is a hashtag. My mind was just blown at the sheer absurdity, the juxtaposition of things so distasteful to me. Suddenly country music seems so much more palatable.

creepy Christmas carols, and more

The week of Thanksgiving isn’t too early to start listening to Christmas music, is it? Leave it to the inimitable Sufjan Stevens to take a Christmas classic and spin it into one of the most haunting melodies I’ve ever heard.

While mentioning hauntingly beautiful Sufjan holiday music, we must not forget “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!”, the soft intonations of which are impossible to ignore.

There’s been a dearth of quality music lately, with “lately” being loosely used to describe the last half decade or so. My attempts to cling to the bands that at one time put forth good tunes have proved futile, as in their ascendancy to the mainstream, or because of their aging vocal cords, or their loss of angst, the quality just isn’t there. Every now and then, I find a new band/album to sustain me just a bit longer, as I have recently with All the Little Lights by Passenger. Bandcamp is a pretty useful music discovery tool; I just went there as I was writing this, and found some music by a guy named Stu Larsen which, on first listen, seems cool…so maybe all isn’t lost?

…and another song was sung

It’s time for a little music, that most subjective of all loves.

First off is a band whose influences include Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Elliot Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, and Johnny Flynn (i.e., good company). It’s Matthew and the Atlas, whose EP “To The North” is difficult to describe with words other than “refreshing,” “lively,” “evocative,” or “affecting.” Though the band is from London, their lyrics and harmonies are universally appealing, both wholly natural and seemingly familiar.

And then there’s Jose Gonzalez, the Argentinian-turned-Swede who has a longer track record of beautiful tunes. Still, his contribution to the soundtrack of the undeniably artistic Red Dead Redemption game is of particular import, not only for those players who experienced its haunting debut upon their inaugural venture into Mexico. The visceral, lonely feel of the dusty west, the struggle for survival amidst indistinct shades of right and wrong, and the pursuit of fleeing, once-lucid dreams are all embodied by his simple ballad. It is adeptly set to in-game footage in the following music video, which I reluctantly embed in hopes that more might watch – still, I highly suggest downloading the high definition version before viewing.

Some anticipated releases in 2011 (hopefully): Bob Schneider, The One AM Radio, Coldplay, Lisa Hannigan.

theoretically speaking

If I had a company that made tech products with model numbers, I’d start out with a high number instead of a low one. Then, with each successive release, I’d count down until I reached 1, or possibly 0. By that time my product would be positively unbeatable, and people would know they were getting the best ever made.

Also, my indie rock band’s name would be “Taking Terns,” in a clever pun. It’s a pun by definition, and it’s clever because…well, perhaps it’s not too clever. But who wouldn’t want to go to the TT concert where they’ll be debuting some songs from their new album, “First Flight”?


something you wouldn’t know anything about from the sound of it

http://www.fanpop.com/spots/dashboard-confessional/images/62584/title/chris-carrabbaThank you, Dashboard Confessional.

I’ve come to realize that the day I became a Man was the day I stopped enjoying the placative whining of Chris Carrabba. It’s not necessarily bad music, depending on one’s tastes, and there are more poorly-written lyrics out there. But there is something about the band’s songs that makes them arguably more suited to a high school talent show than a young adult’s downtime.

Yes, there were hours of commiserating with the singer for his similarly jaded love experiences, but these do little to create real progress, to console or forget. In fact, one could go his entire life without listening to DC and still become a Man, but it would be harder to identify that singular moment, the one point that defined the transition so absolutely.

So how do you know if you’re listening to Man music? Well this varies from Man to Man, but if you’re listening to Andrew Calhoun, you could do worse. He’s difficult to listen to for more than a couple of songs, but he’s a Man, and his songs bear that out.

Parenthetically, DC has a new album coming out in a few weeks. I’ll probably still give it a listen; real Men aren’t afraid to dabble in the guilty pleasures of their youth every once in a while.

have you ever…

trigger_happy_floating_babyHave you ever looked up from the text message you were composing in time to see a young woman attempting to traverse four lanes of traffic, during rush hour…whilst pushing her baby in a stroller? I guess I haven’t either, because I can only assume that the baby was not her own; surely no one would be so careless with her own child.

Have you ever considered that short people should be ashamed to live in houses with very high ceilings? Such added space is simply unnecessary and is wasteful. I’m not short, but I already feel a bit guilty when walking through a door frame when I know that the lintel could easily be a foot lower and clear my head with room to spare.

Have you ever stopped studying for a test knowing that you didn’t know enough, and then taken the test only to confirm that you didn’t know enough? These experiences just serve to show how unsuccessfully notes are comprehended when they are placed by the bed at night, rather than studied.

Have you ever parked in the spot marked “Reserved – Towing Enforced” for weeks at a time, fully knowing that it’s not reserved for you?

Have you ever visited Bob Schneider’s website? His new album, Lovely Creatures, is streaming there for free.

Have you ever realized that Nick Drake was saying “it’s really too hard for to fly,” and that the song isn’t about a fly in the rain at all? It changes the whole meaning of the song.

Have you ever added a sloth picture to your website that brought in more viewers than anything you ever spent hours rambling about?

Have you ever grown tired of asking, “Have you ever…”?

such a rush

Say what you will about Coldplay’s debatably androgynous nature, their occasionally pedestrian lyrics, or their in-your-face political activism, but the group knows how to put on a live show. The varied setlist, engaging light shows, and generous fan interactions make their concerts worth the price of admission. Their style of music is well-suited to live performances, with the instrumentation shining (if instrumentation can do such a thing) and the vocals distinct enough from the studio recordings to give each song new appeal. Still, that doesn’t excuse the legions of howling fans whose lives appear to rise and fall at Chris Martin’s whim. There’s simply no reason to get fanatical about seeing a band of British men playing rock tunes, despite the impact their music could potentially have on someone’s existence. For what it’s worth, the band is undeniably hairier and sweatier in person.

Having established the above, it is my experience that Coldplay recognizes that those people way back on the lawn deserve as much attention as those who opted for more expensive tickets. At the venue I attended, they had three separate stages and visited each one, giving everyone time to fawn over their guitar plucking. When we first entered, we had unknowingly chosen a spot near one of the remote stages and did not have to move when the musicians ventured into the crowd. This gave us an excellent view of both the singers and the lunacy that ensued.

As uncompelling as hysterical fans are, so are poorly-chosen opening bands. We had the privilege of hearing a band named Kitty, Daisy and Lewis and some band from Mali, Africa. I won’t be too critical but it was not a very enjoyable experience listening to their “unique” sounds for nearly two hours. Those who have had the privilege of seeing Pete Yorn open for Coldplay have certainly received a better bargain. Still, the main event more than made up for the prolonged wait.

Below are some pictures I took at the event, often between the outstretched arms of aggressive spectators. I was within them, but not one of them.

Continue reading such a rush

completely back and fourth

At first glance, Pete Yorn’s new album, “Back and Fourth,” would seem to be more focused on past relationships than most things philosophical, and it would be hard to argue with that. But there is still more substance lying beneath this thin, accessible veneer. Track-by-track, the album is very strong, which is important considering there are only 10 songs.

It begins easily enough with “Don’t Wanna Cry,” which is one of my least favorite songs out of this group. While it may be just as heartfelt, or even more so, than the other 9 songs, “Don’t Wanna Cry” works too hard to establish the aforementioned surface layer of radio-friendly, heartache-filled lamentations that hold the album back. It’s the kind of song that could be extremely personally applicable at one point but useless the other 70+ years of your life. Well, that might be a bit harsh; the lead-off song is perfectly listenable.

Paradise Cove” is a bit more fun, even if it also largely deals with love. “I got what I wanted when you showed up, I got what I wanted and it wasn’t enough,” the speaker admits; although the first song was also introspective, this track features better writing and dives a bit deeper (pardon the beach-related pun). The honesty in the second half of the song is evidence of Yorn’s maturity as a songwriter – this isn’t your typical love-song. “When you talk, it makes me cringe. You want so bad to have meaning, but you’re empty and draining,” he says. “Your life’s intersected when mine’s disconnected.”

Close” could perhaps be as strong a single as “Don’t Wanna Cry,” with arguably a far more enjoyable chorus. The song also, unsurprisingly, talks of relationships, and does so in the frequently-traversed area of regret and the persistence of time: “I don’t have the time to go back in time – I already lived it…Just stay close; wait for the stars until they realign, just like the first time.” It’s unique enough to differentiate itself from the usual drivel found on the radio, even if the lyrics aren’t as reflective as someone like Sam Beam’s. From a purely entertaining standpoint, this is one of the best songs on the album.

Speaking of Sam Beam, the first three seconds of “Social Development Dance” almost made me think I was listening to Iron & Wine’s “Each Coming Night,” but that deceptive start doesn’t lead to a huge letdown as it very well could. It’s one of the most complex story-songs on the album. The singer tells of his liaisons with a somewhat promiscuous woman, and it ends tragically. There’s honesty here as well, and some beauty to the recollection; he reconciles the mundane and even the shallow and perverse, and manages to construe a recognition and appreciation of more substantive things. This may seem nebulous, but consider a song that juxtaposes lyrics about “Googling in quotes” and “something missing in us, we tried to make it whole…” It is a difficult song to explain and truly warrants a listen.

Shotgun” is another pre-release song most fans will already be aware of. It’s a third choice for airtime on your local radio station, and it’s rather hard to get into the lyrics/themes because of the overly pop-rock-ish tune and gratuitous use of the word “baby,” so I won’t even try. Like “Don’t Wanna Cry,” it’s listenable, and by no means a bad song.

I expected “Last Summer” to be the same version that was on Yorn’s MySpace page long ago, but it turns out that that was a more acoustic version. I think I prefer the unreleased version. This is another more rocking tune, and, like “Close,” it talks of not being able to “go back again, to repeat what we once had.” We’ve all been there, Pete. You’ll be OK. In my estimation, it’s one of the few forgettable tracks on the album.

Thinking of You” is a pretty simple song with some good instrumentation, and picks the album back up a bit. While it may be lyrically weak (“I’ve been thinking of you a lot this morning, for the 57,000th time today” – really?), the uncontrollable nature of our existence is another common theme (“I can’t change anything”). From a musical standpoint, I enjoy this song quite a bit.

Country” is fairly standard fare. It continues the honesty of other songs; “I can never love you like the way you love me…These are things I can’t ignore.” These lines are reminiscent of “All At Once.” Still, there’s something pleasant about its tone, and it made me smile to hear the allusions to “Just Another” made during the closing beats. Plus, I like the thought of living in the country, so I’m partial to this one.

I don’t know if “Four Years” is about Pete Yorn’s personal maturation, but it basically just talks about someone finding himself, even if that development is not readily apparent to others. The chorus is memorable and cheery.

I discussed “Long Time Nothing New after it played during an episode of some show. It remains one of my favorites among this collection, and it’s even better without the voice-over from the CW.

As a pre-order bonus, the song “Rooftop” is included. I scoffed at this initially since I’ve had that song for years (near the release of his first album), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is a completely remade version. It’s even more mellow than the original version and the slower pacing feels quite nice, and it fits in well with the other songs. It would probably be one of my favorites on the album if it were truly, properly included.

It could be easy to under-appreciate this album. It’s not Yorn’s best, but it’s far from his worst, and, with 10 tracks, the emphasis was clearly on quality over quantity. It seems that Yorn has really stressed honesty in his songwriting and moved away from the generic filler-songs that dotted some of his first three efforts. For the effort put in and the introspection involved, this is a solid composition that should not be ignored. Music can be profoundly affective when it coincides with certain events in a listener’s life, and I imagine that “Back and Fourth” has the potential to be influential for the right people. For those who are not currently lovelorn, there’s still a lot here to enjoy.

You can currently listen to “Back and Fourth” in its entirety on Pete Yorn’s MySpace page, then buy the album on (preferably) Amazon or, if you must, iTunes.

the good singer and the pretty woman

http://www.amazon.com/Break-Up-Pete-Yorn/dp/B002AOWXO0/Well here’s something I hadn’t heard before: Scarlett Johansson, in addition to being a very attractive actress, is a singer. Or she’s trying to be. She’s already released one unsuccessful album, but that’s not what this is about. Apparently she also recorded an album with none other than Pete Yorn back in 2006 and it’s going to get released this September – probably more for the names on the cover than the quality of the music.

You can read about the album and download the first MP3 single, “Relator,” from this website. It’s a pretty upbeat song (even if the lyrics aren’t chipper) for an album titled “Break Up.” Scarlett doesn’t embarrass herself in the song, but she’s got a gramophone-esque style going on. Needless to say, this collaboration feels a bit strange, and it serves to reinforce the prolific Yorn as a record label’s best friend (I’ll have over 100 songs from the man after “Back and Fourth” comes out in a few weeks).

Somewhat interestingly, I just noticed that one of the songs on the duet album is “Shampoo,” which I just happened to be listening to and noting the female vocals. The song was on Yorn’s MySpace page two years ago and is actually pretty good. With a little bit of digging, I discovered an old entry on “I Am Fuel, You Are Friends” that discussed the mystery of who was singing with Pete in the song; that mystery has now been resolved, as it seems the artist had given us a bit of Ms. Johansson’s voice far sooner than we could know what to do with it.