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learning love songs

est. 2008

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August 2016

8/23/16

Do you remember where you were when you discovered American Football? I do. It was alone in my basement, back when Limewire and Napster and all that were still a thing, and I searched for it and downloaded it on recommendation from a friend who liked the same pop punk/emo/indie bands that I did. Mind you, this was a good five or six years after the debut LP had come out, and my friend had backed into the discovery it via Owen, the newer project from lead singer Mike Kinsella, if my memory serves me. But what a find it was. At a time when I hungered for meaning and deep thought music, but the trends was swaying into a screamo/hardcore territory that I only found so-so satisfying, here was a band with instrumental and musical complexity that rivaled the classic rock and 90s bands I had studied earlier. Everything about “American Football” seems wistful, from Kinsella’s drawl to the patient guitars to the rumbled cymbal taps, sweeping over the listener like a warm breeze.

Waking up to the news of a new record — also self-titled, how cool! — coming this fall and a new single instantly brought me back to that place, when I felt like I’d come across something that was as broken-hearted as I was but prideful and intelligent enough to wrap it in a smooth, soothing package. Those opening bars of “Never Meant” — both the drum fill and that ascending guitar riff — have haunted me throughout the years, in my basement and in car rides, in late nights of insomnia and afternoons of quiet despair. No doubt it has haunted the members of AF, too — how do you top that, how do you come back from an album that has meant so much to so many people? Kinsella’s thought on the comeback over at Pitchfork are worth a read.

After 17 years, it seems that they relied on listening to themselves and their musical instinct while respecting the reverence their original recording still inspires. The first single of the next record “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long” is a bit wordier than the tracks on the first record, but not at all to its detriment — there’s still a lot of space between the instruments, shakers and auxiliary to compliment the echoing guitars but a thumping build to add some movement and direction. It’s a great song that doesn’t depart from what fans have hung onto for so many years while showing the maturation that comes with age and practice. It feels older, and it should, because as much as we might want to hang onto the memories and feelings of years ago, time changes all of us — and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

“Maybe I’m asleep
This is all a dream
I can’t believe life is happening to me.
~I’ve Been So Lost For So Long
American Football, American Football

8/22/16

In the flurry of new music August 2016 has bestowed upon us, I couldn’t let two new songs from Restorations come out without marking the occasion. Restorations is a new-ish band doing right by rock and roll, with a driving, focused rhythm section and deep, meaty vocals. They walk this line of aggression, pushing hard and playing loud, without losing the handle on a thoughtful composition or veering into too-chaotic territory.

The pairing of See/Sea released earlier this month came across my desk today and I am loving the slow build into erupting noise in the first, and the wind-down in the latter. Both songs show a really impressive, thoughtful effort, definitely worth a listen if you want something to sink your teeth into.

“I want to go out slow
I want to go out quietly
I want to go out slow like we used to be.”
~Sea
Restorations

8/20/16

Head North became one of my favorite rock band discoveries last year when I came across their album “Bloodlines” that had some dark, proggy stuff going on topped off with scratchy, mysterious vocals and lyrics. Chock full of potential, especially in those breakdowns. Definitely a band for the edgier days, with plenty of feeling, flow and force to spare. The split with Microwave is worth a listen too, if weighty pensive rock is your thing (it is so often mine).

Today I found their latest single and it is honest-to-goodness one of the most interesting pieces of music I’ve heard from a rock band all year — they give you this groovy, depressing, hook-filled song about God and trends and culture, then turn the whole thing on its head. It’s very different than their last record, to be sure, but quite realized. There’s something somewhat 90s alt rock stoner band about the melody and the echo-y background vocals/effects, sort of like Travis and Remy Zero, though it also reminded me of U2’s “How To Dismantle…” era — something culturally aware and cynically shrewd in a very listenable package, at least for the first two minutes. Then you get 50 seconds of spacey noise, where you just kind of drift…and drift…and it’s beautiful,and weird, and what the hell happened to that hook?! Such an interesting, surprising choice. I think I really like the new direction. I checked out the video and it’s full of choreography, which only endears me further. Note to all bands: hire more dancers!

Awaiting more with baited breath.

“I am gonna be the man who brings back God like a wristwatch…
Slowly, slowly.”
~God (Bring it Back)
Head North, The Last Living Man Alive Ever In The History Of The World

8/9/16

Nothing to spruce up a dull August Monday better than a sick new single from Joyce Manor, one of rock music’s freshest acts. I’ve had the privilege of seeing these guys live twice and their show is so full of energy, fun and ferocious licks. I’m betting their forthcoming LP will show the benefits of their extensive touring since “Never Hungover Again” came out in 2014. With pro producer Rob Schanpf at the helm, their fourth album ought to make for their most pro and polished yet, while holding onto that garage-rock quality that makes Joyce Manor so very endearing. They’re a young band, but this makes them appealing to older fans, sigh.

“Fake I.D.” is standard Joyce format, with punchy, descriptive narrative and one helluva hook, this time incorporating the one and only Kanye West. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since it came out yesterday. What I love about this band is how damn fun they are — no matter how lonely, rejected, fucked up or pissed off, they’re still game for a fast-paced funky lick and a sardonic reference or two. Here, the drums pound, the guitars wail, and Barry nails the rhymes (John Steinbeck and Phil Hartman, what!).

At just over two minutes long, the song is a breeze of a listen, and like other Joyce tracks, makes you wonder why we bother with any more noise than necessary if you can pack this much punch in a short stretch of time. Especially lyrically. My interpretation of “Fake I.D.” — there’s an obvious tension between the singer and the object of his desire, but apparently all she wants to do is chat, even though maybe he’d like to connect a little because life has been rough. All that, with some stellar guitar playing, in under 2:20? That’s some crisp writing — sign me up for more.

8/7/16

For all the reasons there are to love to hate the internet, the boundless capacity to connect with others over shared interests and experiences is an immeasurable gift (albeit responsibility) to our era. Whenever else in history and time could beings find others so easily from across the globe who share the same interests, thoughts and perspectives, and within seconds learn their story?

This wonder overtook me earlier this summer when I received a lovely message on Twitter from Andrea Caccese, a musician in New York City. He had found this humble blog o’mine and wanted me to review his songs. Would I!? After settling into my new domain and getting in a semblance of a routine balanced with my other writing efforts and responsibilities, I’ve given Andrea’s work as Nowhere a listen, and I have to say his work is as beautiful, peaceful and pondering as the moniker suggests.

Caccese cites his influences for Nowhere as Elliott Smith, Nick Drake and Bon Iver, and his songs evoke the same kind of sad, pondering softness present in all three. His voice is the most striking part for listeners, a raspy near-whisper that float above gentle acoustic strumming and echoing delays and production effects. Both of the two songs on his self-released EP are uncluttered and spacious, giving plenty of room for the intimate narratives to take center stage.

“Follow” is a sweeping kind of song, and “Gone,” with a faster rhythm and additional harmonies, has a bit more propulsion behind it. Together, they show off Caccese’s unique and memorable voice, as well as his gift for thoughtful phrases.

In his own words:
“Nowhere embraces a sparse and intimate concoction of folk fragility, punk rock immediacy and shoegaze textures, as personal lyricism unfolds through understated acoustic melodies and haunting atmospheres.”
Find out more about Andrea Caccese at @nowheresongs!

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