Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Skill or Talent?

I've been pondering the difference between skill and talent.  Is there a difference?  Or is it more than a "difference"?  Are they more like two completely different things?  I mean, sure, some people have a natural talent for something, but can someone without said natural talent learn to do that thing just as well?  Now that I think about it, I think yes, anyone can learn to play a guitar as well as anyone else.  You can take lessons, you can practice, you can learn to do it.  In my opinion, the muscle movements are not where the magic lies.  Sure, it might be easier for some people, but as long as you have the physical capacity to play an instrument, you could do it (given enough time, lessons and practice, of course).

So why are some people completely mind blowing when they pick up an instrument or open their mouths to sing and others are...well...meh?  I don't think that what I'm talking about here is a skill level issue, I think it's a matter of talent.  Where I trip up though is what is it a talent for?  I do not believe it is just a talent for making sound, but it is most certainly a talent for something.

Technical ability does not create the kind of thing I'm talking about here.  Take, for example, Adele.  She has an incredible voice.  She writes and performs technically perfect (for things created by a human) songs. They are undoubtedly works of art and her performances are commendable.  However, the magic just isn't there for me.  Does that mean I don't think Adele is talented and skilled?  Absolutely not.  She is hugely talented and massively successful.  But, for me (and possibly only for me) she doesn't have that extra something.

Whatever the talent is for, it is as undeniable as it is undefinable.  Another problem with trying to put my finger on it is the fact that it's not the same for every person.  One person might be inspiring and wonderful to another person and mean nothing to me, or the other way around.  It is such an individual and intangible thing, which makes it all that much more special if you ask me.  I have recently found a few artists (musicians, photographers and writers) who have a spark that ignites my spark and what a wonderful thing that is.  I just don't believe that being able to connect to other people through your product (be it music, writing, painting, any art form) is a learned skill.  I think it is something that exists within all of us, it is just a matter of finding the artists that have the talent for igniting your particular spark.

Monday, January 30, 2012

New Music Monday

Album: Be Here
Artist: Rachel Platten
Release: April 25, 2011

This Monday's new music is Rachel Platten's Be Here.  It's not THAT new as it was released last April, but it's totally new to me, so that's good enough.  Rachel is opening for Matt Nathanson on his All Night Noise tour this year so I'll be seeing her in February in Louisville, KY.  I always prefer live music that I'm familiar with, so that led me to check her out prior to the show.  You can find her here. (Edit: We saw her in Louisville and she was amazing!  She brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the stage, it was really refreshing.)

I'm not really accustomed to listening to bright, cheerful music - I'm generally just not in the mood for it.  Sometimes I think it sounds fake or forced, like they're trying to write theme songs for shows on the CW or something.  But I understand that's only because my world view is not bright and sparkling like that the majority of the time.  With all that being said, I decided to give this album and this artist a fair shake even though the music is pretty far outside the realm of what I normally listen to.  And guess what?  I really like it!  Sure, sometimes some of the songs are just too peppy and positive for me, but that's my problem, not hers.  I do appreciate the way she blends reality together with a positive message in these songs.  Kind of a "yeah, sometimes everything sucks, but you know what?  Maybe it will be OK in the end."  I like that about her songwriting.

"Don't Care What Time It Is" is far and away my favorite song on this record right now.  The first time I heard it, I skipped back and listened to it again.  I rarely ever do that, especially with dance music sounding type things like this song, but I really dig it.  I listened to it three times in a row on the way to work the other morning - what a great way to start the day!  I really hope she plays this one when we see her, I think it would be a lot of fun to see live.
My second favorite is "You Don't Have to Go" which is a candid song about a woman's perspective on a one-night stand (or what could potentially be one-night, anyway) With lines like, "Any other day, I might not be an easy lay, you can call it luck, but sometimes a girl just needs a friend" you know I'm bound to love this song.  Later on the record, she goes and gets all serious on us with "Remark" which is a beautiful song that hits pretty close to home for me.  It makes me feel, all at once, profoundly sad, regretful and hopeful.  It's one of those songs that makes you realize that, in a lot of ways, we're all in the same boat here.

Despite my natural inclination toward quieter or angrier music, I am really enjoying this record.  I'm finding that when I'm in the mood for something upbeat and fun, this is what I'm going for.  She has a pleasant, unique voice, her lyrics are interesting and the arrangements are peppy and fun to listen to.  Maybe she's going to change me and make me all bubbly and optimistic! I also think she's an excellent choice to open for Matt as there is no way the crowd won't get into the music and be ready to rock by the time she's done with them.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Train - Train

Album: Train
Artist: Train
Release: 1998

I've rambled on about some of my new favorites for a while now, so let's get back to one of my old favorites.  Train's debut album, the self-titled Train, was released in 1998.  I didn't come to own it until it was already several years old, so I can't claim to have been a Trainiac from the very beginning (surely you know by now that I'm always a few years behind).  In fact, I'm not even sure which Train album I had first, it might have been My Private Nation, but I really don't remember.  It just seems like I've always been listening to them, kind of like Matchbox Twenty. 

Anyway, Train is my 2nd favorite of their albums (my favorite favorite is My Private Nation...I think) but, as is pretty standard for me, it's not because of the radio hits.  They released 3 singles from this record: "Meet Virginia", "I Am" and "Free".  If I never hear "Meet Virginia" again I'll be alright with that - it has been run into the ground ad nauseum over the last 14 years.  I mean, it's a good song and all, but enough is enough.  The other 2 are good songs too, but both are far from being my favorites on Train.

The gems here are to be found in the deep cuts.  The songs on the second half of this record are really where the beauty comes in.  They're all long songs (I was surprised to find that the majority of them are over 4 minutes) but this only proves my point that they really can be longer if they're just that good.  All of the songs on Train are the carefully crafted, heartfelt songs we've come to expect from Train, but the second half is something more.  The songs are more bluesy and gritty than anything we've heard from them since.  It sounds like the result of Pat and Jimmy and the guys hanging out on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans for a weekend and then writing some songs.

If you think you know Train from the radio-friendly hits that you hear everywhere - on the radio, in commercials, on TV - think again.  This is a whole different side to them, a side I wish they had developed further.  We get a glimpse of it again toward the end of Drops of Jupiter, but that's about it.  So forget about "Meet Virginia" and "Drops of Jupiter" and "Hey, Soul Sister" and dig a little deeper into their catalogue to find the stuff that will really get in your heart and become a part of you.  These seldom heard of songs on Train are where the magic is really happening.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things

Because this is Post Number 100 I've decided to be even more self-indulgent than I normally am (hard to imagine...right??).  This one is pretty much just to put some of my favorite things that I've found on Youtube all in one place.  And of course, because I love these things, I automatically assume that you will too (and I'm not wrong). 

So here we go with some fun stuff...

Aaron Tap and Matt Nathanson - Hungry Like the Wolf - perhaps my favorite Duran Duran cover ever!!

Aaron Tap  - Hey Jude - it is not easy work finding video of Aaron Tap singing on Youtube.  There should definitely be more of it!!

Ryan Schmidt - Go Where You Belong - the video quality here isn't all that, but it's good enough to watch him play this song...and I love watching him play this song! 

Micah - Killing Me Softly - this is one of my favorite covers of his. Lucky for us, Micah is posting new videos on Fridays...hopefully he'll do a couple of his own older songs soon (you bet your ass you'll find them here if he does!)

Matt Nathanson - Kiss Quick - this is definitely not the best M.N. video out there, but this is from the concert I went to in Nashville and being there, during this song, was absolute magic.  I'm just glad someone else who was there had the presence of mind to record it!

Paula Kelley - You Gonna Make It? - I just love her.  It's pretty much that simple.  I really want a better video of her performing "In Light of Your Less Complicated Life", but there was none to be found.  So I'll take this one, and like it.

Matchbox 20 - Long Day - I can't have a collection of my most favorite things without my theme song can I??

And...just because I can...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Favorite Song

Given all the music that I listen to, it seems it would be impossible for me to have a favorite song/artist/album/anything.  And it's true, I have a favorite song of the day, of the week, of the minute.  Who I listen to most, which songs I'm in the mood for, which album I'm currently running into the ground, it all changes frequently.  My tastes and preferences are fluid and can't even really be predicted.  There are a lot of constants, I have favorite artists that will always be on my play lists and new artists that I will forever be a fan of.  There are those really great songs that never get old, albums that I can listen to over and over and still love every minute.  I really got into music when I was about 13 years old, so some of these have been part of my soundtrack for 20 years...I'm a musical swan, I mate for life.  Once I really love something, it's with me forever.  Even if I go for a spell and don't listen to it, I will always go back to it at some point. 

However, over all these years, there has been one song that I could always listen to no matter what mood I was in or what was going on around me.  It is one of very few songs in my iTunes library that has almost no skips.  That being said, I don't listen to this song very often - in fact, it only has 22 plays in iTunes.  I have no idea where I first heard it, I was only 3 years old when it came out so it has probably just always been playing in the background. I haven't heard it in many months, but it is still there in my fabric.  It's just so wonderful, so spot on, so perfect - I really believe that the advice in this song has significantly contributed to our happy 13 1/2 year marriage.  At 4 minutes 39 seconds it's longer than I usually like songs to be, but that doesn't phase me - I will happily bask in the glow of it the entire time.  It is that magical blend of guitars and cheesiness that bands of this genre perfected.

Here you go, just revel in the Southern Rock awesomeness with me:

Oddly enough, I don't own any other songs by .38 Special even though I am a fan of Southern Rock in general.  I have a ton of Lynryd Skynyrd in my collection (of course, I've seen them live and that always influences my purchasing decisions).  In fact, I'd be hard pressed to even name another .38 Special song, but this one, this one does it for me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Music Monday

Well, it's that time again.  Time to start a new week.  Time to shake off the weekend and put the old nose back to the grindstone.  And more importantly, time to check out some new tunes!  I have some good stuff for you this week (mixed in with the stinkers, of course):

"Let's Go" - Madi Diaz - Far From Things That We Know
First up is "Let's Go" by Madi Diaz.  She was recommended to me by Micah after he played a show with her a week or so ago.  Normally, I'm not a huge fan of female singers (I can't explain why...don't judge me), so I was a little afraid, but I was very pleasantly surprised.  I went to her website (see the link above) and checked out what she had there to listen to.  This song is available as a free download from her website (lucky you...and me!!) and it is really good!  I have been wearing this song out all week, she has such a pretty voice and the percussion on this song - gah - I'm hooked!!  Even more exciting, she has a new album coming out January 24th (yes, that's tomorrow!!).  After you go listen to this song and love it, you can pre-order Plastic Moon right now on iTunes.

"Velvet Arms" - Jay Loftus
I was sent a link to this song on youtube as an example of Jay Loftus' work, but I'm not sure it's a fair representation.  Personally, I think this song sounds like a perfectly good radio hit.  It is peppy, hooky and sugary sweet...everything you could ask for in a pop song.  I see no reason it won't be hugely popular.  That being said, I think this guy is better than this song.  If you want to hear what he really sounds like, check out his cover of Train's "Marry Me" which is really, really good, or any of his other acoustic performances. I think the processed sound of "Velvet Arms" will appeal to the masses and result in hordes of screaming girls outside every venue he plays, but I also feel like he has more actual talent than is displayed in this song.

"The Draft Dodger" - Sick Friend - Draft Dodger
This song has a background sound of static or feedback or something.  Whatever it is, I don't find it very pleasant to listen to.  The singer is going way too fast, I can almost not follow him and what's with the big exaggerated breathes every so often?  I don't really feel any melody in this one either.  I guess what I'm saying is that, overall, it's just not my thing.

"Ramona" - Night Beds - Country Sleep
I think I might really like this song if it was half as long as it is.  It has a little bit of a groove to it, I don't find the vocal unpleasant, it's ok.  But then it drags on for over 4 minutes.  Completely unnecessary.  And at one point, they fake you into thinking it's almost over, but it's not.  I just do not understand why artists feel like songs need to be this long.  They don't.  Unless they're really good (of course, I suppose Night Beds consider this to be a really good song).  If I need more minutes of a song, I'm more than happy to just listen to it twice.

"Tuck the Darkness In" - Bowerbirds - The Clearing
Apparently this song is about the lose of a close friend and the process of getting your shit back together after something like that.  I can respect that.  However, this song is almost 5 minutes long and that, I cannot get behind.  It's slow and dreamy and I assume if you were high it would be just wonderful to float along on this song for 5 minutes.  But I'm not high and after about 3 minutes of this song, I'm totally done with it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


On the way home from work this afternoon I couldn't decide what to listen to, so I put my iPod on shuffle.  After System of a Down ("Chop Suey") and Train ("If It's Love") had their way with me Counting Crows took a shot with "Long December".  Naturally, I burst into tears.  It's just one of those songs.  That got me to thinking about the songs that have that effect on me and why.  Some of the reasons I can pinpoint, some of them are more vague, none of them are anything I want to talk about.

So, I decided to share with you some music that makes me smile.  Every. Single. Time.  There are just some songs, some voices, some combinations of song and voice that just make my heart a little lighter when they pop out of my speakers.  These songs aren't necessarily associated with some great event in my life, some of them don't even make any sense, but all of them work for me.

"Mercy" - Matt Nathanson - Modern Love
I love the shit out of this song.  Then again, I love this entire record (hell, I love every single thing I've ever heard him sing), but that isn't enough for this list.  I love "Kiss Quick" more than this one, but that one doesn't make me break out in a full face silly-ass grin every time it comes on.  I'm not 100% certain why it does that to me, but I think maybe it's because it's the first song I ever heard him play live (and he opened with it again in Nashville) so it transports me back there a little bit every time.  Here, see if it makes you smile too (I'm sure it will):

"Waste" - Aaron Tap - Bronchitis
I found this song via Aaron Tap's blog.  I fucking love this song so much I can't even tell you, but my favorite part is the guitar playing.  Holy shit.  I would love more than anything to watch him play this one live.  I just want to watch the guitar magic happen (it fascinates me if you haven't noticed...probably because I don't know how to do it).  Plus the lyrics are so clever and unique, I mean, he uses the words "cupidity" and "hasten" in a song...it is not possible not to love that.  Anyway, even if you never take any of my suggestions and if you think I'm totally full of shit, please just click this link and listen to this song - you will not regret it.  Then, if you're ever at a Matt Nathanson concert with me (like, in Louisville in February for instance) yell this song out until you're blue in the face and maybe we'll get Aaron to play it!

"In Light of Your Less Complicated Life" - The Paula Kelley Orchestra - Airports EP
Honestly, just hearing her voice makes me smile, but I love this song in particular.  I think because I understand that I got extremely lucky in finding my husband with his ability to really, really know me and still love me and this song just makes me appreciate it all that much more.  Besides her voice, this song has horns and piano and a brilliant arrangement.  Just awesome.  Here, you can listen to it on Soundcloud.

"Fuck You" - Cee Lo Green
Honestly, I think this one speaks for itself.  How could the opportunity to sing "fuck you" repeatedly for three and half minutes not make you smile??

"Steal My Sunshine" - Len
The summer that this song came out, I hated it.  Hated it I tell you!  I tried to avoid it which was completely impossible because every radio station and music channel on earth played the shit out of it.  About a year after it came out, I finally gave it.  It was firmly embedded in my brain, I finally learned the words, and now I love it.  Sure, it's super tacky and probably not a very good song, but that doesn't stop me from busting out a big old smile and cranking it up when it comes on.

"Blister in the Sun" - Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes
If the opening to this song doesn't make you perk up, crack a smile and prepare to clap out the drum beats - you are dead inside.

"Get Gone" - White Arrows - Get Gone
This is one I found through my "New Music Mondays" adventures.  I'm not sure exactly what it is about this song.  It's not the normal kind of sound that I'm drawn to.  It's too techno sounding or something, but love is blind (and deaf, apparently) and I love this song.  The vocal is unique, the lyrics are catchy and it makes me smile and that's enough for me.

"New Age Girl" - Deadeye Dick - New Age Girl EP
This song is made of awesome. It contains the word "septuagenarians"and the line "she don't eat meat but she sure likes the bone!" Tell the truth, it's your favorite song now, right? Check it:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


As I mentioned earlier, I'm reading Rob Sheffield's book Love is a Mix Tape right now.  I'm loving the shit out of this book, it's sweet and sad and nostalgic and wonderful.  It makes me love him and it makes me miss Renee - an apparently incredible woman I never even knew. 

Anyway, as I read this book, I can't help but think about mix tapes I've made in the past.  I used to have a sweet ass stereo that had two tape decks and detachable speakers (those of you born before 1980 know exactly what I'm talking about).  Mine was covered in paint (with my best friend's name scratched into it) and stickers and who knows what else. 

At the foot of my bed was a bean bag chair wedged between the bed and a cedar chest.  On top of the cedar chest was my stereo and my cassette collection (which over the years morphed into a CD collection and drifted out to zippered cases in my car as I spent more time in my car than in my room).  I would spend hours plopped in the red, yellow and blue beanbag chair crafting mix tapes from the radio and my tape collection.  Sadly, I don't have any of those tapes now - who knows whatever happened to them.  In fact, I don't even have a cassette player anymore.  But I remember some gems that I captured on tape. 

On the night of August 26, 1991 our local radio station (which was normally pretty horrible) played the debut album of a little band called Pearl Jam in its entirety at midnight.  The album was officially released on August 27th.  I was so excited to hear it that I actually stayed up until midnight on a school night and taped the entire thing.  The next day at school one of my best guy friends and I sat in our 8th grade English class and listened to it on his Walkman. His name just so happened to be Jeremy which made it all that much cooler.

Around that same time, our radio station which was primarily a Top 40 station (albeit Top 40 songs from at least 5 years ago) had a show, again at midnight, on Sunday nights that played Golden Oldies.  It was on that show that my best friend had first heard "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells.  I didn't know who the hell Tommy James and the Shondells were, but I promised to stay up one night and tape it for her.  I would be up listening to Casey Kasem count down the Top 40 until midnight like I was every Sunday night anyway.  In the process, I discovered The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" (still my very favorite Beatles song).  I spent a month of Sundays staying up late until I had an entire tape full of those two songs.

Another of my favorite tapes had "Seventeen" by Winger, "One Night in Bangkok" by Murray Head, "Money for Nothing" and "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits, "Fire Woman" by The Cult, "One" by Metallica and "Close My Eyes Forever" by Lita Ford and Ozzy.  All of these were snagged off the radio in the wee hours as I listened with the volume low so my father (lightest sleeper on earth!) wouldn't wake up and make me go to bed.  Thank goodness I've never been much of a sleeper - imagine all the great music I would have missed! These were the kind of songs we just didn't hear where I grew up. We were nowhere near a city of any kind so our culture was sorely lacking. Clearly whoever the late night DJ was on that radio station had good taste and more freedom with what he played than the guys who worked during the day. I don't remember who he was, but I would like to thank him. 

Remember, this was long before the internet and iTunes.  If you wanted to look for good music, something beyond what was being fed to you on the radio, you really had to look.  My parents bought me a subscription to Rolling Stone, so I knew that there was amazing music out there that was changing people's lives - so I was in search of it, and I was always ready to capture it!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lana Del Rey - SNL

For those of you not familiar with Lana Del Rey, here is what her song "Video Games" supposedly sounds like:

However, when she got on Saturday Night Live this past Saturday and performed it live, this is what it sounded like:

That, friends and neighbors, is a pretty significant difference.  Personally, I don't care for either version, so I'm not all that worked up over the SNL performance sucking like it did.  Who knows, maybe she was nervous, or drunk or something.  Let's give her the benefit of the doubt.

New Music Monday - Sort Of

So, today's New Music Monday music was supposed to be Ryan Schmidt's White Horse EP.  However, after only 4 days of listening to it, the awesomeness of it was eating a hole in my brain and I just had to write about it sooner.  Sure, I could have written the post and scheduled it to publish today and left it at that, but where's the fun in that?? You can read about White Horse here here and here and you can buy it here or here.

Then, to top it off, I went and created the most awesome play list I've made in a while from some past and current favorites.  As a result, I haven't had time to listen to anything else for New Music Monday this week.  Still, I didn't want to skip it altogether, so I decided to share with you the list of songs that I featured in 2011 that have actually made their way into my play list rotation.  I have a list in iTunes called "NMM Hitlist" that contains the songs I've discovered that I really do like; here's that list:

1. Get Gone - White Arrows - Get Gone (my favorite of these)
2. Landslide - Steve Adamyk Band - Forever Won't Wait
3. Lost and Found - The Kill Van Kulls - Lost and Found
4. My Time Has Just Begun - The Dead Trees - WHATWAVE
5. Pineapple Girl - Mister Heavenly - Out of Love
6. Changes - Dirty Vegas
7. Sing in My Meadow - Cowboy Junkies - This Mountain
8. I Want to Forget - Psychic Twin - Deepest Part/I Want to Forget
9. Gliss - Farewell Republic - Burn the Boats

In other "new music" news, I got an iTunes gift card for my birthday.  I think I'm going to get Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik (I'm deeply ashamed to admit I have never owned this record), Simon and Garfunkel Sounds of Silence and maybe The Traveling Wilburys Volume 3 - I used to own this on cassette but that copy is long gone and as I recall, I was pretty fond of it.

Also, one of my new favorites recommended a couple new (to me) artists that he actually did a show with last night.  They're both female, so I'm kind of scared because I don't dig female singers as a general rule, but I'm going to check them out and plan to feature them next Monday.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Play List Wisdom II

For my birthday, my in-laws gave me Rob Sheffield's Love is a Mix Tape (among other things, including A Night At The Opera  by Queen on vinyl!).  I'm only 40-some pages into it and I would already recommend it to anyone who has ever made a mix tape (or, for the younger set, a play list).  After reading the first couple chapters last night, I felt very emotional and strange about the insomnia play list I was creating at 1:30am.
I wanted 20 songs (but because I apparently can't count - and I accidentally selected one song twice - I ended up with 19) and I wanted to pick only 1 song per artist.  I always find when I make play lists that way, it makes me focus more on the song than on some guy's voice (and it keeps me from making a Matt Nathanson play list - which wasn't what I was going for this time).  And last night I was in the mood for songs, not voices.  Still, when I got all done and looked at it, the play list is comprised of some of my favorite voices singing some of my favorite songs.  Figures.

I actually listened to it on shuffle since I was picking individual songs that all share a common feeling, not trying to create a story, so any order they played in was going to work for me. 

So here it is in no particular order:

1. Go Where You Belong - Ryan Schmidt - White Horse EP
2. Waste - Aaron Tap - Bronchitis
3. Forever Love - Anna Nalick - Wreck of the Day
4. She Talks to Angels - The Black Crowes - Shake Your Money Maker
5. Cover Me - Candlebox - Candlebox
6. Perfect Blue Buildings - Counting Crows - August & Everything After
7. Joey - Concrete Blonde - Recollection: The Best of Concrete Blonde
8. Enjoy the Silence - Depeche Mode - The Best of Depeche Mode, Vol. 1
9. Tired of You - Foo Fighters - One by One
10. One More Try - George Michael - Faith
11. Hang - Matchbox 20 - Yourself or Someone Like You
12. Kiss Quick - Matt Nathanson - Modern Love
13. Fade Into You - Mazzy Star - So Tonight That I Might See
14. Time - Micah - Coast to Coast
15. I Gave You All - Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
16. Don't Know Why - Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
17. In Your Eyes - Peter Gabriel - So
18. I Want to Forget - Psychic Twin - Deepest Part/I Want to Forget
19. Disarm - Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream
**EDIT 20. Heavy - Train - Train - (I found the perfect song to finish this one.  My only question is how didn't I think of this last night??)
I am really, really fond of this play list. I'm always impressed with myself when I filter through my not small music collection and find a little group of songs that all strike me the same way.  I am not, however, a fan of odd numbers, so as soon as I figure out that 20th song to round it out, I think I'm going to burn this one to a CD.  Of course, then I'll have to name it - anybody know a catchy synonym for "Awesome"?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ryan Schmidt - White Horse EP

Album: White Horse EP
Artist: Ryan Schmidt
Release: January 10, 2012

I have been listening to Ryan Schmidt's Black Sheep, Run incessantly ever since I bought it so I was super excited to find out that his next offering, White Horse EP would be coming out January 10th (the day before my birthday - what a lovely coincidence!!).  I intended to buy it at midnight when it became available but, alas, I was asleep.  So I snagged it first thing the next morning and listened to it on my way to work.  I already knew that Paula Kelley (who first recommended Ryan to me) and Aaron Tap had worked on the title track which predisposed me to love it, but I was determined not to be biased.

Happily, I was not disappointed - not at all.  "White Horse" opens with a warm layer of strings under a finger picked guitar, providing a luxurious cushion for Ryan's vocals to rest on.  I have yet to hear anything that Paula Kelley has arranged that I haven't loved and the strings on this song are no exception.  Honestly, I'd be hard pressed to name another song on which the vocals and the music blend and work together as well as "White Horse".  And of course, there are his lyrics, "my North has been shifting, continents drifted to sea, an archaic transcription with bearings far beyond reach" - who else do you know of who writes like that and then sings it just as naturally as if saying his own name?  Lucky for us, this song is revisited at the end of the record with a completely wonderful instrumental continuation of the string arrangement.

I haven't decided yet if the next song, "You Answered Me", is the most romantic take on a booty call I've ever heard or a heartfelt tale of a supportive, nurturing friendship blossoming into something more.  Maybe neither. Maybe both.  Either way, the song is delivered with a smooth, sincere vocal performance. Also, the piano on it totally kills me.  Not overdone at all, this song is subtle and poignant just as it is, anything else would have felt like too much. 

My current favorite on this record is "Go Where You Belong" - an absolute delight of finger picked guitar that feels like it's being picked on your heart strings.  The first time I listened to it I heard the guitar at the beginning, then I ignored it and focused on the singing which is particularly exceptional on this song - reminds me of Matt Nathanson in places. I actually thought there was no instrumental accompaniment.  Then I stepped inside the song, past the vocal and listened to the guitar the next time.  It's a great song to hang out in.  Now I can hear both, beautifully blended and complimentary of one another.  You can hear him breathing on this song too, and by now you must know how much I love that. "Go Where You Belong" also has my favorite line on the record: "but growing up's about, what you're willing to forget, and I am only human, and I am only human, and we are only human, don't forget."  

Finally, "November 15" explores the fear and comfort of finding "The One".  Honestly, I don't need the harmony on this song, I find it rather distracting.  However, the strummy guitar and perfectly descriptive lyrics combine to make such a great song that I can overlook that.  I mean, you have to agree that, "it scares me to say, I need you with me, and since you've been here, I'm finally free" is pretty much exactly how it feels to fall in love.  But once again, he takes a topic that is certainly not new to music and comes at it from an angle that makes it all his own.

I'm not sure how I would classify the music on White Horse EP - it is different from Black Sheep, Run, more stripped down and pure, but somehow still sounds like Ryan Schmidt.  Luckily, I don't think things need a label to be wonderful and this little collection of songs is certainly that.  Overall, they are slow and gentle, there aren't any real rockers on here, but there are flashes of genius and moments of real beauty so you need only an appreciation of artistically created and performed music to love this record.  For me, it's the kind of music I would really love to hear on vinyl. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Concrete Blonde

I'm aware that last night I said I didn't know any Concrete Blonde songs, but it turns out I was wrong.  I had no idea they did "Joey"!  Here, listen:

That song is amazing.  I haven't had a chance to listen to the entire CD yet, but the parts I have listened to are all as good as this song.  In Johnette I have officially found another female singer that can keep me mesmerized as long as she wants.  Incredible. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me

So, today is my birthday and to celebrate, I bought myself a few things.  Here's what I got:

First was Ryan Schmidt's debut Burning Bitter Years (which I can only assume to be high school) that was released in June, 2007.  Check him out on the cover - can't you just see the young jumping off him??  I got this one because I knew I was going to buy his latest release as soon as it came out and I wanted the complete set.  I'm sure I'll give this one a thorough review one day, but right now I'm hung up on the song "Ten Days".  I'm not sure what it is about that song, but I just want to hear it over and over.

Next, obviously, was Mr. Schmidt's latest offering White Horse EP.  It came out at midnight on the 10th, but I wasn't still up then, so I got it at 6am so I could listen to it on the way to work.  He did a little live streaming show from his room the night before the release of this EP so I got to see the songs performed "live", which was cool.  If you missed that, you should be following him on twitter so you don't miss another one, because it really was awesome.  White Horse is going to be my focus on New Music Monday next week, so I'll leave it at that.

Tonight we went to our local record store where I was in search of....well, something cool.  And did I ever find it!  This album, George Michael's Faith came out in 1987 when I was 9 years old and my sister was letting me listen to it very shortly thereafter.  This record is straight up sweet nostalgia!  I love it.  Personally, I think George Michael is grossly underrated.  His vocal abilities were good enough that he was able to sing Queen songs without embarrassing himself.  His songwriting was provocative and sexy and the music behind them was straight funky - what's not to love??

Finally, I found a Concrete Blonde record for a price I could live with given I'm not familiar with any of their songs (that I know of).  I have heard so many people talk about them and how wonderful they are though, that I've had my eye out for something by them for a while.  Tonight I got Recollection which is their 'best of' collection that was released in 1996.  I'm really looking forward to hearing them.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How Do You Listen?

I had a bit of a conversation the other day that got me to thinking about the way we listen to music. (I say a "bit" of a conversation because it was Twitter and you may have noticed that I am far too verbose to have a truly satisfying conversation in 140 characters or less at a time.) Anyway, it started differently but the part that started my synapses firing was a distinction between passive listeners and active listeners. I had never really thought of it like that and, more importantly, I had never considered that the actual artists might think of it like that.

In the aforementioned conversation I was oddly honored to be classified as an active listener.  But when I think about it, I guess it really is true.  Much to the chagrin of my husband (or anyone else who tries to eat a meal or have a conversation with me where music is playing...even quietly), it is very rarely ever just background noise to me.  More than once I have blurted out, "Oh, I love this song!" and then commenced to singing whatever was playing at a time when my husband didn't even realize there was music on.  I never miss it, it always gets my attention. 

But just having music grab my attention isn't enough.  When I listen to something, I like to really get inside it.  I've said before, music can be a tangible thing, a place where you can go and wander around and I like to do that as often as possible.  There are so many layers to it, you are not doing it justice if you don't at least try to hear them all.  For me, the first thing is the vocal.  The vocal has to be something I want to listen to, it has to have an effect on me in some way.  If there is no sincerity, or if it's just plain bad, then it doesn't matter what the music is doing behind it, I won't keep listening.  Then comes the lyrics - this is what I'll have to change if I ever want to really appreciate Bob Dylan, I have to put the lyrics before the vocal.  Anyway, the lyrics are second in order of what draws me to a song, but first in line of things that keep me.  I love the shit out of lyrics.  I like a clever turn of phrase, or a double meaning, or an unexpected surprise.  I know the words to an absolutely absurd number of songs and that's only because I pay attention to them so much that they just sink in.  It can't be helped.

Then there is the music itself.  It can be as simple as an acoustic guitar that feels like it's being played with your heart strings to an elaborate orchestral arrangement.  The music has a big job - it has to support the vocal, but not overpower it.  It builds the structure around the lyrics, it protects them, supports them, gives them a place to hang out and relax.  I love the way the drums and pianos interact and how the guitar just blankets them and pulls it all together.  The jingle of a tambourine in the beat hooks me every single time.  The emotion of a song is really just as wrapped up in the music as it is in the lyrics and the vocal. 

Honestly, it blows me away that not everyone hears music this way.  I suppose it is the difference between hearing it and listening to it.  I wan to know what's going on inside there and I want to take it in and let it do what it does.  I'm not saying that you can't enjoy music without having a religious experience every time you listen to something, I don't mean that at all, because I surely don't.  I listen to music all day long at work and it is forced to be in the background because, you know, I'm at work.  But really, I don't think you're giving the music (or the artists, for that matter) the respect it deserves if you just let it go in one ear and out the other all the time.  Sometimes you need to just sit down with a song or better yet, an entire record, and just eat it up and digest it.  Let it change you.  Being affected is not a bad thing.  If you don't ever take the time to really feel it, you're the one who is missing out.

New Music Monday

The first time I listened to these four songs, I thought "Yuck, I've struck out this week", however, because I am a woman, I reserve the right to change my mind willy nilly.  And I have - sort of.  Honestly, I'm not sure I'm going to keep any of these songs, but on the other hand, I've come around to realizing that they're not bad songs, they just didn't grab me right away for whatever reason.

Forever Boy - A Classic Education
This song has a story - I mean a really detailed story.  You'll have to go the link above and read it yourself for all the details.  I like songs to have a story, but I mean more like telling the story of a relationship, or of a moment in time, not necessarily someone's entire life story - that's a bit overkill for me.  Besides, when I listen to this song, all I can focus on is the line about 1 minute 34 seconds in...does he say "cracked, her snatch is brittle"??  That's what I hear.  Anyway, the song is just all drums and guitars and, honestly, a kind of generic vocal.  I guess it's not a bad song, I'm just not moved by it.

Me and You - Strange Boys
This song, off their album Live Music, is certainly a toe-tapper, if nothing else.  It has lots of piano (which I like) and an upbeat, jangly sound.  It sounds like a bunch of guys just playing music - not too  polished, not too perfect, but just right.  It explores life, the choices we make, the mistakes ("There are many ways to say goodbye, that was one, you can't do twice").  The first time I listened to it, I let it go in one ear and out the other (forgive me, it was about 2am and I was sleepy), but now that I listen to it more closely and appreciate it for what it is, I have to recommend this one and I might keep it myself.

I Could Be A King - The Dunwells
This has been my favorite of these four songs right from the very beginning.  It's fast and stringy - reminds me of Mumford and Sons but with a brighter vocal.  It is their debut single and will be on their upcoming album Blind Sighted Faith which I understand will be released next month.  I like this song and the more I listen to it, the more I like it.  I enjoy the "I could be a king," sentiment, it's nice to be reminded of that feeling a life without restrictions stretching out before you.  I will definitely give their album a listen, I'm hoping for good things!

Madeleine - Lissy Trullie
This is my least favorite of these four songs.  It is about the duality of siblings - their differences and how much alike they end up being. I have a sister, we're pretty opposite of each other in a lot of and also a lot alike.  But I still don't identify with this song.  It's just not palatable to me.  Something about the haunting, dreamy sound of it makes me uneasy when I listen to it - and not in a good way.  More like in a I'll be glad when it's over kind of way.  That being said, I can see where if you like that techno kind of a sound and a decently androgynous vocal, you might dig it.

 As a side note, I'm super excited about next week's New Music Monday!  It will be featuring Ryan Schmidt's new offering White Horse which will be available on http://www.bandcamp.com/ this coming Tuesday (Jan. 10th).  If you're not familiar with Ryan (you have clearly been ignoring me), then get caught up here before you buy the album on Tuesday.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Thing About Vinyl

As you may or may not know, I've recently started collecting vinyl (you can see my collection here) and I finally got something to play them on for Christmas. The first album I wanted to hear on vinyl (and, honestly, the one that got me started on this in the first place) was Matt Nathanson's Modern Love.  After reading his blog post about hearing it on vinyl for the first time, I knew I had to hear it.  So when I got my turntable for Christmas I knew I wasn't going to go to sleep that night until it had been played.

That just so happened to take until about 3:00 the next morning, but it was totally worth the wait.  It was fucking amazing, to put it lightly.  You can read about it here.

Since then, I've been making my way through my collection.  I don't honestly remember what I played next, but I'm sure it was awesome.  I love the sound of a record on vinyl (especially the old ones, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Damn the Torpedoes was sweet this morning), it just sounds more real.  It is less processed than digital music - like the difference between fresh green beans and canned.  I just love it.

I also love the physicality of music on vinyl.  I like digging through a big pile of records to find the one I want - so much more satisfying than using the track wheel on my iPod to find the song.  And then there is the cover art, the sleeve, the record itself.  Being able to hold this tangible thing in my hand that contains so much magic.  It's just very cool.  I even like having to flip the record when side one is finished.  It makes the entire listening experience much less passive.

I think the advent of digital music has ruined us as listeners. We can just put on some tunes and they can literally play for days without us ever having to interact.  On the one hand, that is awesome and I love it.  On the other hand, it has made music seem almost disposable or something.  It has just become background noise for a lot of people and I hate that.  But, it's not just music, it's everything, we live in a very instant gratification, disposable society and I'm not a big fan of that.  We just take everything for granted.

But here's the thing about vinyl.  While it has increased my distaste for where the world is heading, it has also made me appreciate our new technology in a way I never did before.  Sure, I used to have a huge collection of cassettes and I remember how awesome it was when CD's became the big thing and I could listen to the ENTIRE album without flipping it over and I could skip from song to song without having to fast forward or rewind.  And never has a CD player eaten a CD - oh the pain of pulling my completely destroyed copy of The Razor's Edge out of the cassette player in the car!  But still, even cassette players were portable.  I could have it any room in my house, there was one in my car - not like a turntable.  A turntable is stationary, wherever you put it, that's where it is.

When the record needs to be flipped or a new one put on, you have to stop what you're doing, go to where it is and handle it.  No remotes, no super long play lists, no iPod on your hip with your entire music collection at your fingertips.  I finally have some perspective now on why the generation before mine was so thrilled to be rid of vinyl and why they think my generation is nuts for wanting to bring it back.  I guess for some of us, the better sound (and by "better" I mean more real, more rich, not more perfect - "perfection" is something computers inflict on music) and the more fulfilling overall experience is worth the inconvenience of it, especially since we can always turn our iPods back on when the mood strikes us.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Final Grammy Installment

21 - Adele
Producers - Jim Abbiss, Adele, Paul Epworth, Rick Rubin, Fraser T. Smith, Ryan Tedder & Dan Wilson
Engineers/Mixers - Jim Abbiss, Philip Allen, Beatriz Artola, Ian Dowling, Tom Elmhirst, Greg Fidelman, Dan Parry, Steve Price, Mark Rankin, Andrew Scheps, Fraser T. Smith & Ryan Tedder
Master Engineer - Tom Coyne
Nominated - Album of the Year

I finally got around to listening to this album, mostly so I'd know what they are rewarding when they hand her the Grammy.  I will not argue that Adele has a beautiful voice and a knack for writing songs.  The arrangements are pleasant and each song has a unique sound which is always good.  But here's the thing (you could tell this was coming, right?) it's just not really my cup of tea.  By no means am I saying this is a bad record, quite the contrary.  When I listen to it, I know it's good, but it just doesn't get to me.  Don't get me wrong, I love "Rolling in the Deep" - that song is all over me, but that's really the only one.  My test of the awesomeness of an album is how many songs on it compel me to skip back and listen to them again.  "Rolling in the Deep" is the only song on this record that I want to listen to multiple times in a row.  It's not her fault though, few and far between are the female musicians who can keep me rapt for an entire album (read: Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Amy Winehouse, Shirley Manson, Paula Kelley, Lita Ford, and...that's about it). 

That being said though, I still believe this is going to be the album that takes the big Grammy. 

Doo-Wops & Hooligans - Bruno Mars

Featured Artists - B.o.B, Cee Lo Green & Damian Marley
Producers - Dwayne"Supa Dups" Chin-Quee, Needlz & The Smeezingtons
Engineers/Mixers - Ari Levine & Manny Marroquin
Mastering Engineer - Stephen Marcussen

However, if I was handing out the Grammy, this is the album it would go to (of the ones nominated, that is)...well, this or Wasting Light, I haven't decided.  This one came out in October, 2010 and I got it sometime the middle of December and I have played the shit out of it.  It's just really good.  I love his voice, I love the catchy upbeat songs, I love the ballads, the whole thing.  It gets to me and that's all I ask from the music I listen to.  "Runaway Baby" and "The Lazy Song" are fun songs to sing along with, "Our First Time" is a groovy little sexy time song, and "Talking to the Moon" makes me cry every. Single. Time.  "Just the Way You Are" is the only song on this record that I'm not inclined to listen to over and over.  I could seriously listen to "Liquor Store Blues" ten times in a row nad be perfectly happy (and it features Damian Marley - awesome!) Needless to say, I was pretty happy to see this one show up on the list of nominations.  Sadly, I don't think it stands a chance against Adele (but you'll probably hear me cheering at your house if Bruno or Foo Fighters take this category!)

A Whole New Level of Rambling

The social media that's available today has put me in a position that I never expected to be in which is having the ability to actually converse with the artists that I'm actively listening to.  I have to say, for someone who came of age well before the internet was anywhere near what it is now and listening mostly to dead people, it is kind of bizarre. I'm used to them being very far away and untouchable.  Is it possible that the guy typing back is really the one coming out of my speakers right now?  No freaking way.  Especially when it's someone whose work has really gotten in, it's so surreal.

I'm just not accustomed to musicians being actual people.  I mean sure, I grew up with guys who were "in bands", but they weren't artists.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  So it's strange for me to tread the line between fan girl and normal human.  Obviously I'm a wacko when it comes to really good music and musicians who create it (hence, this blog) but I don't tend to be of the hide-in-your-bushes-outside-your-house wacko variety.  I just really love what they do (when I love it, of course) and therefore I'm inclined to mention it...every 5 minutes.  Which probably makes them hate social media as much as I love it.

I really try to keep it under control and not freak people out.  But I can't help but wonder about all the weirdos in the world.  For instance, I once saw a guy offer Matt Nathanson his "middle nut" if he would follow him on Twitter.  No doubt, I would shit my pants if Matt Nathanson followed me on Twitter (or otherwise became aware of my existence) but I'm certainly not going to offer him a fictious - and disturbing - body part to convince him.  People just say all kinds of off the wall shit to famous people.  I don't get it.  Have they forgotten that these people, extraordinary as they might be, are still people?

I think that this is what would make me an awful journalist.  My editor and my subjects would almost certainly hate my guts.  I'm sure I would never ask the questions you're supposed to ask in an interview.  I would just want to know what they were thinking when the wrote certain songs (I mean, did that girl end up giving Micah "Time"? Or is she the same one "Where You Used to Lay" is about??) and what they're really thinking about when they're on stage (Matt Nathanson can't possibly be as caught up in it as we are, can he?  Then again, if he's up there thinking about laundry, maybe I don't want to know).

And then I'd want to learn about the structure of the songs.  How do they come to be?  Lyrics first? Music first?  How does a person even begin to write a song?  I wouldn't have the first clue where to start.  Seriously, if I was in a room with Ryan Schmidt, I would want him to listen to Black Sheep, Run with me a hundred times so I could pick apart the intricate arrangments and be all "What instrument is that making that sound?  I fucking love that!"  I'm sure it would be thrill of his life (not).  And how does Aaron Tap decide who he's going to work with?  Does he have a crystal ball?  Or just an uncanny ear for things I'm going to like (I'm certain that, "Will Stephanie like this?" is an integral part of his decision making process.)

Of course, THEN we'd get into the "what are you listening to now" conversation.  Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I would have a hell of a good time interviewing musicians for a living...you know for that week that I'd keep my job before I got fired.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

By The Way...

There are apparently only 4 tickets left to the Louisville, KY show of Matt Nathanson's All Night Noise Tour on February 24th (which is the one I'm going to).  So go here http://headlinerslouisville.com/ and snatch them quick before they're gone!!  You know you want to be there! 

If you can't make that one, go here http://mattnathanson.com/tour/ and find a show you can get to.

This is how wonderful his live shows are - so just trust me, you do not want to miss this tour.

**EDIT** After listing the show as "sold out" for 2 days, Headliners' website now says that there plenty of tickets available...which makes me sad because I wanted the show to sell out, but also makes me happy because now you can come too!! 

More Grammy Nominees

"All of the Lights" - Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi & Fergie
Songwriters - Jeff Bhasker, Malik Jones, Warren Trotter & Kanye West
Nominated - Song of the Year
All I really have to say about this song being nominated for a Grammy is...what the hell?  First of all, let me say that I'm not a huge fan of Kayne West.  I think he is totally full of shit and largely overrated (except for that moment when he took that microphone out of Taylor Swift's hand...I really liked him right then).  Sure, he's done a couple tolerable songs, but by and large I think I just don't get it.  This is just another one of those songs for me.  It just sounds like any other hip hop song and just blends in with all the rest of them.  I just want to know what makes this one special because I'm not hearing it.

"Holocene" - Bon Iver
Songwriter/Producer - Justin Vernon
Engineers/Mixers - Brian Joseph & Justin Vernon
Nominated - Record of the Year & Song of the Year
At least with this song, I can hear the artistry.  I get why people are impressed by the carefully crafted sound of this song.  The vocal is unique, the arrangement is intricate and full.  It has all the elements that a great song should have.  Here's my problem with it: I don't like it.  I can't help it, I just don't enjoy it.  I've listened to it several times and it just isn't getting in.  It leaves me flat.  I don't find the vocal entirely pleasant to listen to, the arrangement is a bit too contrived, it just doesn't move me.  So what it boils down to is that I can appreciate it, but I don't love it.

"Rolling in the Deep" - Adele
Songwriters - Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth
Producer - Paul Epworth
Engineers/Mixers - Paul Epworth & Mark Rankin
Nominated - Record of the Year & Song of the Year
By now we all know that Adele has a beautiful voice.  It is a powerful instrument and she wields it with uncanny control.  If you don't feel anything when you hear her sing, you really should check your pulse.  This song has everything it needs - her voice, a story of loving and losing, a powerful beat and a tambourine!  Personally, I think Adele is going to clean up at the Grammys this year.  I just hope she can leave room for Bruno Mars to grab one.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

25 Most Played

I hadn't looked at my 25 Most Played list on iTunes for a while because it didn't used to change.  In fact, I used to listen to the list so often that I pretty much secured the ranking of those songs.  So when I checked it out after syncing my iPod the other day - color me surprised!!  Keep in mind that iTunes has been keeping track of these songs for 6 1/2 years, so it's a little shocking to me when songs that were released the middle of last year show up on this list.  (Also, keep in mind that I have all of Matt Nathanson's stuff on CD too and I literally listen to that collection all day every day at work and iTunes isn't counting that shit)

Check it out:
25. Little of Your Time - Maroon 5 - It Won't Be Soon Before Long
24. Never Gonna Leave This Bed - Maroon 5 - Hands All Over
23. Fine Again - Seether - Disclaimer
22. Cold - Crossfade
21. Kiss Quick - Matt Nathanson - Modern Love
20. Billionaire (feat. Bruno Mars) - Travie McCoy
19. 1983 - Neon Trees - Habits
18. Liquor Store Blues (feat. Damian Marley) - Bruno Mars - Doo-Wops & Hooligans
17. The Air That I Breathe - Maroon 5 - Hands All Over
16. No Curtain Call - Maroon 5 - Hands All Over
15. Zero - Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
14. Love and Affection - Neon Trees - Habits
13. Mercy - Matt Nathanson - Modern Love
12. Stutter - Maroon 5 - Hands All Over
11. Last Chance - Maroon 5 - Hands All Over
10. Farther Down - Neon Trees - Habits
9. Sins of My Youth - Neon Trees - Habits
8. Animal - Neon Trees - Habits
7. In the Next Room - Neon Trees - Habits
6. Helpless - Neon Trees - Habits
5. Get Back in My Life - Maroon 5 - Hands All Over
4. Don't Know Nothing - Maroon 5 - Hands All Over
3. Into the Ocean - Blue October - Foiled
2. How - Maroon 5 - Hands All Over
1. Yellow Ledbetter - Pearl Jam - Rearviewmirror

So, yeah, I was a wee bit obsessed with the Neon Trees album and with Maroon 5's Hands All Over when they were new.  In fact, I listened to them so much that I haven't listened to either of them in months and they're still firmly fixed on this list.  Things were going to hell around me at the time and apparently I fixated on those two records a little bit.  Also, I'm a touch superstitious and I was convinced that if I didn't end every single play list I created with "Yellow Ledbetter", something bad would happen (you know, that same vague bad thing that will happen if you walk under a ladder or if a black cat crossed your path)...but I'm over that now. 

At first I was surprised to see Matt Nathanson on here since I didn't own anything by him until July or maybe even August 2011.  But, looking back, I also haven't had a single play list since then that didn't have at least 1 (and by "1" I mean 5 or 10) of his songs on it.  So, not so shocking, I guess. 

I intend to check back on the 25 Most Played list periodically to see how it evolves, because I'm sure it will.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pearl Jam

I found Pearl Jam's Yield at Half Price Books a few weeks ago for next to nothing and finally got around to listening to it this morning.  While I was listening to it, I had an epiphany: Pearl Jam just isn't that amazing.

Yes, I am full well aware that you hate me now, and that's cool, I understand, but at least give me a chance to explain.  I'm not going to take it back because I think it's true, but I think I can explain the massively successful 20 year career they've enjoyed despite the fact that I just don't really think they're that great.  Perhaps they could have been great - I think they have the talent/potential - but they never had to be, so they aren't.  I blame the fans and the circumstances.

Let's start at the beginning with Ten, their debut album released in 1991.  Ten is damn near perfect.  For me, at least, it was a shining star in the muddle of early 90's grunge.  And even now, 21 years later, I can still listen to it all the way through and love every second.  I even got it for Christmas on vinyl!  So here's the thing, I'm not the only person who feels that way.  A huge chunk of my generation was completely smitten with Eddie's growl and the powerful music that backed it up.  We took "Alive" and made it our anthem.  The only thing I dislike about Ten is the fact that I've never seen them perform it live.

Two years later they released Vs. Don't get me wrong, Vs. is a decent record, but it does not compare to Ten.  There are several good songs on it: "Daughter", "Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town", "Dissident" and "Animal" specifically, but none of them are as good as the weakest song on Ten.  So even though I'm not a huge fan of Vs., I can understand why their fans were cool with it and bought the shit out of it (I bought it too). 

That's when things went way downhill as far as I'm concerned.  Between studio albums, live albums, and compilations, they had at least one release every year or two for the next 18 years. Who could possibly be that prolific and all of it be as good as that first record?  I mean, they didn't even give the old records time to breathe before something new was released.  And yet their fans ate up pretty much all of it.  Why?  "Because they're one of the great American rock bands" you'll say.  But I disagree.  I think it was nostalgia.  My generation is big into that.

We latched onto Ten and Vs. because they were great records, because they really made us feel something.  Then there were all those people who joined the fan club and who saw them live and they loved the shit out of this band.  Pearl Jam could do no wrong.  They wanted anything they had to offer, even if the band was phoning it in.  Even if their music became their own personal political forum, no one cared, they just kept buying it.  Even if the band was resting heavily on it's laurels and making music that pretty much all sounded the same, no one minded because it was fucking Pearl Jam.

Over the years, we lost Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain,Layne Staley (we lost him long before he actually passed away) and Shannon Hoon among others.  Soundgarden broke up, Stone Temple Pilots broke up, everyone just kind of faded into the background...but there was always Pearl Jam.  Even after they cut their hair, it was still them, it was still that dirty guitar and that voice and we hung onto them for dear life.

But that doesn't make them great.  That just makes their fans great.  And there's nothing wrong with that, I'm not mad at anyone for loving a band and sticking with them over the years.  That's admirable.  But for me, I didn't buy much new stuff after Vs., it didn't inspire me to keep following them too closely.  There have been moments of genius ("Yellow Ledbetter", "Betterman", "Given to Fly"), but overall, that brilliant artistry we saw on Ten just has not been there.  Which makes me wonder if maybe I only think that Ten is so incredible because it was the perfect storm of my age, my circumstance and that music coming together. When I go back now and listen to the albums that I've missed over the years, I'm just left flat.  But who knows, maybe if I had been into it at the time they were released and following them and going to live shows, I would have been blown away by the new material too.  But, as it stands, I think the Foo Fighters are a better rock band than Pearl Jam. 

So go ahead and tell me I'm stupid and I have no taste, that's fine.  I'm not trying to tell anyone not to be a Pearl Jam fan - that's ridiculous.  If you love every note they've ever played, more power to you.  I don't hate them, I consider myself a fan, but really only of the early stuff.  I sincerely hope that someday they knock my socks off again.

New Music Monday

On this, the first Monday of 2012, I have 4 songs for you - none of which have impressed me very much.  I've only listened to these a couple times, so my opinion on them is possible (possibly likely) to change, but these are my first impressions.

"Northern Mentality" - Mathieu Santos (Massachusetts 2010)
I'm not going to lie, after the amount of music I came to love in 2011 that originated in the northeast, I had high hopes for this song.  I was excited to find yet another artist from my side of the country, but it was not to be.  Somehow, this song sounds unfinished to me although I can't really put my finger on why.  Apparently it has this deep meaning about being raising up north messes with your brain (I was raised by Yankees, so I know this to be true), but I don't get that.  In fact, after listening to it 4 or 5 times, I'm still like, "what the hell is he talking about?"  And I find the horn section to be vaguely irritating, which is odd because I have been loving the shit out of some horns lately. 

"St. Croix" - Family of the Year (St. Croix EP)
I'm kind of neither here nor there on this song.  It does have a catchy little chorus that made me laugh the first time I heard it, but that's about it.  I think the song is about some dude going to the Caribbean to forget about a girl and the best I can gather, he hooks up with a new girl (after throwing his cell phone in the ocean).  I think that's what's happening anyway.  The chorus, "You bring the ocean, I bring emotion (or the motion...I'm not sure), together we'll make a love potion" is funny, but too cheesy to make me really like the song.

"Keep You Right" - Blind Pilot - (We Are the Tide)
When you have a lot of people in your band or a big arrangement in a song, there is a fine line between "wow, that sounds great" and noise.  This song treads all over that line and crosses to both sides of it from time to time.  It has a catchy chorus that I can see singing along to, but that's about all I can say about it.  I'm not in love with it, but I don't hate it.  Check it out and see what you think.

"Roll on Hills" - Annie Williams - (This Mountain)
This is my favorite of these four, if only because it is the most benign.  Annie Williams has a pleasant, dreamy sounding voice and the song is quiet and smooth.  I'm not sure exactly what the song is about, but only because I haven't listened to it closely enough to follow.  There is a little too much drum for me, but I think only because her voice is so delicate that the drum almost drowns it out.  Either way, I would recommend this song, I can't imagine anyone would find it offensive.