Rube Waddell – Mohandas (10 plays)
A good Tom Waits-ish group that nobody’s ever heard of from SF.
Gastr Del Sol – our exquisite replica of ''eternity'' (19 plays)
Why I Like (Some) Music
The majority of our school years were spent learning how to “think critically.” We read a lot of classic novels and poetry. We learned all about famous historical events. Each new piece of information was only resolved when we could answer the eternal question:
“What does it mean?”
I never took music classes in school, but I was constantly listening to music. I was the kid walking around with big, goofy headphones on all day blasting Kid A into my ears about twice as loud as I probably should have. For all the regurgitation of plot analyses and boring motif summaries that I had to do for my high school classes (really, what was that green light in Gatsby all about?), it never occurred to me that I could apply the same thought processes to music.
In hindsight, it wouldn’t have made sense to anyways. “What does it mean?” has no explicit or obvious answer for a piece of music. Analysis of rhythm, melody, harmony, and emotion in music are far too subjective to come to any conclusive idea of the thematic content of a piece, particularly a complex one. A more appropriate question would have been “why do I like this?”. That question came to me fairly early on. In my honeymoon period with music, when I was maybe 13 or 14, I found myself hearing a song on the radio and subsequently wanting to hear it again. Something about those songs (memorable examples were Green Day’s “Brain Stew” and Radiohead’s “Creep”) caught my ear and I just had to hear them again.
And, eventually, not again. After a series of brief love-affairs with catchy radio hits, I realized that the point of diminishing returns for me always was reached when I “figured out the song”. I don’t mean that I learned all of the lyrics or figured out the chord progression or how to play the song on guitar. What I mean is that I was able to figure out whatever it is that I liked about the song. In the case of Green Day, I liked the sound of the guitars, timbrally, and I liked the way that the drums came in and established a really strong backbeat. As I listened to those songs more and more, it became increasingly easier to find things that I liked in the songs. The problem occurred when I ran out of things to like. Sure, “Creep” and “Brain Stew” were catchy, but they only offered so much. I found it increasingly difficult to connect with the songs over a period of months and I eventually realized that these songs lacked a timelessness that I’ve sought in music since then.
I like music because of its high level of intrinsic abstractness. The best music, in my mind, should provide something new for you to discover and enjoy every time that you hear it. I’m still hearing new things every time I listen to records like Loveless or Revolver, and, certainly, one could argue that those albums have stood the test of time. Music should be enjoyed, but it should also be actively listened to by a critical listener. You should always ask yourself “why do I like this?”.
Bill Frisell – Farmer (9 plays)
I love that you can hear Frisell wheezing in the background halfway through this.
Pavement – Gold Soundz (0 plays)
Three and a half weeks of R&R in the New Zealand summer coming to an end in a few days. So long to the Shire.
Bill Frisell – Arkansas [Part 1] (19 plays)
The arrangement on this tune is absolutely stunning. Every time I hear a Frisell tune with a folk-ish vibe, it reminds me how much I want to purchase a pedal steel. Cry about it.
“I’m 23 and I just started listening to Led Zeppelin.”
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about recording music and guitar playing. I imagine that almost any musician working on studio recordings of his or her own music (that is, music that they’ve written and “have a stake in”, not just work as a sideman) goes through periods of intense listening. Ever since I started playing guitar when I was about 16, way before I ever made my first recordings, I noticed that the way that I listened to music fundamentally changed. Suddenly, I could hear all of these intricate details in the playing that were invisible or unknown to me before. I could visualize the musicians playing the music in a recording, particularly if there were any guitar parts. I was always an avid listener of music before I actually played any of it myself, but becoming a “musician” helped me to sharpen my listening skills.
Anyways, the progression of my musical taste was pretty standard fare: I grew up listening to the Beatles and other “parent rock” and eventually graduated to bands like Radiohead and Nirvana after a series of brief-but-fruitful trysts with some generic 90s radio-rock bands. Actually, Radiohead was really the band that started me on my musical journey. I have fleeting memories of listening to Magical Mystery Tour and Abbey Road on road trips with my dad, but my most formative musical moments were probably the first time that I heard Kid A and Amnesiac. Interestingly, those two albums (see my earlier post for more about them) feature very little guitar!
The point that I’m getting at here is that I never aspired to be a guitar player; certainly not in the conventional sense. I was never interested in classic “guitar bands” like Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. When I started playing the guitar, I would read online about various “classic” recordings and electric guitar tones. But when I heard a song like “Black Dog” or “Time”, the guitars sounded generic to my ears. I yearned for unusual sounds and later gravitated toward bands like My Bloody Valentine and Don Caballero, who, in my mind, were pushing the boundaries of what a guitar could sound like.
Let me say right now that I don’t think that I was wrong about any of those bands. Many of those inspirational recordings are still dear to me and there’s certainly no getting around saying that Kevin Shields is one helluva unique guitar player. But still, the more that I think about the sounds of the electric guitar, the more impressed I become with guitarists like Jimmy Page, George Harrison, and Jimi Hendrix. I think that the mainstream emphasis on these figures as “guitar gods” really detracts from their contributions as musicians (particularly Page and Hendrix; Harrison was great, but didn’t have as much input on his guitar sound as the self-engineered Page and Hendrix did). All three of these guitarists were sloppy. Yes. Sloppy. Harrison could barely play a lot of his early Beatles solos, Page struggles with the syncopated rhythms in songs like “Black Dog” or “Over The Hills and Far Away”, and Hendrix had plenty of flub (“grace”) notes in his solos. But they’re all incredible anyways! The notes that they chose to play worked well and the way that they played them was honest and true, and the mistakes are part of that.
The thing that just blows me away about Jimmy Page is that the Zeppelin records all just sound so fucking good, even when they shouldn’t. When you listen to Page’s guitar tone on a song like “Houses of The Holy”, it’s terrible! It’s harsh and thin and weirdly metallic, but as soon as the bass and drums kick in, it makes sense. Not just that, it totally makes the song. That crap guitar tone is one of the reasons that I keep coming back to that recording. The more that I listen to these Zeppelin records, the more that I realize that every fucking song is totally unique. You never hear the same guitar tone twice. Even on Led Zeppelin II, which is considered by most reviewers to be one of their more straight-forward blues records, there is just so much variety from song to song. The production is amazing, from “Whole Lotta Love” to “Ramble On”. I’m 23 and I just started listening to Led Zeppelin. Better late than never.
Sholi – Out of orbit (9 plays)
Jon Bafus plays drums on this release from former-UCD students. I got to play with Jon’s current musical endeavor, Gentleman Surfer, last week and it was a blast. The dude shreds and the groove on the Sholi track above is killer.
Rural – Beat (demo) (19 plays)
Time for another self-indulgent post. This one is really important, guys! My drummer Kevin and I are trying to raise funds to record again. If you can help at all (even if it’s just reposting this), it’d be enormously appreciated!!
Our kickstarter can be found here:
Above is a rough demo of one of the songs from the new record.
American Analog Set – Thin Fingers (51 plays)
Ryan Harper – Miro's Balloon (49 plays)
My friend Ryan makes some really good music that falls somewhere between Jon Brion/Yann Tiersen-esque film music and Harry Nilsson or something like that.
Radiohead – Separator (29 plays)
I have this ongoing discussion with some music friends of mine about whether Phil Selway (of Radiohead) is a complete genius or a really boring drummer. Generally, I tend to lean towards the former, with the caveat that a large part of Selway’s sound (and Radiohead’s sound as a group, while we’re at it) can be attributed to Nigel Godrich, producer/engineer extraordinaire for Radiohead as well as some other great groups (the first to come to mind would be The Beta Band).
Anyways, there’s no getting around that I am a huge Radiohead fan. When I was in high school, I would listen to Kid A/Amnesiac* six or seven times a day! After Hail To The Thief, I figured Radiohead were going downhill. In my mind, HTTF was just a recapitulation (or recontextualization) of ideas used on the aforementioned albums and OK Computer. When In Rainbows came out, I wasn’t that impressed, either. But after sitting on the record for a few months, it kind of clicked with me and now it’s one of my favorite albums. Since the release of The King Of Limbs, I’ve tried in vain to reach that point where the album would click with me. There are definitely a few tracks that pique my interest, but mostly it sounds like jammy versions of old songs (“Codex” reminds me of a lazier “Pyramid Song” combined with “Videotape”; “Little By Little” uses a lot of ideas reminiscent of “In Limbo” and “Dollars & Cents”). Frankly, the album is just kind of boring. The production is stellar, as usual, and the only thing that really sticks out to me on the record is the track above. “Separator” seems to me like a summing-up of and a return to the simple, minimalistic song structures of Kid A or Amnesiac. It’s interesting that the lyrics include a repeated phrase at the tail end of the song that goes “If you think this is over then you’re wrong”, because, to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last record that Radiohead makes. I really do feel like the band has dug themselves into a creative hole. If they do put something new out, let’s hope that it goes in some new directions!
* Some history: I consider Kid A and Amnesiac as one album. Radiohead tracked the material for both of these records during the same recording sessions. Unfortunately, their label (Capitol) didn’t think a 2-hour LP was a good idea (or maybe they just wanted to milk their cash cow), so they had the band split the record into two separate albums. It’s interesting to note that Capitol, in particular, has had a long history of messing with classic, timeless albums. In the 1960s, Capitol had a policy of having their artists include their most recent single on their records. Ever wonder why the hell “Sloop John B” is on Pet Sounds? It was the most recent single! So, even though it was completely out of place contextually with the rest of the Pet Sounds material, Capitol made the band stick it right in the middle of the record!
Another tidbit: Capitol was the U.S. distributor for The Beatles (George Martin’s Parlophone was the U.K. label). Capitol applied the same policies for their other artists to the Beatles’ repertoire, which severely fucked up the contiguity of the Beatles’ U.S./U.K. releases. Basically, Capitol would milk Beatles records by removing a few tracks from each album’s U.S. release (these would usually be Lennon songs; for instance, the U.S. release of Rubber Soul was missing “Nowhere Man” [no, I’m not joking]; the U.S. release of Revolver is missing “I’m Only Sleeping”, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, and “Dr. Robert”!) so that they could later be compiled and released as “new” Beatles material. The sad part is that it would sometimes take many months before these compilations would be released; Capitol enforced this policy so that they could have a continuous supply of new Beatles material to release, even when the band hadn’t actually been recording anything. The basic point that I’m making here is Capitol fucking sucks and they are one of primary reasons that I believe that record labels have no reason for existing (particularly in the digital age). I genuinely believe that it’s only a matter of time before the “record label” will be a thing of a past, be they indie or corporate.
The Beatles – Please Please Me (250 plays)
Best pop song about blowjobs ever, except for maybe this fantastic MBV track whose lyrics include something like “swallow, swallow love into my mouth. close the door, I want you more, you can crawl down, coming down”.
Dilute – Alphabet (41 plays)
I feel like I must have already written about this band/record in the early days of this blog, but I’m feeling too lazy to look back through my old posts.
Dilute was a band from Fremont, CA loosely associated with Rob Crow (Pinback), Hella (Dilute did a live split with Hella, although the fidelity of those recordings isn’t very good), and a bunch of other bands. After releasing Grape Blueprints Pour Spinach Olive Grape, singer Marty Anderson went on to do a bunch of albums as Okay. These are probably the closest thing sonically to new Dilute material, so check them out if you’re into the track above. Guitarist Ian Pellicci works as an engineer at Tiny Telephone and doing live sound for bands like Deerhoof and Dirty Projectors (I had the pleasure of working with Ian for the second half of the Moe Meguro record that I played guitar on last year). Ian’s brother Jay also engineers at Tiny, along with playing drums in 31Knots. I have no idea what the bassist from Dilute is up to.
Anyways, this record was one of my favorites in high school. There are a ton of bands that try to emulate this twinkly guitar interplay and songwriting on this album (e.g. Pretend, Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing, etc.; I could go on to name 30 bands that seem to be all the college hipster rage these days that probably listen to a lot of Dilute), but I don’t think any of them come close to making it as enjoyable to listen to as the Dilute folks did on this record. As far as local bands that never really made it, Dilute ranks way up there in my book. Check ‘em out!