Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hey There, Plain White T's!

So, not that I'm proclaiming the discovery of something that has been heretofore unnoticed, but I really have to give props to Plain White T's for producing one of the sweetest, most pleasant to listen to singles that I've heard in a while. I'm a huge lover of acoustic and this group uses it beautifully on Hey There Delilah, infusing it with the pangs of love and hope one would expect to find in a letter from a young romantic to his girl many miles away. It's melancholy but not in the way that's so depressing that it makes a person want to sleep for several hours. Hey There Delilah is simple, dreamy, and heart breakingly sincere. It doesn't matter what happens to the pair in the could anything go wrong after writing a song like that? Hopeless romantics have an anthem here. Just the right amount of angst to feels like a throw back to something that I've yet to put my finger on...give me a couple days. I'll figure it out. If you have been hiding under a rock or busted out every single radio you've touched in the past few weeks, aquaint yourself with something very great.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The National...Learn the Name

There never seems to be a shortage of bands that are "gonna make it," they're just so bloody amazing that there's no way that they're not going to explode on to the musical consciousness. That said, I don't particularly enjoy doling out that the stamp of future approval too often because it just doesn't always work out the way one might hope. So, every couple of blue moons, I get my ideas and Tuesday night one of my inklings was reassured. My attention was drawn to a band several months ago by the name of The National. Stumbling on them the way I did, I checked out their myspace and a few other sites and really just liked what I heard. The band has some really lovely instruments sprinkled through out their songs--"orch-pop," very classy and understated in back of the lead singer's deep, pleasantly lethargic vocals. Cool. I downloaded a couple songs. Next thing I know, The National has got a picture on Paste Magazine's cardboard insert. The New York based group is responsible for four albums so far, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, Alligator featuring my personal favorite, Secret Meeting, The National, Cherry Tree, and Boxer featuring Fake Empire-- the song they performed Tuesday night on The Late show with David Letterman when they made their network television debut. Keep your eyes pealed, folks. These guys have got Death Cab potential. And even in the case where maybe I'm wrong (gasp) that doesn't make them any less worthy of gracing one's CD rack.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Evolution of John Mayer

This past Friday I had the pleasure of being alerted to the fact that John Mayer was going to be performing on Good Morning America. Usually I brush off these kinds of segments purely because I'm not completely sure that three songs is worth dragging myself out of bed when I actually have the chance to sleep in. This time was different I suppose given that John Mayer is one of the few acts from whom I'll take those three songs and any other notes that emanate form his guitar. Sitting on my couch, fighting off the blurriness of my eyes, I watched him on stage with the mighty Eric Clapton and couldn't help but think "the boy's come a long way." Several years ago I first spotted him in some glossy, pink magazine crooning into...wait, that's not right, sucking on the microphone in between lyrics that sounded more like grunts than than words. I dismissed him as one more reason why music at the time blew big time. Girls bought his CD because they thought he was kind of brooding, the classic tall, dark, and handsome and boys just wished he wasn't there. There were hardly ever any comments on his music itself beyond what and a dreamy song "Your Body is a Wonderland" was. I made a point to stay far away. Not long after the release of his second CD, "Heavier Things," I came into possession of a copy. Completely unintentional; I really didn't know what to do with the thing, so I decided I'd listen to it just to see how bad it was. Well, I was wrong. Really, really, really, wrong. His lyrics were thoughtful and meaningful, not just the garbage cranked out to fill the space between the bars of music on a page. And the music itself...impressive. It was smooth and crafted, bolstered with feeling in every note. Clearly this guy had talent. I couldn't wait to hear what he had next. It took a while, longer than I would have liked, being the impatient person I am but still trying to understand the process. The result, in my opinion is truly one of the finest albums recorded in several decades. Lyrically and musically solid; he went away for a couple years and made himself into a guitarist who can hold his own on stage with the likes on Eric Clapton. Just watching the two made me want to get off my ass and pick up my own guitar. He's "not the man [he] used to be lately," and I'm quite pleased. He no longer eats the mike and he drips with credibility. If I had to hinge bets on one artist who was going to be around in twenty or thirty years...I think I'd win.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

When Good Taste Gets Mistaken for Snobbery

I was recently reminded of a conversation I had some months ago over take out with a friend about (what else) music. This particular person, not spending nearly as much time as say, I do, plugged in to something, rather proudly disclosed her tendencies to like less critically acclaimed music, like Avril Lavigne. It just so happens I'm not exactly in love with the latest single and I gave my honest opinion. I don't like her and I think she sucks. Why did I say this? I think she has a whiny, high pitched voice, her music reeks of faux punk which is then overproduced, and her subject matter hasn't evolved an iota-- it's completely stale, fodder for twelve-year-olds. That's why I don't get near her. When she first came on the scene about all I could say was, "Thank God she's not blonde." But I digress. My friend's idea was that some people simply don't like her because of how mainstream and Top 40 she is-- absolutely no indie credibility. Sure that's definitely not a plus on her side but don't those of us who listen to the likes of Death Cab for Cutie have the right to shun an artist because we just don't like their music? Isn't that a good enough reason? I'll happily advertise my liking of Maroon 5 which iTunes mysteriously classified as alternative when nothing could be more straight-up pop.

It works in another way too-- God forbid a person does not care for a group that has been blessed by the mighty, all-knowing critics as well as the music community with undeniable, infallible, good taste. One such example is the White Stripes. The "Denial Twist" was amazing along with about four other cuts on Get Behind Me Satan, yet I feel there are instances when they (and I mean Jack White) take themselves way too seriously. There's a line between art and mess and there are times when they straddle it beautifully only to fall off on the side of mess next time around. It has nothing to do with a desire to be contrary.

I'd like to think that most people like what they listen to because it genuinely appeals to them. It's difficult to try to get into a song that makes you want to smash in your speakers. So let's go with that assumption. We'll all get along a lot better.

Ban Britney

While it turns my stomach to cheapen my pretty little blog in any way by even bringing it up; I feel I've got to be blunt and open when I see the very name of music besmirched through association with worthlessness. That said, let me explain my rant. The other day I heard a few words that sent a chill up my spine. I will not vouch for the veracity of what I heard if I heard it correctly at all. These frightful words were, "Britney's back in the studio." It could be a fear of mine manifesting itself in some kind of auditory trickery-- but I do believe this is a situation that will raise its ugly head inevitably. So, what's our plan of action? Surely there has been enough boiled up resentment from those of us who feel that there's absolutely no justification for mass obsession with a person who has nothing to offer, that it wouldn't matter where she was or what she was doing. She doesn't act, write, model, advocate, or even really sing. The behavior of an immature, unbalanced media machine should not consume such a large portion of the population when there are so many other issues to be paid attention. It's as if the country needs a good smack across the face. There's nothing to see here-- let's move it along. Since her unfortunate peak of popularity, music in general has improved by leaps and bounds, yet she hangs around like a chronic rash derived from a slip in judgement. There should be some standards in the media besides sales figures regarding what it takes to get that kind of attention. Ever tried punching the buttons on a vending machine in hopes of scoring some Doritos without putting in any money? Yeah-- nothing happens. The consumer should think enough of themselves that they would not insult their intelligence by wasting time reading (or listening to) about what she's shaved this time and as a result the media would be pushed into finding subjects more worthy of publication. If it were a matter of unbridled talent mixed with substance-influenced whim-- surely exceptions have been made, but when there is so little talent that she's actually in the red...step over the pile of dog crap and keep walking. So, let's prepare for the worst, clear out the muck, and turn our fascinations elsewhere. Please.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Hold Steady- "Massive Nights" from Boys and Girls of America

I liked it on first listen. It's not often a band manages to combine great music plus lyrics that are clever and beg to be looked up and printed. "Massive Nights" tells the story of a pretty wild dance back in the day, sounding like it's being told by the guy who lives across the hall while he's singing in the shower. Perhaps the song itself could have played during that dance. Granted, it's no magical prom night, referencing venue's bathrooms and a perpetually hovering chaperone, but if nothing else the night was memorable and made for a good story. High school, in other words. The drums and guitar make for what can only be described as a kicky beat and are used with skill never overtaking the song in an overly enthusiastic attempt to be kick ass rock. These guys sound like they know what they're doing-- which is not always a given in these matters. Kudos to The Hold Steady for creating an anthem for the good times.

Joseph Arthur- "Diamond Ring" from Let's Just Be

Arthur starts off sounding a bit like John Mayer with jet lag but that quickly subsides into an at times screechy chorus--and I don't even mean screechy in a bad way. Over all it turns out to be a fairly palatable little 3 1/2 minute guitar-driven salute to ambivalence and possibly a girl. Not exactly mind-blowing but enjoyable. If it came on the radio, I'd turn it up rather than off.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Music Void

People seem to be under the impression that I know what I'm doing when it comes to music. I'd like to think that's fairly true, but as of late I've stumbled upon what I like to call a music void. It's a slump when nothing seems all that great. Happens to the best of us from time to time and while it's happening it seems endless. You know that feeling when you've bought an album or heard a song and are stunned by how much you like just might be the greatest piece that's ever been piped through your headphones. Good grief, what could be better? As terrific as that feeling is, as uplifting and energizing, not being able to recapture it for an extended period of time feels a little like watching the battery die on my laptop, to me. It's red and blinking and I'm scrambling for the power chord but it's no where to be found. We're goin' down. There are different types of voids, like that bleak period in the mid to late 90's where I was quite sure music had peaked and was very quickly dying as an art form. Anyone who had similar thoughts of doom, though probably realizes that the void wasn't their fault and they weren't just being moody or picky. At the moment I really don't believe that's the case right now, thankfully. It's Lost in the Desert Syndrome. Where to go from here without wasting time and how to get back to that album that rivals sliced cheese in greatness. Maybe it's got to do with getting to the point where there are too many similar-sounding bands saturating a genre. Indie is in and every other band is in youth-sized vintage t-shirts or short sleeved plaid button-ups.

So, I 've got no magic advice. These slumps have the tendency to end themselves when the person in said slump stops trying so hard to find the way out and in the proccess only gets disillusioned by the crap they hear on the way. When in doubt dust off an old favorite. It'll happen.

Live Earth

In the words of O.K. Go, "a good idea at the time." At first thought of course I couldn't help but get a bit giddy at the idea of some Captain Planet-esque crusade by a multitude of musicians brandishing guitars fervently while telling the world to unplug its cell phone charger, but I stopped to wipe the grin off my face with the realization that I've seen something like this before...oh what was it?

A mere two years ago I nearly busted my head on the tv when I forgot to watch Live 8. When a DVD of the extravaganza finally found its way to my house, I was impressed. Being relatively young I had not seen an undertaking of this magnitude, but now it partly serves to remind why the well-intentioned Live Earth seemed to fizzle amid groans like a Fox rip-off.

TOO SIMILAR TOO SOON- Live Aid seemed groundbreaking, Live 8 was a great second act about twenty years later, brand spankin' new for today's younger generation and Live Earth just came across like a wannabe.

MUSICIANS AND HYPOCRITS- In terms of carbon emissions, how much does the tour bus and the trucks and the air plane flights and the sets and whatever else cost? In terms of polar bears' lives, how much? Am I saying anything new here?

BANDWAGON IS BORING- Everyone loves a good cause to rally behind, especially if it's in vogue or looks good on a t-shirt. Who needs to know if you really believe in it? In my mind, Kanye West's environmetal savyness is at best dubious.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing the good Al Gore- I think he got carried away. Maybe try something different next time. No stages, but a park with limited tickets. One event, not seven. More realistic info on going green and how does this sound: acoustic.