Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts


Something Coming

It was just one of those things.

I never knew about it until almost the end. In hindsight I should have seen it coming. I was told about it, then it happened. Not so close as to wallop me over the head with obviousness, but still a close enough cause and effect I should have been able to together.

My grandmother passed away earlier this month. She lived a long life, but that never makes it easier for those left to live with the loss. She was my mom's tether to her childhood. My grandfather Hugh had passed away when my mom was a little girl and my mom was an only child. In many ways they were each other's connection to the world they once shared. Now my mom has her own family for support, but her sense of history has been thrown off balance. 

It was just old age, really. It wasn't cancer or heart disease or diabetes. She had grown old and her kidneys had completely shut down. When one essential thing goes, the rest of them start to fail. That's it. She was in surprisingly good health until the last week or so. I got to say goodbye when she was still her normal self, still sitting and eating lunch, waving me off because she wanted to get back to her routine. She didn't know, and I didn't want her to know, that I was saying goodbye. I had known her kidneys had failed and what it meant for her not to opt for dialysis, but she hadn't seemed to see the gravity of the situation.

Towards the end, my mom told me something that I haven't been able to stop thinking about. It's the kind of thing I would think about and dismiss as an over active imagination or seeking a pattern in the randomness of life, but here I am writing about it. There was a song that would serve as a harbinger. Not like a curse, but a sign of impending change or bad happenstance. Like an omen that arrives as a musical motif, several times over the course of her life.

I don't recall the specifics but I can't keep pestering my mom about it until more time has passed. Here's the long and short of it: when my grandmother had suffered a fall back in mid to late November, my mom had taken her to the doctor to make sure everything was okay. They had returned to her room at the home, with no bad news but no improvement on her health. As my mom helped her mom get out of the car a snippet of music drifted out of the window of another residents room at the assisted living facility. My mom said that her mom told her whenever she heard that song 'It Was Just One of Those Things' something bad would happen. It was never an immediate reaction, like a spring loaded trap. It had been more of a sign of impending change. She would hear the song in an incidental manner (someone's party, a passing car, an open window) and within a few days or a week something would happen. A serious illness. Losing a job. A bad accident. However she made the connection, she held it in her mind for decades. She recognized the song and off handedly explained it to my mom as though it was this harmless old superstition.

My mom had made note of it, and hoped it wasn't the sign it turned out to be.

I've thought about it constantly since my mom told me about it. The first connection I made was to 'Make Your Own Kind of Music' on LOST - an incidental motif that served as a larger sign of connection, a peppy number that clashes with the unpleasant thing it accompanies. I've been racking my brain to see if anything in my life has happened like that. I've been on a constant vigilance to see if anything happens like it. I know our brains seek to create a pattern out of random occurrences  similar to how we are hard wired to see faces even where there are none. Maybe that's what happened to her. I don't know. 

Almost every night, now, I've been having conversations with my grandmother in my dreams. Maybe it's just me processing things I haven't dealt with yet. Maybe I'm looking for answers I never got to ask about. She's never able to answer hard questions before I wake up, though. If I can, I'll see if I can remember to ask her about this in my dreams. It's just one of those things.


Mass Affect

Here we go again.

The last time I wrote about this band, they had a different name and only a single EP to show the world. I finished my last write up of them saying that I couldn't wait for them to put out a full album and wondered what strange new sounds they'd make. That full album by the rechristened Rags & Ribbons has been out for a bit now, and rather than keep it as personal treasure, I can't contain it any longer. 

You need to hear The Glass Masses. 

There's that sweet spot where a fresh band has clearly found their voice. I could name countless examples of bands that release some things, find their voice or niche and release a single iconic piece, thereby cementing their new-found identity. They hit the next level in their evolution, maintaining a core of self or DNA but growing and changing into a stronger, more fully formed iteration of themselves. That is exactly what happened with Rags & Ribbons on this heavy hitting album. All the same voices and styles are still present, but having taken another step in development. It's more nuanced, yet more sweeping. Heavier and more intense, but also showing lighter bits of delicacy that hadn't revealed themselves in prior songs. 
This evolution of ideas is present immediately in the first track, 'Even Matter'. In the first ethereal strum of guitar, the band shows they're playing with more dexterity and subtlety. It's an amazingly expressive track for how little sound they actually are producing. The quiet notes all add together into a dense, layered mesh of sound. To boot, there's a fantastic video for the track shot by Lucy Martin. The group has clearly been having fun with harmonies as well, as evidenced in the serene acapella breakdown of 'Marks You Make'. 
There is one particular section of a certain song, however, that I feel sums up not only the album but the entire ethos of the band. In the build up to the chorus in 'The Minds' all of the instruments drop out, except Neff pounding away a solitary, syncopated pulse. When everyone crashes back in to the proper refrain, it's everything turned up to eleven. Ben's guitar is low and crunching out thudding riffs. The drums are percussive blasts. Jon's cacophonous piano bangs away. It could be unrestrained madness but they deftly, elegantly tie it all together in a neat package, overlaid with wailing vocals. When Jon and Ben sing the line "You and me...", Jon's voice dove tails from this high point that illuminates how close they veer towards madness, only to drop right back into the pocket. It's all coordinated, detailed chaos. It sounds unbelievably good. 
As I hinted at in the beginning of this piece, I'm conflicted by the desire to keep these guys as my amazing secret while wanting to show them to the whole world. They've forced my hand though - they've been too relentless in their touring and too successful for me to try to shelter them at all. Rags & Ribbons are on an exhilarating ascent. In addition to this write up, check back tomorrow for a full interview I did earlier this summer. I've said before that I can't wait to see what they'll do, but if this is any indication, big things are already under way. Get on board while you can. 


Rags On Paper

Welcome back! 

As promised, here's the interview I conducted with the band via email. For more info, check out their Facebook page here and follow them on Twitter for tour dates and dispatches from the road and studio.

So how'd the tour go?

Tour was amazing.  It was our first time traveling across the United States as a band and getting a chance to play a ton of concerts outside of the northwest.  Getting the opportunity to play shows every night for a month straight is perhaps the greatest thing an aspiring band like us can ask for.  

I know no band or artist likes to change moniker mid-career, but you guys seemed to make a natural move. Any particular signifigance to the new name, or do you simply like alliteration?

Ha!  A very well thought out question JT.  We got a little bit of frustration from some of our fan base who had been with us for awhile but after the first several weeks, everybody has seemed to survive.  When we first chose our original name, Galaxy Farm, we were starting to play shows in Portland and just needed a title to be known by.  We kind of settled on Galaxy Farm.  Then two years later, we started getting a lot of feedback that we needed to change our name and we kind of felt the same way.  We chose Rags & Ribbons because of the imagery it conveys and indeed, the alliteration is nice.  Plus every other name we thought of was taken.

How do the songwriting duties break down - is it collaborative or does someone show up with strongly developed concepts?

Each song is a little different but overall our music compositions are very collaborative.  There is no question that Jon has a big hand in the composition process because of his music composition background but often times any one of the three of us will come in with a rough idea and then between the rest of the group, a lot of the final pieces get smoothed out together.  We would say, Chris is definitely the rhythm master, Jon is the harmony master, and Ben just tries to screw everything up just enough to make it work.
What do you consider influences, musically? From your youth to today, what acts shaped your development?

All of our influences vary a lot and we think that is what gives us such a unique combination of musicianship.  Chris grew up with a lot of interest in progressive rock and will site bands like the Deftones and Dredge.  Jon has always been a huge fan of well crafted indie music like Sufjan Stevens, Keane, Rufus Wainwright, and a lot of classical music.  Ben has been a fan of big pop and alt rock bands from the Killers and Muse to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Overall, none of us really identify with a particular scene.  If the music is good, we can be influenced by any genre or band.  For example, Jon and I have been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean and the Weekend lately.  Totally out of our genre but super smooth and cool music.

Do you have a unified theme or vision for your sound, or do you follow an instinct to create 'whatever works'?

Initially, no.  It took us about 2-3 years to figure out a unified sound that we were going for.  Additionally, we are just now starting to figure out how to craft songs that share a unified vision.  After writing our first record, seeing how people responded to the new material, and seeing how people responded to our live show, we are now really starting to define our vision and sound.  Everything is very intentional and thought out.  We spend a lot of hours analyzing and critiquing ourselves.
What are your earliest musical memories?

We all started playing the piano when we were young.  Jon started when he was around 2 or 3 and he was the only one that ended up sticking with it.  Chris picked up the drums when he was 12.  Ben remembers being forced to take piano lessons by his mom.

What was the first piece of music you bought?

Jon- Boyz II Men
Ben-  Michael Jackson-Dangerous (on cassette, Oh Yeah!)
Chris- YES

Name some (musical) guilty pleasures. 
Ben: Last summer, I got free tickets to Kesha, Britney Spears, LMFAO, and Usher.  I definitely went to all of them, and I definitely loved them all.
Jon: Is it too soon to like Chris Brown?
Chris: Djent-weird nerdy drum stuff.

You seem to be a pretty sincere, earnest group. Does that set you apart from some jaded, world weary scenesters? 

We're just really excited about what we do.  We're aware that not everyone gets this kind of opportunity where you can share your music with people.  That experience keeps us far away from ever feeling jaded.  We hope our optimism translates to our audience, and helps them connect with us.
Do you try to recreate the sounds of the album live, or did you try to capture the live sound for the album?

We really think of the studio and the stage as two different worlds and we try to make the best of both environments. The studio exists to create the best sonic record of our music in a controlled environment.  The stage exists for a raw, human presentation of the music through performance. 

Name a modern sound/group you adore. Name a modern or recent sound/artist/movement you wish would go away.  

Jon: I adore Sigur Ros and Sufjan Stevens. There's a little bit of music that I love, and the rest of it doesn't have to go away, I just won't listen to it. 

Ben: There's some top 40 that I love and some top 40 that I hate.  If it's done well, I can get down with any genre; if it's done poorly, I'll tell you that I don't like it.

Chris: I love anything techy.  With that kind of stuff comes amazing musicians, and most often GREAT drumming.  The band has really been loving poly-rhythms at the moment, and we're working on a song in 7/8 that really grooves.  I dislike a lot of music.  I love some lo fi indie stuff, but being a musician, there's some new thing going on where it seems like people like singers that sound terrible and sing out of tune, believing that they are so original.  Country lyrics often make me laugh.  

A couple songs from the EP reappeared on the album. Why those tracks and not others? 

Prelude and Lady In The Midnight Sun were songs that we felt combined well with our new material and could continue to have significant value to our audience.

Who do you consider your contemporaries/compatriots? Any acts you wish would get a wider audience?  

No Kind of Rider and Tango Alpha Tango are other local Portland bands that we are very close with and have had the privilege of going on tour with.  Their music is fantastic.  

There's a real sense of light and heavy alternating and coexisting/competing in your work - is that intentional or a manifestation of different influences/voices? 

It is intentional.  We like contrast and the musical roller coaster ride that sometimes comes with it. 
Talk a bit about the excellent video for 'Even Matter'.  

We had some concepts slightly fleshed out, one weekend with the lovely Lucy Martin, and we went and filmed one of the ideas on some family property.  We had new ideas while filming, and got a lot of content and left the final product up to Lucy, her vision, and her editing.  We lucked out with Jasper, the boy in the video.  He looked great in the film, and his acting was so genuine.  The weather even turned out in our favor.  It had snowed the night we came up, and the snow and ice in some of the scenes really gives it an excellent look and feel.  Much of what that video is came down to luck and good fortune!

Who decides who sings what part? 

Chris does.  :)   We don't have a specific method on choosing who sings what, but we do try to have our songs alternate nicely from "Jon" songs, to "Ben" songs, and dual vocal songs.  
Do you practice on your own time, or do you try to only work as a group?  

We all practice on our own time, and I think that's integral to the sound we have as a band.  Each member practices different techniques and songs they love from genres all over the spectrum, and those different influences come together in the practice room to make something special.  

Name some non-musical influence.  

We all owe so much to our families for support and influence.  Friends, coworkers, relationships, work, play, nature, tour.  There is so much that influences us, it's hard to even think about cataloging it all. 


Voice Over

So that's it, huh.

I had known Beastie Boy Adam Yauch was sick for a while. I remember hearing about the band postponing albums and performances and being genuinely bummed about it, even though the shows were nowhere near me and the news of a fresh album had been beyond my knowledge. They are (now were) such an immensely likable, talented group that any ill that should befall them seemed to be a slight against all that was good in the world.
I know, I know. 

This all smacks of the bandwagon-jumping, post celebrity death fervor that grips the social current in the wake of a high profile death. I'm sure to some extent, that's exactly what it is. In my defense, however - I was a longtime fan of the group and adored them for same reasons anyone would. Not to be that hyper dramatic self-involved type that claims the closest relationship to the trauma or loss, I just mean to say it's a real sad loss of a talented, intelligent and funny person.
I can't even begin to summarize all of the amazing music and the impact it had on popular culture. More talented writers have said better about the significance of their mainstream success, being three Jewish rappers in the then-nascent genre. They went from being a hardcore outfit (with a woman on drums, to boot) to frat rap/rock before it was a thing, to some of the smartest, funkiest hip hop in the alternative landscape in the 90s and beyond. In short, they were amazing. 
Back when I was a pimply teenager, Ill Communication was the first rap album I bought. My stealth obsession with oddball hip hop was forged then, listening to the crazy loops and eclectic mix of sounds on the record. 'Sure Shot' is still one of my all time favorite songs of theirs. I remember the crazy anticipation for Hello Nasty and the absurd fun they had with their videos for 'Intergalactic' and 'Body Movin'. I look back fondly on bonding with my younger brother over his discovery and obsession with the group as soon as he started drumming. Above all, though, I remember falling in love with the group sound of Check Your Head. Read up on why I love it here, and check out Max Tannone's remixes that fold the album back in on itself like an ourobourus. 
The fact that MCA is gone is one I can deal with. He was sick, but he led an amazing life that saw him grow in huge leaps and bounds into the farthest thing from the horrible clips the news keeps showing, as though the only thing anyone ever knows them from is 'Fight for Your Right to Party'. Please. MCA was incredibly smart and talented, and that's why we're all so sad to see him go, but as a Buddhist, he wouldn't be. He's just moving on.
Now, let's remember the Beastie Boys for what they are - disembodied heads in jars, still dropping crazy lines in the 31st century. MCA had more rhymes than he had gray hairs, and that's a lot because he had his share.


Endless Nameless

Naming bands is hard.

Actually, choosing a good band name is hard.

Let me back up.

I've been in a few bands in my life. Some had longer lives than others. A couple were no more than impromptu jam sessions. Others recorded EPs and built (incredibly minor) buzz in their areas. Looking back at my choices, I can say with confidence that every single one had an abysmal, face-palm inducing name. Let's delve further into the mess, shall we?

Yellow 5 - the first band I ever played in with a name. I joined as the lead guitar. A punk outfit that played a lot of Aquabats and Green Day. Broke up after a year.

Harris Avenue - the first band i started. I chose the name at random from a book I was reading. The band stuck together for a surprisingly long(ish) time. I cut my teeth here.

John's Band - joined this band, not named after me. I swear. Different John. Only one or two shows and we all went separate ways.

In Like Flint - some reoccurring faces. Name chosen when overheard in conversation. Both band and name were too toothless to take hold.

Casual Hijinx - worst name, yet most prolific. Isn't that how it always works? Name came from a repeated phrase. Played a lot of shows and still have some recordings. Not half bad, in a Get Up Kids-aping sense.

High Five - sat in on a couple sessions with these guys. I take no blame for this one, but I did have the fortune of playing alongside my younger brother, who I still consider to be the best drummer I know.

I know for certain I'm forgetting the name of two other bands that fell in between a couple there, but then again they may never have gestated proper names. A lot of bad jokes maybe, but nothing that stuck, apparently.

See how bad all of those were? Granted, I was anywhere from 15 to 19 when picking names, but man - see how your own bad ideas can betray you? I actually thought they were decent at the time. If anyone I know can recall a name I've forgotten, please let me know and I'll add it to the list.

(Special mention goes to my younger brother's first band. Their name? Grandpa's Pirate Ship. Awesome.)


Fog Light

Hey gang!

I know, it's been a while, but sometimes that's just how it goes. I feel bad about that, but hey - what can you do?

I've got some things planned, a couple larger pieces in the pipes, but they're not finished and another's just starting. I also started a tumblr, because I like to both post inane Pop Art and overextend myself. In the meantime, I'll try to drop some things here that I've really been digging. There's never a shortage of new stuff for me to paw through, it's just a matter of what stands out from the pile. 

For example! The Wombats - you guys heard of them?
They're great. I totally was not on board for this Liverpool trio. Missed the boat, if you will. However, hearing their single 'Jump Into the Fog' was enough to shake me from my moorings. It's a brilliant piece of weird pop music that shifts and slinks into your head with fantastic synthesizers. 
Released off of their album This Modern Glitch earlier this year, this single sounds both old and new. It seems to possess that unassailable British swagger that bleeds cool, yet plays it so nonchalant despite this. The single possesses these odd tones that almost feel eerie and morbid. They play so well with the bright, poppy bass running beneath the verses, though. The hook is something that calls back to the 90s alt rock scene in the most British way, like I said.
It's just such an odd song, but I can't help but love 'Jump Into the Fog'. This is just one of the things I've been tripping myself over, as of late. I'm aiming to be updating a little more often going forward, so keep an eye peeled, kids.



Aw man.

It's always hard to go from vacation mode to work mode. Being a Midwesterner, it was a shock to my system to see so much sun during December, even if it was barely a week. Getting up and going in the total dark, only to return home in said dark, is a wearing task. It forces you to look for solace and comfort in the sunny, exuberant things you wouldn't normally turn to. 
For me, there was relief in digging out an old standard from the oddball days of the alternative 90s. Blasting 'Cannonball' by The Breeders gave me an awesome distraction from the bleak, oppressive and never ending darkness. Also, it's a punchy pop song that may have been cutting edge 20 years ago. Now it just seems like a bit of hipster power-pop. Curse you, ravages of time! 
Screw it. For a year now, I've been realizing, bit by bit, that I have an extreme fondness for all things early 90s. Some of it is so widespread and general that it becomes too hard to connect the dots. Other times, there is a distinct pattern that emerges. I feel like this song, with the loopy bass and clean guitar lick that builds to a wall of distortion, is right in that wheelhouse of songs that stand out as codifiers of the period. All the more amazing is that fact that this legend of alt rock was (at a time) comprised of former Pixie Kim Deal and her sister Kelley. It seems like it wouldn't be fair or possible for someone to make more excellent music after being in such an influential band as The Pixies. We got lucky, apparently.
Look, you think 90s alt rock, you think this song. Probably some Doc Martens in there, and a wacky montage of Gen X-ers painting the camera and doing wacky, ironic things. Sort of a genetic precursor to hipsters. Fitting, then, that this fantastic song would fit in so well in a similarly jaded playlist. Who cares, I love it. Gets me through a dark night to the weekend on the other side.


Game Off


So that's it for me. The holidays are wrapping up. I'm heading back home after visiting the in laws in their homestead. They've been great hosts and I've had a lot of fun, including an epic round of charades. There's been a plethora of good food with a slew of fresh things for me to read, enjoy and review. In the meantime, while I gear up for tomorrows flight, let me tell you about something fantastic you may have missed.
I didn't have a specific introduction to Lana Del Ray. I was simply driving through uptown, getting ready for the big move I recently endured and listening to The Current on 89.3. A song came on by a young chanteuse that possessed, as the singer chides herself, a certain "gangster Nancy Sinatra" aesthetic. The somber, haunting tune had the young woman moaning and groaning over an idealized but less than perfect vision of love that she was enduring, as chronicled in the track 'Video Games'.
This song kind of caught me off guard. The way Del Ray almost sleepwalks through it gives an air of otherworldly kind of old-timey sadness and melancholy. It can kind of kill a raucous mood if you hear it at the wrong time, but when your own mindset syncs up with this piano-driven number it's solid gold.
'Video Games' is the lead-in to Lana Del Ray's soon to be released debut album. Here's hoping the rest of what she has to offer is just as fresh and moving. I don't care if it all varies from this killer track, I just want the same world weary sound.


High Pitched Noises


Xmas Xceptions. Let's do this.

How about a thing that revamps a classic? Sound good? Cool. This may not curry favor with some readers, but I actually am a sucker for the Chipmunks song 'Christmas Don't Be Late'. I don't even know how this happened, to be honest. I think it just happened to be on a holiday collection my mom had and I picked it up through osmosis. My brothers and I used to have a good laugh over how ridiculous it was. Somehow it grew on me and now I find myself singing along when that insipid piece of strangeness, made by one guy back in 1958, comes on the radio. What makes it more palatable is an equally obscure cover of the novelty song by Powder, a long-dissolved Britpop band.
Powder only existed for a few years in the mid 90s, releasing a handful of singles before throwing in the towel. At some point during their brief existence they cut a heavy, melodic (and substantially less cloying) version of 'Christmas Don't Be Late'. Featuring Pearl Lowe's lush vocals, the song became a more relatable, plausible holiday song when re-contextualized. Now instead of pitch-shifted (actually just sped-up) one-man harmonies, it was a heavy, rocking version featuring fully fuzzed, bloated bass lines and the occasional squealing guitar lead. Actually, when they get to the hula-hoop line, it's pretty damn catchy. 
I only came upon this version of the song years after the fact, first as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Now, though, I don't like to think of things I like as guilty pleasures. I just like to own up to what I dig, including an oddball revamp of an oddball song. Sure, call it cutesy or not relevant, but it's a damn sight better than hearing the same 15 or so Christmas songs ad nauseum. Give it a spin and see if it doesn't add a little fresh air to your Xmas Xceptions. Less rodents this season, more guitars.


Oi Noise

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

My countdown of Xmas Xceptions got off to a negative start, didn't it? How's about we flip that business right on its head? Sound good? Cool, we're gonna get a little manic positivity in today's post. Coming at you from the late 90s benefit compilation, A Very Special Christmas 3, it's The Vandals' 'Oi to the World', as covered by No Doubt.
I used to love this compilation. There was a holiday season that was full to the brim with my brothers and myself jamming out to the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, Blues Traveler and Run DMC as we made our shopping runs and trips to elderly relatives. Tons of fresh takes on the old standards that were actually fun to listen to, at least back in the 90s. Good gravy am I dating myself. Anyway, one of my favorite tracks on this compilation, despite Craig's protests, was the frenetic and exuberance No Doubt cover of 'Oi to the World'.
Don't get me wrong - I love me some Vandals. Funnily enough it was my younger brother that turned me on to the legends of punk. Still, the clean, horn-infused mania of No Doubt interpreting the tale of gang rivalry totally sold the story to me. In it, we have a gritty, grimy tale of inner city punks and skinheads trying to settle their rivalry in a bloody rumble on Christmas day. Men are left beaten and broken in the gutter when a miracle happens and peace breaks out between the tribes. Gwen Stefani bleats out the tune in typical, joyous fashion. The band embraces the upbeat tone with abandon. The festive horn breakdown in the middle is unabashedly corny and awesome.
I love this song, even if it defies the holiday convention. No, scratch that - I love it because it does. It's violent and manic, intense and irreverent. The harmonies on the chorus are insane. It's unabashedly sincere, to the horror of jaded hipsters everywhere. It's the kind of thing you don't hear on the holiday station, to say the least. Need some Xmas Xuberance? Look no further.


Homeward Bound

Here we go, kids!

I mentioned something I had up my sleeve - I decided to sneak in one last themed series before the year is out. The theme, this time around? Things about the holidays that aren't insanely cloying and overdone. Things that don't adhere to the rule of making you want to bash you head in when you're forced to endure them in shopping malls. Strap in, kids. We're gonna take a look at the 12 Xmas Xceptions. First on the list? Something cynical.
I may not be the hugest fan of Blink 182 these days, but I sure used to have a soft spot for them. You get older, your tastes change. Duran Duran weren't made into mega stars by hipsters and adults - it was teens with disposable cash and incessant radios. Point being, I listened to a lot of melodic punk in high school, and I loved me some Blink. They were super catchy and accessible and irreverent, back in a more innocent time before domestic terrorism, three wars and an endless election cycle. Justification? Maybe. But I still like their holiday song 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'. It's cynical and  passively aggresive in that "just leave me alone" sense. Perfect for the Xmas Xceptions!
Back when I first got into the band, they didn't have a huge catalogue and tons of airplay. You had to make do with what you had, which was pretty much their first two (secret best) albums and possibly some bootlegs if you could find them. I listened to them to death, waiting for more stuff to come out. When I heard about a holiday single, I was baffled. Even more so when I actually heard it on the radio. It was awesome, but infuriating - how was I supposed to track it down when it was in limited pressing and barely in any music rotation? It wasn't until years later, and some widespread commercial breakthroughs, that I heard it with any regularity. Once I got into the mp3 scene I tracked it down. It still is a staple in my custom Xmas playlists.
It's catchy, it's snarky, it's everything you'd expect from Blink in a holiday single. Major-key riffs. Palm-muted guitars. A half-time chorus. Tales of emotional distress culminating in being sent to jail and violated by cellmates. Plus, there's chimes and bells! It's good, old Xmas fun, minus the cloying, heartwarming tone. Sometimes you want to skip the festivities and ditch the obligations. We all want a night to ourselves, now and then, even around the holidays. I get it. We're just getting started, gang. Eleven more Xceptions. See you on the countdown!


Video Clipped

Moving right through the week. 

Just a short bit today, very full life and schedule. Lots of obligations. I've got many debts to keep and miles to go before I sleep. In contrast to yesterday's in-depth look at Purple by Stone Temple Pilots, today's post will be a simplified look at a song from the same era. 

Before the days of DVRs and YouTube, it was darn near impossible to find something illusive on TV. If, like me, you only had MTV to serve as an introductory source of music you had to pay rapt attention, lest you miss the little info box on the small of the screen at the beginning and end of the clip. Good luck if it was a more obscure song, too - while there were still videos on MTV at the time, they were becoming fewer and farther between. A sick day from school was a guaranteed marathon of MTV at that stage in my life - it was the only way to see some of the videos I wanted to see so badly. That's how I saw the debut of the Mentos-themed clip for 'Big Me' by The Foo Fighters, or the premiere of Green Day's dual release 'Brainstew/Jaded' when I was an obsessed young teenager. 

This unfortunate catch-as-you-can modus operandi made me into a rapt viewer. Of course, I was too stupid to write anything down, instead relying on my own intellect to recall anything worthwhile. It may have been a vain, foolhardy technique, but hey - I was 13 and it might be responsible for whatever powers of pop-culture recollection I possess today. Anyway, point is - one sunny spring afternoon I saw a video for a band called Stabbing Westward. The lead singer sounded a bit more like Ozzy than I would really prefer, but the song, at the time, was incredibly heavy and rocking. The video for the song was interesting as well, a bit of performance footage interspersed with the band watching a movie for what may have been an earlier version of the clip itself. Unfortunately the name of the song was a bit generic, to the point that I pretty much forgot it as soon as the text disappeared at the end of the clip. All I had was the band name. I filed it away in the back of my head as awesome but likely to never be heard again.
 Time passed, I found other music I was more excited about. Then, one day months after seeing the video once, I was in my dinky little music store I frequented when I saw a name that tugged at the back of my mind. It was Stabbing Westward's album, Wither, Blister, Burn + Peel

"It was good..." I thought of the single.

So I plunked down fourteen (14!) hard earned dollars for the album. 

The album, as a whole, was wildly uneven. That single, though - good stuff. Not $14 good, really, but pretty good when I was younger. Actually it's pretty good now. I figure by the law of averages , the price of that cd is offset by all of the free or "free" music I've obtained in the course of my life. Sometimes you have to pay in, amiright? Anyway, remembering that single and picking up the album was a good choice. I didn't really know it at the time but this was basically my first foray into the world of industrial music, even at it's most mediocre. I wouldn't get into NIN until years later.
'Shame' proved to be a decent track I kept coming back to. It's fairly de-rigeur and of-the-times with it's distorted guitars and wailing vocals, but as longs you're not looking for high art it's a fun rock track. There's a tone here that's quite appealing, something created by the verses and chorus playing off of each other, that makes an air of sleek movement and chases via hard rock of the 90s. Check it out.


Good Catch

What's good?

I'm heading out to what will be the first of a slew of holiday parties tonight. I mean, the first of the season. No party hopping for me. Just getting a jump on the season. Super excited, no joke. While I get ready, I plan on listening to something a bit odd, a lost song that fell through the cracks of the world in the 90s. It's one of my favorite hidden gems. I got it on a CD that was given to me by my older brother's friend back when I was an impressionable youth and everything everyone older than me did was irrevocably cool. 
This friend of the older, benevolent brother was as constant a source of new tunes as my brother. When he sold me a stack of CDs he longer listened to, I was (for no discernible reason) really enthralled by a sampler for a label based in New York. For years after, I was unable to find any information on who or what the album was. Only in the last few years has relevant info popped up on the Googles. At the time, though, it was this inscrutable oddity - no real story or explanation as to what it was, just a random label sampler. Sure, there were some stinkers on there, but there were some great hidden gems, too. It was from Grass Records, which later evolved into Wind-Up, which kind of solves that little riddle. According to the Wiki, there were financial problems, which may account for the lack of any information whatsoever. The sampler was called Grass of '96 and it featured what must have been the new artists of that year. 
My favorite track off the sampler was (of course) similar to Sneaker Pimps, Portishead and Massive Attack. Performing a song called 'Catch Me', Chimera popped into my life with this lone single and disappeared without a trace. From what I've found, they were an Irish band that existed long enough to put out a few albums but never had much mainstream success here in the states. Too bad, because I really still dig this song. It's always felt a bit like the typical 90s alt sound, a bit of looped drums (how edgy!) and some caterwauling distortion beneath a clean, spacey guitar line. Singer Eileen Henry had a fine voice, nothing crazy but just fine for the song, clear and emotive, high and light. 

There's no big, startling revelation to this song, or a dramatic memory attached to it. Just something that was always odd and it stood out to me as something that should have had broader success than (seemingly) me being the only person to ever hear it. I guess I got the sampler around fall/winter, so it pops back into my mind this time of year. Give it a listen and see what I'm rambling about. Hopefully you dig it like I did.




What's good?

The holidays are fast approaching. I've got something special planned for the final stretch. In the meantime, let's put all that noise at the back of our minds and look at something completely left of center. Something that has nothing to do with Xmas, other than some personal references. Sound good? Good. We're talking about Method Man and Redman.
Not everyone is into hip hop. I get that. I wasn't either, for a long time. As a kid in the Middlewest, what impetus would I have for getting into the genre? I was sheltered. I'm cool with it, you can't change where you come from. When I was in my later teens, though, a friend of mine turned me on to something so loose and ridiculous that my brain could not resist it. The sound was so tight yet so loose that I couldn't deny what they were putting down. I'm talking about the first full length outing between Meth and Red, 1999's Blackout!
Blackout! is a strange staple of the genre. Method Man and Redman had known each other since their youth and had collaborated on countless tracks. When it finally came down to the two of them putting out a full length album, they pulled out all the stops. The resulting insanity was a non-stop verbal work out that (for reasons that still elude me) connected on some subconscious level. 
Blackout! was the first hip hop album that made any sense to me, which is a bit of an odd statement. None of the songs were written with my ears in mind. Nothing in the songs had anything to do with me. I feel like it was more of a sensibility that spoke to me, a manner in which Meth and Red played fast and loose with their rhyme schemes and verbal imagery. The dynamic duo cited everything from kung fu movies to New York hipster culture to the original Clash of the Titans to dealing drugs and a wide array of things I had no experience of point of reference in. Still, their delivery and attitude were undeniably infectious. Unlike other rap albums at the time, these two crammed every bar and run with as much insanity as possible, instead of lazily hyping a label or name-checking their crew. These dudes were nuts. 
Look no further than 'Da Rockwilder', one of my favorite mainstream rap singles. The beat is is head bobber, the rhymes come fast and relentless. Red and Meth even stalk the video with aplomb, chained to each other as they spit verses. I listened to this album ceaselessly when I first picked it up. Unlike a lot of other rap I listened to at the time, I still put this one on, every now and then. If you want to hear what finally put me over the edge and got my feet wet in the world of hip hop, look no further. Lights out!


Crew Cuts

C'mon, like you didn't expect this?

Doomtree. No Kings. 

What more does a guy have to say? I've been all about the 'Meatcleaver tied to a Shotgun' since Just Riley turned me on to P.O.S. back in 2005. Since then, I've been as obsessed as any of their fans, clamoring for more material, the long awaited crew album, attending the (now week-long) Blowouts in First Ave. So when word dropped earlier in the fall about No Kings, I was super excited. The teaser tracks were killer, crazy stuff. I was gonna give you a full run down on why you should pick up the album (if you hadn't already) but it looks like the local City Pages beat me to the punch. That's the rub of a one man operation - I can only do so much. They did a fantastic job breaking down the release of the second full-crew release, so what more could I say? 
My own perspective, of course. While I certainly agreed with everything they had to say about Doomtree's rapid, hardworking rise to the top, it was interesting to see certain views and assumptions confirmed or denied. For example, my suspicions were correct, it seems, that the title and theme were completely coincidental in the context of the Occupy movement and the release of the Jay-Z/Kanye album. The crew had always had a 'make your own life' aesthetic to it, this album distilled that ethos. Additionally, the nature of the collaboration and presentation of the album was much more unified and cohesive when compared to their previous group effort. While I loved that album as a symbol of accomplishment and a statement on where they were, it was very diverse, almost scattered. No Kings, instead, is incredibly cohesive. Every song feels like part of an album instead of a showcase for each artist. Songs aren't individualized but more like limbs to a monster. 
The amount of growth each member of the crew has shown is also remarkable. The ideas and themes they put forth have always been lurking in the unspoken spaces of Doomtree hooks and lines. It's only in the last two years or so that the rappers have fully blossomed into the incredibly nuanced and articulate wordsmiths they are here. You could spend pages unpacking individual couplets, only to realize there would be more than one or two interpretations. Sims becomes more introspective and conversely more light in his delivery, feeling ever more alive and alight when he raps. P.O.S. refines his social viewpoints and desire to reform his world as he sees fit, all while gaining more verbal dexterity. Mictlan's word-collages grow evermore diverse and bizarre, creating murals with wordplay that hinges on free-association dadaism. Dessa has fallen into a dangerous pocket, retaining all her artistry she wielded on A Badly Broken Code, only now she finds herself completely lock-step with the rest of the insane crew, rather than being a stand out. Cecil Otter continues to make me question my own justification of using the same language he does. How can I claim to craft a sentence when he not only produces beats but creates some of the smartest, most cutting lyrics you've ever heard?
Yes, yes, hyperbole, I know. What I'm saying is prove me wrong. Listen to this album and tell me its not the most talented crew out there, working as one horrifyingly talented whole. The collective vision is so masterfully crafted and delivered, it almost puts anything else they've done to shame. All the shows at First Ave this week are sold out, but maybe if you know a guy, you can get in. They own their own world. We only get glimpses of it when they drop albums like this. 


Police State



So, I'm in.

I had heard the buzz about Polica for a while. As bummed as I was about the disolution of local folk husband-and-wife outfit Roma di Luna, there was a bright spot on the horizon. While Alexi was free to return to his main ouevre as part of Kill The Vultures, his wife Channy Leaneagh teamed up with Chris Bierden, Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu to record a full length album under the name Polica. Funny thing is, they did this without playing a proper show in Minnesota. Before the album even comes out, though, there has been a massive buzz around the band. Just a couple of tracks from the forth-coming Give You The Ghost have been teased, yet their is an insatiable hunger for more. 
While they recently built on the anticipation by opening for Foster The People at First Ave the other night, Polica have already become a staple on The Current. Check out their sight to hear 'Wandering Star' (titled 'Dark Star' on their official site). This was the first track of theirs that I heard. It sums up all the best parts of the band without exposing all their secrets. Channy's voice gets to float and flit over the band, the only other sounds being two drummers, bass and the occasional sample. It's sparse and aloof, some soft vocals that get twisted and and tweaked just a bit while washing over the band. The echo of the drums and the warm bass make a distinct sound that form a better whole than the separate elements. 'Lay Out Your Cards', on the Polica website, has a similar mix of empty spaces and warm, human touches. Another in-studio performance for Radio K yields another fantastic song, the Bjork-esque 'Leading to Death'. It has some great synthesizers that form a core around which the band crafts a whimsical and weird tune.
I can't wait to hear more, honestly. Full confession - I am totally on the band wagon now. I had heard the buzz building and thought "how can it be so great?". Then I heard one song. That was all it took. I had to hear more. The album is done and ready to go, but in a wise move they're holding their cards close. A Valentine's Day release show is planned. Get on board now, kids. You won't want to miss this.