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.

NOT FORGOTTEN – VIOLENT FEMMES – VIOLENT FEMMES

Great Band. Nice post. Amazing album.

Perhaps the band put it best in “American Music”:

They didn’t like american music
They never heard american music
They didn’t know the music was in my soul baby
You were born too soon
I was born too late

Backseat Mafia

violent-femmes-violent-femmes-cover

It’s been some time since I realised that I am getting out of touch with the guitar music that appeals to today’s youth. I can understand why the music in question appeals to those in their teens and early twenties, but it just doesn’t appeal to me, I’ve moved on, I’ve (for want of a more suitable word) matured. I’m not sad though, I’m not going to bust myself trying to keep up with the constantly changing tides of fashion. My time has been and gone and popular music is doing exactly what popular music should do and is alienating those that have got a few miles on the clock. This has been the case ever since rock n’ roll arrived in the mid 50s and I for one hope that it continues like this for the foreseeable future.

Eventually even music fans have to grow up and accept their…

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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?