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-Bearded Creative Pioneer of the World of Tomorrow-

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sonic Exploration

I had originally written a post a few days ago how unimpressed I was with Pandora and Spotify. In the first batch of songs I had listened to there were some good ones, but nothing I had to stop what I was doing and listen. I'm really on a quest to find more like-minded musicians and to see what else is going on out there that never reaches my ears through Milwaukee radio. Pandora, though, does allow one to be a musical caesar, thumbs down to whatever displeases me. I like that.

When I first opened Spotify, I had a short list of bands that I wanted to check out, Megafaun, Blitzen Trapper, Broken Social Scene, and The Shins. I had heard snippets from each, turns out that's all I really needed. They each have a handfull of sweet songs, but nothing that really impressed me album-wise. However, they did point me in the direction in some "similar artists." It has always baffled me how they select similar artists. Are they hand picked or do they algorithms that see how one person likes one and another, then links them together as similar. It also seems that if one band is affiliated with another, they become similar, despite their music not being similar at all. But there are a few gems, you just have to know how to look.

In my case, I tend to look at pictures/album covers. Don't laugh, the system works. I've found at least TWO fantastic bands that way. The Head and the Heart, which I had heard on 88.9 before,
but recently purchased the whole album, has a dude with a lamb mask sitting next to a chick posing like a Step-Brothers picture. 3 really great tracks alone on the album, and it is definitely a good album as a whole. The chick singer shouldn't really get lead vocal duty on some songs, but she isn't the worst. It can be overlooked because of the quality of the album.

The other great find came yesterday while looking through another spotify app I guess. I saw a picture of a dude with a long beard, old timey clothes, and 6 others standing behind.
The band was called Bison, so naturally I had to check it out. FANTASTIC folk music that takes it a step further. Some traditional instrumentation, but no bass, upright or otherwise. They have a freaking pump organ (awesome), a violin, cello, banjo/mandolin player, and a couple percussion and vocalists. The songs are structured more like some indie rock band, but still are 100% folk. The melodies are instantly memorable. It is definitely an interesting mix. Bison's website has quotes from critics calling them a mix of folk and classical. I suppose that's the best they could come up with, but it's kind of true. A very interesting and fun listening experience.

Still working on my utilization of Spotify. Kind of given up on Pandora for my purposes of finding new music, but it's still good to have on sometimes. But I do believe Spotify has more potential. It feels like the new, a website I miss deeply. More to come, I'm sure.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hope for the future

Jack White and I have had an interesting relationship over the years. I was a gigantic fan of the White Stripes in high school, saw them live in 2004, then they kind of fell off my radar. The Raconteurs quickly took the spot on my Jack White-o-meter. Both albums are quite fantastic and am perpetually waiting for another. Then there was the White Stripes again...not as influential to me. THEN, there was The Dead Weather. Honestly? Not a fan. Like the concept of Jack White taking a back seat and being a drummer, but it doesn't work in practice. I'll give it a couple of years. His record label, Third Man Records, has gotten a lot of press as well. Still undecided about that. I almost forgot about the atrocity which was the James Bond song for Quantum of Solace with Alicia Keys. What a piece of garbage. But I have always admired White's passion for music, his recording ideals, and his general work ethic. An interesting man, to be sure.

And now this:

This solidifies the fact that Jack White does what Jack White wants and he is damn good at it. Check out the other song he performed that night too. Different band, different feel. I am extremely excited for White's first solo record Blunderbuss, due out this April. Jack White is still influencing young musicians, giving me hope for the future of music. More to come when the album comes out. It best meet my high expectations or I'll chase that pale man down to Wichita...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

One Wild and Crazy Banjo Pick'n Guy

I first realized Steve Martin was an accomplished banjo player and musician (beyond his Dr. Demento tune King Tut) during my brief stint as a worker at Barnes and Noble. The Crow: New Songs for the 5 String Banjo was one of the few CDs that we were forced to listen to that I actually enjoyed. I can't recall if there was any comedy on it, but one thing was clear: Steve Martin is a banjo beast.

Truth be told, in all of my recent folk explorations I forgot about the pick'n ways of Steve
Martin. Then those fine fellows at Rolling Stone decided to post a video/blog of a song called "Me and Paul Revere." Martin is joined by a band called the Steep Canyon Rangers in a loft-like area surrounded by people. Please watch this video.
Since I have bought the single of the aforementioned song, then the album Rare Bird Alert and now The Crow is on my list as well. Some of the songs on Rare Bird Alert are clearly meant to poke fun, but maybe that is part of the appeal. The album takes me all over the place. Makes me laugh, makes me bob my head, makes me sing along.

What can I say?

There is something so real and pure about folk music and Steve Martin shreds on that fucking banjo. I know this music is probably more bluegrass than folk, but I'm not really sure where those lines are drawn and Wikipedia is surprisingly useless on the subject. In my ignorance I have decided to view folk as the broad category and everything else is just a subset of the genre. I think part of the draw to this music is honestly just the real instruments. This is music that can be played anywhere at any time, all you need are the musicians and their instruments. No electronic tom-foolery needed, no vocoders, no synths, no PHAT BEATZ.

It is just music that is in our blood. I tend to think of things in terms of "There is a reason this is still around." That's how I rationalize most of my musical ventures, and this is no exception. I feel transported when I listen to Rare Bird Alert especially, as though I could go outside and see dirt roads. The music is simply real and full of human emotion. When you hear those strings being picked, you can feel and hear the human element.

SIDE NOTE: How much would it suck to be the Steep Canyon Rangers actual banjo player?

ANSWER: Very much.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Shame shame (we know your name)

Last Sunday I tuned in to the Grammys hoping for a repeat of 2011's award ceremony. To be fair, 2011 set a pretty high bar for me. Aside from Lady Antebellum cleaning up for their Drunken Hick song, it was quality. Not only did Eminem and Dr. Dre perform together, but I learned of a fantastic new artist that frequently makes my blog, Mumford and Sons. That performance changed my life, no exaggeration. It opened my eyes to a world I'd never considered before.
They are, what we can in the business, a game changer. Folk music was always synonymous with a man I loathed, Bob Dylan. But even he isn't that bad anymore. I'm getting soft in my old age. But Mumford played a fantastic rendition of their song "The Cave." It was awesome, and combined with artists like Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, inspired me to write the best music of my life. There were some other performances on the program that were alright, but nothing that made me vomit.

This year, I was hoping to hear another new artist that would wrinkle my brain. Sadly, the evening started out with Bruce fucking Springsteen. Chris Brown danced around and pretended to sing. Taylor Swift actually sang while holding a banjitar like she was in Green Day. It was
awful, seeming to mock the genre she was singing. The entire cast of her number, and they were definitely a cast, were dressed like extras in the musical Oklahoma. It made me angry. The new Foo Fighters is extremely boring, which is unfortunate as Dave Grohl has really great views on music...except that he wants to record his next album in space. Don't do drugs, kids. Foo Fighters killed in the Rock categories. That genre is dead. Nothing new under the sun. Bon Iver won some awards, including Best New Artist. Not really sure what defines a new artist, but Bon Iver has been around since 2007/2008. I wonder if the Grammys are perpetually behind the times. Another example is the fact that Adele cleaned house. I am thrilled by this for many reasons, but it all seems so after the fact. Adele has been on top of the charts for YEARS. And she is now planning to take a five year break from music. Great job Grammys. But she is one of the few authentic artists that played the evening and is a beacon of hope for keeping music real.

Also, Paul McCartney was a nice skidmark on the underpants of the Grammys.

Then there was Nicki Minaj. WORST. PIECE. OF. SHIT. EVER. I don't know what her story is and I don't care, but she is obviously a Cold War-like response to Lady Gaga. What? You're acting crazy and wear weird shit? I'm going to be even more bat-shit crazy! I believe that is exactly what happened in Nicki's head. There is one important difference betwixt them though; Lady Gaga can actually sing. Nicki Minaj blerts shit out. And it is God awful. If you want watch something completely void of musical integrity and horrible choreography, watch her Grammy performance. I'm sure it is very Youtubable.

All in all, it was a waste of my Sunday evening, but it did give me something to rant about. Oh, I may have accidentally bought the newest Coldplay album...mixed feelings.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


If I had a nickel for every time I've had to restart this blog, I'd have a shit ton of nickels. I couldn't believe it when I saw my last post was back in the beginning of October. But I digress.

Things finally feel like they're settling in. After moving, job changes, our wedding, and the stress of the holidays behind us, I am now getting into a routine. I work a six day week followed by a four day, so I have three day weekends every other. It's a good deal. I'm getting a lot of work done. The number of songs I've written and reworked over the last few months is by far my biggest creative output ever. It feels great, but there is a lot of pressure on me to keep it up. Most of it is internal pressure, admittedly, but nonetheless, I had my first creative burnout last weekend. I just pushed so hard to get 3 new songs done, write out trumpet parts, organize set lists, logistics, preparing for a gig. In addition, I was also rehired by this marketing company in Virginia to write/produce some music. So with what little free time I have, I've had to write for them. I also fucked it up. They needed loops and the bounce did not work correctly, but it should be fine. (That's our logo btw)

The band is progressing nicely. We're getting ready for our first gig at the end of the month. We've added a trumpet player as a permanent member of the band. Our sound is moving in the right direction. There are some songs that I'm more fond of than others, but so far I've been able to transform all of the ones that I haven't been a fan of into something workable. I feel like the more songs I write, they will push out the old ones. It could be due to the fact my songwriting abilities have increased exponentially or that I've finally found a style that suites my songwriting techniques. Probably both. But it is flowing out so naturally right now.

In another side of the music world, I am selling my tuba. I plan on buying a euphonium and3 continuing where I left off 10 years ago with it. Playing euphonium brings me joy I never got out of playing tuba. It's hard to describe why there is such a difference, but the euphonium just feels like a natural extension of myself. It's very exciting. It almost feels like a burden being lifted. Playing the tuba was never my choice and I never had it in me to stop that source of unhappiness until now. Kristen was actually the greatest impetus behind this. She knows better than anyone my disdain for tuba, and when I told her how much fun I had tooting around on the euphonium around Christmas, she planted the idea to switch for good. Kristen understands how much joy playing the instrument can bring. She has a relationship with the clarinet that I can only understand because of the guitar, but knew that could happen with a band instrument. It is time.

Hope to have more soon. Adios.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Who the hell coined the term "Dad Rock" anyway? Probably a Dad.

There have been recent allegations that Wilco is "Dad Rock." Well, I must have a kid I don't know about, cause I love me some Wilco. Here's what frontman Jeff Tweedy had to say about it:

"When people say dad rock, they actually just mean rock. There are a lot of things today that don’t have anything to do with rock music, so when people hear something that makes them think, 'This is derived from some sort of continuation of the rock ethos,' it gets labeled dad rock. And, to me, those people are misguided. I don’t find anything undignified about being a dad or being rocking, you know?"

Yes Jeff, I do know. Here's the thing. Wilco has been around a long time, popular for less long. And what happens when you've been around a while? You get older. So, apparently making quality rock/alternative music in your 40s because your career hasn't fizzled out like every top 40 artist is now a crime punishable by the "dad" music label. Steely Dan has also been somewhat wrongly labeled as dad music, but let's face it, Steely Dan is pretty much the most dad friendly music on the planet. BUT Steely Dan is also an amazing band, influencing more quality music than Nirvana (Nirvana influenced ALOT of bad music). Sorry to burst your bubble "critics," but Dads these days are more inclined to listen to the terrible patriotic
stylings of Kid Rock. FACT.

I'm not ashamed to admit that Wilco did not appear on my proverbial radar till about 3 years ago with the release of their self-titled album. Certain prejudices kept me from discovering them in college. I was very against anything that appeared to be "weird for the sake of weird." Upon first listen, which was curated by an ex-girlfriend who had a tendency to be into hipster music for the sake of being into hipster music, I just didn't get it.

But time has eroded those prejudices, and a new and more seasoned ear (yum) has helped me understand the genius of Wilco. It is insanely difficult to put out music that is balanced with pop sensibilities and weird shit. Tweedy and Co. have mastered that skill, leaning different ways with each album. They have done so while retaining and creating fans, not alienating them.

Ugh, critics suck. Wilco rocks. Steely Dan is unattractive.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

So Much Good Music, So Little Time

Due to my wonderful friends and family, I have had the great fortune of receiving some absolutely fantastic music lately. In fact, I have so much I need to listen to that I'm having a hard time finding time to listen to it all! This is a wonderful problem to have, but it's still a problem. In order to hear the painstaking details that went into these songs it is only appropriate to listen to them on quality speakers or headphones. I love the volume that Apple is able to get out of these tiny little Mac speakers, but they are simply not up to par for a quality listening session.

These listening sessions go way beyond simply listening and following along with lyrics (which I rarely do.) No, I see these sessions as learning opportunities, studying not only the recording techniques and decisions, but also the song structure, instrumentation, and all that other good stuff. Does this suck the fun out of music? Absolutely not. I love learning and it is a challenge and something that I enjoy more with each new artist I stumble upon. I make mental notes in hopes of using what I have learned in my own work. I try to learn what works, and more importantly, what doesn't. Having an arsenal of options in my head pays dividends in the real world.

One of the artists I have been crushing on lately is Josh Ritter. Described by iTunes as Country and folk, Rock, Pop, and just Folk, Josh Ritter is an extremely talented singer/songwriter whose lyrics and song writing are worth more than one listen. The first song I heard of his was called "The Curse," off of his newest album So Runs the World Away. Thank God for NPR's World Cafe. That was a great car ride home and I was eager to find more by this guy. (Because I didn't hear who the artist was before the song started, I initially entered the World Cafe playlist from the evening and thought it was Tim Robbins and his band...that was close.) "The Curse" is about a mummy who falls in love with the female archeologist who found him and brought him back to New York. She repeatedly asks, "Are you cursed?" to which he replies "I think that I'm cured." But as the song progresses, she gets older, he becomes famous, she dies, and we are left with the initial question and answer again. It sounds hokey when I spell it out. Any story with a mummy is bound to raise eyebrows, but it is an incredible song that I suggest you check out. Other favorites include Harrisburg, Gallahad, and Girl in the War. Each of these displays clever wordplay that is instantly memorable, some making you smile and the others making you think.

This whole "folk revival" has gotten me very excited. There is such a unique focus on writing quality songs and crafting memorable stories that it is impossible to let Bob Dylan ruin the genre for me anymore. In fact, some of Dylan's work is now listenable. This is huge for me. But my new band, the Miss Misery Trio, has gravitated towards the folk stylings without even thinking about it. The combination of personalities and influences is creating my own exciting music. It excites us anyways. And speaking from years of playing in (shitty) bands that range from Irish Folk/Punk to Grunge/Metal, I have never been this excited. Most bands have revolved around songs that I have written, but that doesn't mean they were good. I am now at a point in my life where the "listening sessions" are culminating into sensibilities that translate quickly to my music, making the songs much better. I also have great band members that I can bounce ideas off of, echo my enthusiasm, and can collaborate and trust immediately. Wish I had more time to dedicate to this stuff.