Wednesday, February 25, 2009

15(+) Bands

Via Facebook: Think of 15(+) albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world.

***No being cool; Which albums have you actually listened to hundreds of times?

Readers should feel free to guess (or ask) why particular albums are there.

(I broke the rules a little bit, but for those who know me, prepare for the least-surprising list, ever)

High School:
Slick Shoes/Rusty - Slick Shoes
I can still recall standing in the parking lot at the beach the first time I heard Slick Shoes' debut EP blasting from a friend's parked car; all 4 songs and 8 minutes of it. Up to that point most of the punk I was listening to was of the MxPx/Squad Five-O variety (both of which hold special places in my heart), but Slick Shoes blew my mind. Rusty was even more stunning, featuring multiple songs which broke the 2-minute mark (and a few that entered 3-minute territory). Jackson Mould's solos are eclipsed only by his low-end riffs on songs like "Cliche" and "Rusty". Their second LP Burn Out definitely had its moments, but it was sadly downhill from there.

Diary - Sunny Day Real Estate
I can't remember when, exactly, this band gained such a hold on me, but I do recall Dan purchasing How It Feels To Be Something On upon its release, and I didn't like it; I preferred (and still do) the raw emo-rock of Diary and its close cousin, LP2. Sure lots of the songs have the exact same structure, but who cares? They're all great. And "Pheurto Skeurto" is still one of the strangest, out-of-left-field moments on an album, ever.

Something to Write Home About - The Get Up Kids
"My Apology" was the first TGUK song I ever heard, and I was hooked. While many long-time fans were decrying the pop-oriented direction the band was heading, I didn't know it at the time; I just knew that I loved the songs these guys were pumping out with a perfect blend of double-guitar attack, tight rhythm section, and just enough pretty keys to offset Matt Pryor's less-than-perfect vocals.

From the 27th State/The Moon is Down - Further Seems Forever
These two releases are closely linked in my mind, and I'm still slightly bummed that they never rerecorded a cleaner version of "Justice Prevails" - but then again, I don't know if they could have recaptured the intensity of it. Everybody has different opinions on Chris Carrabba's vocals, but if you listen to the music you will hear such an incredible variety contained within less than 40 minutes of playing time, it's crazy. The core musicians had performed for years as Strongarm, so it's no surprise that they were so in tune with each other throughout these releases, and achieved so many perfect moments no other band ever will. R.I.P.

The Colour & The Shape - Foo Fighters
Umm, you all knew this was coming. Though the band created In Your Honor to separate and showcase their equally penchants for soft and loud performances, TCATS had already done that. The quieter and aching moments found on "Doll," "See You," "Walking After You" and the first half of "February Stars" are offset by the all-out assault provided by "My Poor Brain," "Wind Up," "Enough Space," and the last half of "February Stars." And let's not forget the all-time classic radio singles "Monkey Wrench," "My Hero," and "Everlong" (and "Up In Arms," which I can never listen to enough). Incomparable.

Early College:
Clarity - Jimmy Eat World
Although I know he wasn't the only one listening to it at the time, I have to credit Jonathan Greener for really getting me into Jimmy Eat World and this album. If you don't like it, I can't convince you to, but if you do, you know it's like air in your lungs.

The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts - Refused
I vividly remember Dan rounding up James and me in Jamie's room at Wheaton and placing a burned CD (remember those?) courtesy of John Harris in the stereo (remember those?), with strict instructions to listen to the first three songs without moving from the couch. My mind was blown, and continues to be every time I hear this album. By sheer force of will this band transmogrified from a scrappy anarchistic punk outfit to a thoughtful and ferocious Socialist hardcore militia. To my knowledge no band has even tried to rip this album off, (a) because it's impossible and (b) because everybody would hate them for trying. This album is heavier and groovier than any -core band has ever created, and equally trippy and cohesive.

The Photo Album - Death Cab For Cutie
I borrowed this from Suhail Stephen (thanks!) during my freshman year, and that was pretty much it. Recently I read an interview where Ben Gibbard expressed his dislike for the album, as it was rushed to be created between tours; you can definitely hear how it is a more clinical, "studio album" than their other releases, but there is a clarity and pristine quality found here that I cannot get enough of. It always makes me think of one of those bitterly cold, clear winter days, when the sun is shining and everything is bright, but you still don't want to step outside.

Regulate the Chemicals/You Should Be Living - Twothirtyeight
One of the best concerts I ever attended, and two of the best albums ever. After the power-chord pop-rock songs that populated the Matter Has A Breaking Point EP, to call Regulate the Chemicals a departure would be putting it terribly mildly. The lonely, dissonant notes that opened the album became only creepier as a second guitar rang out over the lyrics, "Some people stay sick in bed, sick at work or in their heads." And everything just spiraled out of control from there. The album is an experiment in sparse landscapes; though almost every song features a drums/bass/two guitar lineup, they always feel alone and independent of each other and with so much room it's as if the band is playing to an absent crowd in a concert hall. To confuse matters even more, the re-release contained two southern-rock tinged tracks, which oddly fit right in. None of this could prepare anyone for You Should Be Living, though. While perhaps not as powerful in impact, it showcased the band at their peaks as songwriters and performers, and some of Chris Staples' best lyrics. The loneliness and creepiness had aged to sadness and a haunting feeling. Every song sounds like an epitaph for a different person from the same small town. They describe the worn-out, blown-out spirit found in any small Florida town, with lines such as "God... we knew you as kids, but lost you in smokey bars, we lost in the boom of lowered cars, in parties that grew into the yard," "Seat yourself, for you'll be murdered in 40-hour increments," and "Credit is a whore who won't wake up and leave, but believe me, I'm not sleeping with her anymore." God I miss this band.

Late College:
Stay What You Are - Saves the Day
I have so many good memories tied up with this album, which was released my freshman year. Despite Chris Conley's abrasive/whiny vocals, this album somehow became a staple across a wide spectrum of friends, and many hours were spent hanging out, playing Mario Kart or Halo, or doing other things that should not be mentioned in public forums. This album always reminds me of good times in Wheaton, both the school and the city.

De-Loused in the Comatorium - The Mars Volta
By the time the intro track was half over, I'd already wet my pants. I'd heard their debut EP and been completely unimpressed, so when Dan popped this in I was not expecting much. What I got was more than I could handle. Though technically inferior to later albums, the raw energy of this album can overpower practically anything in its path. Focusing on a drums/bass/guitar attack, they created a sonic assault than only briefly subsides for interludes. Definitely a desert-island album.

Another Intervention - Down To Earth Approach
I went home during my last summer at college and completed an internship. As a fair amount of the work I did was performed by myself at a desk, I looked for music online anywhere I could find it. The e-card for this album was up, and I listened to it constantly, loving every minute. Though I could do without the title track, which never seems to go anywhere, the rest of the album was gorgeous, and surprisingly well-thought-out. Though they never stray far from their core formula, they change the dynamics in delicate ways so that it never gets boring, at least not to me. This is a band that I am completely in love with that I can never get anyone else to like.

Zoo - Anadivine
As much as I love Copeland and Brandtson, I think this album was the best thing The Militia Group has put out to date. It's tempting to call them a straight-ahead rock outfit, but that would give the wrong impression. They were definitely masters of subtlety and dynamics. The two guitars rarely played the same part, opting instead to play complimentary but strikingly different lines. This left the bass holding down the fort melodically, which it did with ease, adding variety but maintaining focus. The drums are among my favorite, ever. Often completely locking in with the guitars instead of the bass, there are plenty of things that go by unnoticed, like the 3-measure cycle that occurs throughout "Love, Lust and Fake Integrity": though the song is in 4/4, each 4th bar actually begins on a different kick pattern. Listen closely. Anybody who ever liked dignan but wished we had a vocalist will probably enjoy this album.

I Am Hollywood - He Is Legend
Oh man... this album slays. Schuylar Croom gives Blindside's Christian Lindskog a run for his money as the best singer/screamer in the biz, singing what mostly sound like creepy fairy tales while the band tears through riffs culled from all areas of rock: 80s cock rock and arena rock, metal, hardcore, late-90s alternative (does anyone else think the intro to "The Greatest Actor Alive" kinda sounds like Fuel?), southern rock, and even some jazz for good measure. The bass and drums are among the tightest duos in recent memory, and throughout the album the band seems to have the mindset of "what is the most difficult and least expected thing we could do at this point?" Key changes, rhythm changes, style changes, breakdowns, slow downs, brodowns... it's all there, from the opening punch of "The Seduction" (which also has one of the greatest music videos ever) to the last riffs of the title track. "Do You Think I'm Pretty?" is probably my favorite, switching from a dissonant riff to a modern rock chorus, to an intentionally-ridiculous hardcore breakdown which is followed by a mindbending 6/8 riff which spirals away until it is lassoed back in by a syncopated rhythm courtesy of the aforementioned drum/bass pair. Am I drooling on my keyboard right now? I think so.

House of Heroes - House of Heroes
Another band that I don't think anyone else will ever get into like I am. Although an indie band, as a trio they created an album worthy of comparisons to Muse: Tim Skipper has a vocal range almost equal to Matt Bellamy, the guitar and bass lines interplay with equal ingenuity, and the rhythms holding it all together are often more varied and interesting. HOH prove to be masters of dynamics, never playing a part the same way twice, excepting some choruses (but, after all, that's what choruses are for). "Fast Enough" begins benignly enough, but by the end they're creeping along like the Grim Reaper comin' to get ya. Gives me the chills every time. Songs like "Make A Face Like You Mean It" and "Pulling Back the Skin" have fantastic rhythms and enough changeups to make a pitcher jealous. I think I should probably stop making metaphors, they're getting out of hand. I will probably alarm many people by declaring this a desert island album for me.

The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me - Brand New
Soundtrack to my life if ever there were one.

Time Is Fiction - Edison Glass
Sure this album came out only a few months ago, but I can't imagine life without it. Fantastic from front to back, it's the kind of album that makes me nervous for their next album, because how could it possibly be this good and enjoyable? Highly recommended to anybody who likes rock of any sort, but especially dual-vocal, dual-guitar rock with interesting bass lines and fantastically flavorful and inventive drumming.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weekly Addiction

For the past couple of weeks I have been listening to the song "This Feeling" by The Seams. Over and over. Seriously 150 times by now, probably more. I can't explain why. There's nothing in the song that would make it possible for me to convince someone of its greatness. I'm just hooked.

Edit: But I'll try to explain, anyway. Down To Earth Approach (the previous band of this singer, Jonathan Lullo) is one of my all-time favorite Bands That I Am Really Into That No One Else I Know Ever Liked At All. They wrote and performed simple, straight-ahead pop rock songs that were, I thought, incredibly fantastic. Over 2 albums there is only 1 song that I don't really like, which is a far better track record than plenty (most?) of the other bands in my iTunes. Over 2 albums they also never wrote a song that reached the 4-minute mark; the vast majority were between the 3- and 3:30-mark, or as some songwriters call it, "The Sweet Spot": the perfect length for a catchy, radio-ready pop song. Of course, DTEA never made it on the radio, which is too bad. I'll be the first to admit that while I always got what the band (Lullo) was saying, grammar and linear narrative was not always his strong suit. I was/am totally o.k. with that, as the impression always made its way through.

Now, this new song from The Seams, his new collaboration with another songwriter: this song is practically perfect, if a little short - but its length also probably helped me play it 150+ times, and still enjoy it! There is a very steady feel provided by the consistent, unchanging drums with open hi-hats; I'm still trying to figure out if it's a live drummer or programming. At the very least the cymbals were recorded separately, Phil Collins-style. The guitars are distorted but smooth, and the lead lines aren't pushed to the front, but blend in and basically just hint at their existence. Though the drums are pulsing throughout, there is a lot of variety among the guitars: sometimes just one plays, sometimes both, sometimes both but no bass, straight strums for the verses but choppy All My Life-style strums for the choruses. And then we hit that magnificent bridge. "It's gonna get easier for me" Lullo sings, as the bass ascends over the choppy chords and subdued lead lines. And while that's all well and good, when the bridge is played again, it has a moment in the third stanza where the bass continues to ascend past the point it did previously, and that's where it all really comes together for me. As I've said before, music occurs in real time, and it's moments like these, however brief, that I enjoy the most. When all the pieces come together, for however brief a moment, and everything makes sense. Anyone who listens to my best songs knows that that's invariably how I structure them, and I think many people can testify to a similar appreciation, if not in this particular song.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Things I Currently Enjoy Probably Way Too Much

- The Weepies, Hideaway
- Taylor Swift, Fearless (especially the 2nd verse of "You Belong With Me". And "Breathe". And "Love Story," of course.)
- Taken
- Two Tongues, "Tremors"
- The Gabe Dixon Band, "Disappear"
- Shure SCL3 earphones
- Blogs that you need a username and password to access
- WordTwist vs. Adam, Emily or Mikkele
- Today's Woot shirt
- New lower 48 song, "Stay True To Your Heart!"
- August Burns Red's cover of "Hit Me Baby One More Time"
- Jason Mraz's SNL duet with Colbie Caillat on "Lucky". (I have come to the conclusion that Mraz is a tool surpassed only by his drummer, but I haven't heard a live duet like that in quite some time.)

All of the above are highly recommended.