Blissfully ignorant: Enjoying Music You Don’t Understand

I like music I can't understand better?

I like music I can’t understand better?

Over the past few years I have found myself, at first against my will, listening to music in languages I did not understand, mostly Spanish. Over time I started to understand the different sounds, for example Salsa vs. Bachata vs. Merengue and my wife would always translate the lyrics, whether I asked or not. Then a strange thing happened, I would listen to music in Spanish or Portuguese alone, without my spouse and translator around. In fact, when she is present now I am resistant to hearing what the lyrics mean, at least at first.

The reason for this is because not understanding the words allows me to listen differently. It allows me to listen to vocals as if they are instruments and turn off the analytic side of listening. It makes me to listen more actively and abstractly. I become more acutely aware of tone and subtle things I would have missed otherwise.

Here is a fairly new song that I like by Enrique Iglesias. It is Bachata, a dance a struggle with but a genre I really like, and I enjoy the mixture of vocals. My wife has told me what the song is about already, but I will not spoil the fun for y’all.

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Thanksgiving Songs?

Not me, exactly

Yeah, Yeah. This is a re-post. Sue me. I’m busy flying home to Maine to eat too much and fall asleep with toddlers bouncing around me.

 

As we move into the end of November, we approach one of the most complex, over-determined, and potentially disappointing times of the year. The holiday season. What other period packs three major holidays, constant excuses for indulgences of all kinds, and some of the most memorable and execrable music of the year into 45 days?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a total curmudgeon or a Grinch. (Well, I may be a little bit of a Grinch. But I am not a Scrooge.)  There are things I completely adore about the holiday season.  Reuniting with family and friends is nice (even if at times stressful). Eating and drinking too much is not hard for me. But there are a few things about this time of year that drive me crazy.

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What I’m Thankful For

I’m gonna be cheesey and repost an old blog from last year which reading gave me a real perspective on where I’m at. My brother and his family just landed in Boston after some weather worries so I will be able to see my much bigger nieces and nephew. My new job is going great and the second annual biggest show of the year is in three short days. It looks to be bigger than the last one with a lot more people involved from promotion to musicians and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds. Now if I can just spend more time on the blog in the coming months so my brother doesn’t hate me, all will be well in the world. Happy Thanksgiving from the Brothers J to all of you!

It’s that time of year again, when the turkeys and lame sweaters come out for a few weeks and everyone seems to generally get along better. It may be a facade but it feels alright and there’s nothing wrong with a little general happiness even if it is kind of fake and doesn’t last too long. I understand everyone has always walked around touting what they’re thankful and now with the onset of social networking, literally you can’t get on the internet without discovering what everyone you know is thankful for. I know it’s annoying but fuck it, I’m going to do it one more time. Here is what I am thankful for this holiday season. Please feel free comment on what you are thankful for or write it on your own blog.

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On the Radio (Flashback): Sixpence None the Richer

I was strolling around the mall in one of those department stores that is designed intentionally to make you get lost and distracted in the maze of perfume, jewelry and bright mirrors. I was trying to block out the usually bland and anesthetizing sound of whatever pop music was being pumped in through the distant ceiling speakers when the saccharine, drooling tones of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me” came on.

I don’t really like department stores and I usually hate Mall music, so this moment was no exception to either rule. Yet, because I was waiting for my wife and pushing around a hefty double stroller I had no choice but to hear the lyrics and contemplate their sweet, simple vapidity. Just read them and enjoy (“?) the amateurish alliteration and repetition. I know that this song partly became a hit because of its nice, sliding bass-line and the gossamer quality of the vocals, but I was offended yet again–Ignatius C. Reilly style–by its emptiness, its stupidity.

Kiss me out of the bearded barley
Nightly, beside the green, green grass
Swing, swing, swing the spinning step
You wear those shoes and I will wear that dress.

Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift your open hand
Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon’s sparkling
So kiss me

Kiss me down by the broken tree house
Swing me upon its hanging tire
Bring, bring, bring your flowered hat
We’ll take the trail marked on your father’s map

Yet, such unfounded feelings of superiority lasted a few moments only before I was pulled back into a reverie, to the moments I most attach to this song. And, to tell this story, I have to tell somebody else’s story. This time, my brother’s

Still Killing?

Still Killing?

See, when my brother was between grade school and high school, he had a best friend from whom he was virtually inseparable. The two of them did pretty much everything together; they were peas in a pod, Laurel and Hardy, the two guys on CHIPs. So much were they the closest of friends that we all just imagined them being college roommates, future poker buddies or any of the things that men do when they get older.

Except, one day, after years of being together almost every weekend, this best friend just stopped coming over. My brother just stopped calling him. And, no matter how much we pried, my brother never explained what happened. I surmise from context clues that some decisions were made about our family not presenting the right environment for this young man (and that may have been a sensible decision at the time). I fear some days that I was part of this.

When my brother was too young, he used to come to visit me in my dingy college apartment. We all drank and smoked and, inevitably, so did my brother and his friend (even if in the beginning they were sneaking it, by the end my roommates and I were complicit). At the time, we all thought it was hysterical. As a parent now and many years removed, I shudder to think of the example I offered and the possible damage I caused.

What does this have to do with Sixpence None the Richer? During one of their visits, my brother and his friend would simultaneously break into mocking renditions of this song. This was only natural–they hung around with us playing video games, going to band rehearsal and hitting on college girls. (They even made a cameo during one of my band’s performances, dressed in masks and rocking out to “Psycho Killer”). The times were fun, certainly. But they also weren’t right for thirteen year-olds.

So, when I hear “Kiss Me”, my hackles are raised by the song itself. But i am also disappointed when I hear it because it reminds me of a younger, less considerate version of myself. It reminds me that the brother I wanted to be was rarely the brother I was.

On the Radio (Way Back): Another Bad Creation

The other day I heard the name “Aisha” a few times in public. It wasn’t the name that struck me so much as the pronunciation–the trisyllabic “Ay-eee-sha” instead of the di-syllabic dipthonged “Ay-sha”. I found that I was shaking my head and a little confused because suddenly I was hearing a song in my head that was nearing 25 years old.

Before Kris Kross made us jump and long before Lil’ Wayne or Lil’ Bow Bow came on the stage, the tween rappers of Another Bad Creation were rocking my world. As embarrassing as it is to recall now, I can distinctly remember listening to this album in alternation with DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s Summertime. The brightness and optimism that can only belong to child stars is infectious. This song in particular reflected the simple infatuation that infects those just on the verge of adolescence

Another Bad Creation’s “Iesha” was better than their hit “Playground”, but both songs catapulted them into a sudden and surprising fame consisting of largely suburban fans, a commercial tour-de-force that followed in the footsteps of New Edition and New Kids on The Block. Who knew that the same kids would be listening to Dr. Dre and the Wu Tang clan just a few years later?

Another Bad Creation was the discovery of the erstwhile producer and sometime performer known as Michael Bivvins, the genius behind Bel Biv Devoe, a core member of New Edition and the manager creator of Boyz II Men. Like many performers from the period, Another Bad Creation disappeared. Like my youth, the act broke apart in 1993 and was never heard from again.  If anyone can tell me what happen to its members, I’d love to know. Wikipedia is ignorant.

On another note, there’s a very famous song called “Aicha” first performed by Jean-Jacques Goldman. I don’t know this song because I have some love for or knowledge of Algerian popular music. No, I know this song because of the web wonder Gellieman, whose artistic lip-syncing of this song brightened my day before the dawn of Youtube:

Gellieman. Dance. Dance, Gellieman, Dance.

Here are the lyrics. The first few parts of the song are a bit histrionic in performance. But when Gellieman dances, the whole world stops to watch

So sweet, so beautiful
Everyday like a queen on her throne
Don’t nobody knows how she feels
Aicha, Lady one day it will be real

She moves, she moves like a breeze
I swear I can’t get her out of my dreams
To have her shining right here by my side
I’d sacrifice all them tears in my eyes

New Music: Palma Violets, Best of Friends

For the past few weeks, I have been a little obsessed with the track “Best of Friends” by Palma Violets. A few weeks back I underwent some paroxysm of music purchasing and ended up having to compose two posts about my acquisitions. The fact is that I found much of my new music forgettable–so much so that while running with @jake_turbo it took me a few seconds to recall that Okkervil River was the name of a band whose album I had recently purchased.

But this song: I’ve tweeted about it, I have tried to force my children to listen to it. I even brought it up in a class:

What is it I like about this band? There’s something old-school about the production value. The vocals are a bit raw; the music is a bit fun. And the sound altogether recalls some of the DIY days before digital music. There is an abandon and intensity to the song that seems part hardcore (the opening wail reminds me a bit of Fugazi’s “Repeater”) and a little bit punk (the song made me long for that old track “Time Bomb” by Rancid).

The rise of digital music, which has fragmented distribution a bit and has allowed additional artists access to the public, has resulted in a good deal of overproduction, slickness, and hollowness to music. Even bands that play ‘real’ music like Vampire Weekend seem too much the product of recording studio beautification. Even as I get older and hate noise more, I find myself attracted less to the packaged ‘purity’ of most mainstream music and longing for a dirtier sound.

Even if the dirt is manufactured, Palma Violets are giving me what I want.

Now, a band like Tullycraft might look askance on a punk/hardcore sound used to write love songs. I don’t. Can’t we get a little maudlin and mayhem at the same time?

 

 

 

Mike Doughty’s Soul is Coughing.

This is probably the only song that will sound like this on this post and not even a Doughty original, but nevertheless an important song for me by him. My freshmen year roommate and I  listened to this song so many times at like three in the morning in college, often yelling the lyrics. The band Drink Me wrote it and I’ve never heard of them or anything else they did.

After over a decade, Mike Doughty is re-embracing his Soul Coughing roots and doing a whole tour of covers by the band that made him big. SC is a band that I’ve liked as long as the Pixies or Zeppelin or any other band I’ve mentioned that I’ve listened too since elementary school. Their three albums are good from beginning to end and this alone is enough to make them a favorite band.  They had a jazzy,alternative, and hip-hoppy vibe that no one came even close to in the 90’s. Like Primus and as my brother mentioned, it might have been their uniqueness that kept them from the mainstream and big financial success.

This was their first huge hit, one of the two songs most people will recognize and one my brother runs to on a regular basis. It’s way different from anything by the Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam and makes you want to move. Even though obscure, this video from an old Playstation game is the only one I could find without ads.

Although very unique and off the beaten path of commercialism, Doughty and SC had what I’d consider to be a pretty standard rock and roll trajectory. Doughty was a struggling artist/poet with some drug problems (a la Jim Morrison) who ended up collaborating with some heavily talented jazz musicians to form the band. Doughty met the whole band through working the door at the famous Knitting Factory in NYC and turned an off night jam session into an almost decade-long career with the band. After some minor airplay with “Super Bon Bon”, they released a third album which had their most popular hit, the catchy and relatable “Circles”. This was their epoch, even if things were disintegrating internally due to songwriting credit disputes and Doughty’s increasing heroin dependency.

This song was in inescapable during 1998, seemingly on the local alternative station every other song. Doughty even makes light of this in his big solo live release “Smofe and Smang” , where he plays the song with snatches of other hit songs like “Brimful of Asha”, ” Closing Time” and the refrain “I don’t need to walk around with Urkel”.  Doughty is a funny dude, on the junk or not, and his humor has always been a draw for me.

From my observation and a little research, it’s amazing they lasted as long as they did.  Doughty’s drug use was rampant and from his book entitled The Book of Drugsthe acrimonious relationship among the band members was enough to break the band up many times over. Doughty paints such a negative picture that it’s a wonder he stayed in the band so long, a criticism some reviewers of the book have made. It’s unclear specifically who or what was the final linchpin for the break up, but Doughty quit the heroin and spent a few years drinking heavily and crossing the country multiple times on solo tours afterwards.

This was a mainstay in Doughty’s drunk repertoire and remains to this day as he’s been sober for something like ten years. “Smofe + Smang” was also a mainstay in my listening for basically my entire college career, even superseding the SC albums temporarily. The song is constructed around samples of a voicemail an ex-girlfriend left for Doughty, sample usage being another example of why SC was different from any other band of their era.

Doughty sobered up, got signed to ATO records in 2004 after meeting up with Dave Matthews at Bonaroo and has maintained a career ever since. Because of the SC negative memories, he largely did not play their songs for the last several years and it was crazy to read that he was re-recording a bunch of SC songs for a new album. He referred to the “dark marriage of Soul Coughing being annulled” on NPR and apparently this fan-funded album is doing better than any of his other solo releases. Here we come to what is my main point of this post: did Mike Doughty do this album because he has genuinely  come to terms with his SC past or because he’s broke?

I will not include any of the new songs on this blog post. I’m sure they are solid and I will listen to them someday, but the SC originals are what I grew up with and love, so it is what I will stick with. To meet him halfway, I’ve chosen many songs that are on the remix album so at least you hear some semblance of the new album if you have never before listened to Soul Coughing.

I don’t think I can say for sure what the man’s intentions were because I am not him. I did meet him one time briefly and he did seem pretty smug; however, I was newly 21 and suffering from a severe case of consuming cold beer too fast. I am sure it is annoying to have a solo career and constantly have people yell out your former band’s songs, which happened each time I saw him live. Adding to this are his feelings of anger at the band and the relation to his substance abuse problems of the past, I can see why the songs would drum up some weird feelings for the dude. Apparently, not weird enough not to play the songs ever again and to make an album of remixed songs which is selling fast.

I love the jazz bass line. The stand up rig really sounds great in every song and is yet another thing that sets this band apart. I wish more bands would have the cahones/inspiration to come up with music like this that is unapologetically original.

I’ve been the biggest cheerleader of Soul Coughing  since “Super Bon Bon”. Its one of those bands that I’ve liked since I was aware of them in the early 90’s and I’ve kept an ear out for Doughty solo stuff since the beginning as well. My heart is with SC, but I don’t begrudge Mike for trying to forge his own path or even for trying to make a little extra dough with songs he knows so many people already love. I can’t say for sure if this is his motive because he could have just finally come to terms with his animosity and this was the best way to exorcise the demons of the past. Regardless, he helped to write these songs and he should be able to do whatever he wants with them. Listen to  Soul Coughing if you haven’t, keep listening to them if you haven’t, and go see Mike Doughty if he travels to a city near you. You won’t regret it.

This is top five favorite songs by SC for me and a fitting conclusion. Like soft serve, everyone should like this band and Mike Doughty.

Running Songs

Another week, another re-post. I am putting this up today because @jake_turbo and I are running a half-marathon together. Here are all the songs we won’t be listening to. But don’t worry about us, there will be beer at the end.

 

A while back twitter directed me to an article claiming that Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard was lying about his song list for running. Because I am a narcissist, this made me immediately thing about my running list—it is several hundred songs long and not all of them are actually that good to run to.

I run a bit—I don’t call myself a runner because I have never run ‘officially’ or in any public capacity, but I do run enough to know the names of different shoes, the arguments for and against going barefoot, the ideal amount of hydration before, during and after runs, etc .etc. I do it because I enjoy it, because you can’t play basketball for three hours a day when you’re a real adult, and because my grandfather and father died young.

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Fall Recent Acquisitions, Part 2

Last week, I posted about my recent music acquisitions. I felt compelled to split the post in two because I have gone on a few irresponsible binges. Part of this is my obsessive character. But a lot of this has to do with one of the reasons we started this blog–to learn more about music and to learn about new music. So, we’ve had The Only D gracing us with lists of new artists and I have tried to follow some of the more prolific new music promoters like Backseat Mafia and 2BitMonkey.

The combination of these efforts has forced to exceed my music allowance almost monthly. Only occasionally do I regret it.

PhoenixBankrupt

Lately I have been listening to “Lisztomania” a lot because my toddler son loves it and my wife just discovered Wolfgang Amadaeus Mozart was a great rock album. Bankrupt is part of a trend I have noticed in indie-rock bands, some sort of a strange rush to dance and synth-music (See Tegan and Sara’s Closer or Arcade Fire’s latest below). I find this album annoying. I can’t say much more than that. Ok, I can. The songs aren’t catchy: they’re like the earworms in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.

JunipJunip

So, Junip made a big splash lately when its song was used in promos for the Breaking Bad finaleI have loved the music of Jose Gonzalez for a long time. Junip is pretty good music–the extra production in comparison to Gonzalez’s seminal solo work is a little muddy and distracting; in addition, the composition of the songs is a bit unfocused as well. And, yet, this is a fine band with a fine sound. If you’re screaming because Phoenix’s new album is aurally victimizing you, listen to this as an antidote.

Why?Mumps, etc.

Why? is one of my favorite bands. If I can get my crap together, I will review the wonderful album Elephant Eyelash soon. No band I know of combines different genres and topics so honestly and inventively. This band is one of the top 10 most unique and interesting bands performing today. But, for some dumbass reason, I hadn’t bought this album. So I did. And I don’t regret it.

Arcade FireReflektor

I had a conversation on twitter with my good friend and college roommate about this album. It was brief but essential.

I really liked Arcade Fire’s first album. Neon Bible was pretty good. The subsequent two albums are musically bloated and lyrically stale. I keep listening to the earlier ones.

Okkervil River, Silver Gymnasium


The conversation on twitter also covered this album. The fact is, that it is because of @jake_turbo that I bought this album.

Okkervil river is musically interesting and lyrically almost too honest. I can’t say that I love this album, but I think I might. I bought their album The Stand Ins years back and listened to it twice.

Just Lions, Paper Cage


I learned about Just Lions from Backseat Mafia and really liked the first song I heard. I find EPs really frustrating because I keep thinking there’s more. Four songs just isn’t enough! (Or, conversely, it turns out to be just enough to confuse you.) I don’t yer know if I will be buying the album when it comes out. But I probably will.

Beast Make BombSourpuss


2BitMonkey taught me about this band. Some female rockers. The EP is half good. That’s bad news. (The song “Party Monster” is really kind of lame)

Palma Violets, 180

Ok, some more twitter:

So, EPs can be dangerously deceptive. Albums can be too. This band made me think of Rancid and Fugazi with some more melodic and inventive rock thrown in there. I love the lead song from the album. And I think I listened to the full album three times in two days. Palma Violets win my attention for the week.