I Need More Live Music in My Life

I went to a choral concert my niece was performing in, and it was amazing. I came away with a few observations:

It’s hard to put on a program of excellent choral music without hymns and other religiously-themed pieces. This concert featured “I Sing Because I’m Happy,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “Dirshu Adonai.” Choirs’ repertoires would be badly impoverished if you took away all their religious material.

One of the conductors invited the audience to sing along to “America The Beautiful.” “Singing kids come from singing families!” she chided us, and I wanted to add, “and churches!” I am increasingly grateful for the work the Church does teaching people to sing–particularly young people–because it’s an activity that popular culture has associated with celebrity. The good news must be sung as well as preached. In our day and age, choirs and hymnals are kind of revolutionary.

“Teaching kids to sing is an emergency,” said another conductor. I’ve never heard such urgency associated with arts education. The statement struck me as unassailably true.

Lastly, I need more live music in my life. As someone who accumulates, digests, and shares gobs of recorded music, I barely ever seek out live performances, and that’s a shame. Something like an emotional massage happens when a good piece of music played live hits your ears.

My niece’s choir sang a musical setting of the Yeats poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” and by the third note I was wiping my eyes. It was a gift.

More please.

 

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Resolved: to listen to The Life of Pablo all the way through today

I’m a music fan, enough of one to maintain a music blog. Sharing songs, albums, artists, and even record labels with people in the hopes that they too will like what I like–there’s nothing better.

I should qualify that first sentence, though. I’m a [some] music fan. My tastes aren’t restrictive, but they aren’t broad either. They live on that easily digestible smorgasbord of Americana, Pop, Folk, and Electronic. My tastes almost never venture to the sonic poles of Metal and Rap.

But should they? Does your credibility as a music “fan” demand intentional stretching of your tastes? Should you force yourself to listen at least once to the new rap album everyone is raving about?

Or does artistic appreciation permit the bracketing of one’s tastes?

Resolved: to listen to The Life of Pablo all the way through today.

How To Look Stupid in Public (or Landon’s Music Picks for 2013)

Before you begin, click play on the above playlist. 

Twice this week I’ve attracted a worried, sympathetic gaze from a stranger, once while getting my mail and once while sitting at a traffic light. The cause was the same both times: Landon. Dude, I look like a dummy these days, and it’s all your fault. I can’t get “Brave” out of my head, and I can’t stop myself from dancing like the people in that video.

Landon and I are featuring one another’s favorite music of the year. We’ve swapped curated playlists of our favorite songs and the names of our top albums, and we’re taking turns this week presenting those in this space with comment. Hence my repeated listening to “Brave” (and “Settle Down” and “6AM”) and the inevitable public dancing, which, as you may have guessed, is the cause of my public humiliation.

Here’s Landon spinning out a worldview based on my music picks.

I’m less capable as a cultural critic, so I won’t suggest a worldview. I will, though, suggest a World Experience–that is, what listening to Landon’s 2013 music picks will do to your life. Once you get comfortable in your own skin, you’re gonna like it. I’ve been doing it for a week now. It’s nice.

The Playlist

In the past seven days Last.fm tells me that I’ve listened to “Brave” 22 times, “Royals” 27 times, and “Get Lucky” 19 times (not counted are the views of the videos for these songs, which have been multiple). It’s a good life. The key is major. It’s rhythmic. There’s harmony. It won’t make you want to dance outright (excepting “Get Lucky,” of course), but you will be moving: head bobbing, feet gliding, shoulders twitching.

There was a time when I would heap scorn on that kind of indulgence. But I’m older now. November was a rough month. The songs on this playlist are a tonic from the gods.

This list isn’t without heft, though. “Two Sides of Lonely” is a throaty lament, and “Epic” has this haunting rhythm guitar part that’ll make you want do don a black turtleneck and horn-rimmed glasses.  And, yeah, “Royals” is nobody’s Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo. Landon’s songs will hook your head and your gut at the same time.

The best word for the whole list is “anthemic.” These are big songs for big places (“City Electric”). They’re reaching in their lyrics and arrangements to be the voice of a public (notably “Most People” and “Brave”), which kind of makes the whole list feel like a life statement: we the people of this music are coming after the world with confidence, ready to think and move at the same time. Stare at us if you want.

I synced this playlist to my phone last week so I could listen to it wherever I went and just swim in it. Now we’ll see how long it takes me to get out and dry off.

The Albums

Landon claims disappointment in 2013’s crop of albums, so he’s only highlighting three. We have kind of established a three-skip rule for albums in the past, which simply states that an album can’t be all that great if there are more than three songs on it that you regularly skip. I have to believe that the three skip rule kept lots of albums on the bench here.

Here are Landon’s top three:

“Random Access Memories,” by Daft Punk

 

This one kind of threw me, because I never took Landon for a Daft Punk fan. I’ll only say this: if you listen to this album from beginning to end you’re getting a smorgasbord of disco guitar arrangements and electronic vocalizations (including a long stretch of spoken word) that will challenge your attention span. If you can stick with it and not just hit the fun stuff (“Lucky,” “Lose Yourself To Dance”), you have a more disciplined ear than I.

“Stories Don’t End” by Dawes

 

Landon could sing the songs on this album, and I’m certain that’s why he loves it. This album is super simple flannel-clad rock that veers country at times. But the soul of the album is a bearded dude with a guitar writing nuanced lyrics (“Just My Luck”) crooning to a minimal backing band. No doubt Landon listens to “Stories Don’t End” and fantasizes about playing gritty bars with the boys from Jesusfish.

“Fellow Travelers,” by Shearwater

 

This comes out of nowhere, and I don’t quite know what to do with it. Jonathan Meiberg’s is Shearwater’s lead singer, and he has a voice like tar. It’s heavy and engrossing, but I can only take it in short doses. Those doses hit hard, though. Like, cinder block on your windshield hard. “Fellow Travelers” is snarlin’ music. That Landon loves this suggest to me that, after 2013, he could name you five people he’d kick in the chest given the chance. Go get ’em, cowboy.

So there you have it. Landon’s favorite songs and albums of the year. What does this collection suggest to you?

And does anybody know where I can get a good deal on a space helmet? I haven’t got Landon’s Christmas present yet.

“The World According to Rocky’s Music” by his musical friend Landon

As you are aware, Rocky and I (Landon) have this little love affair going on, which consists of notifying one another of any music that enters our lives that has potential to be of great importance. I dare say that music for us is a lens through which we see the world.

SONGS

I feel confident in the above assertion, for the songs playlist that Rocky sent me was modestly titled: “2013 Live-or-Die Playlist: The 10 songs from this year I couldn’t do without.” Couldn’t do without? How’s that work? Do you just curl up in a ball and cry until the song is played? I mean, man – get a grip.

But what if that music actually IS “Live or Die”? What do these 10 songs say about our brother, Rocky? What is the world like if these are the tunes needed to sustain it? Let’s find out, shall we?

Hit play on the playlist below as you read on.

“Mother” by Said the Whale – Sometimes we’re all a little bit bad, but we want to be good. Just don’t tell our mothers ’til we’ve figured it out. Sassy indie rock, begging you to love it. And you do.

“Hey Rose” by Houndsmouth – Coming to terms with the things we want ain’t easy, but we gotta reassure the folks we leave behind that we ain’t leaving for good. Honky tonk. Honky. Tonk.

“Running Around” by Rilo Kiley – The people we leave in our wake as we go get the things we want know we’re full of crap. New-wave throwback, full of vim and vigor.

“Oil Slick” by Frightened Rabbit – Unless we’re committed to changing, whatever we give to the ones we think we love is going to hurt more than it helps. Brutally honest, gut churning Scottish Rock.

“You Can’t Save ‘Em All” by Big Harp – As a fool returns to his folly, so a dog returns to its vomit. But you don’t have to be there when they do. Lou Reed and Rufus Wainwright had a love child, and they are so proud of their honor roll student.

“Born at 5” by Bombadil – At some point, you just grow up and get your shit together. More authentic than The Lumineers. Is that possible?

“Recover” by Chvrches – Once you get your shit together, you can start imparting the lessons you learn to the world. Call it tough love. Call it boundaries. Or call it the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Electro-pop at its finest.

“Man” by Neko Case – One of the lessons you get to impart upon discovering the simple maturity of life is that loving another is the measure of who you are. Gritty, dirty, and full of punch.

“Blackout Days” by Phantogram – Regardless of how mature you become, the ghosts will come. Just shove them away. They don’t own you anymore. Dido decided to imitate Sinead O’Connor.

“Most People” by Dawes – These truths are the same for all of us. A perfect folk-rock song.

Okay, I concede. That’s “Live or Die” stuff, indeed.

ALBUMS

Now, while it’s easy to be a bit cheeky about a list of songs, a person’s love of an album is another matter altogether.  More than just a collection of songs, an album is a world that one is invited to live in for a while. It is an immersive experience; a complete work.

Here are Rocky’s favorites of the year:

Heartthrob by Teagan and Sarah – If you need a thick, dense sound that transports you to 1990, this is the album you want. T&S come through again, but this isn’t the punk you’ve come to expect. There’s a maturity here that will take your breath away.

The Bones of What You Believe by Chvrches – You met Chvrches in Rocky’s song list, but the whole album is just as good. This is decidedly not my genre, but it still feels so good to listen to. A Chvrches show is one I’d pay money to attend.

From the Hills Below the City by Houndsmouth – This album makes me uncomfortable. It’s dirty and unrefined. I conjure images of the Patrick Swayze epic Roadhouse as I listen through my speakers. Beer bottles are flying, and I am loving every damn minute of it.

Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit – I love these guys so much. Their previous offerings have been some of my faves of the last few years. But the raw anger of this collection is almost more than the average bear can take. However, their track “Holy” should be required listening for any Christian boy or girl who thinks the Faith still matters. You’ll cry yourself to sleep on your huge pillow.

Stories Don’t End by Dawes – If I would have been in the same physical space as Rocky when I listened to this album, I would have kissed him for introducing me to the most refreshing music of my year. Perfect folk-rock. Not much more to say, in my opinion.

And now, I yield the remainder of my time back to the gentlemen from Claremont.

Thanks,

Landon

Landon And I Are Posting Our Top Music of The Year Next Week. This Isn’t It.

A couple years ago Landon and I shared our favorite songs and albums on our respective blogs (see here and here) . We didn’t do it last year, but we’re constantly texting each other music recommendations. In fact, our now defunct magazine may or may not have started as a text about Arcade Fire.

Next week Landon will pen a post here featuring five albums and 10 songs I sent him as my favorites of the year. He’ll add some commentary elucidating my obvious musical sophistication, perhaps working in a lament about his inferior facial hair. Later in the week I’ll write a post about his top music of the year in which I will make some recommendations of forthcoming albums that might finally fill the hole that N’Sync left in his heart.

For now, he’s some music we talked about a lot and really liked, but didn’t make it onto either of our year-end lists (and, yes, we’re still open to suggestions–use the comments)

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0FlKiI/

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0KWpbc/

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0Fgi8Q/

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0K4_z0/

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LniEk/

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0Fpjwg/

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0FIHo8/

New Music Tuesday: Scottish Self-Loathing Edition

Note: New Music Tuesday highlights something I’ve been listening to regularly during the week prior. I like it. I include critical comments both positive and negative to demonstrate my independent ignorance of musical convention.

Del Amitri is the love of my musical life. I fed on their ironic, narcissistic, self-loathing for most of my 20’s and am a better man for it. Since they broke up, I’ve had to content myself with a couple of fine solo albums from their frontman Justin Currie, but those just aren’t the same. I’m always on the lookout for some whiskey-soaked deprecatory literary Scottish rock. Always.

Thank God for Frightened Rabbit.

Album:Pedestrian Verse

Artist: Frightened Rabbit

Label: Canvasback/ATL (Grouplove, Fanfarlo, The Joy Formidable)

Release Date: February 5, 2013

Where I Found It: Their previous two albums have put me on their watch list. This one was on my radar for awhile.

What The Critics Are Saying: 

The tightly constrained rhythms and miserable lyrics that make the tracks catchy are also what make the album something of a downer. (Consequence of Sound)

Over the years, the group has been lumped in with the proud tradition of sad Scottish bastards, and Pedestrian Verse’s moody “Nitrous Gas” shows why. “Leave the acute warm-heartedness / Go where the joyless bastard lives / He’s dying to bring you down with him / Suck in the bright red major keys / Spit out the blue minor misery / I’m dying to bring you down with me.” (A.V. Club)

Frightened Rabbit’s major label full-length debut is a triumphant album. It expertly expands on their previous work with a big, muscular series of anthems that investigate faith, masculinity, and Scottish identity while sharpening their increasingly identifiable brand of wry, thoughtful songwriting. (Under The Radar)

Here are a few highlights, starting with the aforementioned “Nitrous Gas”:

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LCSFw

 

“Holy” is another terrific track, although its irreverence is wearing self-righteous the more I listen to it.

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LCS10

 

And finally, “The Woodpile,” which just makes you want to light something on fire.

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LCS3A

New Music Tuesday: I Love Chad Andrew Herring Edition

Note: New Music Tuesday highlights something I’ve been listening to regularly during the week prior. I like it. I include critical comments both positive and negative to demonstrate my independent ignorance of musical convention.

Chad Andrew Herring is magic. He sneezes rainbow sprinkles. He sweats cologne. He burps laughing gas.

I love Chad Andrew Herring.

And Chad Andrew Herring loves the twin sister idie rock band Tegan and Sara. Therefore, I love Tegan and Sarah. That’s called a syllogism.

Album: Heartthrob

Artist: Tegan and Sara

Label: Vapor/Warner Brothers

Release Date: January 29, 2013

Where I Found It: (Do I have to say it?) Chad Andrew Herring

What The Critics Are Saying: 

On “Heartthrob” (Vapor/Warner Bros.), the Quins’ seventh album, they let their inner dance-pop divas loose. Instead of Cat Power teamed with Ani DiFranco, they now sound like Kelly Clarkson paired with Gwen Stefani. And, in a bigger surprise, they sound pretty great doing it. (Glen Gamboa)

The album’s electro trappings may feel odd at first, but that sensation quickly fades thanks to the smooth, inviting textures — the Quins never sound like anyone but themselves. Whether sharing close harmonies or trading lead vocals, the sisters retain the engaging conversational style that values down-to-earth expressiveness over showy theatrics. (Jon Young)

With Heartthrob it sounds like the sisters have made a conscious effort to be more understandable, while maintaining some aspects of their signature poetic repetitious style. They’ve grown up in almost every aspect of music production. (Enio Chiola)

Seriously, at times listening to “Heartthrob” feels like nothing as much as Olivia Newton-John. Witness the opening track, “Closer”:

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LJgBc

 

This is perfect pop candy. Echo, reverb, synthesizers. And staccato repetition lyrics like, “And it drove me, and it drove me, and it drove me . . . wild.”

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LJgCo

 

It might feel a bit regressive for an aspiring music curator to really dig this record, but giving in is a sweet reward.

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LJgMI

 

Chad Andrew Herring’s everywhere agree: Tegan and Sara are super cool!

 

 

New Music Tuesday: If You Give An Angry Bear A Fifth of Jim Beam And A Tin of Sucrets Edition

Note: New Music Tuesday highlights something I’ve been listening to regularly during the week prior. I like it. I include critical comments both positive and negative to demonstrate my independent ignorance of musical convention.

If you do as the title of this post suggests, the sound produced might be something like the voice of Chris Senseney, the golden gravel voice behind the husband-and-wife duo Big Harp.

Album: Chain Letters

Artist: Big Harp

Label: Saddle Creek (Bright Eyes, Azure Ray, The Mynabirds)

Release Date: January 22, 2013

Where I Found It: Pause and Play weekly email newsletter

What The Critics Are Saying: 

“The opening track, ‘You Can’t Save ‘Em All’ sounds like mix of an old school country tune and a Cormac McCarthy book. Its dark, brooding and has this grinding lick to it. But weirdly enough it bounces along with lovely harmonies from Stefanie – has a kicking guitar solo in it as well.” (Hearya.com)

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0Ihj2U

 

“Mr. Senseney’s underrated vocals are still achingly phenomenal, spanning the range of guttural Gospel wailings at the fuzzed out crescendo of ‘It’s Easy to Be Strange’ to the low and raspy march in ‘Call Out The Cavalry, Strike Up The Band’. (indierockreviews.com)

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0Ihj3k

 

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0Ihj3s

 

“The sound of Chain Letters is built around Stefanie’s bass; it’s the glue on this album.” (Thom Jurek, Rdio)

Apparently there was a stunning debut record a couple of years ago, but I missed it, so I have no basis for comparison. This, though, is so good it makes me want to cuss. In particular, “Bar All The Doors” is a mental massage–with tree bark (“If you bar all of the doors/and curl up easy on your hardwood floor/they’ll just come through the window.”)

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0Ihj24

New Music Tuesday: “Is That The Cranberries?” Edition

Note: New Music Tuesday highlights something I’ve been listening to regularly during the week prior. I like it. I include critical comments both positive and negative to demonstrate my independent ignorance of musical convention.

Album: Northern Lights And Southern Skies

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LejAI

Artist: The Capsules

Label: Vespera Records

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LejOA

Release Date: January 15, 2013

Where I Found It: indie rock cafe

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LejFY

What The Critics Are Saying: 

 Julie Shields’ singing is quite the acquired taste: Sounding like a cross between the Go-Gos’ Belinda Carlisle and the Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan, Shields is either going to charm you or annoy you greatly (Zachary Houle, PopMatters)

The simplistic beats and forgettable vocal melodies on tracks like ‘Where It All Begins’ and ‘All At Once’ leave a lot to be desired, and they bear too strong of a resemblance to all the other dime-in-a-dozen electronic popularity wave surfing bands out there. (SowingSeason, Sputnik Music)

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0LejRY

Whatever. I’m a sucker for electronic wave surfing bands and Dolores O’Riordan will always have a place in my ears.

So then. Favorite Cranberries song: go.

New Music Tuesday: Live Acoustic Throwback Edition

Reader question: what album got you through college? Seminary or Grad School?

Also, what new releases should I be looking out for?

Album: Live Acoustic

Band: Guster

Label: Ocho Mule

Release Date: January 8, 2013

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0Ir-rk

 

Normally, I wouldn’t get worked up about an album of live acoustic versions of songs I already knew and, in some cases, loved. But these songs make unique contributions. There’s no novelty in arrangement or vocalization (such as the irritating habit of inviting the audience to sing the chorus), only rich vocal harmonies and the addition of some simple strings. The recording of “Either Way” is as good of proof as there is:

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0Ir-rg

 

I fell hard for Guster in 2003 while a seminary student. I listened to Keep It Together the whole academic year. Then, during my first year as a pastor, I would spend my morning commute pounding the steering wheel and stomping the floorboards singing along to “Happier” and “Two Points for Honesty.” They fell off my rader after that, though. It’s been almost 10 years.

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K0Ir-rU

 

Good to hear ya, boys.