30 January, 2007

Warm Music for Cold Days

It’s cold, oh yes, very cold. This weather makes me want to hibernate, even my iPod is pissed off (do you guys ever notice your iPods freezing up in cold weather?) Anyway, I get angry at my “summer music” when there’s snow on the ground. It’s just so freakin’ peppy and sunny, like your friends who live in Florida and complain about 45 degree days. The real problem is that I don’t have a lot of “winter music” per se. I guess everybody starts dancing when they’re happy, and everyone is happy when they can feel their feet (pretty simple equation.) Maybe if people embraced the happy funky music of the world and started moving in the winter months, instead of turning into Oscar the frozen grouch and climbing back in bed, everyone would be a lot happier and a lot warmer. Here’s some music for testing my theory:

Bonfires of Sao Joao by Forro In the Dark is a warm place to start, and utterly reminiscent of nighttime bonfires. It’s smoky, jazzy, and south of the border where forro is literally a form of dance and a fairly simple style of music. Forro In the Dark branches out, adding a few more instruments, some guest stars (Bebel Gilberto, Miho Hatori, and David Byrne.) It took me awhile to note the Talking Heads influence, but it’s definitely there, especially when you listen to the Heads’ later music where they bring in world beats. Bebel Gilberto adds a little tropical airy touch to the sound of “Wandering Sparrow” giving it a bit of Brazil. This is very warm music, some tango sounds, handclaps, and basically a sense of joy pervading the album.

Funeral by Arcade Fire was the soundtrack to my first day out of the house after a major snow and ice storm. I must say that you cannot truly appreciate this music until you’ve listened to it in the glow of the melting ice that pulls on trees and imagined actually being snowed in. It’s haunting and gorgeous, and you start to really understand the lyrics. No, this band won’t warm you up (they’re from Canada, what do you expect?!) but they can put a smile on your face when the weather outside is frightful.

Little Miss Sunshine (Soundtrack) by various musical talents is a ridiculously fun soundtrack. I have yet to see the movie, but if it’s anywhere near as good as the delightful Devotchka tunes (along with a little Sufjan Stevens, Tony Tisdale, and Rick James biatch) on the soundtrack, then it will be amazing. Especially fun is “Til the End of Time” by Devotchka, with soaring strings and marching drums. Hopefully, it will bring the sunshine back to everyone.

Finally, but certainly not least appreciated by any standards is the Aaron Copland masterpiece “Rodeo: IV, Hoe-Down” which can bring chills to your spine, but also evokes a day on the prairie. It’s pretty, and peppy, and happy, all of the things you need to wake up at 6:30 AM on a chilly winter morning. Don’t waste hot water in your shower, listen to hot music (but please shower also)!

23 January, 2007


Whenever I’m asked to classify music I end up delving into a specific genre and just listening for hours at a time. I analyze and search for similarities, tracking influences and influences’ influences until my ears hurt. Although classification can trap bands in certain genres, it can also help the listener learn about musical history and the true interconnectedness of all music.

I was recently asked to explain the jam band genre, the first bands that came to mind were the Grateful Dead and Phish, but as I listened, searched, and read about jam bands I realized how many different kinds of music have influenced jam bands. Jazz, reggae, ska, rock, blues, country, pop, bluegrass, metal, funk, gospel, and psychedelic, are all types of music that have influenced jam bands, directly and/or indirectly. The world seems a little bit more balanced when such diverse art forms can be celebrated together. Here are some jam bands worth listening to and their influences:

Moe. lists such obvious influences as the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Velvet Underground on their Myspace. They also list the Clash, Stereolab, Van Halen, and Kiss which are a bit less obvious. On “Captain America” I can hear Parliament and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the bassline. “Okayalright” has a southern rock feel reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and, more recently, the Black Crowes. “Threw it All Away” sounds like some weird Zappa concoction, but it also sounds like the Specials and even the Police. I’ve never been a huge fan of Moe., but when I listen to their music with my head, they impress and surprise the music snob within.

Umphrey's Mcgee is another jam band that’s garnering well-deserved praise and attention on the scene. They’ve taken the art of improvisation and soloing to a new level on their latest album “Safety in Numbers.” Only four of the twelve catchy songs below four minutes, but they’re so fun that they capture your ears for the entirety of the song. It’s important to note that soloing didn’t originate in rock music, in fact, early rock ‘n’ roll was short and fast (Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, etc.) Soloing actually became popular in jazz music, where all musicians in a trio or quartet received a solo during a song to show of their musical prowess. Umphrey’s Mcgee and all jam bands owe their allegiance to pioneering bebop jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker, who stressed skillful playing over danceability. Umphrey’s Mcgee are working hard to create thought-provoking music that has rich instrumentals and lyrics, and they’re doing a beautiful job.

The Slip are chameleons of music; jamming live and grooving on their CDs, but never really assuming the shape of any genre. They pull together the sounds of jazz, popular music with jangly Beatlesesque grooves, and put out music that’s both psychedelic and mainstream (well, maybe not Black Eyed Peas mainstream, but mainstream enough to be heard on Grey’s Anatomy.) These guys create a musical entity that will effect bands of the future, and is effecting bands as we speak. They deserve your respect just for making music that’s undeniably worth your time.

16 January, 2007

Keeping My Homies Ahead of the Game

I’m horrible at being ghetto, but that’s not the point. The point is that I’m good at finding awesome tunes to keep my friends occupied. Maybe it’s a sixth sense, or some superhero power I gained when I was exposed to radiation, or maybe it’s just a talent. Although I can’t begin to explain my superhuman abilities, I can use them for the greater musical good.

The new supergroup, The Good, The Bad, and the Queen, may have a ridiculously long name, but they make music that’s at least as ridiculously good. “Kingdom of Doom” has odd guitar noise and a steady bass line that lends it an eerie British sound. It sounds like the Gorillaz slamming out rock songs in a haunted Victorian house. On the rest of their debut, they bounce out reggae beats (“History Song”,) techno music with bumpy piano (“Herculean”,) and sprightly piano with bouncy, yet mellow guitar (“80s Life.”) Listen to their whole album on Myspace.

Being the little pushover that I am, I can’t help but wait with briskly beating heart for the new Fall Out Boy release, “Infinity on High.” The boys know where to place a hook, and they’re just so darn cute, plus, based on the song “Carpal Tunnel of Love” their new album will be the break up album of ‘07. Just a little heads up to all my emo friends (you know who you are!)

I’ve been infected by the Lily Allen bug. Her music is bubble gum, pure musical candy without nutritional value, but worth your time just for the fun you’ll have listening to her snarky commentary on relationships (“Smile”) and Kate Moss (“Everything’s Just Wonderful.”)

For fans of local music, Boston’s female fronted band My Little Radio will be hosting their CD release party at TT the Bear’s on February 2nd. For people who don’t know My Little Radio’s music, it sounds kind of like Flyleaf meets Paramore, and absolutely nothing like the fabulous Dresden Dolls.

Sometimes when a band or artist has a lot of chatter circulating online and blurbs in big magazines, when everyone seems to hear something different in their music, I don’t hear anything. I have a horrible time trying to find something interesting in music that everyone else seems to be touting. After a little break from the gossip, I can usually find something I like about any kind of music. Here are a few good bands/musicians I’ve ignored in the past because they were already receiving a ton of buzz:

Cold War Kids

Brett Dennen

Death From Above 1979 (no longer together)

Iron & Wine (Like I’ve said before, I was late on the whole Garden State thing.)

KT Tunstall

The Raconteurs

Los Abandoned

Old Crow Medicine Show

I want to finish you guys off with something old yet exceedingly interesting; Hobbit. Yes, they’re named after the race of miniscule hairy beings from the J.R.R. Tolkien books. Yes, all of their songs are about the plots of said books. Yes, they are a cheesy prog rock band. But if it weren’t for these three little things, Hobbit would be huge. They basically rip off Led Zeppelin, but then what self-respecting rock band doesn’t?

09 January, 2007

Sun Gods Rock '06

I had few expectations for my last concert of 2006. Despite the fact that Apollo Sunshine is one of my favorite bands, I’ve been disappointed by their shows in the past. Yet, I can honestly say that this last show was the best I’d seen all year. There was an atmosphere of excited expectation; the crowd was ready, and as the music progressed more people parted ways with their egos and unabashedly screamed the lyrics.

Opening ska band, Captain Mojo and the Cat’s Pajamas rocked the local crowd and inspired an impromptu skanking circle. Their music was undeniably fun and they play their instruments well, an uncommon talent in young ska bands. Baker followed Captain Mojo, and although new to most of the crowd, they certainly deserved every approving shout they received (quite a few.) A lone beat-boxer performed before the headliners, and despite his lukewarm welcome, boxed formidably. I was more than pleasantly surprised by the talent of all these artists, so when Apollo Sunshine graced the stage with their massive presence I was pretty excited.

Apollo Sunshine can put on a show. Starting with fan favorites “Phoney Marony” and “Today is the Day,” the crowd quickly acclimated to the sound and danced throughout the show (even improvising their way through lengthy guitar, keyboard, and drum solos.) Jesse Gallagher, Sam Cohen, and Jeremy Black played many songs from their first album, Katonah, including “I Was On The Moon,” “The Egg,” and “Mayday Disorder.” After an amazing set, the boys returned to play an encore that probably lasted twenty minutes. This consisted of three songs from their latest self-titled CD, “Eyes,” “Lord,” and “Phyliss.” For their final song Apollo Sunshine were joined onstage by many guests including all of Baker. The multiple musicians gathered around the drum set, banging on percussion instruments, throwing guitars, and adding to the chaos that is “Phyliss.” When the lights turned on, the crowd seemed in a musical coma, we slowly found our bearings and our jackets, and trudged into the cool night air.

02 January, 2007

Looking Forward

Very few albums are released in the weeks after Christmas and New Years, but despite the temporary lull, 2007 will be a big year for music. Like ‘06, ‘07 will be a year of big names (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Justin Timberlake, Bob Dylan, Jay-Z) and surprising hits (The Fray, Gnarls Barkley, The Raconteurs, O-ZONE.) There’s a lot to look forward to, and plenty to be weary of in the world of music, but one thing is certain, ‘07 will be an interesting year.

At the end of January, Norah Jones will drop the appropriately titled “Not Too Late.” I was a bit underwhelmed with her second album, “Feels Like Home”, because she didn’t really seem to break from the mold of “Come Away With Me.” Yes, the album was pretty, but I just expected more from Jones. I think Jones, like Mayer, needed a little time to figure out what her “sound” actually sounds like. I’m encouraged to try this new album, based on my knowledge of Norah’s side projects. She’s most definitely branching out, working with Peeping Tom (a.k.a. Mike Patton) on “Sucker,” a song far from any dinner party soundtrack. Her work with the Little Willies was also an encouraging break from the world of “adult contemporary.” With the Willies, Norah covered country favorites and a few rock songs. She also appeared on “Virginia Moon,” a song from the latest Foo Fighters album. These various projects lead me to believe that Jones is experimenting, and, in my opinion, experimentation is what she needs to give her music new life.

Coming out a little earlier than the Jones release is the Shins’ latest, “Wincing the Night Away.” Based on the single “Phantom Limb,” the Shins have branched out again, but retained the sound that makes them different and exciting. “Phantom Limb” is jangly, yet substantial. It’s reminiscent of the ‘60s, but also very much a product of its time. I honestly don’t know what to expect from the Shins’ third release. The Shins did not succumb to the infamous sophomore slump, they’ve consistently made good music, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that “Wincing the Night Away” will surprise and delight me as much as “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow.”

The Shins and Norah Jones are the artists whose music I await with the most anticipation during the month of January, but I don’t want to look too far into the future. Personally, I enjoy a few surprises through the year.

Reaching Back (Rediscovering Old Favorites)

Sometimes, I become overloaded with new music. I just can’t process all of the new sounds that I hear, and I have to take a break and listen to something comfortable. I’ve found that even when I’m completely sick of the “usual” (which changes very often, but is generally sprinkled with Rancid, The Specials, Led Zeppelin, Green Day, The Cars, etc.) I can find something classic and unexpected that makes the world feel right. These songs are the “homemade macaroni and cheese” of music; it’s comfort food for your ears.

“I Want You To Want Me” by Cheap Trick. It’s one of those songs that fits any mood. If you’re feeling good the beat matches your upbeat mood, and if you’re feeling low the lyrics are perfect for drowning your sorrows.

“Rudy Can’t Fail” by The Clash. This song is absolutely classic. The Clash bring in so many influences musically and the lyrics are great on this tune. Ska horns and a point; just because your life works for you, doesn’t mean it’s the life for me.

“Boxcar” by Jawbreaker. I happened upon this band about a year ago, and had to ask myself why they hadn’t garnered more recognition during their career. Green Day lifts the tune for “She’s a Rebel” and the lyrics tell a similar story. It’s short, but sweet.

“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix. It’s an obvious classic. Get lost in Jimi’s guitar.

“Spin” by Lifehouse. One of the few Christian bands that I absolutely love. I think what sets Lifehouse apart is their ability to craft music that applies to all lifestyles (Christian or otherwise.) The lyrics are great.

“Time” by Pink Floyd. “The Dark Side of the Moon” is an amazing album and this song absolutely sums it up for me. One Winter, I listened to it on repeat (think about that, seven minutes on constant repeat.)

“Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow. I’m not always a Sheryl Crow fan, but this song is absolutely beautiful. It breaks my heart, and then mends it.

“The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. I love when things that seem completely different are connected, so I was blown away when I realized that Rush uses (and slightly changes) a verse from this song. The lyrics are amazing and I love the percussion. If you were wondering about those lyrics, here they are:

“...And the signs said, the words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence.”
- Simon & Garfunkel


“...For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall,
Concert hall
And echoes with the sounds of salesmen.”
- Rush

“Funky Kingston” by Toots and the Maytals. This song is just unbelievably fun to listen to. It builds and builds into this monster of a ska tune.

“Baba O’Riley” by the Who. It doesn’t matter what time of day, week, year, decade; what kind of mood I’m in; or what kind of people I’m with, I will always listen to this song. “I don’t need to be forgiven.”