Friday, September 30, 2011

Midweek Mountain Getaway : Jordan Hull and Toy Soldiers

Consider this a follow up story. Before I left the Vision, I did my last edition of The Beat 'n' Track on a singer/songwriter from Nashville named Jordan Hull. We met up at a coffe shop and he told about writing songs, painting pictures of monkeys, playing gigs with a group from PA called Toy Soldiers, and about a split EP that would hopefully be out soon called Midweek Mountain Getaway.

I'm happy to report you can listen to that 6-song EP on Bandcamp. And you know what? It's impressive. Hull surprised me back in April with a sound and a voice that was far older and weathered (in a good way) than that of someone in his early twenties. During the interview, he talked about listening to legends from Son House to Woody Guthrie. It's obvious Hull synthesizes what he listens to. Dude wasn't just name-dropping.

This EP is solid top to bottom. It's a mature and nuanced blend of blues, folk and good old rock and roll that takes you from a rock-a-billy foot stomper, to a moody Roy Orbison-inflected tune in a matter of one track. Hull and Toy Soldiers have got a sound steeped in another time, yet it's still fresh and exciting to think that music like this is thriving and in good hands.

Trivia: "Tight Rope" (track 6) is Leon Russell cover. Pretty cool.

Go listen to it. Lay down your five dollars. It's a small price to pay for a midweek mountain getaway.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stay Young Go Dancing : Death Cab for Cutie

What better advice could there be? Check out this lovely video for "Stay Young Go Dancing," the final track on DCfC's May album Codes and Keys. It's not your typical Death Cab fare. No one's having their chest cut open, running from flames or committing to a loveless marriage. Nope, to quote Ben Gibbard, life is sweet. And so is the video which follows a field-traipsing couple backward in time.

For me, it's a wonderful song because it makes me think of going dancing with some good friends shortly before moving this summer, and how really sweet it was to be in a park at night under paper lanterns, twirling around in good weather. If that won't keep you young, I don't know what would.

Fond memories, folks. This is definitely a fuzzier, friendlier Death Cab. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Radiohead on SNL

If you'e like me, you forgot that Radiohead was performing on the season opener of Saturday Night Live because you were grading papers. (This is common, I realize.)So much tragedy in the world. Anyway, NME posted video of "Lotus Flower" and "Staircase." Please enjoy what a strange little man Thom Yorke is. And stop grading papers.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Trend Spotting: Headphones, Function or Beauty?

I'm typically the last to notice fashion trends, but when you spend as much time as I do waiting around a college campus for a bus, or for class to start, or for the line at Dunkin Donuts to subside, you notice things. Lately, I've noticed girls wearing laced boots that look like they jumped Laura Ingalls. I've noticed girls sprouting feathers from their scalps, and I've noticed that large, colorful headphones are infringing on the sacred turf of the tiny white Apple earbuds.

Experience says that the kids I went to high school and college with who wore bulky, over-the-ear headphones were audiophiles. (I've got a pair of Audio-Technicas, myself, but I never wore them out.) Apple earbuds served two purposes. They were easy to stuff in a purse or backpack and they let everyone know you owned an iPod.

But now, what are we chasing? One article I found says that these headphones can add "pop" to your outfit, especially in the age of dress codes (not that that applies to herds of undergrads). The sound quality is better, as well.... you know. If you're into that. Beats and Skullcandy are high on the list of brands in demand. Forbes even reported that the latter's stock is up, if only "modestly."

I guess my question with trends always remains: When did this happen? Is this the latest wave of Geek-Chic? Maybe it's a trend parallel to the surge in popularity of film cameras. They're also bulky and retro-looking, but those sepia-tinted filters are tapping into some kind of nostalgia for a period in time we did not live through.

That could be it. However, Beats is a brand by Dr. Dre, and Dr. Dre is decidedly not Geek Chic. A post from Gizmodo today talked about a cheaper model of Grados, ("the standard bearer of aural excellence," they say.) meaning that someone seeking nearly professional-level audio quality can lay down $600 and not only improve his listening experience but his music nerd cred. Gizmodo compared Grados among said "music nerds" to the afore mentioned Beats headphones among "fashion-conscious teenagers."

So maybe high school never quite ends. Instead of buying lime green headphones because we're cool, we buy really expensive headphones because we're cool and have audio needs that money just can't stand up to. Who knows, but the next time you're in some public place, look around. These headphones are everywhere. And feathers.

That's a whole different post.

If you have some insight/opinion, by all means, share in the comments.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Paradise : Coldplay

As we slink toward the October 24 release date for Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto, the band released another song today. Admittedly, I cringed when I read the song was called "Paradise." I've been cringing a lot these days with Coldplay. Though, the song isn't bad. It takes a bit to be convinced of that, but stick with it. It's a musical "para-para-paradise." Cringe.

Best Coast on the East Coast

Because I didn't get my fill of student media in undergrad, I'm now writing for a snazzy student media outlet at Syracuse called The Newshouse. Check out the review I wrote of West Coast rockers Best Coast, who performed at the Westcott Theater here on Friday. Props to my producer for adding in the phrase "profane mumblings about Bambi." Much respect, sir.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jeff Tweedy's Gotta Feeling

If I had to make a list of things that I thought would never happen, Jeff Tweedy singing "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas might be in the top 10.

Props to Pitchfork for posting this hilarious cover. The Wilco frontman deadpans most of the way though, breaks in to explain "tricky" aspects of the song and ultimately kills the audience because they can't stop laughing. A rare moment, indeed. I doubt we will ever hear Tweedy sing "draaank" again.

Monday, September 5, 2011

You Belong to Me Now : Candy Butchers

Here's a testament to pop music at its best. Check out this tune from 2002. It's "You Belong to Me" by the Candy Butchers. What you need to know about said Candy Butchers is main man Mike Viola, a way under rated songwriter and musician, in my opinion. Aside from constructing a really a solid and enjoyable pop song, Viola is responsible for the music you hear in many Judd Apatow flicks like "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," or "Get Him to the Greek." Apatow might not be your cup of tea, but you can hardly find fault with the dead-on Roy Orbison-esque "A Life Without You (Is No Life at All)." It's impressive. And it's not a mere ability to mimic, Viola absorbs and synthesizes style, which I think is one reason he can produce really good pop music. P.S. He's also the lead singer on "That Thing You Do."

But I digress. Check out the video and take a spin through some of his other stuff. It will not dispoint. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hammered Dulcimer Music at the NY State Fair

Many of you good folks out there know I moved up to Syracuse, NY two months ago. Here's a article I wrote yesterday for a class on some really unique musicians I met at the New York State Fair. Normally I don't post class articles, but this was pretty cool.

Amid the chatter, buzzers, rings, dings and whirs of the New York State Fair, there’s another sound that floats out onto the midway. It’s the sweet sound of the hammered dulcimer, a string instrument dating back to the Persian Gulf around 2,000 B.C.

 For the past 12 years, nationally recognized hammered dulcimer player Dan Duggan, along with friends and accompanying musicians Tom Hodgson and Henry Jankiewicz, have been bringing traditional music showcasing the dulcimer to fair crowds from across the state.

 “The sound comes right up at you,” Duggan said. That’s one quality that attracted him to the instrument when he first heard it in college. After 25 years, the dulcimer is Duggan’s full-time gig.

 He loves the uniqueness of the instrument. That uniqueness is also appealing to many fair-goers. They wander by the Agriculture Building, where the trio will be stationed through Sept. 4, and get a look and a listen at an instrument somewhat unfamiliar.

 “We get to play for people we normally wouldn’t play for,” guitarist Tom Hodgson said of the “eclectic mix of people” who stop by.

 For Duggan, it’s a chance to spread the word about the dulcimer, particularly because it doesn’t have a home in more modern mainstream music like rock or country.

 Audience members will hear primarily traditional music, fiddle player Henry Jankiewicz said. He also said an important distinction to remember is that traditional music comes from a variety of countries and regions like Ireland, Canada, Scandinavia, not just the American South.

 Or as Hodgson put it, “It’s the music passed down through oral tradition.”

 Traditional music isn’t everything, though. Duggan has numerous albums in his catalog, some solo works and others collaborations featuring his own compositions, both traditional and modern. His music can be heard in films and even on Paul Simon’s 2000 Grammy-nominated studio album, “You’re the One.”

 “Writing for the dulcimer isn’t any different than any other instrument,” he said, “it’s a little bit more percussive.”

 “Dan’s very open to having other musicians play with him,” Hodgson said of the collaborative nature of their work. “He’s very well known among musicians.” Typically, Duggan will put together an ensemble based on an event or project.

“It’s as much about the informal playing as it is professional playing,” Hodgson said. “Some of the best music is made around kitchen tables.”

 That sense of community is also part of the basis for Duggan’s latest album, “For Love of Friends. ”All the songs were “written with people in mind,” Duggan said.

“They’re for all the friends who supported us [he and his wife] through neck cancer treatments.” 

Duggan was diagnosed with neck cancer in early 2009. He and his wife Peggy Lynn started a blog and friends helped out, even to the extent of raising money. But as Duggan blogged in September of that same year, “After ten months, three surgeries and 35 radiation treatments, several chemotherapy treatments, six and a half months with a peg tube... I am cancer free.”

 The radiation made it harder to grow back his once bushy beard, but otherwise he is doing fine. “I looked like a teenager trying to grow a beard,” he said.

 Now it’s back to traveling from show to show and bringing the story of the dulcimer to the masses. 

“It’s wonderful to enlighten them,” Hodgson said. Weaving history into the set, Duggan told the crowd,

“This is the instrument the West was won with. They weren’t hauling pianos out there.”

 He also told the crowd dulcimer players have an old joke. They spend half of the time tuning their instruments and half of the time playing out of tune.