Friday, April 25, 2014

(A Band Called) Death

Haven't forgotten about you, promise! (Heh, that's kind of a funny intro considering the topic today...) This is the beginning of what I affectionately call "Hell Week," which is actually two weeks of constant work stuffs...It's actually not bad, but I will not be posting as often, as a result. I'll try my best!

Okay, here we go!

I heard about the documentary A Band Called Death before I heard about Death. And I think it's fair to say that that's probably the case for most people that know about Death at all. They were a black punk rock band in Detroit during the early 70s. (That is easily the most interesting description of a band, ever.) They obviously didn't make it big, or music history/evolution would probably look quite different than it is...but they were also, frankly, pretty damn good. Fortunatley their music was recently found and adored, and they re-released an album and created a documentary about this music anomaly of awesomeness.

So, the documentary is easily fantastic. It's such a compelling story and you can really tell that this whole resurgence and rediscovery is completely surreal for the band members. But then that just makes it even easier to cheer them on, because they are so down-to-earth and cool about everything. If you get a chance to watch it, I highly recommend it. It's on Netflix right now, so there is really no excuse not to...

So, the music is actually really good. I think I've said that already, but it's worth reiterating. It would be totally unfair to think the hype is only because of who was making the music, where they were, and when they were doing's also really good. They grew up listening to rock, and didn't just emulate their favorite bands, they totally molded it into something unique. Imagine a combination of the Ramones' punk rock rhythym (mind you, this was before the Ramones took off) but with the vocals that can at times sound just like Jimi Hendrix. Um, what??

(photo source)

Listen Now:

Trailer - A Band Called Death

"Politicians In My Eyes"


Friday, April 18, 2014

In Other News...

Recently I've been dabbling in audio/visual technology, in hopes of getting into the industry a bit. Although both sides were extremely fascinating, I definitely was more partial to the audio section, for fairly obvious reasons. Audio technology is really the "man behind the curtain" that makes music appreciation even possible, so I totally geek-ed out learning about the science and equipment involved...

Yes. I modified it a bit. Otherwise it was the most boring certificate ever.
As a way to celebrate learning all the things and becoming a A/V tech (in theory), my reward was buying the stuff for my first turntable set-up. Growing up my parents had a small but sacred collection of records that for the most part went un-played. I was always intrigued, at least mildly so, but even I didn't find use for them with the ease of acquiring a digital collection instead. And in my generation, digital is always better, right? (Haaaaa.) Truthfully, I wouldn't have decided on this present-to-myself if a friend hadn't giving my husband and I a copy of The Smith's Louder than Bombs on vinyl. It was so wonderful of a gift that I just had to get the gear to play it!

Anyway, I did my research and ordered the equipment. When it arrived I was freakin' excited! I had a bit of trouble with the cabling involved -- after reading such mega-technical details about the equipment, to find that Amazon just lists the bare minimum on facts was super annoying -- but we got it to work anyway! (Yes, I had to enlist the help of the husband, but I did pretty good for being such a rookie!)

I've got to say I highly recommend the set-up I picked out! I know most audiophiles declare that a set-up doesn't qualify as "good"-- even for beginners-- until you've spent at least $300. But I call bullshit snobbery on that; all together I spent about half that and it sounds amazing. If you wanted to go the route of a lot of people and get a Crosley system, you could do that for even less -- you know the ones, the little suitcase looking things they sell at Target, Hipsters R Us, and the like. I've heard they aren't bad, but I didn't want the built-in speakers, and wanted the option to update parts as I got more familiar with it all.

The Equipment:
Audio Technica -- AT-LP60
Pyle Home PCA1 30-Watt Stereo Mini Power Amplifier
Pyle Home PCB3BK 3-inch 100-Watt Mini Cube Bookshelf Speaker

Those speakers sound flippin' amazing by the way. Sure they came in partly rusted and there was a suspicious rattle in one them too, but really for what little I paid, I don't care!

Not a great picture, I know. [Insert lame excuses here.]
It's been awesome building up our collection of records. Louder than Bombs wasn't my favorite Smith's album previously, but now I could listen to it all damn day. For the most part, the people in the few record shops in town have been super friendly, and we've found some great deals. (I can't believe I managed a copy of Led Zeppelin II for $2 because it had a beat-to-shit cover. The record was scratched a bit, but I think we can clean it up and it'll look as good as new and it still sounds fantastic). I gotta say, I didn't think analog would make that much of a difference, but it really does. You lose more than you think with the lossy file formats, like MP3s. And I love how intentional it is to listen to a record. I'm someone who has music playing pretty much all the time, but I don't really tune it out. I'm the annoying kid in a noisy bar that freaks out about a song playing when no one else can hear it. It's awkward. But anyway, I love that when I put on a record, I can just sit and enjoy it, without feeling like I should be doing something else. I am doing something, I'm listening to music.

If you've ever been intrigued by vinyl, or want to revisit it, I highly recommend that now is the time. I know a lot of people are bitching about the resurgence compromising the "original" fans' efforts of collecting, since their is more demand prices have admittedly gone up on a lot of albums; but I think they are ignoring the fact that access too has increased. Also, this Saturday is Record Store Day, where some shops will have special releases and festivities for shoppers. What fun!

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Boston is one of those bands that whether you like them or not, you should at least be able to recognize them and familiar with some of their (iconic) work. Granted, I spent most of my youth getting them confused with the sounds of Foreigner and Journey (kind of), and bands with other city/place names -- Kansas, Chicago, etc... and so I was never really that impressed or enthusiastic about them. But they really do have a decent list of hits that if you've listened to a classic rock station at all, then you've heard them at least once: More than a Feeling, Peace of Mind, Rock & Roll Band, Smokin', Something About You, and Foreplay/Longtime...

So, the cool thing about Boston is that they are totally 80s arena rock, but since they started in the mid-70s they still have a lot more similarities with the classic rock bands than traditional hair bands or whatever. They have a slight hint of southern rock in their occasional use of "twang" on the guitar, that keeps their slower jams from sounding like blander rock ballads. And I still can't figure out if that's legitimately an organ, or just a keyboard in all their songs; I've only recently noticed how prevalent it is, but somehow it blends so well with everything else. I think the iconic parts of Boston, however, are the vocals and guitar. That guys voice sounds like butter, but like powerful epic butter that I can't help but sing along with - especially when he harmonizes with the backup! And then the guitar - man, it's good. And what makes their songs so interesting is that they structure them so it's a careful balance between rhythm guitar or simple riffs that repeat and build into these ridiculous solo sessions that could melt your face of with their awesomeness!

(photo source)

Best Song:
For once, this is an easy decision for me. Granted, their hits are all hits for a reason - they are all truly great songs. But Foreplay/Longtime is actually one of the best classic rock songs I've ever heard.That's a pretty hefty claim, but here's my justification - that song successfully features everything I love about classic rock...It's seven minutes long, and each portion of the song could be it's own successful hit, but instead it's this chaotic awesomeness that just won't quit.

It starts with power guitar and keyboard session, with the drums in the back just going nuts...then, suddenly quiet...and it starts back up ever so softly, the hum of the guitar, which then breaks out into it's own solo...queue sweet vocals...then it's like this weird acoustic guitar clapping thing that's all folksy and cool...and then put it all together with more aggressive singing...another guitar solo (yay!)...more vocals, but you can tell it's building again to something great...but instead they pause and go back to the acoustic awesomeness...yet another guitar solo thing that just goes crazy again...another verse...and it just goes back and forth until it all blends and plays on top of each other, then slow fade out...whew! ...Seriously. This song has everything!

Listen Now:

"Rock and Roll Band"



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fleet Foxes

[This was written yesterday, as you will quickly figure out...but alas, I couldn't publish until today. Tax Day. Lovely. But, I think it's still a very fitting choice...]

Mondays suck... But I have good news. There exists a band whose music is so good for your soul that it will make Mondays just a little more bearable. They will make you smile and feel at peace in the midst of the storm. Or if they're not really you're thing, they could help you fall asleep and enjoy a nice nap. Your call.

I first heard the Fleet Foxes at the end of high school, maybe the start of college. I was experiencing the normal social anxieties that go with the territory, and my older brother offered to help in the only way he knew how -- by sharing his music collection with me. If I listened to "cool" music, I too would become "cool", right? (Wrong, and fortunately I don't give a shit now.) Within that collection, I remember hearing the Fleet Foxes' self-titled album and thinking something to the effect of "well, I really like it, but it's kind of boring." And that was the end of that...until recently, when I heard "Mykonos" from their Sun Giant EP, and it all kind of made new sense to me. I've listened to that EP repeatedly, and today I just bought their first album again. For a stressful mid-spring Monday (which irritatingly enough included snow earlier!), listening to the Fleet Foxes has certainly raised my spirits!

Fleet Foxes is an indie folk-revival band from Seattle. I feel like that's a pretty generic description that fits half the indie music scene out there. But I think these guys deserve credit for really paving the way for that genre to take off, even if they don't really have the same commercial successes of other indie folk bands (e.g. Mumford & Sons). Fleet Foxes blend harmonies that are both delightful and grand, with minimalist percussion, and classic folk banjo and guitar-work. Some songs have been appropriately named hymns, as the echo effects make it truly sound like it's filling some old chapel tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains (coincidentally another song's title) or somewhere equally quaint. I can't mention the lyrics, because honestly I have no idea what they are saying, but I don't really care - for me, the vocals are more of an instrument in their compositions than a means to get across an idea.

(photo source)

Best Song:
This is a tough one, because I think their strength is the cohesion of their compilations. I recommend listening to their albums in order and in one sitting. Although if I have to narrow it down say to make a playlist, I would definitely include "Mykonos" from Sun Giant EP and "Sun It Rises" from Fleet Foxes...but then I would probably try to sneak the rest of my limited collection too (there is another album from 2011, Helplessness Blues, that I would buy right now if it wasn't tax day. Ha.)

Listen Now:


"White Winter Hymnal"


Monday, April 7, 2014

Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse was easily in my top five favorite bands when I was in college. "Obsessive" is probably the best way to describe my enthusiasm at the time. I was the gal on campus that wore a Modest Mouse hoodie every day. EVERY DAY. Grown-up-me wishes that was an exaggeration, but there were some people that only knew me as "the girl that wears the Modest Mouse hoodie"...well, that and "the girl with a crazy tri-colored fauxhawk" (mind you, this was back before all the rave kids started dying their hair and playing with hula-hoops). This went on for at least a year or two, until the hoodie tragically went missing on a weekend stay at home. I was fairly confident it was burned by my parents, but I think I actually found it in a trunk a year ago.

Annnyyywhooo... I've since mellowed out, thank goodness, but I still adore this band. Their lyrics are often thought-provoking, having been the subject of many late night discussions with friends about the significance of "if life's not beautiful without the pain, I'd rather never even see beauty again" and other bits and pieces from their discography. But then, others are just funny, for example, "no matter what consuming sort of mission you're on, you're not invisible inside your car." Issac Brock is such an amazing writer; the lyrics aren't just lyrics, they are poetry in their own right. And his voice is so gritty and awful, it contradicts so well with the rest of it. Because the music quality is just about perfect. The guitar has a couple distinct sounds that recur through each album, and the drums can get all rage-y, but often jazzy. Their songs' music qualities really cover the entire spectrum (except classic rock, but only because they aren't old enough). Their early stuff is intentionally distorted and chaotic, and frankly I kind of hate it, but my husband loves it. Their "middle" albums are heavy - both lyrically and musically. It's all beautiful, melancholy, indie rock and younger me just couldn't get enough. Their latest stuff has started to take itself less seriously and they seem to be having more fun; it features more dance-y rhythms and humorous lyrics, for the most part. But I don't think they'll ever leave their darker side completely, where ever their sound evolves to next.

They are amazing in concert, by the way. I've seen them twice so far and would go again in a heartbeat. This is the band I roadtrip the middle of the work/school's worth it!

(photo source)

[If you're looking at the guy on the far right holding back Isaac Brock, and are like, "man, he looks a lot like Johnny Marr..." you would totally be right! He joined on for the album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Awesomeness!]

Best Song:
Honestly, "Float On," "Dashboard," "The View," and "Black Cadillacs" tie as favorites, all being in the humorous feel-good vein of their stuff. And "Custom Concern" is a short and sweet instrumental that fits in that group too, and husband says I would be remiss not to include it in their best of. "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" has a funky bass groove and ridiculous lyrics, and it slowly evolves into a gritty rock anthem with Brock just yelling at everyone (which he does a lot, actually). "Cowboy Dan" is one of their best slow-burn songs that's a bit darker. Same for "3rd Planet" and "Perfect Disguise" but man, they are so good at it. Check out Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank for their up-tempo high-spirited collection; look to The Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon & Antarctica for their slower somber jazzier sessions.

Listen Now:


"Cowboy Dan"


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Alice Smith

I'm sitting here staring at the blank page wondering what I could possibly say about Alice Smith that would be an adequate introduction. I have her album She playing through, and just finished an epic lip-sync rendition of "Cabaret" (true story). But it still doesn't inspire the right words...I know the solution, and skip ahead to her rockin' finale, "She." And here we are. Let's do this...

Honestly, I don't know too much about R&B. I want to, but sadly I just don't, yet. But even so, I feel like it would be a mistake to assume that Alice Smith's contributions to the genre are simply "average." I refuse to believe that, if such a claim were ever made. I found her single "Cabaret" via Amazon's free music, new and upcoming artist section thingamabob and when I finally gave it chance I wanted to kick myself for taking so long, and proceeded to purchase the rest of the album. It has honestly become one of my go-to albums to play - it's fun and spirited and graceful and powerful, and I just want to be her best friend...or at least her backup singer. Just sayin'... She balances dance-y beats with soulful lyrics, and as with "She" it just turns into this rock mash-up thing that I may or may not have adopted as my anthem. Her voice and range rivals Adele, but the way it's paired with the background music (as it is truly background to her voice), makes me think of Broadway. It's slightly theatrical at times- her voice is so powerful that it could easily fill an auditorium. But she has such control! ...Alice Smith has truly extraordinary talent!

(photo source)

Best Song:
If you haven't figured out now, it's most certainly "She." I understand that her debut album was actually For Lovers, Dreamers and Me, which I've heard parts of, but haven't listened to in its entirety yet, only for lack of time, certainly not lack of interest.

Listen Now:

"Be Easy"