New Music: Saintseneca, “Happy Alone”

“He who can talk to himself, will have no need of another’s conversation”
qui secum loqui poterit, sermonem alterius non requiret
Marcus Tullius Cicero

 

A few days ago, my phone pinged, I looked down and I received the following tweet from my old college friend and our sometime contributor, Another J.

 

 

Another J has known me just slightly longer than my wife has and since we were in a band together and have shared music for over a decade, he knows my tastes pretty well.  He nailed it with this one. I hear some Rogue Wave in the vocals, some Typhoon in the song structure, and some wild vowels that remind me of Frightened Rabbit.  There are male and female vocals. They use acoustic guitars in angry ways. There are backing vocals that go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and they use a banjo in a non-abusive way (unlike, say, Mumford and Sons).

 

Here’s the lead single from the album:

 

 

The only problem is that the album comes out April 1st. I want it now! I listened to the whole album through NPR’s First Listen and I don’t think that this is the best track. It is actually a little conventional–in the way the Decemberists are in the song “July, July”, which is a great song, but rather poppy in comparison to the rest of their ouvre.  Here’s another Saintseneca track with an acoustic bass and some strangeness that reminds me again of some odd combination of the Decemberists and the early days of Arcade Fire (if they unplugged).

 

“Uppercutter”

The facial hair kind of kills me. I don’t feel hip enough to pre-order this album, but screw it. I’ll do it anyway.

 

Also coming in April: some new and fresh posts. I promise.

New Car, New Sound System, New Music: Tennis, “Marathon”

Recently, my wife decided that she needed a new vehicle. And not just any new vehicle: she decided that with two kids it was time for something other than a sedan. So, at the beginning of the new year, it was minivan or SUV or bust. And none of this made either of us too happy.

Anyone who has read much of this blog has witnessed my brother or I mention cars–the Ford LTD station-wagon or Tempo, my lovely Buick LeSabre, the hellbeast Chevy Caprice and stereotypical blue Toyota Prius, for me and my brother’s love/hate for his Impala and irrational exuberance for his Subaru. Like many Americans, we have led lives that make cars necessary and whose necessities are translated into a commercialized communication of class and value. To say that we weigh down cars with overdetermined meaning would be an understatement. In our lives growing up, a person’s car was an immediate snapshot of their entire person.

Again, then, it would be an understatement to say that car buying is hard for me before I even leave the houseNot only do I worry what the car I drive communicates to absolute strangers, but I get almost dyspeptic with anxiety about the implied if unspoken judgments from friends and family. To say that my wife and my current relative financial stability (if not good fortune) makes me uncomfortable is merely to restate the definition of the word. And, of course, my wife’s feelings about cars are completely the opposite.

Add in to this mix the horrors of car dealerships, model varieties and salespeople and you’ve got a potentially toxic year-destroying brew. So my wife and I negotiated: no more then three weekends. No more than five test-drives. We individually read ratings, compared lists, enlisted the help of a car-fanatic friend and quickly decided against the middle-aged surrender of a minivan. My wife’s car–a Honda Civic hybrid, possibly the worst car Honda ever made–left her desiring something better, both mechanically and aesthetically.

She bought an SUV. And a nice one. It is not a vehicle I can drive comfortably–given my deep-seated class issues–but the first time I drove it alone with the kids and got to test the sound system for real (my wife likes he music too soft for my taste) I fell in love with the Bose speakers. This car has beautiful sound. As with many new cars, it came equipped with XM Radio. I flipped the dial and heard the song “Marathon” by Tennis:

This had to be one of those moments of obscene serendipity. It was a Saturday morning, we were all mellow, and the sun was blazing in the way that the winter sun will. The chill in the air felt a little less sharp with the background of this piece, a solo-performance built on a classic 50s/60s doo-wop progression with some surf-rock licks. The some doesn’t grow quickly, but it lingers and fills the space until it ends and it feels strange that it is gone.  The ethereal vocals were a bright and nice complement to the brittle sun and suddenly everything just felt, well, right.

The lyrics of the first verse are about surprise and foreboding:

Coconut Grove
Is a very small cove
separated from the sea
by a shifting shore
we didn’t realize that
we had arrived
at high tide, high tide
barely made it out alive

When I read them now it seems obvious that the tension between the anodyne simplicity of the music and the menace of the lyrics should unsettle me–but the fact is that it doesn’t.  I am used to tension; I am accustomed to paradox; and I have no problem with the compromises and inconsistencies that over time make us all hypocritical versions of our earlier selves.

I don’t know if I will love my wife’s car but it doesn’t matter. Life–in all of its tension and insistence–has been good to us of late. I’ll just be happy with the music that comes on the radio when these speakers sound so damn good.

Blackberry Smoke: Awesome or Average?

It sounds like Skynyrd and good 80’s country….not a bad thing as long as it’s more Dwight Yoakam than George Strait.  We learned to play this song and it’s my favorite so by the group.  The progenitors of southern rock were the Allman Brothers Band and you can certainly hear that influence in this song, the solo specifically.  Also, damn does the lead singer have some serious side burns. 

Blackberry Smoke is from Atlanta, Georgia and the man with the burns is Charlie Starr, an excellent guitar player and front man. I go between really liking this band and thinking that they sound too much like modern country (which I hate). I’ve mentioned my love of honky tonk many times and I still listen to artists like Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Sr. and Hank3 on the regular. I’m trying to find new bands I dig in any genre so I can start going to see live shows again more regularly. My band decided to all go see this band two weeks from today and, although I like a lot of what I hear from them, I am not completely sold.

Their covers, however, are basically amazing through and through so here’s a great example.

I think everyone who likes country of yesteryear likes George Jones, “the Possum”.  He passed away last April and his legacy will never die. “White Lightning” is one of his more famous songs and I think nearly everyone can agree that the occasional foray into moonshine is a good thing.

I think there is a real void in southern rock right now and a general lack of respect for it.  J. Roddy Walston and the Business come from the south, but are not what I would consider Southern Rock (but obviously they are still amazing).  Skynyrd has come to represent Southern conservatism and I believe that would make the late singer Ronnie Van Zandt roll in his grave. They toured a few years back for their album God and Guns which has a lot of thematic material on the loss of roots in America and things of that nature. I live in a small town in America and I feel the roots are deepening with the economic disparity. Also, they seem to forget the hippie leanings of the original incantation of the band and even the 70’s era song “Saturday Night Special” which suggests destroying all handguns because of their lack of application beyond murder, but I digress.

The Only D mentioned Manchester Orchestra as a possible Southern Rock band a while back and this song is not unlike a song such as “On the Hunt” from 70’s era Skynyrd.

I only hear a little Southern Rock influence in here, but a lot of excellent grunge motifs with a slice of down home Georgia grit.  Smoke is a lot more southern rock than these guys, but I can see some trappings of Southern musical sensibilities.  I will probably spend some time with this band and I thank you for the tip Only D.

I saw Blackberry Smoke on the Palladia live music channel playing at the Georgia Theater and that is how I learned who they were. I sat and watched the entire show, even recording it. The recording remains on my DVR list two years later and I still pick out tracks like the first one to listen to all the time. This band has the look of the third generation Allman Brother offspring and a sound that is country enough for Kenny Chesney fans and Outlaws enough for my tastes. They have some sweet slide solos as well as great guitar harmonies and a talented keys player with a solid rhythm section. Their sound dynamics are great and judging from their video, their live show will be fun.

This is like an exact homage to early 70’s Allman Brothers and Skynyrd and sounds almost perfect to my ears. Literally,  I hear parts of “Blue Sky” in there in the middle.  Lots of time to groove over to the beer tent and still be back for the second half of the song too.

More importantly, their live show seems great from the video and I think it’ll be a great time watching them. I think a band’s stage presence is equally if not more important than anything they record. I mentioned just recently, while confessing my love for J. Roddy, that I like the Rolling Stones more than the Beatles because the former has toured for most of their career while the latter hung up their live show spurs in the mid 1960’s after playing shows where the screaming fans made the music nearly impossible to hear.  You can have a band that produces true works of art in the studio, but if they can’t recreate it live, that’s a big turn-off for me. Kurt Cobain took special pains to not do a lot of overdubs while making Nevermind so they could still play all the jams out.

This sounds very much like the old country music I love and  references bourbon which I also love.

The music I’ve heard by this band is pretty good and I think their live show will sell me on whether I think they are highly average or awesome. I am going with the lead singer and lead guitarist in my band. It’s the first time we have all gone to see a show together since Waylon Speed and I’m really looking forward to it. My days of going to see shows all the time have been gone for a while and I think if I want to push my band forward and my musical tastes, I need to start doing this again. Thus,  I will provide you a full report of the Blackberry Smoke experience after I go and will leave you with a cover by them of quite possibly my favorite song by Willie Nelson.

The lead singer does repeat himself here and it must be a recording era, but you get the point that this song is great. I love the pedal steel and I wish they had it all the time.  They do an equally good job with honky tonk country as they do with southern rock. I hope this show has a lot of ladies who love country AND southern rock, I think we’d get along great.

Favorite New Discovery: J. Roddy Walston and the Business

This doesn’t sound like a lot of the piano driven rock that J. Roddy and the Business is known for, but it is their newest single and a certifiable jam. It could just be my rudimentary knowledge of music, but it sounds like the main guitar hook was composed on a piano or at least would sound pretty cool played on one. Maybe even the tasty licks of a Hammond B-3 organ?

Right around my case of the Mondays and the subsequent breaking of my muffler, I got really into the Baltimore band J. Roddy Walston and the Business. I included them on my best of 2013 list and this wasn’t very accurate because I listened to them once back in the spring time and not again until the aforementioned. My friend who teaches science played them for me during an evening spent fishing and I recognized it embarrassingly from a shitty Mark Wahlberg movie I’d not finished watching during a rare day off. As always with me, my favorite thing about the band and what I find most striking is their incredibly unique sound. It’s a great mixture of old school Rock and Roll with the loud/soft dynamics of a grunge band ripping off The Pixies in an honest and ill way.

This has been my favorite song for weeks now. My favorite moment is when they harmonize on “like slavery she saidddd” and the subsequent marks that they hit those notes. I love this band because their heavy musical songs are amazing as well as these slower songs that depend on vocal delivery with minimal instrumentation. These are signs of a versatile band which whose recipe is awesome.

They actually not a new band at all and have been in existence since 2002. They hail from Baltimore, Maryland and within a month of moving to a house in that city, the lead singer was mugged at gun point. I guess The Wire was correct in its portrayal of the former murder capital of America, the illustrious title that has now been taken by Flint, Michigan, but I digress.

J Roddy grew up on a steady diet of gospel and country music interspersed with a love of Led Zeppelin,  the Rolling Stone’s Ian Stewart and the immortal Leon Russell.  The additional listening to glam rock superstars like T. Rex and obviously influenced by the grunge rock he couldn’t avoid in high school creates this amazing mixture of sounds that is totally unique. It’s been a long  and difficult road for this band, but I just heard the song that introduced this post from their new album on the local alternative rock station and I have a good feeling they are about to blow up.

This is a song that J. Roddy arranged after his Grandmother, loosely-related to the Grand Ole Opry, played him this song as a youth. It’s one of their first widely known tunes because it was used on an MTV show about cage fighting. The original title was something like “Sally Let your Bangs hang down” and has come pretty clear sexual connotations so I find it quite humorous that his elderly relative played him the song. This is my least favorite of his work I’ve heard, although still awesome and indicative of where they started.

For the last ten years, the band has traveled around the country playing music in a Church van they have dubbed “the Diaper” because it’s “big, white and carries all their shit”. They even left the name of the Church painted on the side of the rig in the hopes that it will lesson the chances that they get pulled over.  J. Roddy transports a 300 pound Yamaha traveling piano on tour, saying ” I play piano. You’d never see a guitar player playing a keytar”. Their reputation has been built on an energetic live show that the New York Times said made “James Brown look lazy”. At one show on a boat in New York, J. Roddy got so fired up that he ended his set by throwing his piano stool out a window, narrowly missing a bystander before it crashed into the East River. They are road warriors, through and through, and no sign of 1920’s style clothing.

This song is another prime example of the loud/soft dynamics I mentioned early as well as a very vintage feel in both the sleazy Exile on Main Street rhythms and epic yet succinct guitar solos. Ok, they got going a little bit live here, but it’s a sweet jam so it’s ok. By the way, this performance is from Lebowski fest which they played this year and it makes me think that perhaps the Elder and I should write a post about our varying opinions on the film using the indisputably awesome sound track.

In an age where everyone steals samples, identities, and styles from everyone else, it’s refreshing to find a band that wears their influences on their sleeves while still forging their own sound/style. I read some reviews of their concerts online and the common thread seems to be that their shows are amazing and most people did not expect the balls to the wall rock of the band when they opened up for the Lumineers on tour. People went expecting this pseudo-bluegrass folk music and saw this badass band open up instead, which is probably why they’ve been gaining some exposure. I know the live show of a band is a huge part of how good I think they are and a major point of argument on why I think the Rolling Stones are a better band than the Beatles, but I digress again.

This is such an obvious nod to the blues-rock crunch of the Stones and Zeppelin  great enough that it deserves the comparison. I didn’t even know the band had a song with slide guitar! 

I need to see this band live. There’s no tour date in the far Northeast yet, unless Rochester, NY counts and it doesn’t, but I’m sure the radio play of “Heavy Bells” will bring them at least to Boston in this calendar year. I will gather up troops and head down 95 to see this band and I hope this post has helped in some small way to spread the sheer awesomeness that is J. Roddy Walston and the Business. I really hope the Elder J likes this band because hopefully I am headed south in a few weeks to visit him and if things progress as they have, I’ll still be listening to this band non-stop. So crank these tunes up this morning and jam hard to Mr. Walston. Rock and Roll will never die as long as bands like this keep grinding on the road and keeping it real in the studio.

A great enough jam that I don’t care that I’ve included it in at least one other post, probably two. Go see this band, buy their record, and wile out when you hear them.

New Music VII: Gifts That Keep On Giving

It’s been awhile, but I’m bringing back some new music (and maybe a little sexy, who knows…) to share with everybody (the music at least). For a few of my other posts I noticed that some of the bands I showcased didn’t exactly have a extensive body of work. So for my first post of 2014 I will provide bands that have at least some sort of album out there for purchase, or torrent, or that fun legal grey-zone of ripping audio mp3 from YouTube. Blue-balling you guys with singles from underground movements from southern Idaho can wait until next time. This is also a pretty “rock-centric” group, which is of course right in my wheelhouse.

Band: Smallpools
Song: Dreaming

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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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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?

 

 

 

On the Radio (New Music for me): Big K.R.I.T.

It has been raining a bit of late in my adopted home state. This is eventful because we often go 60 days or more

Please....

Please….

without rain. So infrequent is the rainfall that my two children are shocked and frightened by the sight, driven to chanting that childhood apotropaic chant: “rain, rain, go away…”.

Rain in states where rain rarely falls also means worse traffic. In even normal traffic situations, I am not a patient or un-profane man. I don’t like when people take forever to make right-hand turns or decide to take a few breaths, a sip of coffee and say a little prayer before heeding a green traffic signal. When it rains, everything slows down.

My serenity, thus already disrupted by the weather and traffic was dealt another mighty blow by the fact that because I have slain yet another iPod, I was cursed to listen to the radio. The stations were all on commercial, it seemed, and NPR was torturing me with another report of looming government shutdowns. I couldn’t take it. I pressed scan on the radio band.

And then I was taken back to a local college station I had forgotten about. A station whose existence had so slipped my mind that I actually googled it to make sure it really existed in my general area and wasn’t just some accident of weather induced serendipity. It wasn’t. It was real. And it was playing Big K.R.I.T.

“Dreamin'” is a masterful track that features the rapper’s drawled style and clever autobiographical rhymes.

Big K.R.I.T. hasn’t released many albums and is currently working on his second major solo work, but he has released a bunch of tracks, has collaborated with a bunch of well-known people, and is touring with Macklemore. (If you want to know more, read his damned wikipedia page for yourself). His song, wedged in between alt-rock tracks by bands named Still Life Still and No Age, made me happy about the length of time the drive was taking. I forgot about the traffic. I regained my serenity.

Of course, as soon as I got to my office I downloaded some more Big K.R.I.T. and I was not disappointed. (Yes, you can imagine 30-something white professor of humanities sitting in a University office bobbing his head to hip-hop. I don’t know what this means.) His production has a spare style that eschews much of the decadence and bloat of mainstream hip-hop. This track is mellow and reflective.

But what makes KRIT different is his ability to write rhymes that flow well with his southern drawl (in a way that builds upon and betters Nelly). Check out this verse:

I told them call me KRIT, they told me change my name
Don’t be alarmed if you don’t make it, that’s just part of the game
Besides I ain’t rapping about dope nor did I sell it
I guess the story of a country boy just ain’t compelling
A&R’s searching for a hit, I just need a meal
Couldn’t afford to pay the rent, but passed up on the deal
Cause, it wasn’t right sometimes you gotta wade the storm
In a class of my own, but I was scared to raise my arm

I realize that what attracts me to this artist is, in part, his reflective approach to hip-hop, his honesty, and his sparer treatment. In his rejection of the drug-dealer narrative and his putative refusal of money, he lays some claim to the starving artist position. And, yet, he prevaricates about his own integrity, implying in the final line that it is as much fear as artistic conviction that has limited him.

But, as you can tell from listening, he also has a fine sense of what makes music effective and what he has inherited from the artists before him. It will be interesting to see how he continues to navigate these influences in his next release.

What do you think, my brother?

Fall Recent Acquisitions, Part 1

Over the past few  months I have purchased many new albums but I haven’t had the time or inspiration to write any new album reviews. And yet, my tremendous sense of self importance leads me to share my opinions with the world. Here, the first of two posts about my musical acquisitions.

 

The Dunwells, Blind Sighted Faith

I may have been hungover or especially weak, or experiencing some temporal rift or suffering some sort of mind/body crisis. I heard this song on the TV and thought it sounded really great. In honesty, I think that the cooking fan was on, the kids were screaming, and I had a cold. I downloaded the album, started it the next morning in the car, and lasted about two minutes before I shut it off. This is so plastic I can hear the creaking and smell the cellophane. Needless to say, I have not been listening to this album

Caribou, Up In Flames

I love this band, this guy, and these songs. I actually can listen to this album while running and so I do. This is great music to get lost to and there really isn’t that much else out there that is the same. Thank you, Caribou. Thank you.

 

Jaimeo Brown, Transcendence

I loved this album when I heard it on the radio. Here’s the problem: I don’t really listen to jazz albums when I am (1) at the gym or (2) running. So, to be honest, I haven’t listened to this nearly as much as it deserves. I may return, I may not. Whatever the case, I was really excited when I downloaded it.

 

They Might Be Giants, Nanobots

Oh, TMBG, I can’t stop loving you even though we’ve grown our separate ways. It has been a full decade since I really liked a TMBG album and, yet, I dutifully purchase each one with the irrational hope that this one will turn back the clock and reunite us. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t. The songs, when they don’t seem formulaic, are small and uninteresting. I think that the band needs a long break or some type of epiphany.

 

City and Colour, Bring Me Your Love

I heard this song at the gym while listening to Pandora and was a little overtired and depressed. I thought I really liked it. The song is just fine. The album? Glitzy, overproduced and shallow. The songs are more fit to a top-40 pop artist than a rock-band. There is some real shmaltz here. Beware.

 

Biffy Clyro, The Vertigo of Bliss

This band was suggested to me by iTunes. I don’t know why I keep falling for that, but I actually think this crew has some potential. The sound is a little too polished–another indie band that’s a bit overproduced–but it does seem creative enough that I will actually listen to this album a few times. There is some Superdrag and Eels-lite aura to the sound that makes me think I may end up liking it.

 

Typhoon, Hunger and Thirst

This song is so sad. This album is so sad it makes me want to die. But the artist has some shades of a less egotistical Bright Eyes and really has some creative ideas about music. Listen to the background instrumentals in this song. Then consider the almost perfect and effortless vocals. This guy made me immediately buy almost everything he has published.

 

Typhoon, White Lighter

If Hunger and Thirst is sad and creative, White Lighter  brilliant and manic. It is the better album in every way. But it still makes me want to die, Of course, I have listened to this record almost every day since I acquired it.

This song makes me think that the artist, should he be able to deal with his health issues, should produce for other artists as well. Just think about the choices made with this song. The basic music and lyrics are maudlin and better thanaverage, but the musical choices made at every juncture make it stronger and more memorable. I really, really like this album.

 

The Dodos, Visiter

I have no idea why I haven’t listened to this album more. The lyrical and musical combination strikes me as something somewhere between the best stuff of Of Monsters and Men and the least emo Ben Gibbard solo material with some Grizzly and Bon Iver thrown in for good measure.

Just Lions – Paper Cage EP

Some new music for a crisp Autumn day. This EP posted by the Backseat Mafia features a nice alt-throwback instrumentation–the guitars are muscular as BM describes them, but the understated vocals, keys, background mixed-gendered harmonies and the tight song structure makes me think of some alt-radio hits c. 1992-1996 (somewhere drawn between The Rentals and Cake with a production value closer to Spoon.

I have to give another thanks to the Backseat Mafia for bringing another rising band to my attention. Their future album will be on my to-listen list.

(I also like the ambiguity of the band name are they “Just [only]” or “Just [righteous]” Lions, or both?)