Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Listen to These Now



Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hippity Hop

I don't believe I've tried to tackle any hip-hop albums yet, but this is a great place to start after a little hiatus. Reviewing a hip-hop album is totally different from anything in the Rock genre. There are variables that are unique; production (beats), lyrics, "flow," style, delivery, content of those lyrics, how they resonate, etc. I'll admit that I don't know everything there is to know about the above things that make up great hip-hop, but I can pick out a great sample or a creative line filled with double meanings. These are the things that impress me with great hip-hop songs or albums. Creativity. Not fitting into the Top 40, hear-it-in-a-club-till-it-sucks mold. Make me think. Listen closely, over and over. I'll admit that sometimes the other crap is catchy upon a few listens, but it's supposed to be. It's radio-ready to be eaten up by teenagers and make parents feel less threatened by using dumb metaphors that seem tame upon first listen. Clipse probably won't get played on the radio, but this album has been buzzing around for quite some time, and was highly anticipated after their debut and mixtape that included the first track off this album "We Got It For Cheap."


Hell Hath No Fury begins with the song that basically put Clipse on the map, the aforementioned "We Got It For Cheap." It's a catchy song that reminds the listener what they've been missing for the past four years as Clipse and the world waited for Sony-BMG to sort everything out and distribute this album. These brothers (Malice and Pusha T) from Virginia Beach, VA sound the same but have distinct styles to their flows. They were brought up thanks to a very early association with the Neptunes. This album is totally full of their beats, each of which are unique and like nothing you've heard before. The beats aren't complex, and for the most part play with rhythm and time that make them sound off-kilter. They bump, thump, hiss, crack, and jab. All of these qualities are perfect backdrops for the hard-hitting lyrical styles of Malice and Pusha T's rhymes.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Roxy 11.4.06

Last night I saw Jackie Greene at The Roxy on Sunset Blvd. I'd never been to this room, and was excited to see an artist that I thought had the potential to put on a great show. I initially saw Greene on Conan O'Brien back around the time his album American Myth came out in March. There's a clip of this performance on Jackie's MySpace page.

I was pretty much immediately hooked by his sound. This kid plays really rockin' blues rock. He plays electric and acoustic guitars equally well, harmonica, and keys. I'll review the show more in depth later, but wanted to post the setlist, since I know it may be hard to find. Being the uber-dork that I am, I brought my Moleskin notebook and took notes: guitar switches, energy level, sit vs. standing, etc.

The trio that opened for Greene was a reggae group that although that had good energy and genuinely enjoyed playing they made me remember why I don't really like reggae: it all sounds the same. Every song they played eventually sounded the same, no matter if it started in a different key or with a different guitar riff. It all evolved the same way and became predictable and boring. They were pretty good musicians, but the music totally didn't jive with me. On to the good stuff.

Jackie Greene made his appearance in jeans and a black short-sleeve button-down shirt on stage at approximately 10:15pm to a raucous roar from the crowd. Was there any doubt that he'd open with a song titled "Hollywood"? How would you not open with a song named after the town you're performing in? With the energy he was giving off, it was obvious from the start that this would be a great show.

I was anxious to see Greene's chops on the harmonica, and I got the chance only 3 songs in with "Farewell, So Long, Goodbye." This was a rocker. A Blues Rocker. In addition to wearing the harmonica a la Dylan he switched guitars to a black Epiphone (I love being close enough to know what gear they're using). This song rocked, the energy was now flowing and the crowd was dancing and totally into the set.

The next song's lyrics could have been written by Johnny Cash lamenting June Carter:
You just can’t trust them pretty girls
They’re only here to wreck your world
And make sure you never get to sleep at night

I don’t know the reasons why
They all wanna hang you out to dry
Till’ you ain’t got strength enough left to fight

Oh but I’m in trouble
Like I know you’re bound to get in trouble too
And I know that it won’t be long
Before the man you love is loving someone new

In addition to great lyrics Jackie switched to the Wayne's World guitar, a.k.a. a pristine all white Strat. At this point, I thought to myself, "man, if I signed a record deal I'd do the same thing...go out and buy a shitload of great guitars." If I counted correctly, Jackie used 6 different axes through the course of the evening when he wasn't seated at the keyboards.

The next standout in my mind was the song "Tell Me Mama, Tell Me Right." This was a change of pace as Jackie sat at the keyboard that was programed to sound like a Hammond organ (think Ray Charles) and started as a sloooow blues song, but kept building till peaking right near the end of the song. The beginning and throughout the song Jackie showed off his keyboard prowess, switching between a piano and organ sounds. There's just a feeling and vibe you have to have when playing that organ sound. When to hold notes and when to go really quick. It's all the emotion in the song and lyrics.

After performing the more well known "So Hard To Find My Way," Greene took a seat in the middle of the stage with his natural finish acoustic and harmonica around his neck to sing "Just As Well." This was a great point to take a little breather and get a couple more slow numbers in. The second song from his chair he introduced as "brand brand brand new." This was performed with a black Gibson acoustic into a vintage bullet mic (the type used by the likes of Little Walter for projecting a harmonica over a band) that also gave his voice a slightly distorted effect.

The end of the set was full of energy from "Mexican Girl" to "I'm So Gone." They stayed off stage as the crowd chanted "Jack-ie Jack-ie Jack-ie" They stayed off in the wings for a couple minutes before taking the stage for a one song encore. The band and Jackie totally jammed out for this encore. Beginning with a drum intro Jackie came out with this sparkling baby blue Fender that he hadn't used all night till now. Greene's guitar melody line in this song is so bluesy it was great. He also sang into the bullet mic. His lead guitarist and him exchanged a couple guitar solos during the song with the lead using a blues slide technique (plastic slide on his left ring-finger). This song lasted in the neighborhood of 7-8 minutes and was a great end to an amazing show.

Jackie Greene @ The Roxy on Sunset, November 4, 2006
Setlist:
1. Hollywood
2. Nothing Comes From Nothing
3. Farewell, So Long, Goodbye
4. By The Side Of The Road, Dressed To Kill
5. The Rusty Nail
6. About Cell Block #9
7. When You're Walking Away
8. Tell Me Mama, Tell Me Right
9. So Hard To Find My Way
10. Just As Well (seated)
11. I Don't Live In A Dream (seated) NEW
12. Down In The Valley Woe -->
13. Mexican Girl
14. Closer To You
15. The Lord Mistreats Me
16. I'm So Gone
====
17. Cold Black Devil / 14 Miles

Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween Vault

I originally wrote this for the College Reporter the week prior to Halloween.

That magnificent holiday that celebrates absolutely nothing is right around the corner (tomorrow). No, it’s not one of the three Jewish holidays this month; it’s that wonderfully pagan holiday of Halloween. I’m not going to pretend that I know the origins of the holiday or even care what they may or may not be. The fact of the matter is, I love candy and have always disliked getting all dressed up to prove that I deserve your parents’ candy. In fact, when I was little I never got dressed up. I was one of those kids that were always “myself” or a “people person.”

When you're little your costume is pretty cool, and sometimes pre-made by even smaller children in Wal-Mart factories. Boys were either an athlete, super hero, gross goblin or other scary creature. Girls usually stuck to simple radioactive pink things like princesses or My Little Pony gear. My oh my, how things change.

One moment you’re an innocent little girl who always dreams of being a princess -- but by the time you’re in college and daddy’s not around to help you into your costume -- then you're a prostitute. It’s really quite amazing, the theory of princess to prostitute. I don’t mean actual prostitute, just an excuse to dress in lingerie for a night. It is quite the show. Of course I cannot help but notice these types of things when walking around at night and think I’m in Vegas. As well as wonder what thought process goes on when picking out these barely-there costumes. Sometimes it’s not strictly “I’m a prostitute” it’s something like: “I’m a sexually adventurous cat” or “I’m a scantily clad school girl” or “I’m a secretary on Casual Sex Friday” or “I’m trying to help pay for my expensive liberal arts education and like to pole-dance for exercise.”

Whatever the reason ladies, just be careful. Some dude is going to get the wrong idea and attempt to give you a treat you may not want. Mind you, if it’s Godiva Truffles, he may be genuine and a keeper. On the other hand, what’s the big deal in getting dressed up? I understand that it can be fun and entertaining, and maybe I’m a huge party-pooper. Maybe I want costumes that are funnier or make you think slightly to understand. I don’t know.

All I do know is that I want candy. I don’t want little boxes of raisins, or pencils, or fruit. What is that crap? I also want to be the first to go up to the house that has the big bowl and sign that says, “please take one piece.” Yeah, that’s not happening. Candy collecting is a competition and if my pillowcase doesn't weigh more than yours and give me more cavities, I've lost. So, while you are all dressed up, drunk, or working a corner, I’ll be stealing candy and egging your house. Happy Halloween.

n.b. I dressed up thise year as a pseudo-version of Tom Sawyer, except my whitewash brush wasn't wide enough and was confused for Van Gogh. Good, Good Times

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

I guess I'm slightly late to writing about the new Shins album Wincing the Night Away that recently leaked (about a week ago) like a sieve that had been blasted with a shotgun. I got it off OiNK and have listened to the album twice. I read all the comments on stereogum which ran the gamut from "life changing" to "mediocre." Pretty much all of the comments bothered me on some degree.
How did music come to this? What I mean is the inability to adequately judge albums on their own merit (or lack thereof). Here is the scenario I'm referring to: Band comes out with debut LP. LP is praised as changing the face of music as we have known it. Band tours as saviors. Band goes back into studio with extremely high expectations. Band toils endlessly for months or years honing their sound and writing another 12 songs. Finally, LP #2 comes out to eager fans. The album is either: A) More of the same great music, but more finely tuned B) A different direction but executed perfectly C) A different direction but kinda "out there" D) Dreadful.

These have all happened to bands that made great music. Unfortunately we've entered the Age of the Single, Internet leaking, and rediculous scrutiny. Would someone say to The Who or Led Zeppelin back in the day and say, "yah know guys, it's all sounding great, but kinda the same...and that sucks." It just wouldn't happen. Today, if a band does something the same but exceptionally well the reviewers say "They're playing it safe. Even though it sounds good, they're not evolving as a band or trying new things to step out of their comfort zone and create something new and exciting." OR "The band has taken too many risks and gotten away from what they produced so well on their last effort. It's as if they didn't know they had something great sitting in their musical lap, and went forward trying to show off and take down Music. It's all sounding pompous and should stick to what they do best." This is the state of Pop music...unless you're Kanye West, in which case everything you do is safe from criticism.

Think about the bands that have yet to release anticipated Sophomore efforts: Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, The Shins (technically), Maroon 5, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and I could go on. All the these bands have to hit the mark perfectly to come away unscathed. You know that critics are waiting anxiously to tear them to shreds and call them out as only having one great album in their tank. I hope they all knock it out of the park. Why would I want to listen to mediocre or crappy music from some of my favorite bands? This is the definition of a Catch-22. Which is better and less damning; a new direction that might "scare" fans or the same great stuff but lacking any real musical growth?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tuesday's 2

The guy that reviewed this album for Pitchfork pretty much panned it and gave it an arbitrary 5.9. Personally, Pitchfork has turned for the worst. Although this is a different topic entirely here is my mini-soapbox rant: I remember when Pitchfork was just starting out. A friend would always rave about finding new music through them about 5 years ago. Since this time, they have gotten so much smoke blown up their asses that their writers feel obligated to write about anything and everything unrelated to the music they’re supposedly reviewing. Welcome to highbrow writing in its most esoteric form. They’re constantly trying to prove how smart they are and 98% of the time forget to say what the band sounds like. I used to blindly follow their ratings and buy albums site unheard, until they slowly began getting a lot wrong. You may ask, “how can an opinion be wrong about something aesthetic?” but as far as I’m concerned their ratings now deserve a 0.439, anyway...

What Made Milwaukee Famous aren't from Milwaukee or Wisconsin nor are they famous...yet. In fact, they're a byproduct of the burgeoning indie music scene in Austin, Texas. The band is comprised of Jeremy Bruch (drums), John Farmer (bass), Michael Kingcaid (vocals/guitar), and Drew Patrizi (keyboards). They came together a scant 3 years ago in 2003 and quickly shot onto the Indie-dar with a performance next to Franz Ferdinand at Austin City Limits while still be an unsigned act (unprecedented). They also performed at SXSW (South by Southwest) as home-town favs.

This album, Trying to Never Catch Up, is actually a remastered re-release of their 2004 debut. There are four additional tracks and the same cover art in blue instead of red. The album begins with an electronic drum beat and taser-like keyboard glissando up and back down which continues through most of the song. WMMF definitely have a unique sound. They are equally at home with this hodgepodge of rock with minor electronic elements or singer-songwriter rock of "The Jeopardy of Contentment." The standout tracks are: the aforementioned “Jeopardy,” “Hellodrama,” and the title track.

I enjoyed this album from WMMF. I heard them perform live on Morning Becomes Eclectic and had a great vibe over the live airwaves. For a new band they're still finding the sound that fits them best, but they have a lot of great options. §


The Decemberists have been making their brand of indie rock since 2002 fronted by Colin Meloy (and his creative writing degree), backed by Ezra Holbrook (drums), Nate Query (upright bass), Jenny Conlee (accordion), and Chris Funk (pedal steel guitar). The band is often compared to the incomparable Neutral Milk Hotel if not only for their sound but poetic lyrics. The albums prior to this major label debut were Castaways and Cutouts, Her Majesty, and Picaresque which were all released on the Kill Rock Stars label. The Crane Wife is with their new people at Capitol Records. Luckily for us listeners they didn't sacrifice themselves on the Altar of Shame before the feet of a major label. Meaning, Capitol let them make the album they wanted to without telling them how to go about doing it.

According to AMG (All Music Guide) "The Crane Wife is loosely based on a Japanese folk tale that concerns a crane, an arrow, a beautiful woman, and a whole lot of clandestine weaving." If this ins't intriguing and make you talk to yourself outloud then you need to get out of your musical coma. Just because this sounds like thinking-man's music doesn't mean it's inaccessible. On the contrary, The Decemberists bring you into their world with melodic folk-tinged pop. Examples of their poppier side are the opener The Crane Wife, Pt. 3, or Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then). Whereas fans of more ambitious tunes that show musicians at their most daring and dynamic will love the extended songs The Island, Come And See, The Landlord's Daughter, You'll Not Feel The Drowning (12:26), and The Crane Wife, Pts. 1 & 2 (11:19). Overall, The Decemberists score another success while turning to the Indie Dark Side of signing with a major label. Some bands can make it work and while other have their sound put through finishing school (losing their edge). This album shows The Decemberists are going to keep doing what they've been doing for 4 albums now.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Alex Nackman - Sunrise Falls


Everyone owes it to themselves to enjoy great music, even if you feel like it's hard to find. Consider this a Pre-Halloween treat I'm giving you on a silver platter per se. Alex is a great friend of mine, and an incredibly hard-working musician with talent to spare. His newest album Sunrise Falls came out 10.17.06. I had the privilege to hear the beginnings of a few of these tracks, and the finished product is sure to impress. Check out some of the tracks here

Track Listing:

1. Stay Where You Are
2. Losing The Glow
3. Sunrise Falls
4. Proximity
5. Made You Doubt
6. October
7. Dionysus
8. Hold The Line
9. And She's Beautiful
10. Unlock My Gate
11. Holiday
12. Venice

Friday, October 20, 2006

Andrew Bird...and his Eggs


I'd never heard of Andrew Bird nor his production of eggs until a friend gave me the album in a casual way. Although this album came out in the beginning of 2005 it still fits into today's indie musical landscape. Bird, a singer-songwriter and violinist, was originally a member of the band Squirrel Nut Zippers but usually worked with his group Bowl of Fire. He normally produced folk, swing, rock, and jazz inspired work, but this album sees him as a distinctive voice in the singer-songwriter field.

This isn't typical sounding singer-songwriter music. The most immediate realization is the orchestration and strings involved with each song. If I knew he was a violinist before listening to this album it wouldn't have come as such a big surprise. There are some pretty grand arrangements here. Upon doing some background reading on Bird, I find that he's pretty eclectic in fluences and production. For the most part this album finds Bird in a subdued mood with occasional busts of expression on tracks "Fake Palindromes" and "Opposite Day." This album is mellow, and intricatly woven with string accents among Bird's interesting lyrics.

This album sounds relatively easy-going but when you get down to listening to the interplay between Bird's voice, guitar and strings (violin, cello, bass) you come to realize that this is actually an ambitious record. It's amazing that Bird makes everything come to together so cohesively. This album will take a little while to sink in, and there is no way it can all be dissected after one or two listens. Don't hessitate to listen though, even if you don't want to understand the minutiae this will still be an enjoyable album.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two for Tuesday

I've been trying to post more regularly as of late, and decided to rip off a radio station back home near D.C. that on Tuesdays used to play two songs by the same band back-to-back throughout the day. So, in a personal twist I will try and review two albums on Tuesdays. If not, I'll make it up to you later with Sunny Sundays, Moody Mondays, or even Thrifty Thursdays. Something. Anyway, onto the two for today. I'm starting out with another much-hyped album by The Hold Steady titled, "Boys and Girls in America" released Oct. 3rd.

Like other artists, I had listened to The Hold Steady's previous album "Seperation Sunday" and came away somewhat indifferent. The lead singer's (Craig Finn) voice is totally different from anyone else in mainstream rock. It's not a shout, it's not usually melodic, and its tone was kind of grating on my ears during 'Seperation Sunday.' I held this against them for no real reason. I didn't really track their progress over the past years because I found other bands that I liked more and were easier to get into. When this new album came out I got it on the heels of the hype but was timid about listening to it. Am I going to like it? What will happen if, in fact, I do end up liking it? I'll have to reevaluate what I was thinking. Or god forbid, jump on a quickly filling bandwagon (that's a terrible accidental pun). With trepidation I listened to the beginnning of the album on my Sennheiser studio headphones.

After the first track the headphones were unnecessary. This album was destined to be listened to on something louder than headphones. What is immediately striking is not only the great guitar sound but the addition of a repetitive piano layered in with the classic rock sounding band. The keyboard was absent (from what I remember) from 'Seperation Sunday.' It's a great added layer, and really creates greater depth during Finn's refrains. It may go unnoticed by music novices but the keys are a great touch when used correctly. This album uses them masterfully. This album is what The Killers were trying to do. Finn is an amazing story-teller, and doesn't worry about anyone but himself, which in turn makes his stories and lyrics universal in scope. It's not a concept album like its predecesor, but it doesn't have to be. This album will suck in anyone like myself who was iffy about the band.

'Boys and Girls in America' is an achievement and made my ears perk up passed Finn's unconventional delivery. He creates drama, suspense, and genuine feeling on this record. Stand-out tracks include: Chips Ahoy, Hot Soft Light, and Massive Nights (and check out the great harmonica solo on the closing track 'Southtown Girls'). This record wshould be welcomed with open arms because of one reason: it's REAL rock & roll for the current generation. Finn explains in both first, and third person the meaning of growing up here and now in suburbia. He is filled with angst, but brushes it off with equal parts humor and a band that really knows how to rock out. This doesn't have to be considered an "indie" record for it to be "cool" or "hip." With any moniker, it's just damn good.§

The second album is by a newish artist by the name of Mat Kearney. I originally heard this during Grey's Anatomy or something. Either way, it caught my ear as familiar but slightly different from the cookie-cutter male singer-songwriter genre. I have to admit that I like this genre, even if it's usually aimed at teenage girls ("like, totally, like, you know). There is just something about it that, when really good, is sincere and good listening. For a little background, Kearney is from Eugene, Oregon but went to college at Cal State U, in Chico where he became interested in music while studying literature and playing soccer. He took a trip with a buddy and producer to Nashville and recorded a few tracks. Soon he was getting offers, and

Admittedly, this is an album my mom would love. I look out for good music for my mom, and I know she'd enjoy this. Kearney has almost an identical voice to Chris Martin (Coldplay). This reason alone probably helped him get a record deal. Just because his voice closely resembles Coldplay's frontman doesn't mean he's producing pop anthems. On the contrary, he displays his vocal dexterity on tracks like, "Girl America," "In The Middle," "Can't Break Her Fall," and "Wait." The rap-speak is one of the things that seperates Kearney from the norm. He is equally comfortable singing or speaking his mind.

One of the things that usually holds a sing-songwriter's album back from being good is that all the songs tend to sound the same. Thankfully this is not the case on Kearney's. He employs the normal guitar strumming on some tracks, but otherwise he mixes in synths, interesting guitar effects, and original melodies. The rapping recalls Jason Mraz without the light emotion. The also stand out in between the sung verses. The rarely seem at home in the music, but they're interesting and a risk. It's not a failure it's more something that has to be honed.

The standout tracks for sure are: "Undeniable," "Crashing Down," "In The Middle" and "All I Need." So, overall I wouldn't say rush out and buy this album, but it's worth checking out when you have the time. It's enjoyable and something new. On the other hand, you most likely will be hearing a lot of Mat Kearney on the radio considering he's already made multiple TV soundtrack appearances this season. That's usually good karma. It will be interesting to see where Kearney goes from here.§

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Troubadour 10.14.06

Saturday night I saw an amazing show at The Troubadour with Mark Ronson and Lily Allen headlining.

The great night began when Mark Ronson came on to spin a set. He DJ-ed for probably 30min. Mixing, scratching, and making everyone listen carefully for what he'd pull out next. Various samples of Coldplay, Britney Spears, and The Gorillaz could be heard alongside the likes of The Game, 50 Cent or even the Jackson 5. It was really quite cool to see and hear. I always wanted to learn how to DJ, but seeing Ronson do his thing was just crazy good. The key to being a great DJ is knowing what's hip but yet knowing how to piece lots of stuff together to make a new sound and sometimes mixing in old songs.

It was kinda weird that at the beginning of his set we sat in the balcony of The Troubadour where everyone was sitting, and below everyone stood there like statues just watching. No one was dancing, it was just weird. If it were a party in Vegas the crowd would be going nuts, but here people just looked on in awe.


The above picture is Ronson doing his thing. As well as below.





Lily lily lily...my oh my oh my. If you still haven't heard of her or her music, come out from under your rock and embrace this UK pop songstrist. She's cool, she's hip, she's cute, she's funny, and she's witty. There is really no one like her. When I tell people about her I usually compare her to The Streets but that's only because the way she "raps" is more like speaking on ocassion. Other times she sings infectious hooks with her beautiful voice. I was initially skeptical that her voice sounded better in the studio than it would live, but that thought was immediately dashed when she began her set that night. The girl can flat out sing.

The notion that I got to stand about 10 feet from the stage is amazing. The Troubadour allows you to be so close to the artist it's kinda crazy. We were RIGHT THERE. I wish I had the setlist in hand, but alas I don't. She sang all of the crowd favorites including, LDN, Smile, Alfie, Everything's Just Wonderful, and Knock 'Em Out. At one point during the set she stopped in between songs to comment on how everyone in the crowd was singing along and knew the words. She said, "You all know the words and the albums doesn't come out in the States for 4 months...you can thank Capitol Records for that..." And the crowd began to booo which was hilarious because the whole upper balcony was reserved for Capitol Records V.I.Ps. So she told us not to boo and chuckled. At the beginning of the night she commented that some of her lyric sheets were missing and that whoever took them needed to give them back otherwise she's be a little lost near the end of her set. Not exactly the best thing to admit about your own songs. Yet on the flip side at least she wasn't lip-syncing.

Ms. Allen handled herself well on stage but still seemed kind of star struck by how adoring the crowd was of her. Pretty much everyone in the crowd was into her set. It was weird looking around between songs and seeing random hipsters that had the 'i'm-so-cool-that-i'm-trying-to-be-uncool' look to them. We were standing next to a writer who was wearing a beat up leather jacket, greying ponytail, and grizzled face who would take ocassional notes and looked totally unimpressed the whole time. I understand needing to be objective but lighten up or get out. I'd heard from my friend that Allen played a super-short set (like 30min.) and called it a night. This time was a little bit longer at 45 minutes. Admittadly she doesn't have a lot of material, and she made the most of her time. She easily chatted with the crowd and thank the audience multiple times for their support. Thankfully this wasn't the typical L.A. crowd that I've heard about where everyone stands around acting like they're too cool for school, and texting each other on their BlackBerrys. The crowd was younger and really got into it for the most part. I can't wait till she comes back to the States in 2007 to a much bigger house.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Beck and Justin...Oh My


How long has Beck been around/making his quirky music? What seems like forever, nowadays in the age of one hit wonders, singles being more important than albums, and artists being pigeon-holed any way they can. The real answer is that Beck put out "Mellow Gold" - his amazing debut album - in 1994. I'm not a big adult or anything and will show my age by telling you that album came out when I was in 4th grade. Was Beck even on my radar back then? Hell no. Transformers and Voltron were. I barely knew what pop music was, and I certainly wouldn't have understood why a musician would only go by their first name. I had a few great cassette tapes and a sweet yellow Sony walkman.

Listening to Beck at his best is like taking an album from any and all of your favorite genres and putting them into a blender. The byproduct may look gross, but it actually tastes great most of the time. If no one knows what to say about Beck 'eclectic' is the word they most often reach for. How else can you explain "folk, psychedelia, hip-hop, country, blues, R&B, funk, indie rock, noise rock, experimental rock, jazz, lounge, [and] Brazilian music" all being incorporated into songs and albums? There is really no denying he's the master hybrid maker (the king of musical broccoflower). Guitars being picked simply, layer on electric beat, another layer of bells and possibly a whistle played as the backbeat, start rap-speaking with little hints of sung melody, and near the end of song stop singing and add whacked out fuzz sounds. BAM! You've got a Beck tune. I could continue with this, but really, I'm just making something that is quite difficult seem easy. This isn't easy otherwise there would be more people trying to do it. Beck is always near the line of Genius and Crazy. Most of the time he's closer to the Genius side, but others I just don't get it, or don't find it enjoyable.

Here on his newest LP (his 9th...n.b. name another GOOD working musician with 9 albums, I don't think you can) You can find Beck kinda going back to his "roots" if you catch my drift. It's not as hip-hoppy as Guero and but doesn't have as much guitar strumming as Mellow Gold. This album has a little bit of everything. Cheesy 80's synth atmosphere on 'Movie Theme,' funky bass line on 'I think I'm in Love,' bells, the borrowed theme from Maynard Ferguson's "Chameleon" on 'Cellphone's Dead' (I really had to dig through my music library for this one), and static sounds on '1000 bpm.' One of the genre elements that is most lacking is that tinge of blues slide guitar that Beck has used often.

Overall though, this is a solid record. It doesn't have as much "outside the box" thinking as Guero did, but that was a surprise hit. So, instead of taking things even further Beck went back to the things he knows he does best. Except he still does it better than everyone. How much longer can Beck go on? I don't know. These albums have become his norm, and to consistantly step outside yourself and reinvent what you do is tough even for the best. This album isn't crazy or genius. It's Beck being Beck.§


I can't admit to liking Justin Timberlake, can I? Is that considered cool yet? Has he lost all of the boy-band stigma? If yes, can I say I rolled down all my windows and kept turning up my stereo when I put this on the iPod in my car? Well, whatever the answers I did. I listened to this as if I had a $5000 stereo. I have no subs, no amps, no nothing. Stock Bose stereo with 4 speakers. And it was great.

The beginning of this album has really great bass and if you listen enough to tracks or albums produced by Timbaland (think the newest Nelly Furtado) you know he has a particular "sound" and it's all over this album. There are colaborations with will.i.am, Rick Rubin, T.I., and 3 Six Mafia. The title of the album does a great job describing what Justin is enamored with: Girls, Love and Sex. Every song on the album can be related to these aspects.

This album leaves 'Justified' in the dust and brings together elements of hip-hop, funk, pop, club synths, and melodic string fills. It bounces, rocks, bumps, and hooks you. It's impossible not to get into this record. The hooks are infectious. The strings on 'LoveStoned/I Think She Knows (Interlude)' sound reminiscent of what Jon Brion did for Kanye West's 'Late Registration.' The strings make the song warmer, and different from the typical pop/hip-hop song. Justin also is able to show off his incredible vocal range at the end of this song with additional layers as he sings. Again the stringed element comes in on the folowing track, this time reminiscent of Ravi Shankar.

The album begins with the hard-hitting R&B and Hip-Hop bass but slowly shifts to soulful singing on 'What Goes Around'. It shifts back to rougher hip-hop on the 3 Six Mafia track 'Chop Me Up.' Justin puts on his best immitation of a tough guy act. It's hard to take this seriously when the track has a pulsing piano, and string fills. The bass is there especially when the members of 3 Six take their turns on verses.

I was thrown for a loop on tracks 10-12. Justin's got a great album going, and then all of a sudden throws the switch for the Sap. I like loving songs, but they seem out of place on the album. They go along with the theme, and I know you can't have all the songs be radio-ready summer hits, but something just didn't feel right with these tracks. Don't get me wrong they're good, but maybe the first 9 tracks had me in a certain groove, and when these came on it killed that edge. The bonus track (from the Japanese Import version) 'Pose' features Snoop Dog and is really entertaining. Singing about wanting a girl to pose for a private sexy photoshoot. Snoop's verse is totally non-chalant and stays on topic of getting this girl to pose, and put it on the wall with all his other masterpieces. At the beginning of the song Justin quotes his own music with the guitar strum from 'Like I Love You' and sings "with your girlfriends dancin' to my shit (quote) like this, shakin' hips." I get a kick out of that type of stuff.

As much as I was afraid to like this album, I'll be strong and admit I really liked listening to this. If Justin didn't crush the N'SYNC stigma with this album you're crazy. I also admire him for letting the music dictate how long the tracks would be, not a record label. Nine of the tracks are more than 5 minutes. Having a studio album that's 71 minutes is actually getting your money's worth. He's is a viable solo artist who has a distinctive and fun style. I wonder how he'll take it to the "next level" from here...now that Sexy is back.§

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cold War Kids...Again


This album comes out today. Back in July I wrote a short blurb about how these guys could bring it, and to look out for their debut LP...and here it is in all its glory. A lot of the songs appeared on their EPs, but these are remixed and mastered. Some of the early "professional" reviews are saying:

"Imagine the rawness of the White Stripes on Day 1. Or what Spoon would sound like at a church camp making music with found objects." - LA Times

"Who they are: the best new band in the world. What they're about: the sound of community." - NME

If you didn't believe me a few months ago, please go buy their cd and renew your faith in great indie rock.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

To Be Reviewed Soon

Coming Soon...



Wednesday, October 04, 2006

O-VER RA-TED

I listened to these albums mostly because of the hype surrounding them...and when I finished I didn't know what "they" were talking about.



This band, for all intents and purposes, is Coldplay Light. They try to survive with sentimental lyrics and large arrangements. Their debut album was listenable about 4.5 times through and then I'd heard enough. With this release I can't remember if I got through more than 75%. I grabbed it (along with 5,000 others) off Oink, listened a bit, and promptly got that filth off of my computer and iPod. Haven't missed it at all. The single from it appears on the radio as great but it's like finding a small diamond in a mound of dog crap. Why bother getting dirty? Save your time, your money, and most importantly you ears.



Sam's Town was supposed to be the record of the year. Shucks. The Killers went from unsung indie heroes, to super pop-indie (a la Franz Ferdinand), to over-hyped saviors in the span of about a year and a half. I admire them for shooting for the stars on this album, but the old addage of trying too hard definately comes into play on this album. It has some bright spots but they can't mask the other mediocre songs surrounding them. The reviewer on Pitchfork writes about how Brandon Flowers tries too hard to become Bruce Springsteen. If he was trying to capture The Boss' storytelling Flowers totally missed like a 5 yr. old shooting basketball to a 10 foot hoop...not even hitting the bottom of the net. They also try to embody the arena-rock stylings of U2. This too fails in many regards. As I kept listening to this album I kept waiting, and waiting, track to track for those stand-out singles and lost gems like Hot Fuss. Alas, they popped up a couple times but the filler lacked any bite. At best this album can be considered average. Hot Fuss has been so overplayed that I can't recall how good the singles sounded before I'd heard them 300 times. The lead single from Sam's Town has Flowers singing, "you don't look a thing like Jesus" but then again this album isn't the savior record of the year everyone's saying it was to become.



I'd heard about Ray LaMontagne from a live segment on Indie 103 (L.A. radio station "specializing in Indie music"). I liked what I heard and then I heard him again on NPR promoting his new record Till The Sun Turns Black. I listened to this album on the way into work (much like I did with The Weepies) since it was supposed to mellow and easy to listen to. This was supposed to be LaMontagne's break-out record. I know it will be a big seller, and people will praise his song-writing and arrangements, but again I was expecting more. When music get's hpyed to the point it's supposed to change the music landscape and make people listen I want it to backed up. This is a much stronger effort than the albums listed about but still...I found myself leaning into my car stereo trying to hear what Ray was singing to me. Many of the tracks are sung in a whisper. I understand this as a technique to draw the listener into the singer's world and make you a more aware listener, but after a while I became frustrated with trying so hard to get into LaMontagne's head. Ray LaMontagne certainly is a tallented musician and would look forward to what he'll produce next over the coming years, but don't be shocked when you don't find Magnetic Pole-reversing music hyped about here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New iPod listening



I first heard of The Weepies from Jessie's mom Terri after she asked about them form hearing them in her Yoga/Spinning class. So, I looked them up, got their album sight un-heard and gave them a test run on a my 50min. drive into work. Luckily for me the entire album clocks in at around 40 minutes with 13 tracks. The duo is comprised of Steve Tannen and Deb Talan and this is their major-label debut. They stick to what they produce best which is sentimental, folky-pop. This also includes vocal and guitar melodies that are harmonically simple, yet pleasant. They take turns singing from track to track, and often create beautiful harmonies together. In doing some background reading, the title "Say I Am You" is a quote from a 13th century writer named Jelaluddin Rumi, who was known for intensely passionate poems. So, the title fits the love-song laced album. It was a great way to start an early morning with crappy L.A. traffic. Not jaring, interesting and poingant lyrics that spoke about love presented in some news ways. Highly enjoyable listening.



FINALLY. I've been telling friends (mostly of the male gender) that Mayer has some serious guitar chops. They never believe me, and now there is a studio album to back this claim up. Mayer has never unleashed his full guitar arsenal on his two previous major label releases aimed at the 12-22 female demographic. Until now. The 3rd studio effort comes packed with electric guitar lessons a la John Mayer. He's got skills, creativity, and passion. These tracks are still totally Mayer-esque with the unrequited love and loss, but adds a new element of global analysis expected more from Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen than 29-yr. old Mayer. There is the catchy single 'Waiting On The World To Change' and a cover of Jimi Hendrix 'Bold As Love' at the other end of the spectrum. I don't think anyone has successfully covered a Hendrix song better than what is presented here. Most artists try their hand at (the originally Dylan tune) 'All Along the Watchtower' with varied success. But here, Mayer pays homage to the guitar King and proves that not only can he write songs that make teenage girls swoon but can kick some serious ass with a guitar solo. The whole album exhibits Mayer's expertise, especially on the slower blues-inspired ballads where flaws can become transparent for lesser players. Not to be lost in the fray are Mayer's buddies Tino Palladino, and Steve Jordan in the rythm section. Both of whom run a tight ship that was initially heard on the John Mayer Trio effort "TRY." Mayer shines from top to bottom of this album. If you're a guy and somehow embarassed to buy this album, borrow it from your girlfriend, you may find yourself enjoying Mayer's guitar as much as I do.



I have to admit that this is the first I've listened to TV on the Radio extensively. I had a few songs from the Young Liars EP, and Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes album, but I never really dove into them like some other friends. So maybe I'm a little late to the bandwagon, but these guys are for real. This does NOT sound like a pop album. It's hard to figure out where the instruments start and stop and where the electronic elements come into play. The vocals are out of this world, even if you can't always understand what's being said. The multi-talented Tunde Adebimpe (vocalist) and David Andrew Sitek (producer) are also both visual artists as well so it's no wonder they create amazing textures of sound, mixing palettes from many different genres and places into one cohesive, unique canvas (sorry for the art analogies). Overall, this album will start off confusing you, then blow your mind, then you won't be able to get enough of it. I initially got a pirated pre-release rip of the yet-to-be-final track listing. I don't think it changed much from then to know, but either way, it's awesome. This could be one of the best records released this year.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Current iPod Listening

These few albums are what I'm currently enamored with.

I really hope these guys become more popular for the sake of real music fans. They sound amazing. This is their debut LP and is nothing short of a pleasure to listen to.

What hasn't been said about Lily Allen in the UK? She is, quite simply, THE SHIT. Every song on this album is smart, catchy, original, and great. She is basically a popier female version of The Streets with equally witty, funny, nasty lyrics. I've been listening to this album for almost a month now and can't get enough of it.

I found Jackie Greene after he killed on Conan O'Brien. I was immadiately drawn to his bluesy melodies and musicianship. The stand-out track (maybe the first single) is "So Hard To Find My Way." He did this tune on Conan and was great to hear a fresh young voice.

Glimmerglass Opera



Over last weekend August 3-6 I attended Glimmerglass Opera's Gala Weekend with the Miller-Marlowe clan. This group is comrised of my girlfriend Jessie, her parents, and her twin brother Lawson. Among others in attendance were Jessie's grandfather David and his girlfriend Maria. Jessie has been going to this festival for 10+ years, and I was lucky enough to join her and her family this summer. In doing so I saw "The Pirates of Penzance," "The Barber of Seville," "Jenûfa," and the world premiere of "The Greater Good or the Passion of Boule de Suif." All of these were wonderful productions with Barber standing head and shoulders above the rest.
The production of Barber was flawless. The performers excellent. The staging was exquisite. There really wasn't anything that could be picked on. On the other hand, the most difficult to grasp was Greater Good. Being a modern piece there was no shape of melody or tonal harmonies. Although I appreicate the difficult nature of singing and playing such parts it was just difficult to wrap my brain around. The performers were great. The whole scene was too dark and too lengthy. Jenûfa was incredibly well performed and quite moving. Opera Seria near its best. Lastly, Pirates was very fun but a little too hokie for its own good. It was great to see many young kids in the audience and would have been a great introduction to opera. This isn't really an opera but more a musical with great operatic singers since there is spoken-word in place of any recitative. It was all great fun and a wonderful cultural experience for a few days filled with great shows and even better company.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bloc Party 9/10/05


I've been looking for this set list for a while...I went to this show with my girlfriend Jessie and wanted to post this for posterity since it was our first concert together.

Like Eating Glass
Positive Tension
Banquet
Blue Light
She's Hearing Voices
The Marshals Are Dead
This Modern Love
Two More Years
Luno
Little Thoughts
Helicopter
---------
So Here We Are
The Price Of Gas
---------
Tulips
Pioneers


.....yes, yes they DID play a double-encore...one of the coolest things I've ever been witness to at a concert.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Cold War Kids

These guys from Whittier, CA are far and away better than any of the others listed below. They've recently come off tour with Tapes 'n Tapes. I wish i could have seen that lineup. Firstly, CWK have a swagger that can't be taught. Their single "Hang Me Up To Dry" begins with a funky bass line that goes throughout the entirety of the song. What really drives the song is the lead singer's voice. There is a music video of the song on their myspace page that looks like it was taped at a middle school during lunch or recess or something. The kids really get into it and displays the band as showmen and passionate about their tunes. The repeated guitar melody after the chorus doesn't really showoff what the lead guitarist is capable of but it is catchy and creative. Overall, these guys should be listened to, and would look out for a LP.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Coming Soon

Up and coming, soon to be reviewed:
The Mercers
Cold War Kids
Murder By Death
Monster Buck
Kate York

Check These Out


Nelly Furtado - Loose: Much different than anything she has put out. Mostly due to Timbaland producing some great beats for Ms. Furtado to sing (sometimes rap) over. A few puzzling, but enjoyable tracks sung in spanish (I didnt even know she knew spanish) add an interesting cultural dynamic to the album that certainly will only get played on certain radio stations.

Snow Patrol - Eyes Open: I confess to kinda liking these guys. They aren't stellar but they are great at what they know how to do. This follow-up to Final Straw is more focused and less chick friendly. Which undouablty means the girls will love it even more than the first. Sometimes the lyrics are totally hokie which is a major drawback. Overall some good riffs and enjoyable melodies.

Corinne Bailer Rae: If you haven't heard about this amazing blues singer by now you will in the next couple months without fail. She has one of those voices that everyone falls in love with because it's actually good. Not American Idol good, just plain 'I can sing better than all of you without trying' good. She is a pure Blues singer. This too is a great thing. For the better part of the last year (at least) I've thought that blues is going to have a resurgance be it in John Mayer, Jack White, or something like Audioslave. All of whom are the blues at their core. Listen to this sultry blueswoman's selftitled debut and you will not be sorry.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lists...

hopefully these are funny....work in progress:

License Plates on Hummer:

SMPEN15
LIL DICK
NEED BJ
GUZZLER
MY GAS
COMPNST
GL PR ML


Sports ESPN will be broadcasting in the near future:

Roulette
Hi-Lai
US Staring Contest
Thumb Wrestling World Championships
Tick-Tac-Toe Open


These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things:

Hammocks
Ironing
Jogging
Peaches
Chopsticks
Plungers
Fresh Cut Grass

Recent Account of the Drive Across Country

Characters that will undoubtedly appear in later writing of mine:

“Lola” the southern bell bartender from Louisville, Kentucky whose catchphrase was: “can I get ya’ll anything”

The mentally retarded “waitress” at the World Food Restaurant who repeated the following several times in succession: “everything is real good here. You can’t have a bad meal, everything is really fresh and made here.” She was actually quite right.

Grandmother of a best friend who stays up watching Law & Order till 12am, all the while wearing a shiny silver tracksuit from 1992 and constantly asks if you need anything. When offering something to drink always begins with “iced tea.”

Ivan the guitar/singer who had the makings of a great mullet but stops just short. But still has a goatee and sings all your favorite cliché songs but somehow doesn’t know “Roxanne” or “Freebird” and plays entirely with .midi accompaniment.

Kevin’s dad Gary, who during their annual Memorial Day softball game pitched its entirety and so much smack in between pitches I thought I was in the NBA. He said things such as, “you’re up again?” (2 pitches later) “you’re still up at bat?” and after the following pitch which is a foot outside says, “it doesn’t get more perfect than that.” Earlier in the day before the game he greets a kid named David Simpson and says, “Mr. Simpson, hello David” then mere hours later sees him at his house for a BBQ and says “hello Mr. Paul Simpson”….”umm no..” “David, yeah that’s right.” In addition he wears black socks with black sandals. He dances without looking at his wife and essentially just walks in circles with his elbows at 90-degree angles.

Barri the 16 year old dog who is deaf and is the exact size and proportion as house cat. Only comes to you if she thinks you have food and turns away immediately when she realizes you don’t.

more coming......

Saturday, May 20, 2006

GRADUATION

I graduated from F&M on May 13th.....now hunting for a job.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Open Letter

Dear:
Stupid-Blonde-Bitch-
Who-Answers-Her-Phone-
In-The-‘Quite-Please’-
Section-Of-The-Library-
During-Finals-Week-
To-Have-A-Conversation-
With-Her-Frat-Boy-Boyfriend-
As-If-No-One-Is-Around-
Trying-To-Study-For-Exams-
That-Are-Supposed-To-Cover-
Two-Thousand-Years-Of-Chinese-Art,
-Derivatives,-Organic-Chemistry,
-Foreign-Policy-Of-The-Last-Century,
-And-Possibly-Everything-Mark-Twain-Ever-Wrote—


Please shut the hell up before I come over and grab your $200 cell phone and throw it violently (but quietly) to the floor shattering it into a million serene pieces.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Wearing a Tuxedo Is Never As Cool As James Bond Makes It Look

This coming weekend I will be wearing a tuxedo for approximately 18 hours out of a possible 48. I have never worn a tux for more than an hour or two at a time, (for a prom I shouldn’t have gone to, as it turned out) let alone close to a day’s worth of formality. I do have to admit that my penguinesque getup doesn’t compare to the real penguins, who have to stand over an egg for days on end with triple digit wind-chills below zero while they wait for that year’s girlfriend to bring them back some grub as I saw in March of the Penguins. I’m still not looking forward to it. I’ll be accompanying the chorus in trying to sing the choral movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (which for some may be considered just as tedious). The tuxedo is really the epitome of formal dress, and theoretically makes everyone debonair. This is not the case with me. Of course my girlfriend tells me otherwise.
When I climb into my newly purchased tux, I want to feel like James Bond. I really wanted the white-dinner-jacket-with-the-red-carnation look, but there is a dress code for these performances: Black tie. Not: stand-out-from-everyone-else-on-the-stage. Someday. Someday I will be James Freakin’ Bond. I want to walk into a room and order the same drink all the time. Possibly unfortunately that drink of choice is a Shirley Temple with a splash of vodka. Not exactly a manly drink like scotch or whiskey. The drink preference isn’t the only thing standing between Bond’s Aston Martin and me. I need the suave coolness to win at Bacharach. I also need a license to kill, not to mention a few hundred grand for the sweet ride.
Now that I have my own tuxedo I’m hoping I don’t get fat. It’s one of those male clothing purchases that should be a once-every-ten(plus)-years transactions. There’s no way the total future wearing of this bad boy will surpass this weekend’s usage. If I go to a formal wedding that will be a max of a few hours. If I go to a formal dinner, that’s a couple hours at most. At none of these potential events will I be trying to sing as loud as humanly possible to be heard over a fifty-piece orchestra.
The actual performance can only be strenuous at best. Supposedly, we have to sit on the stage under intense lighting in seats packed together like sardines for roughly an hour. If this were to only happen once I’d be cool with it. The fact that I will repeat the same routine five times over the next three days isn’t daunting as much as it is exhausting to think about. I can only expect that by the fifth time in three days my cummerbund will be a wrinkled mess, my white shirt will have a nice brownish-yellow ring around the collar, and my butt will have fallen asleep so many times only a timpani could wake it.
For this special occasion of buying a tux and singing with a professional orchestra my mom thought it would be a good idea to have something unique to my ensemble. My new tuxedo dress socks are Crown-Royal-bag-purple. These will be my conversation piece. Some may say, “Hey. Check out Ethan’s socks! He’s crazy…in an awesome-thinks-he’s-at-the-Grammys way.” This is my hope. More likely no one will notice unless I bring them out from under my cuffs.
James Bond took the tuxedo to a higher level. I can only hope to get a running start, jump out of an airplane, land on a bus with no breaks heading for a cliff and save the nuclear warhead from inside of it to approach the suave coolness of Bond in a tux. But, damnit I’m going to try every time I put that sucker on. What’s the point otherwise?

An Open Letter to My Procrastination Ability

My Dearest Procrastination,
You allow me to do the things I really want to do; you allow me the freedom to surf The Web for hours on end so as to avoid doing a simple three-paragraph essay for Renaissance Lit. class. I simultaneously love and despise you. Sometimes it seems like you team up with my A.D.D. to create the Axis of No Productive Work and wage a war against my Better Judgment. I can’t really fault you for this. I’ve been developing and perfecting your every technique since I knew what homework was. Something else has always been able to catch my attention easily, whether it’s a baseball game, cartoons, just finding something to eat, or going to the bathroom when I didn’t really need to.
You have tricks too! Just when I start to feel like I’m getting things done you pop up and reel me back in to being worthless. To be honest, you’re kinda rude about it. You don’t say “Please?” Sometimes, though, my Brain Power wins and shuts the door in your face after you’ve pressed me to a deadline. You come in different forms. You know me exceedingly well. You only have one goal, and that is the antithesis of what I have set out to do.
Over the years I have tried to get rid of you to no avail. There have been stretches where you’ve taken a vacation and I’ve had extremely productive spells. But those never last for long. You keep coming back like a homeless man to a shelter for dinner. You can survive on your own for a little while but you always find your way back.
I just wish I could control you better. You’re unruly. You come and go as you please and do whatever you want whenever you want. We’ve shared some good times, like the science fair of ’97, the history paper of ’01, the permission slip of ’95. And who could forget the infamous mowing the lawn incident of 2000?
What should I do with you? I don’t know if I could kick you to the curb. We’ve grown together through so many years that bringing you down would only allow Better Judgment to rule my days. Let’s be honest, I don’t really want that. Although, you have taught me some good lessons when it comes to this year’s music independent project. Research can only be put off so long. I’ve tried to push you away but at times it was like trying to push a brick wall.
Even as I try to complete this paragraph you make me want to do other things. I know I have to finish, I know this is due, but you keep telling me to “Ethan…put it off. You know you want to check out Facebook for no real reason. You know you’re thirsty. You know you’re uncomfortable in that chair and want to lie down in your comfy bed.” Yes. Yes, I do know all these things but I have to push you away for the time being and then we can get back to doing unnecessary things. We can make sure that my ten-page paper….oh crap there goes my cell. I bet you did that intentionally. I guess I’ll never escape your clutches.
With fond regards…eventually,
Ethan

Friday, March 31, 2006

Indie to Pop

Over the past four to six years there has been a steady rise in “Indie” music. This term is technically shorthand for any music released on an independent label. These smaller labels are numerous and almost never heard about unless they have a few stellar artists. Even then, their budgets seem like a raindrop in the deluge that is a major label’s finances. In this period of time I have steadily grown to enjoy these lesser-heard bands and artists. I’m never trying to be cooler than the mainstream, nor do I think I am above bands that get significant radio play. The music is better.
I enjoy the hunt for these bands and records. I enjoy the looks I get in Barnes & Noble when I ask about The Boy Least Likely To, Ghostface Killah, MF Doom, Neutral Milk Hotel, Band of Horses, and Tapes ‘N Tapes. No matter whom I ask, the response is always the same: “who/what? Could you repeat that? Is that the band or the album?” This is equal parts frustrating and amusing. It gives me a weird sense of pride that I’m not just another John or Jane looking for the latest U2 or Kelly Clarkson disc. This pride comes from the idea that, with indie music, I share a secret with a smaller society of music geek. And let’s face it, that’s what I am and huge Music Geek.
I enjoy the music more than the growing culture of Indie. It’s cool to be anti-mainstream in some regards. I’m mainstream in almost every facet of my life except for the music I enjoy the most. I’m content with this. I seek out new sounds that have been deemed, for one reason or another, “not ready for radio consumption.” The indie culture can have a better-than-thou attitude that doesn’t align with my morals. I would actually prefer to educate more people about this music I covet and track like a groupie. If I could teach every Coldplay-lover about The Go! Team I’d feel, in a way, like I was educating the masses. But on the flip side, they would no longer be “mine.” That’s my main problem: when indie goes popular.
The progression of the rare few indie bands that become mainstream generally follow the same path. The band starts out small, works their way up by touring tirelessly, word-of-mouth, and small pieces of press. At which point, the press builds and builds until they have a feature article in Rolling Stone or Q (the best UK music magazine). This string of events strips away the “indie” from the band and it becomes (now) alternative or even pop. More people knowing nets the band more exposure and more money. In most cases they get a new record deal and have to conform to what the label wants so their subsequent albums are never quite as good or original. Pop music is too polished. Too clean. Too produced. The raw energy and brash production makes me feel like they are actually making music. In pop they aren’t making music, they’re making something that is metaphorically washed, re-washed, tumbled dry, hung, ironed, dry-cleaned, and plastic wrapped. All for the (growing) unreasonable price of $15.
I’m convinced this steady rise and changes have all come about with the advent of the Internet. A band no longer has to rely on print media to get noticed. There is so much self-promotion that can occur on a scant budget. The innumerable resources now available for making, recording, producing, and distributing, et al. are all at one’s fingertips. The idea that music would be so easy to get via downloads (illegally or service provided) was unfathomable just a few years ago.
I deem the rise of indie as a progression in the course of pop music and culture. The vast array of new music that is being made and is readily available has been given more and more notice. The concept of “indie” is now a known commodity and bigger labels are starting to take notice whether by signing some of these lesser-heard bands or by buying their smaller label just to make some more money. Although some of my favorites might become more popular or mainstream over the next few years at least I can say that I heard them before anyone else.

Folded Chips

If you’ve ever seen me eat potato chips you may think discrimination abounds in my everyday life. I subconsciously (and consciously) separate chips into two categories: “normal” and “folded.” These folded chips are the ones that look as if the circle of the chip has been flipped in half onto itself. For some reason it’s more fun to eat the folded ones. I save them for last. They have more crunch to them, and thus are more satisfying to eat.
A friend once inquired why I did this after she noticed that I was “playing favorites” with the chips. We went on to have a philosophical debate about my chip profiling. I tried to explain that it was just a quirky eating habit. I also qualified my response with the idea that I find it weird to eat Pringles because they are all the same. They’re like what would’ve happened had Hitler had his way with the world: a master race of potato chips. On the other hand, she thought that maybe it spoke to a larger idea that I was a very biased person in other aspects of my life. I thought that this was possible, but maybe I was less conscious about larger things than various chips.
I explained to her that the folded chips were more interesting. They have more personality. At this point in time, if she didn’t know me, she would have got up from the table and told me that I was crazy. The folded chips had to get that way some how, right? The unfolded ones took the normal path to Chiphood. They were cut from the potato and deep-fried, end of story. The folded ones could have been unfolded at one point and therefore got their uniqueness during a phase of their conception. Other unfolded chips bullied them around; pressured them into changing, or just got caught at the bottom of the crate and folded under the weight of the others. I wanted to give time to the possibilities of the folded chips’ stories.
I don’t persecute others nor do I make insensitive derogatory comments. I treat people equally and with respect. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the way I eat chips. The folded ones end up having a slightly longer life than the regular ones.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sorry Joey I'm Docking Your Grade Because You're An Asshole

I’ve never gotten a paper back from a professor that says, “your writing is exceptional, but I’ve heard of your obnoxious white-male patriarchal bullshit, so in light of that I’m giving you a C-.” My experiences have taught me that learning in college isn’t only about textbooks. On the contrary, there is a greater scope to college learning that includes developing and shaping personal character, which is why professors should care about their students’ character even though it’s not in their job description.
Character takes many variable forms. In general, certain traits or habits can be associated with “good” or “bad” character. People usually tend toward one side of the Character Spectrum. I believe, for the sake of argument, that a student with good character is also a scholarly one who’s studious, courteous, comes to class, participates in class, turns in assignments, asks questions, is receptive to criticism, and genuinely wants to learn. In contrast, a good indicator of character tending to the Bad Side is a kid that half-asses pretty much everything, walks into a 90-minute class 30 minutes late as if nothing is wrong, falls asleep in class consistently, gives more excuses than punctual work, and is the first out of the room even when they’re the furthest from the door. It’s troublesome for a professor to know if a student is doing certain things because they care more about learning or more about their grade. These various actions often sway the thoughts of a professor.
A professor’s character is equally hard to judge. I’ve found the best professors challenge their students intellectually, figure out ways to connect with them individually and have enough charisma that students rarely hit the Mute button. There's something in those great professors that makes the students want to excel. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few professors like this. I feel the need to give 100%, 100% of the time for their class. I want to impress them, show them I care, that they’re great at their job, and that I appreciate everything they do. Character is a funny thing because it’s extraordinarily subjective. I’ve had a couple professors whom I wanted to tell that they couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag. Except, this assessment of their teaching isn’t a measure of whether they’re a good person. I’d like to think that the great professors are of great character, but what they’re like outside of the classroom goes mostly unknown.
Why does character matter? Does it matter? Do I wish all my professors were pot-smoking-drunks? Would it be entertaining? Would I learn how to make a beer can into a bong? Would we even have class? Would the term “class” be replaced with “chill time”? Should a professor care if a student is an asshole if they produce “A” work? Should a professor care if a student litters, speeds, swears, smokes, does drugs, and drinks? Should a student care if a professor does any of those things?
Where do grades and character cross? It’s entirely possible that a student is “book-smart” and does extremely well on their report card but is a complete jerk and doesn’t care about their course at all. In turn, there are plenty of students that slip on turning things in on time and don’t have a 3.87 GPA, but take enormous interest in their classes, and are some of the best individuals around. Grading shouldn’t be contingent on character, but shouldn’t a person with better character be rewarded somehow? I soothe my psyche by assuming a professor would rather have great kids in their classes who foster interesting conversation than a bunch of one-dimensional workaholics that can’t see beyond their GPA.
The problem with professors caring about students’ character is that something so subjective is dependant on their own character. Does being a professor automatically make them a perfect judge of character? I tend to doubt it, because everyone likes to think they’re the best judge of character this side of the heavenly gates. It’s the same for students though. Just because you can’t believe any institution of higher learning would tenure such an imbecile, doesn’t mean the professor goes home at night and downloads child porn. On the other hand, professors should care about their students’ character and set an example for them because it’s a reflection of not only themselves but also their institution.
Good or bad character isn’t taught, nor can it be changed overnight. There isn’t much a professor can do to build good character in their students besides setting a superior example. Their character affects my respect for them, in and out of the classroom. Likewise students should be free to explore personal growth and learning without the worry their next grade is going to reflect their character development. Overall, I care whether or not my professor is a sleezeball. I just do.

Monday, February 27, 2006

OOOPS, Sorry I Shot You in the FACE

Vice President Dick Cheney shot a dude in the motherfucking face. Not the quails flying overhead, not even a goddamn extremity. Who the hell does that? What type of message does it send the country trying to hunt down terrorists when the second in command shoots a guy in the mug? It can either say: “we’re willing to shoot anyone, and don’t get in my way, you stupid asshole” or “I can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys even when they’re wearing bright orange hunting regalia.” Neither sounds great to me.
How does one shoot a person by accident, in the face no less? Well, first you have to start with a dash of conservative politics. I don’t know the exact figures, but I’ve met more conservative hunters than liberal ones. Then, mix in guns. Those conservatives loooooove their guns. Pretty much any guns too. They think any Tom, DICK, or Sally should be allowed anything below a rocket launcher. Evidently it helps to shoot someone in the face when you’ve had a few beers too. If the reason Cheney didn’t come out and say he popped a guy in the face for a whole day was because he was drinking, doesn’t that make you think he was blacked-out-loaded when the administration planned the invasion of Iraq?
The whole incident makes me think our VP is actually Elmer Fudd; hunting people not waskaly wabbbits. I would think in normal circumstances wouldn’t the perpetrator of shooting a guy in the face (accidentally or not) probably face (sorry for the awful pun) some sort of legal ramifications? Supposedly this guy he shot is, or should I was was, a friend? If he was a close friend, how do you apologize for something like that? The apology in college would be something like, “ohhhhh shit dude, fuck man, I’m soo sorry….want to grab another beer sometime? It’s totally my bad man.” The apology in the Adult World would be, “I’m terribly sorry for this tragic accident that should have been prevented by looking where I was pointing my gun when I fired it. I’ll pay for your medical bills.”
I wish I were a high-ranking politician, if only because I could play paintball with live ammunition. Do you think they killed any quail that day? Was it like touch football that gets out of hand and you say to your buddy, “awww c’mon it can’t hurt that much. Walk it off man.” It’s doubtful Cheney’s hunting pal was able to do much of anything after his run-in with the VP’s buckshot.

I Hate People

I hate people, but I love individuals. This mantra of mine has been in development since I was an early teenager. The philosophy stems from a wide variety of personal experiences and interactions with the public. As I turn 22 this week I feel like my experiences are only going to grow with people and their consistent terrible performance.
People are mean. People are inconsiderate. People are selfish. People are assholes. People are polluting our beautiful world. People commit rape, murder, arson, and rape. People are insensitive. People are numb. Why? Indifference. It doesn’t affect you, why should you care?
Individuals are generous, caring, loving, respectful, kind, helpful, thoughtful, and wonderful. These certain people are kept as close as possible and make the terrible world we live in all the more tolerable. In certain cases they even turn our little microcosms into the most splendid places anywhere.
How do I know this universal truth? I have seen it in action. Through working retail. Through people watching. Through living. People suck, but the little things are what keep me coming back for more. Somewhere along the way, out of nowhere an unexpected individual makes my mental burden light as a feather. These are the types of individuals that go unnoticed by people. People just want, want, want. What they need is a swift kick in the ass. Except, the individuals who are above that, and this fact is what makes them an individual and not one of the flock.
In the F&M community that we hold so dear I would consider there to be very few individuals. You can never know all of them and most likely they will go unnoticed. When I left high school I was desperate to leave the society of cliques. I had heard of this great place called College where people are free to choose who they spend their time with. Walk in different circles, start new, grow, develop, change and mature. Unfortunately, I have come to conclude that most need more than four years to go through this process, and some will need a lifetime.
What makes me superior? Nothing. But I do know that it is a personal goal to be one of these individuals that gives more than he takes. I’m not the Dali Llama with the flowing robes, the grace…. The miracles I hope to perform in my lifetime are ones that are on an individual basis. People are content just to be self-serving and make themselves happy. This is okay to an extent. Isn’t it more rewarding to make others happy and think of someone else for a change? Think for a moment, if people in the world worried about making others happy. They wouldn’t have to worry about making themselves happy because they’d have so many others already looking out for them.
I realize this holier-than-thou attitude may come off as brash, mean, or immature but it doesn’t come without firsthand experience. How many times has a door been shut in your face that could just as easily been held. How many times has someone said, “just do whatever, I’m on the cell.” How many times do you buy some underage punk beer so that you can get on their good side and meet his or her roommate? How many times a day do you think about how your actions make someone else feel?
Often people make decisions that end up hurting an individual. These individuals pour their being into making other people happy. Individuals are the ones that end up getting hurt, not the other thoughtless people. This sucks. If people took the time to step back, analyze their actions and think about an individual this scenario wouldn’t happen. But because people are so self-consumed conflict and contention are the end result.
Maybe you think I’m an asshole, maybe you think I’m the greatest thing since low-carb beer, sliced bread, the wheel, and obsessively flavored soda combined. Either way, I’m gonna keep trying to make you happy until I’m either too tired or too cynical to keep trying. If you want to give then give, but do it for them, not for you. Be an individual. Don’t fall into the crowd of people. And finally, that golden rule we learned in kindergarten just seems to ring so very true: Do unto others, as you would hope they’d do unto you.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Worst/Best Job Ever

For one sparkling, muggy, Northern Virginia summer I had a cushy summer job. The summer did not start out this way. I began by working at my local Target where my starting pay was 50 cents less than my younger sister (with no job experience) at CVS. Managers, that had the mental capacities of chimpanzees, told me to “straighten up my lane” or other such bullshit things that made it appear like I was doing work. One day when the store opened I brought along a book to read during down time. There was a ton of down time in Target at 9am on a Tuesday. But, alas I was scolded for reading when there was no one in the store and that I “should get back to work.” This was pretty much the last straw.
The following week, still working at Target, I had gotten another job working for the homeowners’ association in my town. This association picks up trash from dumpsters at public pool, does minor construction on pathways, cleans tennis courts, and cuts grass along medians and streets. Before starting at this new job full time I needed to muster up the courage to quit Target. This courage came in the form of a phone call from my best friend Dan. Dan called asking me to go with him to see the third installment of the American Pie trilogy. Now, I loved American Pie as much as the next sexually awkward teenager, but quitting my job to go see the third seemed to be asking a bit much.
On the other hand, Dan is very persuasive. All he had to do to convince me of going was to offer me a free ticket and some candy. Yes, I will quit any job for a movie so long as you pay for me and buy me Sour Patch Kids at the theatre.
My job at Reston Association (RA) started out consisting of me being at work by 7:30am (which I despised) and taking “orders” from a crack-pot middle-aged gentleman that didn’t like hearing he was wrong and doing minor/light construction around town. Most of what we did on a day-to-day basis was “backfilling.” This basically meant shoveling dirt from a dump truck next to a pre-existing path so that grass could grow closer to the path and there would be less chances of sprained ankles from possibly falling of the paths. This job sucked. I became very well adept at shoveling, mixing cement, driving large trucks with larger blind spots, and digging holes for posts. Work could only get easier. Thankfully it did when one of my best friends (working in a different “department”) had a run-in with a large yellow cement post at the drive-thru of Taco Bell. He left a large dent in the driver’s side rear quarter panel and was not allowed to drive the rest of the summer. He and I switched jobs, which he had been raving about the whole summer.
This new job was the zenith of any summer job I will or ever had. I was responsible for cleaning and sweeping our two sets of pseudo-clay tennis courts in town. I got to ride these cool tractors with brooms attached to their backs and blow leaves. The catch came in the fact that my new boss was very trusting and good-natured. I would get to work around the same time, tell him what I planned to do and went on my merry way. I cleaned both sets of courts, that took about 90 minutes, and I then proceeded to go back to my house. At my house I lied down on my couch and watched some early morning news and eventually fell asleep from around 9:30 till about lunchtime. My mom would come home from her part-time job and ask if I was supposed to be working, and I explained that I was “working.” I’d eat lunch with my mom, and then hop back into the company truck and drive around for the remainder of the day listening to the radio. All this while getting paid a hefty $9/hr. for doing not a whole lot.

Super Bowl XL

This past Sunday Super Bowl XL took place in Detroit between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. Overall, the game sucked. There was one great play by the Steelers that led to the final score of 21-10 and the Steelers’ victory. I should have been able to predict this outcome more readily. My high school mascot was the Seahawk too, and we never won any important game. Our guys’ basketball team made it to the Virginia State Finals two of my four years in school, and lost both times in overtime. The mascot of a Seahawk was doomed from the beginning.
In my apartment there was a loud Super Bowl party happening without me. My roommate invited over numerous people to partake in mountains of pizza, buffalo wings, chips, dip, and brownies. Again, I should not have been surprised by the overwhelming amount of food. My roommate has no clue about how much food is sufficient for a human being to eat in one sitting, or one week for that matter. This is the same roommate that had never been grocery shopping for actual sustaining food prior to his senior year in college. So, I guess it was only natural that one would think that eight people could consume eight pizzas. The company was not the offensive line of a football team. On the contrary, the company was made up of a few skinny guys and some girls that would have rather had granola than pizza.
It is a shame that I could not fully enjoy the game in the same gluttonous manner. Unfortunately, I had to complete massive amounts of schoolwork. I was left to sit in front of a non-HDTV with my laptop blocking half of the screen writing an essay. I kept thinking I might miss something great in the game or a hysterical commercial, but alas the entire experience was lackluster. The commercials were not that funny, nor worth millions of dollars. The game was sloppy with turnover after turnover. And the Rolling Stones looked like they would disintegrate if push came to shove.
The halftime show featuring the Rolling Stones was such a joke. It was like watching the Rolling Stones do really bad karaoke of their own songs. I am usually a proponent of musicians changing their songs during a live show to demonstrate they actually have talent, but in the case of the Rolling Stones they sounded old (because they are), tired (because they probably were), and incredibly flat. In any case, I would have much preferred to see a terrible American Idol winner lip-sync a shitty pop song than one of the greatest rock ‘n roll bands butcher their own.
I was not even sad this year that I missed the seemingly endless pre-game analysis. Over the past few years these pre-game shows have become more and more absurd. They feel the need to beat a subject to a pulp, grind the pulp in a blender, pour it into a destroyed paper cup and then talk about how they have beaten said subject into such a mutilated pulp. This stuff gets old pretty quick. The NFL made this gerrymandering process even worse a few years ago when they decided that there should be two weeks before the Super Bowl instead of the usual single week. The playoffs are going along at a nice steady pace and then right before the climax they say, “nope, sorry, one more week” and drag it out.

Out of Class

At home in my family’s not-so vast VHS collection rests proof that I sang before President Bush. The first “shrub,” not the current weed. This came about when I was in first grade minding my own arithmetic exercises. The headmaster of my private Jewish Day School requested my presence in the hallway. Everyone in the class “oooohed” and “aaaaahed” as they thought I was in some “deep trouble.” I rose from my desk and entered the hallway with trepidation. Once in the hallway, Rabbi Taff and I walked to his office. If I remember correctly there were a couple other kids waiting there already. Most of these other kids were older and not at all familiar except for a couple boys that were better than me at dodge ball. By the 6th grade I was generally considered the best dodgeballer in the school. I also was the clean-up kicker for any kickball game. My prepubescent athletic career aside, Rabbi Taff would go on to explain that our small Northern Virginia school had been asked to sing in the building adjacent to the White House for Chanukah. I had been chosen for this makeshift choir that turned out to be quite an honor.
This opportunity did not really have an impact on me in first grade. I thought it was cooler that I was selected and not any other kids from my class, than the whole concept of being a few feet from the President. Performing for the President was much lower on my list. I do not recall if my parents were there to see it happen. My mom probably was, but since my dad was still in the Navy, and working at the Pentagon, he was probably not around.
Our little choir was driven into Washington, D.C. by parents and were escorted to where we would perform. The whole performance did not last much longer than 5-10 minutes. We sang typical Chanukah songs that have since been made fun of by the likes of SNL and others. When the songs were over the President came over to us and congratulated the group. He seemed genuinely impressed.
The VHS tape sits in a plain black box adorned with a label printed on a dot-matrix. These details alone tell the age of this childhood experience. I once took the tape out to re-live my first grade glory only to find that it was just weird to see myself at a single digit age without a care in the world. It’s funny to think that at my tender age there was greater glory in being a kick-ass dodgeball player than being called out of class to sing for, and meet the President. Looking back, it was one of the cooler things that I got to experience during my formative years. I do not think I could have possibly grasped the uniqueness at such a young age. Today, I would not like to meet our current President for fear of bringing a red rubber ball and pegging it at “W” and yelling, “You’re OUT!”