Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Whole Month?

Has it really been a month since I last posted? My how the time flies. I've been working on a 2008 retrospective, and also the annual Top 10 Lists... stay tuned...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Band of the Decade

I've been partaking in a running discussion about a potential Band of the Decade for the decade currently winding down. The discussion began when Ek made the claim that there isn't a potential Band of the Decade, due to the fractured nature of the current musical landscape. While he has some valid points, for better or for worse, I think Fall Out Boy have established themselves as the Band of the Decade (BotD). Let's talk about why.

Sales aren't everything, but sales are a lot. Jimmy Eat World was discussed as a possible dark horse BotD, but let's take three bands and break it down, cajun-style.

Jimmy Eat World
While Clarity was their artistic apex, it's also the album that got them dropped from Capitol Records (and probably led to their focus on strictly pop-rock songs). Their following albums sold better:
Bleed American: 1.3 million (platinum)
Futures: 615,000 (gold)
Chase This Light: 164,000+ (according to the most recent numbers I could find, 01/08)

Fall Out Boy
Though many see Take This To Your Grave as FOB's most impressive/powerful/noteworthy album, they too found more success in its aftermath.
Take This To Your Grave: certified gold
From Under the Cork Tree: certified triple platinum
Infinity on High: platinum

"Nickelback?" you ask? Well, I'm trying not to be biased, and also show that numbers alone don't make a BotD. Just witness:
Silver Side Up: 5.3 million in the US, 10 million worldwide
The Long Road: 3.3. million in the US, 5 million worldwide
All The Right Reasons: 6.7 million in the US, 9.5 million worldwide
I mean, that's just crazy. (Also, their current wikipedia page proclaims that Silver Side Up "consisted of 12 versions of the exact same song." Good times!)

Now, while Nickelback has obviously sold more albums than FOB and JEW combined, are they in the running for Band of the Decade? I would say no, simply due to the fact that, other than album sales, they have had no noticeable cultural or musical impact. Chad Kroeger isn't sparking new fashions or being paid any attention to (other than when he gets a DUI, of course); and Nickelback isn't causing a legion of imitators to rise up, at least not any more so than any standard rock band. And this is the real reason why Nickelback could never be the BotD: they aren't creating a space for themselves and altering the musical landscape; they are merely filling the ever-present need for a standard rock band that plays catchy tunes but is ultimately harmless and dangerless. (Speaking of harm and danger, Nickelback are on the same record label as DragonForce, Dream Theater, Killswitch Engage, and Megadeth.)

So while Nickelback is a worldwide top-selling band, few could dispute the cultural impact FOB has had in this decade (especially the last 5 years). Taking emo/pop/rock to new heights, creating fashion trends that bands and kids copy relentlessly, collaborating with artists of all types (Babyface and Elvis Costello?), and maintaining a significant amount even buzz even 5 years into their popularity. Trust me, in 20-30 years when people are telling their kids about music in the new millenium, Fall Out Boy will routinely be the first band to come to mind. I'm not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, it's just the way it is (and a much better option than Nickelback, you must admit).

Discuss and disagree below.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bitch Slap

It's been a week or so since first hearing the albums in their entirety, and I've come to the conclusion that I have been not only let down, but nearly despised. Few of the songs actually end; most just seem to taper off like a drunk who forgot he was speaking. There is no love or passion on these albums, merely a fascination with doing everything the exact opposite of the way they would imagine anyone would appreciate. There are plenty of parts sprinkled throughout that I genuinely love, but not a single song that I can play and not feel frustrated about at some point. Richard Edwards & Co. do not have a bone in their bodies that cares about anyone who listens to their songs. How else can you explain actions like their approach to "Broadripple is Burning": their fans fell in love with it when it first started popping up in setlists, but Margot's reaction was to take it, fuck around with it for a while, publicly express their dislike for it, and finally release - on the label's insistence, no less - the least-inspired version possible. Wait, I take that back: second-least inspired. First place would have to go their live performance of the song. You figured if a band hated a song, they just wouldn't play it (see Radiohead, "Creep"). But Margot goes one step further and plays the song in a pathetic, reluctant way - at most shows, as far as I know. Their indifference bordering on animosity seems to extend to the inner workings of the band as well. Seeing them play on the day their albums released, half of the band wore animal masks, I imagine to tie in to the imagery. The other half didn't have masks, or carried them in their hands. Of the ones that arrived with masks, half (including Edwards) removed them before even playing the first song, while the drummer alone kept his on for the first part of the set. It was confusing, but it also wasn't intentional as far as I could tell - they really just couldn't care less.

Margot has always excelled at evoking moods and atmosphere better than anything else (including songwriting), but their new albums seem to mainly evoke the attitude, "I really don't give a shit." At this point, trying to like Margot & the Nuclear So and So's is like having a crush on a lesbian. It's not that they don't like you; it's that they don't like you or anybody like you.

P.S. - Also their artwork choices are the absolute worst I have ever seen.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

dignan lives

Somehow, we always do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sad Day

Foo Fighters take hiatus.

Of course, NME frequently prints gossipy/untrue items...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Delayed... Again.

So I'm in the middle of thinking up my most ambitious and audacious post yet, but Jonathan and Emily are here, so I'm hanging out with them instead of hunkering down in front of my computer. Get psyched for it, though...

Jon and I spent 5 hours in the studio last night, and wrote and recorded a song from start to finish. Any fan of Our Father or latter-day dignan would probably love it. I know I do.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kicking & Screaming

Recently I watched the purported "cult classic," Kicking & Screaming - no, not Will Ferrell's 2nd-worst film (Superstar is first, obviously), but Noah Baumbach's first film. You may recall Baumbach as the man who helped make Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic his least-successful (and yet somehow my favorite) film to date. Baumbach's influence on The Life Aquatic can clearly be seen upon viewing Kicking & Screaming, as his characters inhabit a sequence of barely-connected scenes that ultimately ends in a hope-crushing realization, relieved only by ignoring the present and looking wistfully upon the past. If you think about it, it's kind of like a Death Cab for Cutie album. Small wonder, then, that Death Cab seems to be under the influence of this mid-90s indie film. And I'm pretty sure I've got proof.

Exhibit A: Plans
Ben Gibbard stated that the title of their major-label debut was the punchline of his favorite joke: "How do you make God laugh?" "You make plans." This joke is told in a bar by a bartender/10th-year college student. If you feel like you've been learning some of the same lessons for a decade, you might be Ben Gibbard.

Exhibit B: "You Can Do Better Than Me"
This song, off DCFC's latest album Narrow Stairs, begins with the line, "I'm starting to feel we stay together out of fear of being alone." This sentiment is echoed almost verbatim in the film, except instead of being about lovers, it is addressed to the group of friends who can't seem to move on without each other.

Exhibit C: "Bad Reputation"
This song is played over the end credits, and was covered by Death Cab for Cutie for the iTunes pre-order of Plans. Tenuous connection? Sure, but when you see the movie as a Death Cab fan it's like the final piece of the puzzle, which brings us to

Exhibit D: Tone
You'll need to see the movie to understand what I mean, but the overall tone of the movie is so much like a Death Cab record that it's eerie. There are definitely moments of playfulness and humor, cleverness and wit, but a lot of it deals with the hardship and sometimes futility of life. Stating it like that makes both the movie and the band come across as much more dour than they actually are, but they share a spirit of wistfulness, whimsy, and skepticism. Lines from the film such as "Even though all 618 of us were wearing caps and gowns out there today, I couldn't help but think it was a coincidence that we were both wearing black," and " I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now." can easily be imagined to be lines from Gibbard's pen.

I understand that these could all just be major coincidences, but I doubt it. The feeling of discovering someone's inspiration (I have yet to find any stated connection between the two) is actually kinda awkward. And ultimately, does it even matter? Probably not, but if you listen to any of the characters in Baumbach's film or Gibbard's songs, they'd probably support me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Top 5 (nos. 2-4)

Somebody (J-Lew?) mentioned wanting to hear my explanations on the rest of my top 5 (see previous post), so here they are, in alphabetical order:

Further Seems Forever
Further holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. First of all, they were the first "local" band (when I was in high school any band from Miami to Tampa was considered "local" by the central FL music scene) that I totally fell in love with (not counting Delivery Boy - my affair with them was relatively short-lived). I first saw them live with Chris Carrabba in a small upstairs room, touring on their split EP with Recess Theory, and when Carrabba picked up an acoustic guitar halfway through their set (the Sammy Hagar signature model, he made a point to mention) and played "Shirts and Gloves" from Dashboard Confessional's first album (which, at the time, was unknown by anyone in the audience - or anyone outside of south FL), it was an incredible moment only surpassed by the fact that the band slammed into "Vengeance Factor" - arguably their most ferocious song - as soon as Carrabba played the last notes. The sheer velocity of the band at that time was mind-blowing. I recall them blasting through "Pictures of Shorelines" and "Madison Prep"; "New Year's Project" was full of jagged edges when they tore into it; "The Bradley" toed the line between a rollick and a steamroll; and I'm not entirely positive because it was a long time ago, but I'm pretty sure they played a dizzying version of "Monachetti" - first explaining that it was named for a co-worker who "worked so hard he deserved to have a song named after him". Finally, though, I recall them building the eerie tension of "Justice Prevails" until the explosive chorus, and watching the little stage (on skinny legs) sway and flex under the weight of five full-grown men pouring every ounce of themselves into a song.
Though Chris left, Jason came and went, and Jon provided a tuneful but awkward conclusion to the band, this is the thing I remember most about Further Seems Forever: they always left me wanting more. I wish they released more albums. I wish their albums had more than 10 songs apiece. I wish they had written longer outros to most of their songs. But mostly I wish I could help people understand the difference between art and commerce, and that pouring your soul into something is sometimes the surest way to fail.

House of Heroes
Despite having only released one full album that I have heard, these guys are in my top 5. How? Because they're that awesome. Their self-titled album leaves a bit to be desired, especially in the guitar tone department, but they more than make up for that with their songwriting and arrangement. Lyricist/bassist AJ Babcock develops thematic elements into beautiful analogies and scenes, while vocalist/guitarist Tim Skipper melds his melodies and rhythms so perfectly that not a single line sounds out of place or overwrought. It took me a long time to pick an example because there are so many to choose from, but here's the 2nd verse from "Friday Night," which starts out sounding like a nondescript radio-ready single before morphing into a vignette of false humility and greed:

"I like myself on the following conditions:
That I'm better than the next guy at everything I'm into
And my looks are important if I'm less sophisticated
And my girlfriend's a bombshell, and I'm all she's ever dated
Money's an object if it pays for my ego
Power's a drug and pride is the needle
And it rips through my skin, goes into my bloodstream
Oh, I feel like laughing
Ha! I feel like choking on it
Regret would require less arrogance"

The album showcases fresh takes on old subjects ("Mercedes Baby", "Make a Face Like You Mean It") and new takes on sometimes uncomfortable subjects, including church politics ("Buckets for Bullet Wounds") and vengeful ex-boyfriends ("Pulling Back the Skin", which begins with the lines, "No, I don't want you back, but I don't want you with him / No, I don't love you still, I hate him so, though" and continues later with "I would like to see you only if to see you cry / I would like to kiss you, only to kiss you goodbye"), concluding with the most poetic telling of seeing a loved one in the hospital since Copeland's Beneath Medicine Tree or Death Cab's "What Sarah Said."

And that's not all.

Poetic lyrics are rendered impotent if the music sucks, but that is exactly where HOH rise above their peers, managing to use their three-piece status to its fullest and creating huge songs that don't rely on standard chord progressions or song patterns, as well as riffs that rely as much on the space between the guitar and bass as they do on the parts they are playing. They create songs that are cohesive and complete, yet throw in enough curveballs so as to avoid monotony, yet craft those curveballs well enough that they enhance the songs, not detract from them.

I literally listen to their self-titled album, straight through, at least once a week.

Jimmy Eat World
This one probably needs the least explanation. Clarity is a desert island album, plain and simple (even with "Blister"). Bleed American is a milestone in that JEW financed the whole thing themselves and completed it before shopping it to record labels, which was pretty unusual at the time; also they completely changed their sound, and never really looked back. Though Futures (underrated) and Chase This Light harken back to the Clarity era slightly more than BA, they've never returned to the grandeur of "Table for Glasses," "A Sunday," "Ten," "Just Watch the Fireworks," "For Me This Is Heaven," or "Goodbye Sky Harbor". Even the more straight-ahead rock songs off Clarity (practically all the ones I didn't already mention) have more musical depth than most of what has come along since. Which is not to say that the last three albums haven't all been excellent in their own right.
Bleed American gave us bona fide classics in 4 out of the first 5 tracks (except "The Middle," of course), and the last five are at least solid, and sometimes spectacular ("If You Don't, Don't"). Futures featured (say that ten times fast) some of the best rock guitar work the band has come up with ("Just Tonight," "Work," "Polaris"), and they also managed to pace their songs better (though Futures has some lengthier tracks than its predecessor, it always feels quicker as an album). Not to mention, "23" may possess the best Jimmy chorus ever, first appearing in suppressed minor chords but finishing in an explosive major-chord progression that makes my heart skip a beat every time. Chase This Light, meanwhile, comes across as a combination of its immediate predecessors - again tightening song lengths and pacing themselves well, they rocket out of the gate and never look back. "Carry You" develops into a much bigger song than they would have previously allowed, and "Gotta Be Somebody's Blues" maintains a pulsing beat and an eerie tension that keeps the song from becoming a ballad. Other than those two tracks (and the dance-pop "Here It Goes," which puts every dance pop band to shame), every song is a big, guitar-driven anthem, propelling the album to its fittingly-titled conclusion, "Dizzy."
Obviously this has been more of a cumulative record review than an explanation of their place in my top 5, but at the same time it is the explanation. Jimmy Eat World reeled me in hook, line and sinker with Clarity, and even though I've had my share of dislikes on ensuing albums (the obligatory too-poppy track, if nothing else), they excel in the same way the Foo Fighters do - by writing good albums full of good songs. They are reliable in a way that few bands are these days, and for that, TOP 5!!!!!!!!!

Sunny Day Real Estate
I still don't know what these guys were doing half the time. Though Diary, for example, is composed of 10 songs that follow the same formula (intro, verse, interlude, verse, chorus, interlude, verse, chorus, out) and "Pheurton Skeurto", I couldn't play most of them for you. Shrouded by production which is simultaneously clean and yet thick like pea soup, Diary and LP2 in particular give away none of their secrets, instead reveling in their own hidden genius. Which really sums up Sunny Day Real Estate. You can listen to them and understand exactly what they're doing, yet you can't explain it to anyone. Which is why their music is still regarded, first and foremost, as artistic. Largely aided by Jeremy Enigk's indescribable vocals, the band's music also stands the test of time, turning simple arrangements into works of art. And like any good work of art, they have as many foes as they do fans. Plenty are turned off by Enigk's vocals and seemingly-nonsensical lyrics. Granted, their later, post-reformation releases showcased a more "typical" rock sound and lyricism, but even those remain accessible in many ways, which, in the end, was their greatest struggle: beginning as a band nobody understood almost on purpose, when they actively tried to be understood, nobody got it. Except me. And perhaps you. Sunny Day Real Estate ultimately only spoke to one person at a time, which is why they'll never be understood by a large audience - there simply isn't enough time. But their dedication to their attempts earned their way into my heart, mind, soul, and top 5.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why Guitar Hero Sucks

Somehow amidst all the hoopla of guitar-shaped controllers and the bastard stepchildren of electronic drum kits, I have managed to keep from playing Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and/or any similar game. Admittedly, at first it was because I was being a total snob/asshole and didn’t want to be associated with the unwashed masses who could now, as phrased it, “play as if they have talent.” But as time has gone on I have come to completely loathe the games, and for reasons much subtler and sinister than any hipster trend: they actually attempt to demystify the art and beauty of music. By reducing songs to their intrinsic physical values – notes of a certain pitch played at certain intervals in the company of, and in relation to, other instruments and/or singers – the games remove the mystery of music, for musicians and listeners alike. Additionally, they promote the theory that music is only “good” if it is played “correctly” – bringing back nightmares of overbearing music teachers to many ex-students. Screw it up and you get the grating guitar-flub sound; too many, and you lose the round. (I don’t even want to get into the fact that it completely ignores the realms of dynamic and intensity – a tap on the button is the same as mashing it.)
One way or another, the games advocate the idea that when someone writes a song they are merely lining up colored buttons on a timeline, and that songs can just as equally be reduced to their components. I'm sure some will favorably compare the timeline found in Guitar Hero to sheet music, but the games, by their nature, remove the human element. Sheet music provides (often very strict) guidelines, but they are still only guidelines - each performance of the same music can vary in tempo, dynamic, and even pitch, affected by a player's skill, memory, and even mood at the time of performance. Not so in Guitar Hero - you learn, not to play music, but to play a monkey while the console grinds its organ.
Any artist will tell you that art is the truest application of the idea of “synergy”: though ultimately a song is just a series of notes played in succession to a particular rhythm, and a painting is just a collection of paint strokes with different colors and styles of paints, and literature is just a collection of ink marks on pages, they are made more than that by the artistic processes which place them in the contexts they eventually exist within. They cannot be reduced again to their original elements – but they can be destroyed, if you so wish.
(I realize I may be over analyzing what is, after all, a game, but as more makers and users of the games promote their “instructional” benefits, I begin to balk at the comparisons to real instruments and practice.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Top Five

A few weeks back I had a discussion about top five bands. It made me curious to see what other people would say, so I'll list mine here and anyone and everyone who reads this should feel free to add your own picks.

(In no particular order):

Foo Fighters
O.k., no surprise here. They remain my all-time favorite. Not only because they just released one of the best albums of their career (13 years in - who else can make that claim?), but because they consistently write good songs. Sure I love Coheed & Cambria's insane concept albums and The Mars Volta's outrageous prog-rock epics, but the Foos keep plugging away at making good albums made of good songs, and even when they fail at that (One By One, arguably In Your Honor), they still manage to have some of the most phenomenal songs - "All My Life," from One By One, could be the defining statement of the band's career, and "Razor" is probably the most unexpected yet subtly powerful Foo Fighters song, delivered at the close if In Your Honor's second disc. What I'm saying is, even at their weakest they blow everyone else away.

Unfortunately I don't have time to really flesh out the next four, but I will list them:

Sunny Day Real Estate
Jimmy Eat World
House of Heroes
Further Seems Forever

Friday, June 20, 2008

And what have you been listening to?

Friends always like to know what their friends are listening to, but when I hear a new album I'm usually curious about what the artist has been listening to, both when writing and recording their albums. Here are some guesses:

Shai Hulud has definitely been listening to Further Seems Forever. If you take the vocals out of their latest album, Misanthropy Pure (but why would you? Those vocals are sweeeeet), a lot of parts sound like early FSF in particular, and even the hardest and fastest parts still have that Josh Colbert (primary FSF songwriter) flavor (if you have any real doubts, just listen to 1:44-1:51 on "Be Winged"). It makes for one of my favorite hardcore releases in recent memory.

Coldplay has, ironically, only been listening to themselves, but that's probably not surprising to many people. What is surprising is how Viva la Vida is also surprisingly reminiscent of Take Me To Your Leader-era Newsboys. The main guitar riff from "Violet Hill" as well as the bridge on "Lovers in Japan" smack of Peter Furler and his boys. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing at ALL.

Weezer have been listening to... well, a lot of things. If I had to guess I'd say Gordon Lightfoot, Cat Stevens, Joan Baez, Eddie Rabbitt, Abba, Devo, Pat Benatar, Bruce Springsteen, Grover Washington, Quiet Riot, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Slayer, Debbie Gibson, Michael Jackson, the Fresh Prince (and Jazzy Jeff, I’m assuming), and Nirvana. (Sorry, that was a long joke, and not even funny, but I couldn't really resist.)

The worst offender as of late, and the real reason the subject came up, is the Offspring. Those guys have been pissing me off for years with blatant ripoffs. It's one thing to pay homage to someone, but when you blatantly reuse ideas (like on "Why Don't You Get a Job?," which pillages the Beatles' "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da") and achieve massive success with it, that's just bad form, as Capt. Hook would remind you. Their latest offense involves their single "Hammerhead," which steals so many dynamics from Rise Against's "Chamber the Cartridge" it should be illegal. Let's list them:
"Chamber" features an audio recording of the L in Chicago, eventually announcing "This is Noyes" (a stop on my way to work for many months, by the way, and I often thought about how sweet it would be to use that announcement as an album intro; RA beat me to it). As this is going on, a lo-fi drum roll starts, eventually joined by a dirge-like guitar riff. It eventually swells into a drum roll which leads into the (hi-fi) song.
"Hammerhead" starts with some (lo-fi) instrumental noodling before a crappy punk drumbeat starts up. Still lo-fi, a minor-key guitar riff joins it, then they play a fill which leads right into the (hi-fi) song.
Shouts of "Woah-oh-oh" are nothing new in pop or punk-rock, but the striking similarities between the two songs cannot be denied.
"Hammerhead" dissolves almost completely before returning with a much more groove-oriented rhythm that destroys any energy the song had. "Chamber," meanwhile, dissolves to a kick drum and a new guitar riff before returning with a groove-oriented rhythm that kicks serious ass.

It's been ten years since the Offspring's biggest hits, and I'd probably be running on fumes, too. But since Rise Against has burst on the scene (I hear them on KROQ more frequently that any other band -they currently have four singles from their latest album, The Sufferer & the Witness), people have been taking notice. It's not surprising that the Offspring are some of those people. But by copying the band poorly, all they really illustrate is the massive discrepancy between the two bands - the Offspring is a bunch of rich ex-hipsters (seriously, they've got a corporate jet with an anarchy logo on the tail - if that's not irony, I don't know what is), while Rise Against are probably on track to be the first band since Refused to break up due to how strongly they hold to their worldviews - but in the meantime they're giving us some of the most raucous, fist-pumping anthems in years.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


O.k., I swear I’ve been meaning to write a few lengthy articles here, but things have just been slipping away from me lately. I have been actively preparing a few things, though, and hopefully will post them all soon.

In the meantime I just checked Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s MySpace and discovered the best news of the fall – Oct. 7th will see the release of two albums: Animal! and not animal, as they call it. I’m super excited for both. Not animal actually has more songs that I’ve been dying to have recorded versions of (“Broadripple,” “As Tall as Cliffs,” “The Ocean”), but Animal! will also be great, I am convinced. I’ve seen plenty of crappy YouTube videos of new songs and have remained skeptical, but seeing the new songs performed live recently (in person) really blew me away. Sure, they weren’t all as instantly catchy as “Vampires in Blue Dresses” or “Quiet as a Mouse” (“German Motor Car” definitely IS as catchy, though), but the new songs showcase an increased musical depth and lyrical, well… psychosis may be the most fitting term. It all adds up to a bizarre, Tom Waits-meets-Anathallo-meets-Indiana sort of vibe, which is hard to quantify but sounds like nothing else. “At the Carnival” and “Love Song for a Schuba’s Bartender” creep along like black smoke, while the aforementioned “German Motor Car” has the most radio-ready opening they’ve performed before devolving into something else entirely, and “My Baby (Shoots Her Mouth Off)” is reminiscent of twothirtyeight’s “The Bathroom is a Creepy Place” (at least in its live incarnation), and we all know that sounding like twothirtyeight is never a bad thing (don’t we?).

I have now used far too many parentheses in this post. More soon.

P.S. - Animal! will be released only on vinyl and digital download, while not animal will be released on CD and digital download. Apparently that's how you solve a game of tug-of-war with your record label. Win-win for the fans!

Friday, May 2, 2008


I'm currently preoccupied (in addition to keeping up at work) with writing lyrics for the songs I've got recorded/demoed. Recording vocals tonight, so for those of you that like my music, hopefully there will be some new, mostly-completed songs very soon.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Red

I'm off to San Francisco in just a little bit here, visiting the Stawarzes!! And anyone who knows who they are know how fun it's going to be. I hope they don't expect me to change any diapers, as I still have never done that IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. No joke.

So this week I'm not all full of musical thoughts (or maybe I am, just not verbose). So let's go straight to recommendations!

Something Old:
Steve Taylor, Squint
I may have mentioned this album before, but it deserves another bump. While the music is starting to feel slightly dated, Taylor's lyrics still hold up as a modern masterpiece of genuine Christian critique, not slander, cynicism or disdain. Thoughtful and catchy, with an undercurrent of humor and even joy, Squint stands, sadly, quite alone.

Something New:
House of Heroes, The End Is Not The End
While I'm still withholding a complete verdict until hearing the album as a whole, after hearing 8 songs I'm pleased with most of it. While they sometimes flirt with too much studio trickery, HoH are poised to present an enjoyable follow-up to their unexpectedly fantastic self-titled album.

Something Borrowed:
Foo Fighters, "Band on the Run"
I'll be honest, I've never been a huge fan of Foo covers, this one is incredibly good. Just search around and you'll find it online, it's well worth whatever amount of effort you expend.

Something Red:
Weezer, "Pork & Beans"
From their third self-titled album (otherwise known as "The Red Album"), Weezer seem to be getting at least a little of their old spark and ingenuity back. The chunka-chunkas right before the chorus are monstrous, and the "I don't give a hoot" line is reminiscent of their early carefree attitude. Throw in the fact that Rivers Cuomo is sporting an unabashedly horrific molestache now, and you can feel the excitement building.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I picked up Muse's new live DVD on Tuesday, H.A.A.R.P. It is a mind-boggling picture of a band that has reached the pinnacle of rock and roll - their performances are flawless, the stage show is captivating, and their sonic presence is incredible. The fact that they remain a three-piece for most of their songs adds to the unbelievability of it all. But what really impressed me was their resonance with the crowd.

And by resonance, I mean the singalongs.

I don't think Muse would strike many people as a "pop" band, yet their rhythms and melodies get stuck in the brain, and their songs are easy to sing along to, even if you can't reach Matthew Bellamy's high range. What is probably more influential, though, is their lyrical content. The only area where comparisons to Radiohead can be even partly justified, Bellamy's lyrics tend to focus on conspiracies and paranoia. Even uplifting songs ("Invincible," "Starlight") have sinister undertones. And while Bellamy finds inspiration in contemporary subjects like aliens, government mistrust, and the scientific program their live album is named after, paranoia in music can easily be traced back to the blues, if not further.

You may be looking for the blues/paranoia connection, but it's there. What is the draw for so many people to blues music, and for that matter, any music with sad or depressing sounds or subject matter? Paranoia. Maybe your life is going great, but everyone can relate to a bluesman singing about a broken heart. And our paranoia causes us to revel in someone else's singing (whether based on real events or not) about such hard times: we like the reminder that things aren't so bad for us, but we also want to be prepared for when things get tough again (as they surely will). And, of course, we like feeling a little bit of sympathy for a sad troubadour.

When it comes down to it, we listen to music, and experience art in general, because of an artist's ability to better or differently express feelings and emotions we ourselves experience. Listening to music that can give us the creeps - or, alternatively, suggest a way to fight such creepy feelings - is a form of release. Even (especially?) if it's hearing Bellamy scream, "Our time is running out!"

Other recommendations:
Led Zeppelin's fourth album. Is there a better opening riff in rock music than "Black Dog"? I propose to you that there is not. The middle of the album has some high points too.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm Tired.

O.k., I'm fried from an extra-long work week, so instead I'm just gonna give a few recommendations.

Lydia, Illuminate
I first really heard this band on Monday, ordered the CD, and it arrived yesterday. It's basically Beneath Medicine Tree part 2, for better or worse. Mindy White adds some keys and vocals which fit perfectly in this indie blend, and help give it a bit more of a distinctive sound. Things get confusing on "Hospital," though, when Copeland's Aaron Marsh shows up to add vocals to the most Copeland-sounding non-Copeland track ever. Good stuff. Current favorite track: "A Fine Evening for a Rogue" ("don't you ever get lonely?")

Once, Original Soundtrack
I just saw this movie last night. It reminded me of why I could never fall for a girl who is an accomplished musician; we'd just fight like James and I do (which is fine for James and me, but probably not for a stable opposite-sex relationship). Anyway, the songs are fun, and the part on the bus near the beginning of the film was a total Jonathan Greener moment.

Death Cab for Cutie, "I Will Possess Your Heart"
O.k., this song isn't as good as it is long. It sounds really thin compared to... well, everything else Chris Walla has ever produced. Oddly, the first 4-1/2 minutes sound like seminal Wheaton jam band I.R.A.T.E., while the last 4 minutes (did I mention it's a long song?) have some good lyrics, but overall are quickly forgotten. I'm still optimistic about Narrow Stairs, releasing in May, but not quite as much as I was.

Motion City Soundtrack, Even If It Kills Me
This album didn't make it into 2007's Top Ten, and I'm still bothered by the "She's the pizza of my eye" lyric, but it's a really solid album. And the production perfectly matches the band's sound, elevating the songs higher than they could reach on their own. Current favorites: title track, "This Is For Real," "Last Night"

That's all. The tank's dry. Have a great Easter weekend.

Friday, March 14, 2008


While meeting for coffee with a seasoned veteran of rock recording, I was confronted with the idea that the Foo Fighters could be to blame – at least in part – for the current “loudness war” occurring in modern rock music production. 1997’s The Colour and the Shape was presented to me as the first of the “loud” records – an album that jumps out of the stereo and into your head, not only melodically but also sonically. There is nothing in producer Gil Norton’s discography at that point to indicate a thirst for pushing the limits of volume, yet TCATS attacked with a vociferousness that none of its contemporaries possessed. The choruses on singles like “Monkey Wrench,” “My Hero,” and “Everlong” simply explode, and the verses are usually not far removed. So this got me thinking – could my favourite album from my favourite band be an instigator of the downward spiral we find ourselves a part of?


No it cannot.

The real culprit, my friends, is all around the release of The Colour and the Shape, but not in it. Though 1997 saw the release of fellow masterpiece OK Computer, it also heralded the arrival of Deftones, Green Day’s Nimrod, and Re-Load, as well as, oh yes… the Backstreet Boys. Their self-titled album went platinum 14 times over in the US alone, and was followed by *NSYNC’s debut the following year, no slouch either, selling 11 million copies. 1998 also saw Korn’s first mainstream success, Follow the Leader, and here we start to see two different but equally-popular methods arising: the crystal-clear polish of the boy bands, and the bass-heavy, kick-drum-triggered nu metal crunch. Both approaches and styles were taking over airwaves and the first stages of the internet. After the successes of grunge, alternative, and pop-punk in the early- to mid-90s, rock music was getting pushed aside. Fighting for a place and a sound, producers took both elements – the pop sheen and the nu metal EQ – and threw them together. The result is where we find ourselves today: we have the best equipment to record, mix, and play music with the greatest dynamic range ever, yet we use less and less of it on records, to paraphrase the engineer I spoke with. And our ears are getting tired.

Whereas rock fans in the 70s and 80s related to albums on a personal and intimate level, blasting them through stereo systems or headphones, we cannot do that with the majority of albums released today. Putting aside how we connect to music currently, most records today literally fatigue our ears as we listen to them, assaulting them with so many frequencies and at such high intensities that we can only put up with it for so long. I’m sure many people have experienced situations where they find themselves physically unable to listen to music, usually after experiencing a high-volume setting for more than a short period of time. Sadly, this leads us to not value the experience of listening to and experiencing music as much as we should or could. Yet another reason why listeners no longer value music as a worthwhile piece of art, and instead treat it as a disposable commodity.

But at least it’s not the Foo Fighters’ fault.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"We're Getting the Band Back Together"

2008 is already the year of the reunion. Nobody cares that 2007 brought a new Smashing Pumpkins album and a Spice Girls reunion tour. 2008 is already brimming with possibilities, not even counting the New Kids on the Block rumors that are swirling.

Living Sacrifice - Demon Hunter's recent track, "Sixteen," illustrates why 90% of the metal/metalcore bands should just quit. Guest vocalist Bruce Fitzhugh shreds harder than most of the guitars out there right now, and it wasn't even a particularly stunning performance for him. It doesn't even matter that the line he growls is a word-for-word ripoff of Skillet's first single, "Gasoline." This guy could read cooking directions or road signs and it would still make my skin tingle (in a good way).

Stavesacre - Nothing's certain, especially with this band, but the current plan involves writing one last record with original guitarist Jeff Bellew (How to Live with a Curse was intended to be their last, but you get the impression that they weren't exactly satisfied with it). Judging by the gusto with which they're approaching their upcoming show in Germany, I'm getting optimistic.

Sixpence None the Richer - According to a recent blog post from Leigh Nash, she and Matt Slocum are at least making music together again. At first this made me happy, then I got uneasy flashbacks to Billy Corgan's Chicago Times ad and the resulting album. Fingers crossed.

Colored by Numbers - They're approaching it Postal Service-style (since the six members now live in Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Long Beach, Costa Rica, and Syria), but it's far too early to speculate.

dignan - No, not the band from Texas. The other one.

Artists I'm Still Hoping To Hear About: Steve Taylor, Fleming and John, Further Seems Forever w/Chris Carrabba (yeah I went there), Hey Mercedes, twothirtyeight.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Backlash

There is a backlash coming, and I can't wait.

Less than a decade ago, arrived as a source for music of all kinds - mainstream, indie, obscure, global, local, you name it. It gave way to PureVolume and eventually MySpace (and the popularity of P2P networks), but the surge had started. People - mainly youth - were able to download anything they wanted, as long as they searched hard enough for it. Record and digital music collections exploded, giving rise to the changing perspectives on music that I have written about previously.

Before this point, music (and music opinion) was received largely via close friends and family, large media outlets (radio and MTV), and perhaps the odd group activity like a school dance or Christian skate night. The focus in many of these contexts was a collective experience of an individual performance. You listened to the radio while doing errands with your family or on long road trips. You watched MTV with friends (especially if you didn't get MTV and were forced to go to a friend's house to watch it). Dances and skate nights were obviously not about the music. Music was a soundtrack, but an incomplete one.

The digital age made music a constant, almost unbearable soundtrack. If you aren't listening to your iPod on the bus every morning, you can look up and note the many who are. Many people have large enough music libraries to play - without pause - for weeks or even months. The digital age also allowed for a rise in the number of recording and music-producing bands, who began to go on tours to support their passion.

But we're kinda getting sick of it.

Talking with friends and colleagues, there is a growing weariness with the state of music. There are so many bands, so many songs, so many mash-ups, not to mention so many websites, blogs, magazines, and TV channels. So many shows, and as a generation, we're sick of going to them all the time. Especially since we find ourselves disappointed by the performances more often than not. We'd rather listen to an album that we like, and not risk having it ruined for us by seeing an ill-prepared musical unit try to create a faithful rendition of it or an interesting digression from it.

We're also spending our own money now. And we're becoming more picky. Thus a backlash is on the horizon. Bands are starting to feel it, as are record companies. Both complain of music sharing harming their careers and investments. Sure, there may be a correlation there, but I'd be more inclined to believe that as the first generation to experience such music overload has moved from high school to college and now post-college life, it realizes that there are plenty of other ways to spend time than to sit at a computer and hunt down the latest and "greatest" musical acts.

But take heart, dear bands and musicians with true talent, passion, and commitment: the backlash that is coming will not destroy you, but it will thin out the herds quite a bit. At least, we can all hope it does. You can be sure that there will always be an audience for a truly kick-ass concert that's coming through town.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Musical Espionage

I was thinking earlier this evening about how cool it would be if I were a world famous rocker and was contacted by a secret spy organization, who wanted to know if I would put coded messages in my songs, so as to communicate with their spies abroad.

I instantly realized this idea was absurd, because there's no way I could encode messages in songs and release them fast enough and with wide enough distribution to make any sort of difference.

But then I thought, isn't every artist, in a sense, taking part in a scheme like that? Almost every artist has a message in a particular piece of work, even if their message is self-absorption or "there is no message," which is a message about how sometimes things don't need to have a message. ("He's got a point, there." Name that movie!) Every artist has a message, and that message comes from somewhere, whether the artist believes it comes from the literal voice of God or simply synapses firing in the cerebral cortex. Musicians have a particular genre of message that many other artists do not share, that of the unstoppable sequence. I mentioned this in my first post here, how you can't stop music and observe it. Of course you can read musical notation and look at scores, but the actual music itself cannot be frozen and observed. It requires that we submit to its string of occurences in the 4th dimension.

Take time to listen to the codes, but don't let it jam your airwaves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Know It's Not Friday, But...

...Stavesacre is playing in the room next to me, and it made me want to write. When I say "Stavesacre," I don't mean a CD... I mean the actual band. It's a long story, but there they are. They just jumped into "Sundown Motel" (for the second time).

I love music. I love hearing it, I love playing it, I love thinking about it. I love it more than I love practically anything else. I love driving with the windows down and blasting it (but I don't like doing this on the highway because (a) then I can't hear the music as well, and (b) I actually performed a rather detailed study and series of experiments in an Environmental Science class about the potential hearing loss that can occur when driving with the windows down).

I love writing about music, too, and arguing about it as well. Which is how this whole blog started. I hate the discussion threads on sites like where it's just talk about anything EXCEPT the actual music. Whatever.

That being said, what I say here is rarely a complete opinion. So yes, though I think "pizza of my eye" is one of the dumpest lyrics ever written, - ever - I still like Motion City Soundtrack and listen to that CD rather frequently. And while I diss DLD a disproportionate amount, I still have 3 or 4 of their songs in my iTunes. And while I LOVE the Foo Fighters, anyone that knows me knows I can discuss my likes and dislikes with equal veracity. I love music, but I have a hard time loving it subjectively. So the hunt for the objective truth continues, if not about what is really "good" or "best," than at least about what I personally like most. So while I disagree with Noah's opinion about Coheed & Cambria, I'm glad he said it, because I didn't know he listened to ANY Coheed. Next time I see him we can argue - I mean, discuss - our different opinions. Or maybe we'll just skip it. That's beside the point. The point is that I love music and I love how it has bonded me to people in my life in so many different ways. Even if Luke is a bastard and doesn't allow comments on his blog.

Monday, January 7, 2008

2007 Top Ten (and then some)

Top 10 Albums of 2007, in reverse order:

10. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
I’ve listened to Wilco often enough in the past, but none of their albums ever struck me like this one. From the subdued opener which leads into the stuttered strut of “You Are My Face” and the Allman Brothers-flavored “Impossible Germany,” Wilco sound like a band from another era, but still fresh and lively. The perfect road trip album, whether driving across the country or just hopping over to Vegas (both of which I did this year, and listened to SBS while doing so).
9. Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare
Plenty of bands last year tried “becoming punk” with little or no success. Arctic Monkeys accomplished this easily by sticking to the basics: write short, fast songs, release so many EPs and singles that everyone loses count, and don’t be afraid to employ every cliché and stereotype available. From false endings to questionable puns to nonsensical rhymes, all wrapped up in swagger and spit, Favourite Worst Nightmare has enough bombast for three albums, but not in the American style of “blinger is better” – Arctic Monkeys are from the anti-Fall Out Boy/Panic! at the Disco camp, and joyfully so.
8. Yellowcard, Paper Walls
This album reminds me of high school, in all the best ways. It contains all the major-key bite of classics like Slick Shoes’ Rusty and MxPx’s Life in General, but with the more advanced sense of melody and harmony that Yellowcard has always maintained.
7. Saves the Day, Under the Boards
This album would probably score much higher if it weren’t following up the excellent Sound the Alarm. As a stand-alone album it is head and shoulders above the competition, but it can’t compete against its predecessor. The title track opener is eerie until the whole band kicks in, and then it sounds so much like BOC’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” that it’s distracting. “Woe” and “Because You Are No Other” sound like unfinished pieces of potentially good songs, while “Stay” is the least memorable ballad StD has recorded and “Getaway” is ferocious until the laughable chanting over the bridge. That’s not to say there are no bright spots on the album: “Radio,” “Can’t Stay the Same,” and “Get Fucked Up” comprise one of the best trilogies of songs Chris Conley has ever written, and “Bye Bye Baby” is among their best singles. Closer “Turning Over In My Tomb” turns in a strong finish, as well, leaving me excited for the closing chapter in this audio trilogy. Sadly, Under the Boards is this band’s Temple of Doom.
6. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin
I didn’t even realize this album would make it into my top ten until well into December, when I kept thinking about “that album that is always playing on my work computer.” Lo and behold, it’s Cease to Begin, a combination of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Explosions in the Sky. The perfect album for staying in all weekend. Put it on repeat.
5. Tegan and Sara, The Con
Tegan and Sara are identical twins and lesbians, which totally killed my celebrity crush on Tegan (the cute one). Not that crushing on a lesbian is wrong, per se, but I felt like it was just completely futile and unfair (not that any celebrity crushes aren’t futile, but…) This is all beside the point, though, which is that The Con is the best female-fronted rock album in my lifetime. (Anyone caught mentioning Exile in Guyville will be ignored.) Not only are the songs catchy and the lyrics witty and memorable, they’re also sonically rich and often transcend the traditional verse-chorus-verse formula with ease. Lines like “I was nineteen” seem simple enough on paper, but when infused with T&S’s passion and melody, they come to life and hit you as if you wrote them yourself.
4. Jimmy Eat World, Chase This Light
For a few days after I got this album, I decided that it was at best a distant third in the JEW oeuvre, behind Clarity (duh) and Futures (an increasingly underrated album). However, the more I listened to Chase This Light, the more it sucked me in with its subtle genius. Jim Adkins’ lyrics don’t appear any different, yet I find myself relating to them more closely than ever before. Lines like “Could going through the motions lead to real emotion?” and “Slap my face just to feel you somehow again” jump out at me. The album is not perfect, however; “Feelin’ Lucky” is this album’s “The Middle” (or “Jen,” from the Futures b-sides), and “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues,” while not a bad track, oddly sounds much more like earlier Stavesacre (“Wither” from Absolutes) than Jimmy Eat World. Those are the only two songs that I routinely skip, though; the rest of the album is exceptional, and “Here It Goes” may be the single most catchy song JEW has ever recorded, which is a bold claim. But it can at least contend for that title.
3. The Most Serene Republic, Population
As this band doesn’t write songs so much as “soundscapes,” an accurate description is difficult. Imagine Anathallo with more rock, The Arcade Fire with more punk and less Canadianism (though TMSR are fellow Canucks), Sigur Ros on speed, or even Sufjan with less eccentricity, and you’re getting warm. Just check it out already.
2. Lovedrug, Everything Starts Where It Ends
This is a bit of a surprise to me, as I’ve been ambivalent about Lovedrug since I first heard them (opening for 238 on their farewell tour). But this album makes all the right moves, and I’ve been listening to it consistently since I first picked it up. More focused than earlier releases, ESWIE rocks and rolls its way through 11 tracks of post-grunge indie perfection before the beautiful closing track, foregoing pessimism for the uplifting “Wake up, you’re alive. We’re on your side.” Worth hearing repeatedly, every year.
1. Foo Fighters, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace
Is this a surprise to anyone? The Foo have released a number of disappointments recently (worst offender: In Your Honor, which was, mathematically, not even half good), but make up for all of them in one fell swoop. ESPG saw the band returning to producer Gil Norton (responsible for Foo Fighters’ The Colour and the Shape and Dashboard Confessional’s A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, among others) and dropping contrived rock ‘n roll, instead favoring inspired songwriting. The result is the band’s best album, on all fronts, since TCATS. Opening track “The Pretender,” while the band’s best balls-to-the-wall track since “All My Life,” is only the gateway to an album as rich with barnburners (“Let It Die,” “Erase/Replace,” “Come Alive”) as it is with ballads (“Stranger Things Have Happened,” “Statues,” “Home”). An impressive performance from a band many were beginning to suspect had long passed its prime.

Top 7 EPs:
7. The Rocket Summer, The Rocket Summer EP
6. The Spill Canvas, Denial Feels So Good
5. Flight of the Conchords, The Distant Future
4. Arctic Monkeys, Brianstorm
3. Bright Eyes, Four Winds
2. This Town Needs Guns, Cats and Cats and Cats Split EP
1. Days Away, Ear Candy for the Headphone Trippers

Best Debut: Pierce the Veil, A Flair for the Dramatic
Best Album I Wish I'd Been Listening To Since Its Release: The CafFiends, Fission, Fusion, and Things Made of Concrete (2004)
Best Improvement Over Same Band's Last Release: August Burns Red, Messengers
Best Re-Release: Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape (this would have made it into the Top 10 had I not decided to disqualify it).

16 Standout Tracks:
RULES: None of these songs appear on The Top 10 Albums or Top 7 EPs, but are fantastic tracks. Organized in alphabetical order, but if sequenced properly, make a BITCHIN' mix disc.
"After the Devil Beats His Wife," Emery
"Clean Breaks," Dashboard Confessional (Best Song of 2007)
"Currents Convulsive," Pierce the Veil
"Don't You Know Who I Think I Am?," Fall Out Boy
"(Fork and Knife)," Brand New
"Hands On Me," Vanessa Carlton
"Love Like This," Natasha Bedingfield (the version without Sean Kingston)
"Night Moves," Down to Earth Approach
"Pearl," Maritime
"Say," John Mayer
"Soon We'll Be Living In the Future," Straylight Run
"The Truth," The Spill Canvas
"Up Against the Ropes," August Burns Red
"Videotape," Radiohead
"Waiting for the 7:18," Bloc Party
"Wax Simulacra," The Mars Volta