While working onsite with a client last week, I met an Englishman that shared my love of music. At some point we diverged into a discussion on the merits of Daft Punk — his favorite band — and where their latest album went wrong. We both agreed that Random Access Memories was better produced than it was written; Discovery was “bloody brilliant;” and their soundtrack to Tron: Legacy was their second best work to date.
As I was about to leave, my new friend excitedly announced, “I have something to show you!” He left the room, then returned with a custom, LED-lit Thomas Bangalter mask. “May I?” said I, giddy at the prospect. “Of course,” he replied. I put it on, struck a pose, then took several snapshots for posterity’s sake before bidding him farewell.
What’s funny is this Englishman had just traveled 6,000 miles from his office in Munich for weeklong meetings with “corporate” in Los Angeles. While most people scramble for chargers and underwear the night before travel, I laughed at the thought of this kindly bloke deciding to bring his shiny keepsake along for the journey. “Ah, yes! Mustn’t forget my smashing mask.”
The Atlantic on the death of Eddie Van Halen: “How do we categorize his music? Soft hard rock. Light heavy metal… In the end, they were crossover artists. Beloved of girls, beloved of boys, with Eddie always, always taking it beyond. The far brought near. Excess without vulgarity. America, don’t forget how beautiful you are; you created the conditions for Eddie Van Halen.”
Like 2020 in general, music this year has been both good and bad. It hasn’t been the best since both releases and events are at all-time lows. But there’s been some really good stuff from the little that has been released. Pending any surprise release this winter, these are my favorite albums so far this year:
The Killers, Imploding the Mirage. From front to back, this is a really well written, produced, and performed batch of 10 brilliant songs. Favorite song: Dying Breed
Weeknd, After Hours (Clean). Because I listen to music with my kids and already have enough explicit content in my life, I really like the clean version of Weeknd’s latest album. I think it might be his best yet, even though it’s a slight departure from his previous EDM like production. Favorite song: Scared to Live
Tame Impala, The Slow Rush. Is an okay Tame Impala album better than the best of the rest? If you’re a musical genius like Kevin Parker, the answer is yes. While not as masterful as his previous albums, especially currents, it’s still a good listen with a handful of really strong songs. Favorite song: On Track
The Academic, Acting My Age. I cheated on this because it’s really an EP instead of full-length album, but the included six songs are deliciously fun, catchy, and unabashedly youthful. Favorite Song: Anything Could Happen
Haim, Women in Music Pt. III. This is Haim’s best album to date, in my opinion. Delightful, poppy, foot-tappingly good production. Favorite song: Another Try
HONORABLE MENTION: Mr. Mustache by yours truly. I think it’s the best album by an unsigned artist this year, and not far off from sounding, acting, and producing something you’d expect from a professional team of musicians and producers. Now streaming on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube Music, Amazon and more. Favorite song: Shrug. I hope you enjoy it.
Two weeks after lockdown began this spring, I went to Guitar Center to pickup some gear for my new album. The place was packed. “It’s been Black Friday every day for the past two weeks,” one clerk told me.
Turns out, the sudden spike in homemade music has remained ever since. Gibson, Fender, and others have already broken record sales this year. One guitar maker sold in June and July what they expected to sell for the entire year!
According to the New York Times, “In a narrow sense, the surge made sense. Prospective players who had never quite found the time to take up an instrument suddenly had little excuse not to. As James Curleigh, the chief executive of Gibson Brands, put it: “In a world of digital acceleration, time is always your enemy. All of a sudden time became your friend.””
That was certainly the case for me. My work slowed, and I didn’t watch any Netflix or read any books during the first five months of quarantine. Instead, I spent all of my spare time making music, which resulted in my debut record and forming my first band since college.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish when time slows, whether by design or by pandemic.
When a friend recently asked Blake Snow if he was quitting his day job to become a full-time musician, he answered “No.” But that doesn’t mean his debut album, Mr. Mustache, is a joke or something not worth supporting (or even touring). “It’s a synth-laden rock record that I take very seriously,” Snow says.
Written, recorded, and produced entirely in quarantine, Mr. Mustache is the public culmination of more than 25 years of homegrown songwriting, recording, and performing. “I wouldn’t say this record saved my life, but it definitely saved my sanity during lockdown,” Snow says. “I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I had making it.”
I was a mess the first two weeks of quarantine. My wife of 17 years said she had never seen me so stressed.
What did I do to cope?
I started writing music at a frantic pace and recorded 18 original songs in the first three months of shutdown. Twelve of those songs made it on my debut album that’s available for streaming and download on August 20.
One of the songs that really help me move from stress to at least some kind of clarity was called “Control What You Can.” With exception to the bridge, it ‘s only two chords and it has an uneasy feeling, the same feeling most of us felt when the world changed.
But in spite of the uneasy sound, I wrote the encouraging lyrics for myself, pleading to “control what I could” when there was so much I couldn’t control. It was a wonderful realization that help me turn a corner; from stress into action.
When I went to record the song, it was late at night. With my floor lamp and headphones on, I spent several hours on the production and immediately knew I had captured a special sound, arguably the most professional track on the the entire album. By the end, I recorded a simple but righteous guitar solo and sung my heart out during an extended outro.
This is that song. It’s pretty moody. And although the music doesn’t sound very uplifting, the lyrics completely are, which is a juxtaposition that I really like and hope you do to.
We call ourselves “Super Cover” and play energetic, dance rock songs that’ll make you want to sing. As you can see, Ashton Bennet rips on guitar. Caleb Browning destroys the bass and backing vocals. Jayce Ward keeps perfect time on drums. And I sing while playing a mean tambourine sometimes.
Our first all-ages show is Saturday, September 12 on the outdoor stage at the Provo Riverwoods Mall. We plan on playing from 7:30–9:00 pm. Our setlist includes bangers from The Black Keys, Fitz & The Tantrums, Muse, MGMT, Phoenix, Tame Impala, Grouplove, and Awolnation among others, not to mention a couple of ’80s surprises.
Thanks for giving it a chance. I know it seems weird to have a writer release an album, but I hope you take it as serious as I have. I think you’ll find there are some redeeming, heartfelt songs inside.
Like many of you reading this, the last four months have been the most eventful, strangest, and unsettling spring of my life. But it’s also been one of the best (i.e. bonding with family, completing my second book, starting a band).
In that time, I also wrote, produced, sung, and recorded 16 original songs. I just finished the last one this week and just need to make some finishing touches and final mastering before independently releasing the album to Spotify, Apple, and Amazon Music in the coming weeks.
I’m incredibly proud of the result and grateful for it helping me to cope with this fearful new, but still incredibly beautiful world. I can’t wait for you to hear the whole thing.
With little else to do in quarantine, I’ve been making a lot of music over the last four months. I’ve recorded an album’s worth of original material, which I hope to release this summer, and started rehearsing with a live cover band—a rock quartet comprised of me singing, Ashton Bennett melting faces on guitar, Caleb Browning rocking a ridiculous amount of bass and backing vocals, and Jayce Ward not missing a beat on drums. (video evidence here)
Though both experiences, I’ve learned two important lessons:
I love making music. I learned guitar and started singing in middle school and played in several bands through college. But with notable exception to listening to lots of new music, I largely quit making it after marrying, having children, and taking up writing. Quarantine changed all of that for the better. It’s a wonderful feeling to make harmonious noise while the world slowly sorts itself out.
Tambourines are in over 50% of popular music. While recording, studying, and performing more live music than ever before, I’ve been immediately struck by the amount of tambourines used in recorded music (at least the kind of pop and rock that I mostly listen to), and how much better they make live music sound. I realize tambourines are the ugly stepchild of music, but let me explain why they’re used more than even synthesizers when it comes to making popular music.
I was raised on Beach Boys, Beatles, ABBA, Led Zeppelin, and ’80s soft rock hits in that order. My father largely exposed me to the first three. My older sister Cami to Zeppelin. And my mother to the latter.
But it wasn’t until the spring of 1990, at the ripe age of 10, that I thought to myself, “I love this song, and I need to spend money on it to start my own music collection.”
The song was Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam,” which is a tasty mix of both hip-hop and house music. So on a visit to an Oklahoman Walmart with my mother, I forked over what I remember being around $8 for the album on cassette. I listened to that thing constantly while pretending to be Michael Jordan with my over the door basketball hoop.
Later that year, I was mesmerized by Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” so I bought and devoured that album on cassette too. I don’t remember the third album I bought, but I remember borrowing and adoring my sister Summer’s Nirvana Nevermind CD on the regular.
From there my musical tastes traveled far and wide. With exception to select Nine In Nails songs, there are only two genres that I actively dislike: industrial and death metal. Everything else is fair game.
Readers: What was the first piece of music you bought for yourself?
During the Great Depression, a man named Charley Pride was born in Mississippi as one of 11 children to his sharecropping parents. The year he was born, The Dust Bowl would ravage 300 million American acres, forcing hundreds of thousands of migrants to California in search of income.
As a boy, Pride was introduced to country music by his father and later learned guitar. Though he loved music, he dreamed of playing professional baseball, which he successfully did for much of his 20s in both Negro and minor leagues. After being cut by the Cincinnati Reds farm team in Missoula, Montana, Pride worked in construction and a metal factory for many years. He also played semi-pro ball on the side and made double his salary by singing to the crowd before games. Years later he cut a demo at the famous Sun Studio in Memphis, the same recording studio that put Elvis on the map. Sometime later, country superstar Chet Atkins heard the demo and signed him to a contract. With over 30 number one hits, he would become the second most successful RCA musician in history (after Elvis).
But fame quickly forced him to confront his outsider status. This is how he confronted it, according to Wikipedia. “In the late summer of 1966, on the strength of his early releases, Pride was booked for his first large show, in Detroit’s Olympia Stadium. Since no biographical information had been included with his songs, few of the 10,000 country fans who came to the show knew Pride was black, and only discovered the fact when he walked onto the stage, at which point the applause trickled off to silence. “I knew I’d have to get it over with sooner or later,” Pride later remembered. “I told the audience: ‘Friends, I realize it’s a little unique, me coming out here—with a permanent suntan—to sing country and western to you. But that’s the way it is.’ ”
There are a lot of things I miss since coronavirus scared, scarred, and upended the world.
I miss the large number of people I used to freely associate with. I miss seeing the bottom half of people’s faces. I miss the wonderful customer service we used to receive from restaurants and other stores. I miss a normal workload.
I miss live events, especially sports, music, and movie theaters. I miss roaming about my city, country, and world in what was surely the heyday of global travel. I miss knowing that I could shake hands or high-five anyone I encountered. I miss the trust we used to have in immune systems, the ones that largely kept our species alive for hundreds of thousands of years.
But mostly, I miss being treated like a trustworthy human instead of a disease-carrying leper that should be avoided. That’s a gross feeling to confront on a near daily basis.
That said, I couldn’t have stomached and mostly thrived over the last three months had it not been for the following: Continue reading…
Because I have a lot of extra free time in a partially paused world, I decided to re-listen to the entire Beatles catalog this weekend (well over 10 hours worth!) to determine my favorite albums.
Although I regularly feasted on The Fab Four in high school, college, and into my late twenties, I haven’t listened to their music much in the last decade. Not that I no longer like or respect it. Only that I probably overplayed it to the point of boredom.
After my weekend binge, however, I reconfirmed my belief that The Beatles are the greatest pop band ever—ahead of only Elvis and Michael Jackson in terms of the shear number of songs I enjoy. Either way, this is what I learned from my quarantine experiment: Continue reading…
I wish coronavirus never happened. Given its uncertainty, I also wish society would have partially distanced like Sweden did instead of hitting the giant “off” switch on social life or “save hospital capacities at all costs” approach the rest of us took.
It’s a fearful world we live in.
That said, I’ve been able to take the lemons, if you will, to make some sweet lemonade recently. Although I was an angry, stressed-out wreck the first two weeks of quarantine, I’ve been able to transition to first coping and eventually thriving over the last month.
Here’s how the unwelcome outbreak and draconian quarantine have actually changed my life for the better: Continue reading…
“Internet” (Post Malone cover). I played guitar and sang a mostly clean version of this song, with exception to one emotional outburst that I just had to sing in this crazy world right now.
“The Promise” (When in Rome cover). I played piano, guitar, and sang both harmonies. This is one of my all-time favorite ’80s songs. I don’t love the piano tone, but I’m proud of the result.
“Different” (original). A song I wrote, sung, and played while living in Brazil. It’s about changing for the better.
The God of Abraham Praise. If you’re looking for a spiritual track, try this one. I sang the choir parts over a radical organ I found on YouTube. This is one of my favorite hymns, which was converted from an old Jewish song in the 1700s.
What are borders for anyways?—There was a time when you had to commit a crime, or be suspected of committing one, to have your fingerprints and photograph taken by an officer of the state. Now all you need to do is take a trip.
Examining illegal birth names—Some working-class names aren’t just looked down upon, they’re illegal. But these laws, which stretch from New Zealand to Tennessee, are often more about oppression than public decency.
What it’s like to eat meal replacement shakes for two years—Whether nutrient shakes are the food of the future, however, is up for debate. Julie Heseman, a principal at food service industry consulting firm Foodservice IP, thinks this type of product won’t take off for one reason: it’s just not tasty enough.
Why a pop star walked across America—Years after he took that pill in Ibiza, Grammy nominee Mike Posner left behind his life in L.A. to go on a 2,851-mile journey in search of redemption, motivation, struggle, and triumph.
The documentary makes a convincing argument that structured specialization prevents our children from achieving greatness, especially in athletics, but also in other disciplines.
After interviewing and examining the upbringing and work ethic of over a dozen all-star athletes and musicians, the movie concludes that if you want your child to be great, raise them on a well-rounded diet of interests and physical activities. Do this until at least late high school or even college in some cases. Only then should children focus and devote the majority of their time to one pursuit.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, the filmmakers argue that this strategy allows our youth to play by different rules and see things differently. And there’s strong evidence suggesting this cannot be done if aspiring athletics, musicians, and others are strictly raised on only speciality from a young age, which is increasingly the norm now. That’s bad because youth specialization stifles their creativity and innovation and prevents them from developing other muscles and talents that can have a positive crossover effect on their primary passion.
Prior to graduating from college, I played drums in a trio band. We mostly played Killers, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, and Led Zeppelin covers in our bassist’s basement. We maybe played once a week for a month or so and didn’t even have a proper name. But we still wanted to rock.
Anxious to play a live set, we caught wind of an “Acoustic Battle of the Bands” to be played at BYU’s 22,000 seat capacity Marriott Center. I remember thinking, “Who says we can’t rock that? It says ‘acoustic,’ not low energy or slow tempo.” So we traded our electric guitar for an acoustic/electric and proceeded to tryouts that were being held in some small theater room in the English building.
Upon arrival, we were clearly out of place. As we lugged our full drum kit, half stack bass rig, and guitar amp down the hall, dozens of Dave Mathew wannabes practiced three chord love songs in squeaky voices to admiring girlfriends. My opinion of humanity worsened a little that day. But I digress. Our name was called, we entered the room and setup stage.
Music has remained an everyday part of my life since first being exposed to the Beach Boys, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Abba, and Technotronic as a young boy and later Metallica, Nirvana, Green Day, Snoop Dog, and The Prodigy as an adolescent. In my late teens, I took a liking to classical, jazz, country, Elvis and much in between.
Usually I’m too busy enjoying music both new and old that I fail to promote the best of it beyond those within immediate earshot. Today I hope to remedy that, at least according to the many airwaves that have reverberated in my home, eardrums, and car recently. They are as follows: Continue reading…
My wife recently commanded Alexa to “Play John Williams.” For the next several hours, our household was treated to harmonious hit after hit after hit.
I’ve always considered Williams a genius composer since I was first exposed to his music as a boy. But I’m still in awe of the dozens, if not hundreds, of moving themes he wrote and even continues to write, such as this one: https://youtu.be/65As1V0vQDM
Like nearly everything else Williams touches, the above is remarkably regal. And like all of his contemporaries imply in the excellent Score documentary, Williams is the most prolific classical composer still alive.
Missing the story. Rebuilding public trust starts by including more voices in the media and diversifying (or at least offering empathy training) to mostly white newsrooms, argues The Columbia Journalism Review.
Believing without evidence is always morally wrong. Or so convincingly argues Aeon.
Inside the booming business of background music. Why retailers and sports teams are spending big money on music design, according to The Guardian.
Why saving the world is crazy hard. According to a hard-to-read personal account of third-world atrocities by The Walrus.
How $3000 elite teams are killing youth sports in America. Expensive travel leagues siphon off talented young athletes and leave everyone else behind, reports The Atlantic. (Which is partly why my wife is starting a non-profit competitive league next year—go Lindsey!)
But that’s a story for another day. Today I wanted to share my favorite songs while making the seven hour roundtrip drive. From most righteous to least righteous, with links to streaming audio, they are as follows: Continue reading…
Music is easy now. Except when I’m forced to download songs ahead of time before venturing Off The Grid, I can instantly play any track, genre, album or compilation of recorded music with a spoken command.
Whatever I ask—even amorphous requests for “dinner music” or “relaxing classical”—this inanimate robot gets things right 90% of the time. And when I don’t feel like talking, I can play what I want with a few taps of my finger on the portable jukebox I carry in my pocket. We’ve come a long way.
But while I’m grateful for the limitless amount of audible convenience we now enjoy, I often wonder about the price we paid to get here. Continue reading…
When it comes to listening to music, I’m a skip-mastering control freak. I’m willing to let some records play, especially the greats. But if a band starts to bore me, I skip and/or eventually abandon their carefully curated playlist (aka “album”) with haste.
Recently, however, I discovered a band that I have never skipped—not once. They may be the coolest band you’ve never heard of. Only four of their six albums are commercially available, and I think they’re downright groovy, if not borderline inaccessible.
Hailing from french-speaking Quebec, the band is called Timber Timbre (pronounced “tamber”). The singer sings in english, rocks a “skullet,” and the entire acts sounds a little like Ennio Morricone, Johnny Cash, Magnet, a mellow Killers, Roy Orbison, Talking Heads, slow songs, The Doors, crooning songs, Late Night Tales, creepy songs, and Portishead. I only learned of them after visiting their home province earlier this month and am glad I did.
To spread the good word, I hope you’ll consider and enjoy their albums and soulful live performances as much as I have. These are my favorite songs:
It’s been a superb year for new music so far. Along with a strong finish of releases last year, these are the albums worth writing home about—and ones I hope you’ll consider in your search for new, inspiring songs from new or rejuvenated blood.
Gone Now by Bleachers
Behold: this is art. From front to back, singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff (aka Bleachers) channels brilliant beats, catchy choruses, and melodic instrumentation in classic stereo. If this masterpiece doesn’t finish as album of the year, I’ll be delightfully surprised. Continue reading…
I asked myself that upon seeing Luke Spiller perform with The Struts for the first time. He had just finished ripping through the opening four songs of their recent set in Salt Lake City. Two singles. Two of his debut album’s most anthemic tracks. No stops or pauses in between songs. All in the first 15 minutes of a performance that would eventually double the running time of their only album plus one new song.
But unlike a punk act that similarly keeps the punches rolling, Spiller was wholly uninhibited on stage. He wore glittered capes and spandex. Shimmied his shoulders like Freddie Mercury. Calculated dramatic toe steps and emphatic kicks in every direction. Choreographed his carefully rehearsed movements to the music.
While observing all of this, I couldn’t decide if Spiller wanted to imitate Michael Jackson, Robert Plant, Prince, or Mick Jagger. On top of that, the size of his mouth suggests his mother may have slept with Steven Tyler during the British leg of Aerosmith’s Pump tour.
In a later interview after the show, he brushed off a facetious question about his outrageous showmanship. “That’s just what I am,” he told me. “It’s just what I enjoy.”
For lovers of live performances that make you forget the troubles at home, Spiller’s dramatic charisma is all for your gain. Continue reading…
My family and I recently returned from a weeklong road trip along U.S. Route 50 through Nevada. Famously dubbed “the loneliest road in America” by an unnamed AAA agent, the highway is as beautiful as it is devoid of life.
My column on the experience will publish next week. But one of the highlights was undoubtedly listening to rural country radio through much of it. And by rural I mean no more than four FM stations at any time; two of which were gospel, one talk radio, and one country.
Because our rental car’s auxiliary music jack didn’t work, these are the best songs we listened to while cruising through the beautiful Great Basin of Nevada: Continue reading…
I’ve spoken highly about bluetooth speakers before, including the original UE Boom, Mega Boom, and Cambridge Audio. Like 21st century boomboxes, they bring music to life because they’re easy to pair with your phone and go anywhere.
This month, Ultimate Ears sent me a UE Boom 2 in the hopes I’d publicize it, which I’m doing now. Not because they asked me to. But because it maintains the full and deep sound of the original (although not as bumping as the Mega or as rich as the Cambridge) with twice the wireless range, a little more battery life, and pause and skip functions right on the speaker. That alone makes it a no-brainer consideration for budgets between $100-200.
That said, UE are giving away a limited edition Boom 2 (pictured) to blakesnow.com readers. Here are the official rules:
You must reside in the U.S. (sorry international readers)
You must share your favorite underrated or under-appreciated artist of all time in the below comments and convincingly explain why they deserve more airplay.
That’s it. I’ll announce and publish my favorite entry on May 15 and the speaker will ship shortly thereafter.
I’ve been an avid listener of classical music for twenty years. I’ve listened to greatest hits, lesser-known recommendations, countless composers, all three periods, one-hit wonders, atonal crap, catchy melodies, and everything in between.
While I wouldn’t call my exposure exhaustive, I will say it has been thorough. And while other composers achieved greatness in their own way, none of them come close to the prolific genius of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. It’s not even close.
This is one of those pieces that separates the cliche-but-deserving trifecta from their contemporaries. I absolutely adore it, because it sounds like two people discussing a serious issue without ever fully arguing it.
I get paid to publish online stories. I love my job. But the harsh reality is my contributions cease to exist in the absence of power. Save for only a few printed artifacts, I don’t keep hardcopies of the hundreds of feature stories and thousands of blog posts I’ve written over the last decade.
I was humbled by that realization earlier this spring. The first two publications that ever paid me to write—Engadget’s gaming blog (Joystiq) and GigaOM—both shuttered within 30 days of each other. Their closures reminded me how impermanent life (and work) is. For now, my archives live on (here and here), but there’s no guarantee they’ll remain. They’ll be totally wiped out in a post-apocalyptic world like Mad Max: Fury Road (which you should run, not walk, to see right now).
Admittedly, I don’t sell life-altering work. I mostly help tech companies and media publications sell more widgets (i.e. products, services, or advertising) with believable stories that interest wide audiences. In any case, grasping your own insignificance is never easy. Big wheel keep on turning…
Full head of hair. To all my bros (and any women) out there with thinning, balding, receding, or otherwise missing hair, I sympathize with you. I don’t know what it would be like without follicles. I imagine it’s drafty and uncomfortable. I’m grateful for a full coiffure.
A titanium back. Six months ago, I had my lower back fused. Although my participation in high-impact activities involving running, jumping, and extreme bending have been cut short by two thirds a lifetime, I’m grateful for the $26,000 titanium rods, screws, and spacer that keep me upright and mobile now. With a new lease on life, I feel great. Continue reading…
My wife—hi, hot stuff!—bought me ballroom dance lessons for Christmas. Even though I can cut rug freestyle, I was really excited about taking formal instruction. After finishing the eight week course last week, I am pleased to report it did not disappoint.
I fully expected to learn some new moves, but I didn’t expect the class to broaden my worldview and deepen my appreciation for music. But it did. Here’s what ballroom dance lessons taught me: Continue reading…
I learned to play guitar sometime in the spring of 1994. I did it in a single day. Sort of.
Although I knew how to mangle the open chords for A, C, D, E, and G in the months leading up to that fateful day, the instrument didn’t click with me until my brother and his friend Dylan Denny demonstrated how to play bar chords the night before. “You mean I just keep the same finger formation and slide up and down the neck to play any chord I like, even flats!?” I enthusiastically asked. “Yup,” they replied. “That’s the beautify of power chords.”
I was so excited by this revelation — this power, if you will — that I called in sick the next day (i.e. I faked a cough and my mom let me stay home from school).
Armed with this new “life hack,” I learned to play Green Day’s entire breakthrough album by ear that day. I was so elated, I didn’t even break for lunch, let alone breakfast. I just played, played, and played, stopping the CD only to find the right chord. I even learned a few of the album’s basic “fills,” or poor man’s solos, as I call them.
Upon returning from school, my brother and friend were impressed with my progress. It’s not every day a rhythm guitarist is born. From that day forward, I wanted to “play rhythm” forever.
With exception to the food, my brother, brother-in-law, and consummate friend can’t stand New Orleans. I suspect it has nothing to do with the Big Easy or its people and everything to do with an insolvent business they endured there together.
Whatever the case, I hope the new album by New Orleans duo Generationals might somehow change their mind. It’s as distinct, influential, and catchy as the city they hail from. Certainly not as old and in no way related to jazz, the genre invented there. But the synth-driven, upbeat music will make you want to dance and put a smile on your face, which is good enough for me.
After five listens, I don’t think it’s as moving as their last album, but it’s one of the freshest works I’ve listened to all year, especially “Black Lemon,” “Gold Silver Diamond,” “Now Look at Me,” “Welcome to the Fire,” and “Would you Want Me.” If you’re in the mood for something new, I highly recommend at least a stream.
Exposing my kids to great music is a goal of mine. To accomplish this, I incessantly listen to back catalogs, one-hit wonders, greatest hits, new music, and low profile artists in search of the most timeless, dance-able, moving, and energetic songs. Then I test what I find among my household audience.
So far I’ve done an admirable job, with exception to sharing said music on a proper hi-fi. That all changed this year after acquiring the wireless Cambridge Air 200. It looks like an all-in-one Bose system, but sounds significantly richer, cleaner, and fuller without muddy sounds or the inflated Bose price. Continue reading…
For anyone with an intermediate understanding of graphic design, you’ll know that some shapes look better when visually centered as opposed to mathematically centered. I thought that truth would hold up over the weekend while hanging square records on my office wall. It didn’t.
As eagle-eyed readers will notice, the right side of the montage is a fourth of an inch lower than the left. I had my pencil, level, helpmeet (Hi, Lindsey!) and string handy, thinking I could crack this nut in minutes. An hour later, and while cursing my inability to recall basic geometric calculations, I thought to myself, “If I can keep it visually aligned, I’m sure it’ll look okay.”
By the time I finished, it was mathematically obvious: My estimation was wrong. Having already invested upwards of two hours on the job, and with the kids asking for the umpteenth time if we were “leaving for the pool yet?”, I hastily skewed some right side records to minimize the visual damage. In doing so, I messed up the two inch margins in between prints.
Although I once excelled at math in school, it’s a good thing I never became an engineer.
I get it. These guys are overplayed. The Old Navy of Rock ‘N Roll. Maybe even a bit pompous.
But if the above video doesn’t alter your opinion of said musicians, you’re a snob.
DISCLOSURE: U2 doesn’t make my top 10 or even top 20 band list. But I still believe they’re deserving of much of their success. This is my favorite song of theirs. And Achtung Baby is a ’90s masterpiece.
Looking back, I won’t remember 2013 as a particularly strong year for music. But I did enjoy a handful of new and retro albums and have fond memories of listening to all of the below, ordered by most played to least played. Continue reading…
Few things make my ears hurt more than listening to an untrained violinist. It’s insufferable. On the contrary, hearing a skilled violinist is a delight, perhaps second only to an expert piano player.
I listened to an accomplished violinist by accident recently. I was working. My window was open. It was raining. And then it started: a faint viola. A good one. It played for a solid hour without hitting a single stray note. It was the best live performance I’ve heard in a while.
I wonder if the player even knew their was an audience. I hope they practice again soon.
Readers: What’s your favorite unaccompanied solo instrument?
I was asked to compile a list of my top 25 songs for a recent family reunion. Here it is for all to see.
As for my methodology, I didn’t submit a single political or consensus vote (i.e. notice no Beatles songs or critically acclaimed “Smells like Teen Spirit”). I only picked songs that are personal favorites; great songs that have special meaning to me, even if some of them are admittedly inferior to others not included on this list. And since my remembering self is biased, the list skews to recent favorites.
Last month, iTunes shuffled a humble group of songs to my playlist and with them a wave of nostalgia.
The tracks themselves aren’t much, just old, amateur recordings from a short-lived college band I played in. Before iTunes recalled them, I hadn’t heard them in almost a decade.
But they ain’t bad, either. I played drums. My good friend Robert played bass. And the older brother and manager (Hi, Mac!) from the singer of Imagine Dragons played guitar. That totally sounded like the 31 Flavors girl from Ferris Bueller or Chunk from Goonies, but whatever. Continue reading…
Then, Empire of the Sun, makers of one of my favorite albums of 2008, releases their second album in June. The first single is good stuff (and shot, by the way, in Bryce Canyon, Utah). And if the first five months are any indication, even more good vibes could crop up in the second half of the year.
As someone who likes to sing, dance, and play air guitar, I’m excited by the prospects. Calendar years are more memorable with good music.
A friend and I have been discussing touring band members and studio musicians today. After I complimented Phoenix’s rockin’ touring drummer, my buddy emailed this:
“I always have mixed feelings about the use of utility musicians in live performances. While I appreciate Phoenix having them all clearly visible on stage, it drives me a little spare to see The Killers or Muse bury their spare fellas off behind some speakers. And then you have Green Day, who have had a second guitarist helping them out for over ten years, but he still isn’t a member of the band.”
While Bankrupt doesn’t charter new territory, it’s undeniably fun. It will make you want to dance and sing. It’s like eating a perfectly ripe peach in August after waiting a really long time to indulge in the familiar sweetness.
For all the people with good taste who plan on adding this album to their library, here are five essential tracks I suspect you’ll be humming most: Continue reading…
Not only was it a five star album then, it’s a five star one today. To put my money where my mouth is, I think it’s aged as well as Weezer’s seminal Blue Album, something not a lot of ’90s albums can say. (Anyone tried to listen to Nevermind lately? Yikes!)
The reason The Rentals debut still speaks to me is because I like playfulness, groovy synths, classical music, catchy melodies, and ’70s hard rock. That and it makes me want to dance. It makes me want to play air guitar, head bang, and sing aloud. It makes me want to start a band again, even though I never will. It’s like looking at an old photo of yourself and liking what you see. That’s a beautiful thing.
And just like it did when I was 16, the song “Move On” quells any desire I have to run away from my problems. Just singing the words is relief enough to face them. That’s why I love this album.
If you’ve never listened to it, or if you haven’t in years, I highly recommend a spin. You friends with P.?
As part of her piano lessons, my 7 year-old studies one piece of classical music each week, hand-picked by her teacher.
Consequently, our entire family has been exposed to wonderful music, stuff well beyond the popular Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven pieces. It’s like we’re getting a personal classical music DJ or curator, in addition to professional lessons. Score!
I plan to make a compilation of our favorite new discoveries. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this playful, beautiful, and surprising dandy by Haydn, which was the study assignment for this week.
Although I enjoyed all of the below from front to back without hitting skip, not all of them are great albums. So in order of most spins to fewest spins, most impressive to least impressive, and overall great to good, the top 10 albums of 2012 are as follows:
Music consumers in recent years have no doubt noticed the growing trend of “deluxe edition” albums. They often feature 1.5-2 times the number of tracks, cost more, and feature an alternate album cover.
Here’s what they really are, though: A smart business and marketing proposition. A way to profit off throw away b-side songs, selling them to the most rabid of fans.
Thing is, I don’t even by the deluxe edition of my favorite bands. In my eyes, if a track isn’t good enough to make the original 10-12 song album, it’s not worth my time, no matter who wrote it. In fact, of the few deluxe albums I own, I can’t think of a single memorable, must-have, 4-5 star track.
if i could squeeze my whole childhood into one thing it? would be this song
If I had a dollar for every poorly written Ravel piece, I’d have zero? dollars.
I love the? part from 0:00 to 14:52
Little known fact is that this was originaly going to be the legend of zelda theme. Look? it up.
I’m more into house music,hip-hop and reagge but this music is? a master piece.
thumbs up? if your awesome taste of music brought you here.
The trombone part at 8:00 gives me goosebumps every time i hear it, without fail. amazing how jazz was such an influence in orchestral? 20th century music. love it!
As someone who has played this snare part, I can confirm that it is indeed excruciating.?
Although I really like this piece, the only thing I don’t like is the tempo change right at the ending climax. With the flat (or is it sharp?) notes, it comes off sounding a bit sloppy. If I were a conductor, I’d remix it to keep the tempo, kill the flat notes, and finish strong on the last note like it already does. Either way, the YouTube commenters are witty if not insightful.
The New York times ran an insightful piece this weekend on the decline of Sony, which is valued at just a quarter of where it was a decade ago, and just one thirtieth the size of Apple:
“Sony makes too many models, and for none of them can they say, âThis contains our best, most cutting-edge technology,’ ” Mr. Sakito said. “Apple, on the other hand, makes one amazing phone in just two colors and says, âThis is the best.’ ”
In addition to department infighting, that really sums up Sony’s troubles: too much product, none of them hits. Continue reading…
The song: “All Alright” by Fun. I could sing this refrain all day long. And often do.
The album: Some Nights by Fun. The whole album makes me want to sing out loud, and that’s a pretty solid metric for a memorable album.
Admittedly, the lyrics are cringe inducing at times. The first song is absolutely trash — I deleted it. But eight of the other 10 tracks are a blast to sing to. And at 2 minutes in, “Stars” features the most groovy breakdown I’ve heard in years.
I’m just like the rest of you. I put my pants on one leg at a time. Only once my pants are on, I make amateur dubstep mixes.
I first heard dubstep a couple of years ago and largely wrote it off. A handful of kids in my community and some online colleagues swear by the stuff though. So instead of holding onto the opinion that it’s mostly noise, I decided to keep with the times and find out for myself.
After listening to hundreds of tracks, I hand pick 20 of my favorites and mixed them with my new decks. Then I recorded and edited the mix at 140 bpm in Ableton 8.
The result: I really like dubstep now and hope my mix can serve as a teaser to fans and non-fans alike. The genre works especially well as audio wallpaper and workout music, me thinks.
What’s the best album of 2011? After tallying the votes, the venerable Smooth Harold announced today that the debate was “too close to call” and hereby awarded the honor to both Junk of the Heart by The Kooks and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83.
“I couldn’t name just one,” Harold said via satellite transmission, while vacationing on an uncharted island with the Most Interesting Man in the World. “Junk of the Heart packs a tighter, more accessible punch, but the two disc Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is more rocking; more anthemic.
Either way, you won’t hit the skip button on either of these records — a very difficult feat for any musician to accomplish. That alone is a testament to each album’s worthiness.”
Another album Harold liked from start to finish was the excellent Young Love by Mat Kearney. “Dude’s the new Coldplay,” Harold said, “when they were still releasing really good albums 10 years ago before burning out. Rant aside: Young Love is as beautiful and fun to listen as Junk of the Heart is poppy and Hurry Up is ’80s rocky.”
100 Christmas Classics. That it’s only $5 on Amazon is the icing on the cake. Seriously, if you’re too much of a Grinch to enjoy this refreshing and nostalgic take on Christmas, you have no soul. Bah, humbug.
Assuming his biography well represents him, Steve Jobs was a jerk for much of his life. A work-a-holic with eating disorders, incredibly bratty, ruthless.
I’m sure a lot of devout followers will excuse his actions with “no one is perfect.” I prefer that justification, however, for people who are at least trying to improve their social skills with age, instead of sticking to their anti-social guns as Jobs did for much of his life.
I’ve listend to this album more than a dozen times after discovering it last week. Probably twice a day on average. Whole thing is good, from song 1-12. I’m not familiar with previous Kooks albums, but this is a gem—for certain to finish as a top 5 albums of the year.
Of course, religion, following Christ, or believing in God will never be cool. Nor should it be. Depending on the community, persecution rightfully comes with the territory. (How else would deity test the faith of its followers?)
We now return to regularly schedules jokes about magic underwear, big love, how religion (not greed) ruins the world, why educated people have a harder time believing in God than uneducated people, great and spacious buildings, how successful people often get prideful and turn into jerks, yesterday’s news that Joseph Smith was a controversial man since he was entitled to agency like everyone else (including other purported prophets), why neither atheist nor believers have faith-shattering proof of anything, and Christians calling other Christians non-Christians because the second group worships in a different way. Go figure.
At my daughter’s request, I read James Rumford’s Don’t Touch My Hat(a family favorite) to her kindergarten class.
I tell ya: I felt som’n fierce having 15 pairs of innocent eyes look up to me from a cozy reading rug while showing and telling the story. As I read, there was a sanctity and innocence in the room I haven’t felt in a very long time—maybe not since leaving grade school.
Admittedly, I’ve done a lot of satisfying things this year. I’ve even managed a few professional coups. But this is unexpectedly near the top of my “most gratifying” list for not only this year, but previous years as an adult and father.
More than anything, I’m humbled and honored that my daughter invited me. Magic is soaking my spine. And Rumford is dead on: It’s your heart that counts, not your hat.
PS — Vampire Weekend, you have no idea. The kids do stand a chance. I’ve seen it in their eyes.
Fun story on recycled pop culture, based on a book by a man who claims we’re engrossed in unhealthy levels of nostalgia right now.
The take-away: Nostalgia is only good if you learn from it. And money-making adults—not senior citizens or youth—rule the roost when it comes to demanding the supply of retro pop culture (or at least what they thought was pop culture in younger years).
Piano is hands down the greatest instrument ever made. Even better than drums. And as far as genres go, classical is, without a doubt, the most timeless music ever.
What happens when you combine the two in their most essential forms? You get this: The best classical piano sonatas ever written.
Before I move on, please note: I use the term “sonata” a bit loosely — my list includes some pieces with no additional movements. But I am using the term “classical” strictly — anything from the common practice period of 1600-1910, spanning baroque, classical, and romantic periods.
So put on your powdered wig. Dress in a frilly shirt. And don’t applaud during the pauses, please. It’s the top 10 best classical piano sonatas of all-time. Continue reading…
The kid who made this is only 17 and hails from France. It’s a remix of 39 pop songs. Dubbed Madeon, he’s purportedly already signed to a label and releasing an extended play album this summer. It’s seriously some of the best live sampling I’ve ever seen.
Says a friend, “I see this sort of thing and basically give up on playing music. I’m a no-talent hack compared to this guy…” which is why this kid will have a long career in music.
I can count the number of country albums I like in the order I discovered them on one hand: Patsy Cline’s greatest, Garth Brooks Ropin’ the Wind, Hank Williams’ greatest, Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, and Jimmy Buffett’s greatest (if you can call that country).
Truth be told, I think the genre may be the second most cliche and boring kind of music ever, after industrial, of course (with exception to Pretty Hate Machine and Downward Spiral).
But I digress. I now have a new favorite country album: Brad Paisley’s This is Country Music. Whether you like country or not, know this: Brad Paisley is a phenomenal musician, songwriter, Telecaster guitarist, and one of the best lyricists in modern music. Of any genre. Seriously, he could give Brandon Flowers a run for his poetic memory. He’s that good.
So if you ain’t scurred to try new things, click on the above link. Not only will it make you want to buy a 10-gallon hat and a pair of wranglers, I’m pretty sure one of the following eight highlight tracks will speak to you when listened to in their entirety: This is country music, A man don’t have to die, Camouflage, One of those lives, Toothbrush, Love her like she’s leaving, New Favorite memory, and Don’t drink the water.
For reals, this album is stacked. It’s in my running as album of the year. No lie.
You’re blind if you don’t see the Egyptian revolution (and its peaceful and unified protests) as a beacon to the world.
“During the fiercest clashes on January 28, I found a guy about my age guarding my back, who I later found out was a Christian,” Yahia Roumi, a 24- year-old protester from Cairo, told IPS. “Now we’re best friends; we never go to the demonstrations without one another.”