With everything that’s been going on over there, I’m impressed it found the time to do this.
I’m going to graduate school full-time right now, and I’ve been working on another record, but last week, I took a break from all of that and stretched out a bit. I wrote a song for Good Friday, about Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. My goal was to capture the emotion that Jesus must have felt during that time.
I think a lot about the divinity of Jesus. But on Good Friday, I think a lot about the humanity of Jesus. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be betrayed by one of your closest friends, and to know it all beforehand. A sense of sadness, a sense of grief, of fear of what will happen next. And yet, what happened in the garden was confirming. Those conflicting emotions, of fear and of… satisfaction, perhaps? are fascinating to me. I tried to instill those feelings into the song I recorded. My goal was not to highlight the glory of Jesus or the hope we have in His resurrection. That comes Sunday. Rather, the purpose of this song is to get you to spend some time meditating on the humanity of the Saviour, who, for all of the miraculous things he did, was also a man. A man who was let down by his friends, who selflessly and willingly gave his life for them, for us, for you.
The song is free. You can download it in either 320 mbs or WAV format. I hope it’s of some use to you. Just click the “Good Friday” link at the top.
I never rode the Strokes bandwagon. When Is This It? came out in 2001 I was, regrettably, embarrassingly, just emerging from a cave of mediocre musical taste. I’m not going to get into it. Seriously, it’s embarrassing, what I listened to for the better part of high school. So let’s just say I didn’t “get” the Strokes when they first came around.
I bought Room On Fire in 2003 though. I liked “Reptillia” a lot. But I couldn’t stand Julian Casablancas’ voice. I couldn’t stand the band’s “look”. It felt contrived to me. But everyone was always talking about how they were the next big thing, the saviors of rock and roll. So I paid attention every time their name would come up. I paid attention when Eddie Vedder talked about loving the Strokes. I paid attention when, for a little while, after Because Of The Times was released but before Only By The Night exploded all over the frat house lawn, I enjoyed Kings Of Leon, fully recognizing their shared DNA with Casablancas and Co.
But I had tuned out by the time First Impressions Of Earth came around. I had moved on. I didn’t even listen to it.
This is all to point out that I am not hip. I miss the boat on a lot of great bands. Sometimes it takes me a while to get it. It is rare that I jump on a band’s first album, tout them as the next [insert classic band here], and am actually right in that assessment. And I’m fine with that.
A few months ago I decided I’d give the Strokes another chance. There have been plenty of bands I’ve written off, only to have a trusted friend bring me into the fold later on. This happened with Pearl Jam. The White Stripes. Led Zeppelin. The Pixies. Bob Dylan. I’ve now made it a habit to revisit well-respected artists I’d previously written off.
As is often my practice, I started with the band’s most recent release. I figure, if what they’re doing now isn’t really worth it, why read the book when I know I won’t like the ending? Anyway, I fell in love with Angles straight away. Everything about it. Julian’s voice is stronger, cooler, and more versatile. The guitar work is intricate, original, and fierce. And the rhythm section is tighter than any humans have a right to be (I suspect this is due to studio trickery, but I don’t really care). I also went back and listened to First Impressions and found that, while a little on the bloated side, I really loved a lot of the songs. When this happens to me, when I discover appreciation for an artist’s later catalog, I find I am able to listen to the older material with fresh ears. When I know the trajectory of a band, things just make more sense to my brain (this is also why I will always be a full album kind of guy. I can’t just listen to singles. “Shuffle” is only for parties). Is This It? and Room On Fire finally came alive to me.
I think sometimes it’s good to miss the boat on things. Critics are always talking about what’s happening now and what’s happening a few months from now. They don’t write retractions very often. That bothers me. There’s a lot to be said for perspective. And when you’re living in the moment all the time, you won’t ever have any.
Is This It? came at just the right time and surprised a whole lot of people. It is a very good album. But I have to think that the critical elevation of the Strokes to “savior” status was more about the time, and less about just how good the record was. So what happens when an artist takes an unexpected turn in their sound? Dreams are shattered, hopes are lost, “they’ve lost their way”, etc etc, blah blah blah.
Well, nobody is responsible for my dreams but me. If those five guys want to make music that sounds like 80s space-Television, I say, “go for it”. If I don’t love it, that’s okay. If the Strokes were looking to cash in, they would have tried to recapture their garage-rocking days of yore. But they pressed forward. They worked hard to be creative and different and true to whatever muses they were following. They didn’t allow some peoples’ nostalgia to hold their career captive.
I love Comedown Machine. I don’t know where it’ll stand on my 2013 Best-Of list, or even if it’ll make it. But not all music has to be timeless to be enjoyable. But Comedown Machine is better than most.
So I say to everyone: lighten up.
I’ve been listening to this new My Bloody Valentine album, M B V. I like it very much. Today, as I was listening to it, I started wondering why that was the case. What is it about this music that resonates with me, and with so many other people?
I began thinking about what M B V doesn’t have. It does not contain any type of virtuosity, at least not in the way we typically think of it. There are no huge melodic leaps, no acrobatics in the vocals or the guitars or the bass or the drums (the drums contain some interesting rhythms, but they are always the same interesting rhythm repeated throughout a song, often with very little change at all). In fact, there is literally nothing fast about this music.
In nerd terms, there are three types of rhythm: 1) rhythm like you usually think of, your non-melodic, pulsating, driving, beats, aka drums; 2) Harmonic rhythm, which is really just how quickly the chords beneath the melody are moving (every measure, twice in every measure, etc); and 3) Melodic rhythm, how fast the melody is moving.
The general rule of thumb is that if your harmonic rhythm is slow, your melody should be faster to keep things interesting and moving along. Conversely, as you might be able to guess, fast harmonic rhythm usually means the melodic rhythm will be much slower. If both of them are fast it’s tough for the listener to grab hold of anything to make sense of what they’re hearing. That’s bad.
So there’s some music theory for you.
What’s interesting about M B V, and My Bloody Valentine in general (as well as bands like Sigur Ros, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Explosions In The Sky, etc) is that NONE OF THOSE THREE RHYTHMS ARE EVER FAST. None of them. The drums drive the songs, to be sure, and I suppose they do frequently play at a bit of a trotting clip, but the repetition, in my mind anyway, cancels out that propulsive feeling. So what’s left is something that shouldn’t really be all that intellectually stimulating or interesting. It shouldn’t keep your attention.
This is all coming to me in the middle of a pretty gigantic Yes phase. I’ve been listening to Yes consistently for a month now, and they are the exact opposite of the bands I’ve been talking about. Each member is a virtuoso at his instrument, the melodies in their songs iare typically very fast, chord (as well as key) changes abound, the drums rarely keep the same beat for more than eight measures. I love this kind of music when it’s done well (it’s the worst music imaginable when it isn’t. I won’t name names, Joe Satriani).
What’s my point?
Well, what we have here, with Yes and MBV, are two sides of the same coin. A band like Yes exemplifies what music can accomplish in the hands of trained, well-rehearsed, like-minded people. It’s a thousand disparate threads which, when placed together, form a tightly-wound cord that is stronger and more powerful than the sum of its individual parts.
That’s all well and good but, if I may put words in his mouth, I don’t think that’s what Kevin Shields is trying to do with MBV. It isn’t about what music can do. It’s just about what music is. Rather than looking at middle ‘C’ as a bridge to another note in a series of notes that constitutes a smoking-hot guitar solo, folks like Shields look at middle ‘C’ and appreciate it for what it is. They sit there for a while, playing middle ‘C’, asking questions about it. What can this note do? What can it make me feel? It’s really a beautiful thing.
I don’t know if you believe in God, but I don’t think you really have to to get my point here. Whether it’s God or simply the physics of this world, it’s pretty mind-blowing that any object that vibrates at 440 Hz is going to sound like an ‘A’. And it’s even more amazing that, when people arrange all of these different vibrating things together, they create something that is actually pleasing to peoples’ ears (and don’t even get me started on how amazing ears are!). We have staggering power in that regard.
A band like My Bloody Valentine reminds me of that power, in its rawest and truest form. They remind me that I have that power too.
I’ll always love bands like Yes. Big, broad, sweeping landscapes are breathtaking and beautiful. They make you feel small and insignificant, and that’s kind of cool. But the trees, in and of themselves, are beautiful too. That’s what I’m thinking about today.
I liked a lot of records this year. Here are twenty of them. I ordered them, but only because I sort of felt like I needed to. Agree or disagree, I hope you find something you like.
20. Gary Clark Junior- Blak and Blu
So I just heard this album for the first time the other day. There are some more r&b-flavored tracks I don’t love, but the fuzzed-out riffage and guitar solos are like the Black Keys on steroids (with a better rhythm section to boot).
19. The Shins- Port Of Morrow
This tight set of pop songs immediately grabbed me. The substance beneath is a little lacking, but that’s only when you compare it to the other stuff on the list. Another solid effort from a dude with one spectacular voice.
18. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- Live from Alabama
Have I mentioned how much I love guitar solos? I rarely care for live albums, but I’ll make an exception for Jason Isbell. Not only can he play some incredible guitar (he’s probably this generation’s best with a slide behind Derek Trucks), he’s got a voice and songwriting chops to match.
17. Dr. John- Locked Down
This might be the most vibed-out record to come out all year. Dan Auerbach produced it, Dr. John sings it. It’s great.
16. Bruce Springsteen- Wrecking Ball
I have to give Bruce credit for branching out, trying som new things. Most of the time it works.The title track brings me to tears almost every time I hear it.
15. Ponderosa- Pool Party
Ponderosa’s last album was all southern rock swagger. I actually never heard it. It’s kind of a saturated genre these days and I felt like I got the gist pretty well when my old band played with them. After hearing from a few credible sources that their song ‘Navajo’ was one of the year’s best, I thought I’d give the whole record a try. Southern rock it ain’t. Unless you broaden that definition to include southern groups like My Morning Jacket, a band to which this record has drawn deserving comparisons. Great atmosphere, nice melodies, stellar playing.
14. Neil Young and Crazy Horse- Psychedelic Pill
I needed more guitar solos at the end of this year. Thanks Neil. Honestly, I don’t know how this man stays so hungry, but I’m glad he does. He put out two records this year. Americana was good, but he was just warming up for the end-of-the-world guitar onslaught ofPsychadelic Pill.
13. Father Johm Misty- Fear Fun
There’s something so immediately familiar about Fear Fun. It’s an inviting record with some wild imagery and a great throwback vibe.
12. Smashing Pumpkins- Oceania
I couldn’t stop listening to this album all summer. Against all odds, Billy Corgan has created something that is decidedly Pumpkins-like without sounding desperate or beholden to his past.
11. Jack White- Blunderbuss
In a lot of ways I’ve been waiting for this album since 2004, when I realized just how talented Jack White was, but just how annoyed I was with Meg. And while I grew to love the White Stripes, and have enjoyed his other endeavors with the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, Blunderbuss is the realization of everything I always thought White was capable of. Inventive (yet pretty traditional, minus the bass clarinet) instrumentation, great production and sound, crazy vocals, and wonderful guitar freak outs.
10. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel…
I recognize the goodness of this album more from a cerebral perspective than an emotional one. I probably listened to this album less than any others on this list, and less than a lot of records that didn’t make it. But I’m putting it here because I realize how impressive Idler Wheel is. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how to make a pop record without using a single pop song convention, but Fiona Apple did it here. And for that alone, she deserves a spot on anyone’s list. At least I think so.
9. Sara Watkins- Sun Midnight Sun
Genre-defying fiddle music? Yes. It seems that Chris Thile isn’t the only ex-Nickel Creek member who can still make roots-tinged, post-I-don’t-know-what music that makes me feel all kinds of music feelings. In addition to some excellent songwriting (“When It Pleases You” is one of the best pop songs to have come out this year, and maybe in the last few), the instrumentation and arrangements here are stunning. And what do you know, Fiona Apple makes her second appearance on my list.
8. Punch Brothers- Who’s Feeling Young Now?
When I was making this list, I was shocked to see this album wind up this low. It’s a great album, probably their best, at least from a particular perspective. It’s tighter, more focused, and cooler (if I can use such a subjective term) than my favorite album of 2010, PB’sAntifogmatic, so why isn’t it higher up on the list? It’s probably something to do with my perspective, and probably something to do with my tendency to favor albums that surprise me over ones that meet my expectations. Who’s Feeling Young Now? met, and even exceeded my expectations, but not enough to shoot it up the charts.
7. Grizzly Bear- Shields
I liked Grizzly Bear’s last album, Veckatimest, but found it to be a little unapproachable. That problem has been all but erased for me on Shields. The result is a band that sounds more confident, more comfortable in their own skin; a band that can write songs with sprawling soundscapes that still retain the emotional quality necessary for hipsters-lite like me to connect with what they’re saying.
6. Dirty Projectors- Swing Lo, Magellan
Dave Longstreth reminds me so much of Pete Townshend. It’s mostly his voice, but his playing is wild in a way that echoes The Who. I love what they do in the studio. The band’s sense of timing is impeccable without being strict, loose yet purposeful. This time around, the Dirty Projectors took a more song-oriented route and proved that they can do pop as well as anyone.
5. Beach House- Bloom
I was late to the Beach House Party. I didn’t “get” Teen Dream until a month or so before Bloom was released. I’m glad it worked out that way. I didn’t have to anticipate the follow-up for very long. Their blend of sugar-sweet vocals, cathedral-filling keyboards, simple-yet-effective guitar lines, and tasteful electronics, makes for music to drive or have dinner to; music that is equally at home on sunny days and overcast nights.
4. Rufus Wainwright- Out Of The Game
It’s a shame this album wasn’t a commercial success for Rufus. I understand the grating quality some people think his voice has, but I just don’t mind it. I feel for those people, because the substance beneath that somewhat-nasally whine is deep. And when you add a band like the Dap Kings to the kind of professional taste inherent in anything Wainwright touches, you get some magic.
3. Anais Mitchell- Young Man In America
I’ve never loved a female songwriter’s lyrics so much. Mitchell’s delivery of those lyrics, and her partnership with producer/arranger Todd Sickafoose yields tasteful instrumentation that gives proper focus to what she’s saying. I loved her last album, Hadestown, but found myself growing weary of all the different vocalists (it’s a folk-rock opera, after all). In Young Man In America, Mitchell gives us an album similar in tone, but puts her own voice (rightly so) in the spotlight.
2. Delta Spirit- Delta Spirit
I love Delta Spirit. I enjoyed their first two albums, a blend of swampy, raucous west coast rock, but this self-titled record of theirs blows their old formula out of the water. And they’re better for it. This is the album Kings Of Leon wish they could make. It’s authentic, thoughtful arena rock. They aren’t exactly playing arenas yet, but if they keep this up, Delta Spirit could be on their way.
1. Tame Impala- Lonerism
Lonerism is a record that doesn’t leave you alone. I first listened to it while walking around Atlanta and riding MARTA, letting the John Lennon-inspired vocals, fuzzed-out guitars, and psychedelic sounds wash over me. It was a pleasant experience. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about it afterwards. I had to listen to it again. And then again. It just wouldn’t leave my head. It’s not because the songs are particularly catchy (some of them are, of course. They’re tight, well-crafted gems), but that it’s just so darn intriguing. I can hear so many individual influences in Lonerism, but they’re blended together in such a new way that the end result is wholly new, and totally exhilarating. It’s my favorite album of the year in a year where I liked a LOT of albums. I don’t know that I’d call it the best album of 2012, but it’s the one that got me the most excited.
I’m sorry. I can’t help myself. (Taken with Instagram)