Song-A-Day: January 31

We’re closing out January today but winter’s still going strong here in Albany with our snow storms scheduled to re-appear on this upcoming Wednesday supposedly. Today’s Song-A-Day celebrates finding the positives among the bleak though, as Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” presents a story of a trek through the snow where a friend falls and begins to bleed into the snow, turning the “white snow red as strawberries in the summertime”. Great track by what might be the definitive folk band at the moment, and a very pretty listen for the sake of musical composition.

I was following the pack all swallowed in their coats
With scarves of red tied ’round their throats
To keep their little heads
From falling in the snow
And I turned ’round and there you go
And Michael, you would fall
And turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime

Song-A-Day: January 30

Today is the 46th anniversary of The Velvet Underground’s sophomore album White Light/White Heat which came out back in 1968 and was recently remastered and thus reissued. Back before the band’s famed debut The Velvet Underground & Nico they actually had a good amount of hype and attention thanks to their ties to Andy Warhol, but White Light/White Heat caught the band when a lot of that hype chose to abandon them thanks because of unremarkable sales and recognition. Nico moved on and Andy Warhol started to distance himself, but the band struck again with another stellar and under-appreciated album which would be viewed more favorably in hindsight. There’s some terrific songs present for sure, with my personal favorite being “Lady Godiva’s Operation”, but today’s Song-A-Day is another absolutely fantastic track entitled “Here She Comes  Now”.

Now, if she ever comes now, now
If she ever comes now, now
If she ever comes now…
Now, if she ever comes now, now
If she ever comes now, now
If she ever comes now…

Ah oh, it looks so good
Ah oh, she’s made out of wood
Just look and see

Oh, it’s made out of wood
Just look and see now
She ever comes, she ever comes now
Now, now, now, now
She ever, ever, ever comes n-n-n-now…

Song-A-Day: January 29

Six years ago Vampire Weekend introduced themselves to the world with the release of their self-titled debut Vampire Weekend! As a group they’ve grown to become one of my favorites (Modern Vampires of the City was easily my favorite album of last year) and I’ve recently learned of the backstory about the origin of the band’s name, in that frontman Ezra Koenig briefly attempted to create a movie about vampires attacking a town where the narrator had to travel to warn the people before they became overrun. This got translated into the band’s name and interestingly became what is supposedly the first song which the group had ever recorded, the fantastic “Walcott” is our Song-A-Day for the day.

Walcott, don’t you know that it’s insane?
Don’t you want to get out of Cape Cod, out of Cape Cod tonight?
Walcott, Mystic seaport is that way
Don’t you know that your life could be lost out of Cape Cod tonight?

Walcott, don’t you know that it’s insane?
Don’t you want to get out of Cape Cod, out of Cape Cod tonight?
Walcott, the bottleneck is a shit show
Hyannisport is a ghetto, out of Cape Cod tonight

The lobster’s claw is sharp as knives
Evil feasts on human lives
The Holy Roman Empire roots for you

Walcott, all the way to New Jersey
All the way to the Garden State, out of Cape Cod tonight

Walcott, f*** the women from Wellfleet
F*** the bears out in Provincetown
Heed my words and take flight

Walcott, don’t you know that it’s insane?
Don’t you want to get out of Cape Cod, out of Cape Cod tonight?
Walcott, don’t you know that it’s insane?
Don’t you want to get out of Cape Cod, out of Cape Cod tonight?

The Place of Music Scenes

I’ve been spending a lot of my recent ‘free-thinking’ time on the subject of music scenes, specifically about how they form and what effect they end up having on music as a whole. When a music scene has developed it means that there’s suddenly a new type of sound which is starting to get more attention and exposure for artists playing it, with that sound also occasionally being tracked to a specific location or region as well. For some examples, there was the Grunge movement in the Northwest in the late 1980s, a new definition of Alternative Rock emerged in the mid-90’s with bands such as Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Archers of Loaf, Guided By Voices and The Pixies gaining popularity, and recently there was a defined new-wave rock scene in New York City which spawned artists like The Strokes and Interpol. So how do these scenes actually start? Theoretically I can think of a few ways, but they all share some common points.

  • A new artist emerges and plays a sound which sounds so different from anything else that is currently being played, and so it inspires imitation and new methods of thinking. (Example: Bob Dylan)
  • An artist with an already established following and influence has a sudden drastic sound shift which worked incredibly well for them. (Example: Radiohead)
  • Multiple artists get inspired from the same source, bringing extra attention to an artist who’s music left a significant impact and is just now being remembered. (Example: The Velvet Underground)
  • An awesome local music scene emerges to draw a crowd, and somebody from that local scene emerges into the national spotlight. (Example: Neutral Milk Hotel)

There have to be other scenarios as well, but you’re probably starting to understand what I believe has to be present for a successful music scene to form. The sound has to be new and unique to the other options out there, and somebody within the scene has to grow in popularity enough so that they can spread the word around about it. It’s an interesting dynamic to think about, but that theorization is only the beginning point to this article.

Smaller music scenes get defined constantly and the study of these is basically what it means today to be current with modern music, and the people who get to define what these smaller scenes are work for the music media. Their job is to try and define these different music scenes and report what’s happening within them from a specific mindset, and this effects their opinion on who deserves to be recognized and how releases should be rated. This approach makes some sense from their perspective because if you’re covering music on a day-to-day basis then I imagine you wouldn’t be very keen on viewing every new release as a blank slate, but it’s a flawed approach towards rating music.

That’s because while music scenes are real and potentially valuable, they can also be a mirage which only displays the sounds which share common qualities with each other. Where’s the space for creativity and new ideas within this mindset, and what solutions get missed if you’re stuck looking for the answer in the same place repeatedly?

When it comes to new music, I think it’s best to just compare it to the total product rather than how it fits into the modern music scenes because of this. How well does the band or release stand alongside the successful sounds which have come before it, and how likely is it to inspire the sounds which will follow? That’s the ultimate question right there, and with all of the different genres and stylistic differences which have made an impact in music history I would think it’s safe to say that there’s never going to be a sure-fire answers to those questions. It’s just something that time decides, but keeping an open mind towards what could leave an imprint is an important step.

Song-A-Day: January 28

Hopefully by now you’ve heard of the passing of a very important person in the history of American Folk Music in Pete Seeger, who’s death this morning put a close to a wonderful life that lasted for ninety-four years. Seeger was one of the earliest artists to give some popularity to folk music as early as the 1940’s and continued to do performances as soon as last year. The passing of great artists is a difficult thing to accept, but fortunately one of the advantages of being an artist is that your life’s work doesn’t die with you, and so for today’s Song-A-Day I would like to honor Mr. Seeger with his uplifting and hopeful song “Quite Early Morning”.

Don’t you know it’s darkest before the dawn
And it’s this thought keeps me moving on
If we could heed these early warnings
The time is now quite early morning
If we could heed these early warnings
The time is now quite early morning

Some say that humankind won’t long endure
But what makes them so doggone sure?
I know that you who hear my singing
Could make those freedom bells go ringing
I know that you who hear my singing
Could make those freedom bells go ringing

And so keep on while we live
Until we have no, no more to give
And when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger
And when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger

So though it’s darkest before the dawn
These thoughts keep us moving on
Through all this world of joy and sorrow
We still can have singing tomorrows
Through all this world of joy and sorrow
We still can have singing tomorrows

Song-A-Day: January 26

Another Album Anniversary for today’s Song-A-Day as four years ago today Beach House’s Teen Dream was unveiled, capturing the band’s dream pop style better than any of their other albums had with the possible exception of their most recent release Bloom. Our Song-A-Day for today is the beautifully relaxing “10 Mile Stereo”.

The heart is a stone and this is a stone that we throw
Put your hand on this stone, it’s the stone of a home you know
They say we will go far, but they don’t know how far we’ll go
With our legs on the edge and our feet on the horizon

They say we can throw far but they don’t know how far we throw
With our legs on the edge, and our feet on the horizon
The heart is a stone, and this is a stone that we throw
They say we will go far, but they don’t know how far we’ll go

It can’t be gone, we’re still right here
It took so long, can’t say we heard it all
Limbs parallel, we stood so long we fell
Tear a moment from the days that carry us on forever

This push and pull is the force of a wave of time
In the heat of the night, we would cry, you are not mine
They said we would go far, but they don’t know how far we’d go
’cause this heart is a stone, and this is a stone that we throw

It can’t be gone, we’re still right here
It took so long, can’t say we saw it all
Limbs parallel, we stood so long we fell
Tear a moment from the days that carry us on forever

It can’t be gone, we’re still right here
It took so long, can’t say we felt it all
Limbs parallel, we stood so long we fell
Love’s like a pantheon, it carries on forever

Song-A-Day: January 25

Today marks the anniversary of the simultaneous double release of I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn by Bright Eyes back in 2005. I’m Wide Awake is often credited as bring the best Bright Eyes album and deservedly so as it features some absolutely fantastic songs and track to track transitions, but the electronic experimentation of Digital Ash seems to get overshadowed by it’s twin, hindering it from receiving the attention that it deserves. Because of this, our Song-A-Day is going to go to a track off of this lesser known but stellar album, with the song being “Light Pollution”.

John A. Hobson was a good man
He used to loan me books and mic stands
He even got me a subscription
To the Socialist Review
Listening to records in his basement
Old folk songs about the government
It’s love of money not the market
He said, “These f***ers push on you”

And freedom yells, it don’t cry
Whatever sells will decide
But there’s no hell when you die
So don’t look so worried

He got a nightlife, lost his day job
Pushing papers, swinging pendulums
Anything to serve a function
Or to occupy some time
You’ve got to earn this living somehow
You’re good as dead without a bank account
But it’s funny how alive he felt
Down in that unemployment line

With all that trash at his feet
The pools of piss in the street
All of that filthy empathy
For the way we’re feeling

The billboard’s shade
The flags, they wave
The anthem was playing loud
The baseball game was letting out
And all at once he saw the dust
And heard every tiny sound
Got in his truck and turned around

Drove out through the crowd
And the cops
Drove out past that center mall
Drove out past that sickening sprawl
Out past that fenced in gold
And maybe he lost control
Fucking with the radio
But I bet the stars
Seemed so close
At the end
At the end
At the end
At the end
At the end

Album Reviews: Jake Bugg, The Pixies, Tennis

Shangri Las

Jake Bugg- Shangri La
Grade: B
Release Date: 11/18/2013

Jake Bugg has become one of the premiere English artists recently, and on Shangri-La you get a heavy dose of his folk-rock side. The label folk-rock is what probably makes the ‘Dylan’ label seem so applicable to him as an artist, it’s a genre which Bob Dylan single handedly brought to the forefront, but Bugg has heard that comparison many times by now and is on record as saying that he wasn’t heavily influenced by the man. Even if neither side probably enjoys hearing the comparison as this point, the label does do a good job of displaying Bugg at what he’s best at: being a singer-songwriter who’s well-versed in song form.

The lyrics in his works are good but I’m a believer that this is an area where he’s going to still improve as an artist, as right now his less meaningful songs sound like wasted efforts among their peers. “A Song About Love” seems like a good example of one of these as the song just asks Bugg’s perceived loved one if they want to hear songs about love, before Bugg settles on saying that he just want to learn where she is. There’s worse songs out there surely, but in a genre that boasts it’s story-telling ability the bar for Bugg should be set higher than that, especially since he can reach it. His Beatles’ influence also clearly shows itself at one point on this album, as I wouldn’t allow anyone to tell me that the beginning for “All Your Reasons” wasn’t created with “Don’t Let Me Down” in mind.

Track Picks: “Me and You”, “There’s A Beast And We All Feed It”, “Messed Up Kids”

The Pixies EP2

The Pixies- EP2
Grade: C
Release Date: 01/03/14

The Pixies were probably the most disappointing reunion of last year, as an underwhelming EP1 and a failed attempt to replace Kim Deal with Kim Shattuck has left us with this band which doesn’t sound like what it’s name promises anymore. A lot of the original appeal of the band had to do with their energy and willingness to shock their audience with controversial topics and stances, but EP2 stays pretty tame throughout and doesn’t take advantage of the group’s strengths. I won’t blame any band for reuniting if they’re getting offered good money to play the music that they love, but I think in the long-run these EP releases are only doing damage to the legacy of a band which was set up to leave something great behind. If Deal is already out, then it only makes sense to do the return under a new project: get a new name for the new style of music that you’d like to play.

Track Picks: “Greens and Blues”, “Magdelena”

Small Sound
Tennis- Small Sound
Grade: B-
Release Date: 11/05/13

Tennis creates a difficult sound to grade because it has to stay in the back of your mind that their last album Young And Old sounded pretty and melodic on first listen, but didn’t prove to be a lasting sound. The reasons for why that happens are ultimately guesses, but I would point to the lack of sophistication in a group which only contains a married couple (Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley) playing pretty basic rhythms. It’s indie-pop which is guilty of being overly-reliant on studio tricks to produce overlapped choruses, and ultimately I think that Small Sound fits into the same description as the previously mentioned release. It’s fun and nice on the first listen and will fit nicely into any type of ‘what’s new’ playlist, but there’s just not enough to actually learn about the songs to justify playing this EP repeatedly.

Finally, it should be stated that it’s difficult to trust the creative process in a band composed of a married couple. There are some things which they probably don’t feel comfortable saying to each other during recording which artists need to be able to say, and I’d have to guess that the benefit in increased intimateness in the music gets outweighed by this issue.

Track Picks: “Cured of Youth”, “100 Lovers”

Song-A-Day: January 24

Today marks a big anniversary as it’s the anniversary of LCD Soundsystem’s debut self-titled album back in 2005, crazy how time passes by. The Song-A-Day is going to head to a different artist though as we have other opportunities to show our respect towards LCD Soundsystem, but not as many to recognize the Cleveland-Ohio based noise-rock group Cloud Nothings who released the stellar Attack on Memory two years ago today. That album ended up being one of the best releases of that year, but this year’s promised successor is supposedly going to change up the sound a bit with the band shifting closer to a grunge-rock type sound and farther away from an indie-rock sound. Out of anticipation for that move, our Song-A-Day today goes towards one of the more grunge-sounding songs on Attack on Memory with “Wasted Days”.

Oh I know
My life’s not gonna change
And I live
Through all these wasted days
Never thought
That I’d end up this way
And I know
It’s gonna stay the same

I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this

And I know
I’m losing all my time
Doesn’t seem
Like it was ever mine
Didn’t seem
My own I don’t know why
Getting tired
Of living ’till I die

I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this

I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this

I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this
I thought I would be more than this