Oct 13, 2011
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.
Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
Oct 11, 2011
Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God. He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.
This is a short video clip of our church’s band leading everyone in Come Thou Fount this past Saturday, October 8, in the Classic Center at the LoveLife Conference. Check back here for more photos of the event soon.
Oct 8, 2011
I like David Bazan. I know I’ve said that before. Here’s a video from Austin City Limits Satellite Sets of one of my favorite songs off of Strange Negotiations, “Eating Paper." I love the broken down trio sound and feel. And the bridge through the following verse is one of my favorite parts of any song right now. Period.
Oct 6, 2011
(Random, Favorite Lyrics)
You rest stops in the midnight are like friends I’ve worn to bone.
– Frontier Ruckus, “The Latter Days”
Simple math: the truth cannot be fractioned.
– Manchester Orchestra, “Simple Math”
She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand, like a lizard on a window pane.
– The Beatles, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”
I guess the land of the living ain’t no place for a heartbroken zombie like me.
– Brad Paisley, “Everybody’s Here”
And I heard from the hills a band was made. And will I be invited to the sound?
– Sufjan Stevens, “All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands”
Oct 4, 2011
Most people would agree on this point: music can calm the soul. I know it can calm mine. I have a few go-to albums for situations when I need to calm down and spit out the poison that threatens to erupt from within. Each album has its own specific time to be used. I listen to one in the car with the windows down, blaring loudly and buzzing my crappy speakers, yelling along with the growls. Another, I sit in my rocking chair and look in the mirror as the sonic waves pass through me. And when things are desperately bad, I have another album and a separate playlist to which I listen through my headphones late at night. These songs relax me and remind me that everything’s alright.
Whether you believe the Bible to be the Word of God, a collection of nice stories, or complete garbage, this story from 1 Samuel in the Old Testament is breathtaking. David, before he became king, was a shepherd/warrior/musician. The king at the time, Saul, had a spirit which would fall upon him at times and torment him, or as a modern translation puts it, Saul struggled with depression. David worked for Saul, and was an excellent harp player. When things got particularly difficult for Saul, David would play for him, and he would calm.
“After that, whenever the bad depression from God tormented Saul, David got out his harp and played. That would calm Saul down, and he would feel better as the moodiness lifted.” – 1 Samuel 16:23 (The Message)
I can’t think of a more beautiful use of an instrument.
(Painting is David Playing the Harp to Saul by Rembrandt.)
Oct 2, 2011
I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.
Sep 30, 2011
Parenting is hard. Insightful, right? From day one, parents have to tackle question after question. What baby food should we use? What school should our child attend? Will our child play music or sports? Does it have to be one or the other? I’ve had this exact conversation with many people over the years. Whether as a hypothetical, future issue, or a legitimate, immediate question, my opinion is the same. Why can’t it be both?
In high school, I lettered in football and in orchestra. I started at Offensive Tackle and was the first chair bassist. This isn’t to boast: obviously, I put a lot of time into both endeavors. I believe that both arenas greatly benefit those who participate in them.
According to study, music improves brain function. In my experience, it improves my analytical mind, specifically when I’m dealing with music theory. I can also feel my creativity spike as I play instruments. And playing sports keeps me in shape (duh). Additionally, I made some great friends in high school on the football team. I keep in touch with a few of them to this day.
Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t play football, but he believed that being a well rounded person was a necessity. From a social aspect, having a foot in multiple social circles was one of the best things that could have happened to me as a child and an adolescent. It has helped me relate to people throughout my life. You like playing basketball? Let’s shoot some hoops. You play piano? Wanna have a jam session?
So, back to my point. I believe children should grow up playing an instrument and playing sports. I did both, I do both today, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sep 27, 2011
(Random, Favorite Lyrics)
Die with the lights off; I heard that doesn’t hurt as much.
– The Envy Corps, “Sylvia (the Beekeeper)”
I met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota.
– Johnny Cash, “Big River”
Thanks in part to Mother Nature, it will never rain again. It should do wonders for the GNP.
– Pedro the Lion, “Indian Summer”
I hate myself for loving you.
– Joan Jett, “I Hate Myself For Loving You”
Caught up in the formula, that wealth is power and sex is love. It’s a lie from hell and we jump in.
– Jon Black, “My Days Are Numbered”
Sep 25, 2011
I’m going to sit here and suffer from an acute attack of good taste.
NPR Jazz DJ
Sep 22, 2011
I know I may well lose some street cred here. But I don’t care. I also know I’m late to the game about this. But I’m incredibly excited: Danny Elfman and T-Bone Burnett are collaborating to create the soundtrack for the film version of The Hunger Games. Despite the fact that I am not a teenage girl, I love The Hunger Games trilogy. And Elfman and Burnett are film score legends. What’s not to love?
Danny Elfman, famous for soundtracking Spider-Man, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Men In Black, and others, is possibly most revered for writing the score to Tim Burton’s Batman. Comic book inconsistencies aside, 1989’s Batman, and Elfman’s music, transformed the franchise from the annoying Adam West “Ka-Pow!” version to the dark, disturbed movies we have today. One only needs to watch and listen to the first five minutes of the 1989 film to hear the change. This movie is not going to be West’s cheese-fest. Danny Elfman deserves that credit. His scores define their films, and not the other way around.
I mentioned T-Bone Burnett in a previous post, discussing his signature Americana sound. He’s responsible for the film scores of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Walk The Line, and Crazy Heart. If you’re familiar with any of those, you can instantly identify Burnett’s sound in your head. Like Elfman, his soundtracks don’t add to their films, the films add to the soundtracks. His movies are famous for their music. I personally own two of these albums, and know many others who have them as well. Burnett’s film soundtracks can stand up on their own as albums.
What will happen when these two men work together? I don’t know, but I’m excited about it. Will it be some unique combination of dark orchestral melodies and Americana electric guitar? We’ll find out on March 23, 2012. I also believe Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games’ protagonist) to be in the same heroine category as Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley. Between Danny Elfman, T-Bone Burnett, and Katniss, I’ll be getting to the theater around 11:30 pm on March 22, 2012.
Sep 12, 2011
Sep 9, 2011
There’s a popular country song from a few years ago called “I Go Back.” If you haven’t heard it, consider yourself lucky. However, that song talks about musical nostalgia: the idea that hearing a song can instantaneously remind the listener of another time he or she heard the song. While I obviously don’t like the song, I like the idea it brings up. It happens to me all the time.
For example, Jon Black. If you haven’t you heard of Jon Black, you really should check him out. This is his website: www.whoisjonblack.com. But. Musical nostalgia. Right. I’ve relistened to his album Goodbye Golden Age a few times over the past couple weeks. I absolutely love it. His gritty voice meshes perfectly with his strong songwriting and instrumentation. But this is not an album review.
The first time I listened to Goodbye Golden Age, I was still a college student. It was autumn, and I was kinda, sorta dating a blonde chick. The weather had finally cooled off after the typically long Georgia summer, and my first round of exams was just around the corner. As per my usual study routine, I grabbed my laptop, threw on my hoodie, and plugged in my headphones. As my excitement for the cool weather began to build, I unplugged my headphones and opened the front and back doors in my apartment to created a perfect autumnal cross breeze. I jumped back to my study station at the kitchen table and again plugged in my headphones. As the breeze began to change the page in my textbook, I opened my iTunes and turned on Jon Black for the first time. The music blew me away. I listened to Goodbye Golden Age on repeat that night, and continued to listen to it through the rest of that fall and into the winter.
As I write this, the weather has finally cooled off after another Georgia summer. I listened to Goodbye again the other night in my car with the windows down. It was high 60s or low 70s outside. My hair, getting maybe a little too long, blew in my face. I immediately remembered that autumn– and that night spent studying– like it was yesterday. That’s why I love music. Nothing else has the power to bring me back to such a specific moment in time. Nothing else can flood me with happy memories in an instant.
I could rattle off numerous examples of other songs, albums, or artists who take me back to a specific time and place, but I think you get my point. That was a great season in my life, despite the fact that that blonde ended it later and broke my heart. Women may come and go, but I’ll always be able to plug in my headphones and enjoy a good melody, a cool breeze, and memories that accompany them.
Sep 5, 2011
The unfortunate thing about Lynyrd Skynyrd is that people think you’re a redneck if you like them. I am not a redneck. I like Lynyrd Skynyrd and I am not a redneck.
Another unfortunate thing about Lynyrd Skynyrd is that people only know “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird." They miss great tracks like this: "I Ain’t the One." Enjoy!
Aug 31, 2011
Ok, I’m going to go ahead and get all the Big Lebowski, Rooster Cogburn, and Bad Blake references out of the way first. I’m drinking a White Russian, hunting down Tom Cheney, and writing songs for Tommy Sweet all while I write this. None or one of those may actually be true, but I digress. If you haven’t figured out what I’m trying to say yet, Jeff Bridges has released an album. And it’s made the top 10 of Billboard’s Country, Folk, and Rock charts. And you know what? I like it. It’s not amazing, but it’s certainly worth a listen. Drawing from jazz, throwback country, folk, and blues, his self-titled album tickles the ear in the mood for a mellow affair. Yeah. It tickles.
Jeff Bridges opens with the album’s single, “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do.” The Americana-style tone and delay effect on the electric guitar instantly tells the listener that T-Bone Burnett produced Bridges’ album. Burnett, who has produced artists such as The Wallflowers, Kris Kristofferson, and more recently Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s Americana collaboration, has his finger prints all over the album. While some critics have said there’s too much low end, too much bass, I, as a bassist myself, love it. Go figure. The second track, “Falling Short,” features an upright bass, and its tone perfectly fills the vacancies left by the sparse lead guitar, even sounding like a jazz bassline at points. Bridges himself wrote this one, and the track is subtly dark. The lyricist questions himself throughout the song. Wondering what he could have done differently, if anything, and searching for meaning, “In my wondering, do I answer why I’m alive?”
Perhaps my favorite song on Jeff Bridges lies in wait a few minutes later. “Blue Car,” which was written by folk musician Greg Brown, is a tantalizingly simple 12-bar blues. The track starts skeletal and then adds instruments around the bare bones simplicity to explode into an ornate, fully developed depressed, anti-love complaint. The first verse features only drums, piano, and vocals. Then each verse adds an instrument, building to a B.B. King-style solo in the middle. The song climaxes with Bridges proclaiming, “I will never fall in love again.” Ending the album is a seemingly schizophrenic piece called “The Quest.” It starts with one of my pet peeves: a sports-related metaphor in song. But. It redeems itself with a chorus that states, “I’m done doing nothing, and weary of rest.” And the way Bridges’ smokey voice sounds as he sings the loose alliteration tickles the listener’s ear. That’s right. Tickles.
The worst thing about the album is the song writing. What bothers me is not that the songs are bad, they’re not, but that the artist himself did not write them all. Jeff Bridges only wrote 2 of the songs himself and co-wrote another. It’s hard to fully digest lyrics when they weren’t all written by the artist. The instrumentation and mix is great. I also love Bridges’ voice. It sounds as if he could have been in a recliner as he recorded the vocal tracks. They’re not lazy; they’re extremely confident. He’s having a good time singing, meandering along, and it comes across in the recording. But still, he didn’t write the songs himself, and that loses points in my book.
Overall, I really do like Jeff Bridges. I also like Jeff Bridges. (You see what I did there?) The album is definitely worth a listen. As fall approaches, sit out on your porch in a rocking chair, sipping on your favorite libation, and put on this album. Preferably around dusk. I think you’ll like it. Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like, uh, my opinion, man. Couldn’t leave that one out…
Aug 27, 2011
It is silent music, the night sky. God does well to live atop them.
Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts
Aug 25, 2011
I’ve mentioned Bach in the past, and I think he’d be proud of this video. It’s incredible.
Aug 22, 2011
I love music! But if you ever force me to listen to these songs with you, I cannot be held responsible for what happens. (Disclaimer: There are a lot of terrible songs out there, but many are obviously awful. These are the songs that I cannot stand and want you to know that I despise them, because they may not immediately come to your mind when you think of hated songs.)
5. “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick
Doesn’t the title speak for itself? This song slides onto my most hated list because the lyricist makes me want to kill him. Deal with your stuff, dude. And if you can’t deal with it, make it into a depressing song. I love depressing music! Write a song about how you’ll end up alone with no one to keep you company except your bottle of bourbon. I’d listen to that. But this song tries to be happy in its misery. Who wants that?
4. “Redneck Woman” by Gretchen Wilson
Come on. Is this a real song? Or did Weird Al write this? This isn’t an anti-country music vendetta either. But, as I’ve written before, I want songs with some meaning. Johnny Cash wrote quite a few of those and he was the godfather of country. Gretchen, if you’re going to sing like you sing, I already know everything that you’re telling me in your song. You’re a redneck; thanks for reminding me.
3. “Don’t Wanna Go Home” by Jason DeRulo
Many, many, many hip-hop songs these days are borrowing lyrics from older songs. Some do it creatively, like the Beastie Boys quoting Bob Dylan on their newest album. This song takes its chorus from a song about bananas, which I’m pretty sure I was introduced to on Reading Rainbow with the Star Trek guy. I don’t know what else to say, except that if I ever sample a lyric from a Reading Rainbow song, you’re welcome to stab me.
2. “Wheels” by Foo Fighters
My reason for hating this one is unlike my reason for hating these others. Lyrically, it’s not terrible, and I like the Foo Fighters. But this song is sooo boring…. For you music nerds, the progression is 4-1-6-5 the ENTIRE TIME. For you non music nerds, do you want to learn a Foo Fighters song? Learn a D chord, an A chord, an F#m chord, and an E chord. Congratulations. You know “Wheels.”
1. “Hey Soul Sister” by Train
Boring as the chord progression is, that’s not the reason I hate this song. When you start a song saying the word “Hey” three times in a row, I know the lyrics are going to leave something to be desired. And what happened to Train of the 90s? “Meet Virginia” was playfully, subtly dark. This song is grasping at straws. And the chorus? I can hear Happy Gilmore saying, “I think I just killed the meesta, meesta lady.” I wish you had killed this song, Happy.
Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem”: If have you to sing about listening to other songs, something’s wrong. Eminem’s “My Name Is”: How could this song be more annoying? He can be such a smooth rapper, but this song makes me crave arsenic. “Friday” by Rebecca Black: Who am I kidding? I love this song because of the parody videos it has inspired.
Aug 18, 2011
Over the last few years, I’ve become a huge fan of overtly depressing music. I should take that back. I love good music: music that makes me think, music that makes me appreciate life. And so much depressing music, gut-wrenching though it is, does just that. David Bazan’s newest album, Strange Negotiations, and Manchester Orchestra’s latest release, Simple Math, seemingly discuss two sides of the same coin, but leave it open for debate where their opinions lie.
Full disclosure: It’s fitting that my first post on the interwebs would be about these two albums. Besides some brief forays into free jazz and hip-hop, Bazan and Manchester are the only artists to whom I’ve listened in the past few months. Full disclosure part 2: I straight up did not like Strange Negotiations when I first listened to it. I really, really wanted to like it, but the first five or so times I went through it, nothing grabbed hold of me. Then I got Simple Math, and was hooked on the first pass. For that reason, these two albums have become interconnected in my mind. One initially disappointed, while the other exceeded expectations. As I write this, months later, however, I love both albums equally.
I love David Bazan. And his music. His nationwide “Living Room Tours” are a refreshing change of pace to dingy club shows, and I was fortunate enough to host one at my house. While it was one of the more depressing nights of my life, musically, it could not have been a more perfect night. My heart broke for him as he discussed 2009’s Curse Your Branches, which he describes as his “break-up” with Christianity, but my ears tingled as his distinctive voice filled the room with melancholy. While Branches used five or even six parts to create a (dare I say) catchy, fun sound at times, Strange Negotiations breaks everything down to fit a three piece band, with a couple exceptions adding a second guitar part, resulting in a gritty, dirty sound. On the first few listens, I did not like that. I wanted Curse Your Branches Part II. But as I began to digest the songs and the album as a whole, I grew to love it. Whereas Branches’ upbeat melodies and instrumentations sometimes covered up the disheartened messages, creating a wonderful dichotomy, Negotiations’ bitter lyrics and downtrodden sounds complement each other in their sameness. Bazan makes no bones about his sadness, as he sings, “By now you probably have noticed, and I’m so relieved.”
Opening with a simple drum count, “Wolves at the Door” gives the thesis of David Bazan’s latest release, in less coarse terms than he put it: I’m frustrated with people around me, but I’ll do my best to love them. While Curse Your Branches dwelt on the vertical relationship in this life, between God and himself, Strange Negotiations examines relationships on the horizontal plane: who people are, and why they do what they do. “People” walks the listener through Bazan’s opinion of those around him, as his life has progressed. From childhood innocence, believing that people are good, willing and wanting to reach out to those in need, to adulthood, coming to grips with the fact that people are selfish and cold. The album’s title track is hauntingly simple. Besides a pad effect that comes and goes, it’s just Bazan’s voice and acoustic guitar, electric bass, and drums. And at times, it’s mostly vocals over bass and drums. His painfully emotive lyrics in “Strange Negotiations” seem to point to God, the one track that focuses on a vertical and not a horizontal relationship. The songwriter can’t quite come to grips with simple exchange of bad for good that sums up Christianity, and tries “looking for a way around” this idea. These negotiations don’t make sense, with which I agree, but Bazan rejects the idea because he can’t get his head around it. The final cut on the LP drives home the point that he tries to make the entire time, that no matter what comes or why people do what they do, he’s going to do his best to love. If “Wolves at the Door” voices frustration with people, “Won’t Let Go” reaffirms his commitment to love them; which, like it or not, sounds very Christian.
While David Bazan was simplifying, Manchester Orchestra was embellishing. Their third full length album, Simple Math, draws upon themes they’ve discussed in the past, and follows those thoughts through to their conclusions. Andy Hull, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, says, “This record is two dueling conversations between me and my wife, and me and my God.” It’s those conversations that Hull dives into and discusses throughout the album. Compared with 2006’s I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child and 2009’s Mean Everything to Nothing, Simple Math has a much more in depth instrumentation. The earlier records had some backing tracks and added instruments, but were mainly a five piece band, on the recordings just as in live settings. But Math has garnishments unheard of in the earlier albums: elaborate string parts, children’s choirs, Phil Spector-ized wall-of-sound backdrops.
Produced by Dan Hannon, Manchester Orchestra channels Spector, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame producer, throughout much of the album. Starting with “Deer” as nice intro piece, Simple Math picks up quickly with “Mighty.” Dealing with Andy Hull’s relationship with God, he sings a very Bazanian line, “Lucky if I had escaped you, pearl gates and a street made of gold.” As Bazan wanted to avoid his strange negotiations, it seems that Hull wants to avoid any contact whatsoever with the Almighty. This track comes to a climax with an elaborate string part, echoing Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” then has an outro section in a different time signature, something Manchester’s done since their beginning. As the album steam rolls ahead, the listener gets to “Virgin,” with the aforementioned kid’s choir. With Hannon’s own children singing the haunting fact that “it’s never gonna be the same,”  Hull mourns with and for his wife that he’s hurt their relationship and pleads that it’s not the end. As the album makes its way to the title track, Andy seems to come back to the fact that God is God no matter what he says or believes at the moment, “Simple math: the truth cannot be fractioned.” As the saying goes, there’s no escaping the truth, despite what he wishes in “Mighty.” Coming to grips with this fact, Hull goes on in “Apprehension” and “Leaky Breaks” to look at himself and how to mend the relationships with those around him, not only his wife, but also friends and family. Knowing that the truth is the truth no matter what anyone says is a good place to start.
Both David Bazan and Andy Hull pour their souls into their lyrics and it shows. It doesn’t take long to have their songs grab your ears and break your hearts. Reader/Listener beware: These albums are both phenomenal. But you must ration your listens to avoid falling into a deep depression. Mix in some Bach piano or cello works and watch some Bill Murray comedies (I’d recommend Groundhog Day or Quick Change) and you’ll be ok.