Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Zero Plays Project: Part I

I have 1.27 GB of music I've never heard. Between sampler CDs, NoiseTrade downloads, and impulse Amazon MP3 purchases, my iTunes library is backlogged with tracks whose play count is a tragic "zero."

In an effort to fix that and possibly uncover some new music to love, I'm going to tackle my "Zero Plays" playlist ten songs at a time and post about my favorite of the group each week.

That said, here's installment #1.

Band: Howler
Song: "Back of Your Neck"
Why it's worth a play: It's hard not to love a bunch of teenagers flirting with surf-guitar. The Minnesotan 5-piece released their debut LP America Give Up in January with plenty of fanfare from the likes of NPR, NME, and the Guardian. Happily, this easily-digestible 3-minute tune has an appealing fuzzed out laze that justifies the accolades.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Death Cab for Cutie Returns to the Ryman

By Erin Carson | Created with

When Ben Gibbard took the stage of the Ryman Auditorium and immediately launched into "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," we knew to expect a different kind of Death Cab for Cutie show. Gibbard played the popular song, which typically surfaces late-show in acoustic form, without his bandmates and without most of its usual moodiness. The performance set the tone for a concert that, while pulling songs from all their albums, leaned mostly on older tunes and deeper cuts, with a very light smattering of the year-old Codes and Keys.

For anyone who caught Death Cab's 2009 Ryman appearance, last night's show felt like a completion. Instead of go-tos like "The Sound of Settling" or an epic rendition of "Transatlanticism," we got "Technicolor Girls," "Amputations," and "Lowell, MA." That's not to say the band ignored favorites– nothing sounded as sweet as the entire Ryman erupting in "ba da"'s for "Soul Meets Body," but the show had a different type of depth to it.

And Death Cab pulled off that deep cut-heavy set list thanks in part to an unusually warm and responsive Nashville crowd. When the band turned "We Looked like Giants" into the extended, momentous, tightly-played masterpiece of the night, the crowd stayed with them every second, and even threatened to out sing Gibbard on songs like "Marching Bands of Manhattan."

It felt good to be at the Ryman last night. When Death Cab took finals bows, there was a rare sincerity between them and the audience. If they were happy to be there, the crowd was happy to have them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Falling Out of Love with Bands

Seriously, what is the deal with that hat? 
There's something tragic about not caring. I was thinking about this recently while listening to the radio in the car. John Mayer's new song "Queen of California"came on and I couldn't help but think about how weird it was that I'd made no plans to buy the album, or even worse, how that though really didn't bother me.

A mere few years ago, I would have snapped up Born and Raised. Mayer was even the subject of one of my earliest blog posts here when I made my peace with his teen idol status because he could play guitar so well. I almost want to be sad about it, but I'm not.

What makes you fall out of love with a band or artist? Do you grow out of them like you do shoes? Or is it just like that friend you used to find hilarious and now you find annoying? God knows John Mayer is annoying. But up until that piece of ridiculousness Battle Studies, I could make exception.

In other cases, I think you move out of phases of your life where the music makes sense for you. It's damn near impossible to get that back, but at the same time, you find something else. In other cases, I think you have a break with the artist. Example: I was all about "Not Ready to Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks in the wake of their Bush-comment-fiasco, but when the entire rest of the album turned out to be laments and references to betrayal, strife, and bad treatment, I just couldn't do it.

Anyway, here's my list of the top 5 bands I've fallen out of love with and tracks that really did us in (mostly):

01. John Mayer : "Assassin" : A thinly veiled metaphor. I'm still convinced this album was a joke.

02. Coldplay : "Princess of China ft. Rhianna" : As if including the lyrics "hurts like heaven" on the album was not enough of an insult. Rhianna. Really.

03. Death Cab or Cutie : "Some Boys" : What can I say? How many people are still with their high school sweethearts?

04. Dixie Chicks : "Bitter End" : Indeed.

05. Maroon 5 : "Misery" : I don't hate the song. I just got sick of Adam Levine.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Adventures in Paying Homage

Nothing to get hung about. 
I went to New York City for the first time to see Warhorse at Lincoln Center with my Critical Writing class this past April. As the bus neared the Lincoln Tunnel, my professor told us about a few nearby spots where we could venture but not get lost, one of them being Strawberry Fields in Central Park.

Strawberry Fields. The State-side holy site for Beatles fans looking to pay homage to John Lennon. Nuts. It hadn't even crossed my mind to try and find it, and yet nothing seemed more important than locating that iconic tiled "Imagine" paved into the ground.

Admittedly, in the past 10 years I've spent a lot less time with the Beatles than I used to. The summer after sixth grade I listened to Abbey Road every single day, without fail. That was also the year I brought my Beatles 1 cd to the end-of-year dance– I was a "cool" kid for a day.

In the coming years I found other bands to listen to, but never had the heart to strip the Beatles of the title "All-Time Favorite Band." In some ways they're dusty relics of my childhood, like an old teddy bear or too-small bike. And maybe it was for that reason, that nostalgia, that I recruited a couple friends and we snaked our way to Central Park as soon as we got off the bus.

It was right behind the stone wall. I knew it. But in true tourist fashion, we had to bum directions off a street vendor. Yards away, we found a mob of people that didn't thin out for a second in the 40 minutes we stopped to eat lunch on the bench and listen to the old guys playing Beatles covers on their guitars.

That's a really obvious testament to the uniting power of music, so I'm reluctant to even say it, but it was stunning. From tween girls to European travelers, all gravitated to this one place.

I still don't think about the Beatles as much anymore, but I'm inclined to believe in some kind of cosmic balance or duty. Heading over to Strawberry Fields was a non-negotiable pilgrimage, and it mile-marked a great musical relationship. Ten-year-old me geeked out and twenty-two-year-old me totally understood.