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9/29/17

Too much music, not enough time, so the story always goes across these nine years of musical musings. I still haven’t fully synthesized my thoughts on Brand New’s Science Fiction, I’ve got lots of notes but haven’t quite gotten the nerve to sit down and face them. The new Josh Ritter is amazing, and I’ve only made it to the gym this week when the new Taylor Swift singles from Reputation were involved. But tonight I like this Good Old War song, “Part of Me” off their latest EP, a song that I actually discovered on Taylor’s Spotify playlist. It’s good stuff, sad and true with its simple picking and stirring harmonies and subtle slide guitar. I like songs that are brave enough to repeat a good line or two this often. Sounds like the kind of song I’d like to sing sometime. But again, not enough time or nerve, whichever is a more believable excuse. So instead, it’s all locked up somewhere, which I guess is kind of what this song is about.

“But I’m always looking forward for an open door
I found an outlet for all my feelings
They’re trying to cut the cord…

I’m thinking, we’ve got to run
If you’re holding on the seams will come undone
And you’ll only get part of me.
We don’t want to catch a break while we’re playing it safe
You’ll only get part of me…

~Part of Me
Good Old War, Part of Me

9/11/17

I have to apologize to/forgive myself for the lack of posts lately — I think the past month was the longest I’ve gone without posting in the nine-year history of this blog. It wasn’t because of lack of new music to love — if anything, the amount of music I’ve been getting lost in has peaked for the year and I couldn’t decide where to begin or what to get done first (The War on Drugs! Iron and Wine! BRAND NEW?!?!?! More on that TK).

But this day, this historic day, this anniversary of the tragedy that changed the course of human history, is a day that I do not let go by without getting some kind of words down. I remember pouring out poetry in the days that followed 9/11, scribbling stanzas into agenda margins and in fur-covered novelty journals. None of it was very good. Much of it rhymed. All of it was my personal plea for the world to heal and to love itself, a hope I held onto well into my adult years. I’ve tried to remain the sociopolitical optimist, retaining some idea that our best selves would come forward in the name of Doing Good and give us something to aspire to. Suffice to say, that hope today is as dim as ever. With so much hate and divisiveness, that hope is a flickering wisp of a flame.

The cynicism of our times is well-earned and understandable — how can anyone hold onto hope when the world feels on fire? Yet the glimmer of our best nature provides little victories, when you can find it: the song that brings a tear to your eye, the paragraph that distills exactly how you feel about something or someone, the kind stranger on the subway who holds open the door as someone runs to it, the volunteers helping those who lost everything due to natural disasters.  I remember feeling that glimmer one day earlier this year, on a Saturday in January when millions of women and men flocked to my neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles to let their voice be heard. I stood on a sidewalk with my headphones on and played Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” on repeat, feeling full and raw and revealed and at home. I felt comfort in chaos. I felt inspired to let love of humanity inspire me again, and allowed it to beat back the cynicism, if only for those minutes.

No matter the size of the struggles that are behind us, they pale in comparison to the greatness that comes after. It feels, to me, as if the struggle that began sixteen years ago is still working its way through our politics and our culture and our world. I hope to one day see the other side.

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight…”

~The Rising
Bruce Springsteen, The Rising

8/8/17

One of my favorite things I’ve always remembered about Josh Ritter was that he majored in “American History Through Narrative Folk Music” at Oberlin College. I learned this about him in high school and it stuck with me as one of the coolest things I’d ever heard, smacking of dedication and promise. History! Narratives! Folk Music! I love all these things, and I instantly loved Josh Ritter, who got away from me in recent years as my Americana/folk listening expanded to many other artists.

I rediscovered his catalog this weekend when the hook for “Still Beating” came into my head, a beautiful song about the nature of persistence, and from their his catalog sucked me back in. “Girl in the War” is one of my all-time favorite ballads, a song I’ve cried to and sung to in many capacities, while his later work on So Runs The World Away reminds me of more placid, pensive times. I think he’s one of the best songwriters of his generation, able to encapsulate a feeling and paint a scene with the same phrase, while building really complex, stunning instrumental parts around it.

Today, a day when history seemed to burst at the seams with unbelievable statements that could threaten our safety, it was an odd and beautiful coincidence to have “The Temptation of Adam” queued up on Spotify on my walk to work. It’s a morbid song, a tale of love found in some bunker safe from nuclear fallout, a song that I loved back when and somehow moves me even deeper today. It’s poetic and dark, the way Ritter paints the scene of the lovers in hiding, with crossword puzzles and cots and rations, with names carved into a warhead. And that part always appealed to me, in a literary and lyrical sense, but hearing it today moved something else me. Maybe I understand more about than I did back then, the kind of love where you’d risk everything to freeze the moment. The kind of love that seems to mean more than the very earth itself.

“I never had to learn to love her like I learned to love the Bomb
She just came along and started to ignore me
But as we waited for the Big One
I started singing her my songs
And I think she started feeling something for me

We passed the time with crosswords that she thought to bring inside
What five letters spell ‘apocalypse’ she asked me
I won her over saying “W.W.I.I.I.”
She smiled and we both knew that she’d misjudged me”

~The Temptation of Adam
Josh Ritter, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

7/17/17

Lately I’ve been really into this series of YouTube playlists some great soul with great taste dubbed Koala Kontrol put together that are full of delightful, deep and bright electronic-driven acoustic, chill and indie songs. I know that’s a lot of adjectives, but such is the world of YouTube playlists, which I’ve learned through the course of my daily listening are hyperstylized and specific. While I started listening to these particular playlists because I wanted to have something beat-driven to serve as pump-up background music while I was working, I’ve become gripped by how powerful and raw some of these songs are.

Dance beats and laptop-bred beats aren’t what I’d typically go to when I need to be emotionally moved by music (isn’t that what Tori, emo and Jason Isbell are for?) but lo and behold, I’m stricken! A lot of these songs are really specific in their lyrics about love gone wrong or right, the collapse of self-image and what it means to feel free and good for once. A lot of the grooves and harmonies are cool and sexy and fresh. I’ve discovered a bunch of new artists in a genre that I’ve needed to familiarize with myself more, and it’s been a cool little musical awakening to get into groups like Vallis Alps and Oh Wonder (whose new record is very worth checking out.

I don’t know who you are, Koala Kontrol, but thank you for these.

“I thought I saw the devil
This morning
Looking in the mirror, drop of rum on my tongue
With the warning
To help me see myself clearer
I never meant to start a fire
I never meant to make you bleed
I’ll be a better man today

I’ll be good, I’ll be good
And I’ll love the world, like I should
Yeah, I’ll be good, I’ll be good
For all of the time
That I never could”

~I’ll Be Good
Jaymes Young, Feel Something

7/6/17

The summer months always seem to go by faster than the rest. It’s a bit counterintuitive since the days are longer and full of sun, it seems like time should go by slower, but somehow all the events, holidays, vacations and visits pack everything together and somehow it’s almost the midpoint of July. In an attempt to savor all we get, I’m working on slowing my days down. Spending time with the doors and windows open and music playing loud and clear. Sitting out in the sun and hearing new tunes to open my mind. The latest of these listen is the new record Young from Overcoats, one of the most sonically interesting and pleasing new bands I’ve heard this year.

They blend the beautiful harmonies of First Aid Kit with the electro-pop tendencies of Haim or Lorde, filled with grooves and repeated hooks aplenty. They’re definitely a younger band but that doesn’t count against them in terms of depth; all there songs seem to have an element or idea about self-reflection, self-perception and self-reliance. “Leave the Light On” is a danceable anthem for independent life with some banging horn/key tones, “Smaller Than My Mother” is a raw confession of the inner resentments of relationships. “23” is another standout in this way, with its pointed, no-holding-back explanation of the mental toll of predictable love gone sour. My favorite so far is “Nighttime Hunger,” a pulsing track mourning the struggles of the anxious insomniac. l I love the way they drop out the melody and sing in tight, the way they embrace guttural rhythms close harmonies, the way their voices lilt and float over these eye-popping lyrics. They’ve got a definite style that runs through Young — a great example of an album you can just put on and fall into.

“Nighttime hunger and all the fears that it brings tend to fade in the light
In daytime I build a new me but still dread the night
I try to keep moving but I can’t seem to chase my monsters away
When the darkness comes it takes everything from me…”

~Nighttime Hunger
Overcoats, Young

6/23/17

Yesterday I dove deep into Spotify’s Tori Amos catalog, pouring over every favorite song I’ve heard a thousand times and listening to lesser-known tracks with fresh ears. Tori is a timeless staple for me, she offered me so much comfort and inspiration as an adolescent wanna-be artist, and now, as an increasingly aging person aware of her flaws, aware of the holes and wholes in her life, Tori still provides a new lens

I always loved her literary ways, her mysterious metaphors and brilliant, huge sounds, her passionate piano and throaty, grasping voice. One of the best examples of her strengths is Gold Dust, the 2011 collection with new and old tracks in an orchestral setting. Songs like “Winter” and “Cloud On My Tongue” that I’ve heard for more than half of life still hit me in new ways, while I get to take in “Snow Cherries From France” or the title track with slightly older ears than when I first heard them. So many of her songs serve as this chapter markings for my life, I can remember when and where I was when I first glommed onto them, and now they provide this mirror where I can see how much or little me and my feelings and my life has changed.

Despite my devotion, I don’t listen to Tori a ton anymore. Maybe it’s to keep the experience profound, because the times that I do listen to her take on a spiritual, ceremonial quality. I don’t do anything except listen to Tori, maybe I dance and move a little, maybe I cry. I sing and I hear and I fall into the music, I can’t focus on things like email or mindless internet scrolling when Tori is on. She is the artist who inspired me many years ago to be more than just a person, to be a person who wanted to create and live openly, and while I am still in many ways getting there, she can still light that fire.

 
“Sights and sounds
Pull me back down
Another year

I was here
I was here

Whipping past
The reflecting pool
Me and you
Skipping school
And we make it up
As we go along

We make it up we
Go along…”

~Gold Dust
Tori Amos, Gold Dust

6/20/17

Anyone who put out their best songs or albums of the year lists before listening in full to Lorde’s Melodrama is most definitely missing something. She’s created one of the most stunning pieces of art to hit mainstream audiences this year — especially from a female artist. She offers a reclamation for any girl that’s been described as “crazy,” “intense” or “too much,” any girl who was burned for feeling out her own human experience.

Lorde’s songs on this album are equal parts vulnerable and empowering. She’s lamenting love gone away, but she’s not about to feel sorry for herself. At first listen, I jumped around on the tracks, and “Hard Feelings/Loveless” was one of the first song to really stop me in my tracks, with vivid descriptions of conversation and feeling. She nails internal emotional strife with visceral and meaningful metaphors, (“Cause I remember the rush, when forever was us/Before all of the winds of regret and mistrust”) over a mixture of beats and synthy tones that feels very now. “Writer in the Dark,” with its piano backbone, is a vigorous and powerful kiss-off that culminates with a falsetto-driven refrain, and a truly honest ode to the damage left by a broken relationship and the way one rebuilds.

“Liability” might be one of the best songs I’ve heard all year, a sad and strong tale of being cast aside. “You’re a little much for me/you’re a liability,” she sings from the voice of others. But something in her perception has such a confidence, as if he is more cognizant of the others’ own shortcomings instead of whatever of those are perceived in her. It’s the perfect anthem for anyone who has felt like their emotional well was brimming over their edges, so much so that others had to turn away as if the problem was in their feelings and not someone else’s inability to empathize. I can’t help but listen to this song and think of all the times I felt too much feeling, as if I couldn’t keep it inside my own skin….Lorde know this feeling inside and out, and she shares it freely with her listeners, an understanding delivered in sheer poetry.

The hype around this album was a rare instance where it was well-deserved. Every word that is written or spoken about this album ought to give credit where credit is due, for someone to open up a vein like this and pour it all out, leaving a beautiful mess for the rest of us to reflect on and bathe in. It’s inspiring, really, what she has done here and the way she carries herself, the way she moves other, the way she is so true to her identity a writer above all else.

“Baby really hurt me
Crying in the taxi
He don’t wanna know me
Says he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm
Says it was poison
So I guess I’ll go home
Into the arms of the girl that I love
The only love I haven’t screwed up
She’s so hard to please
But she’s a forest fire

I do my best to meet her demands
Play at romance, we slow dance
In the living room, but all that a stranger would see
Is one girl swaying alone
Stroking her cheek
They say, ‘You’re a little much for me
You’re a liability
You’re a little much for me’
So they pull back, make other plans
I understand, I’m a liability
Get you wild, make you leave
I’m a little much for
Everyone…”

~Liability
Lorde, Melodrama

6/12/17

This year I’ve had almost too much music to keep up with, what with lots of new releases from my favorite bands to much buzzed-about records from artists mainstream and emerging. Then, as often happens, through the magic of the Internet I was introduced to Jen Gloeckner, whose new album Vine is dark, sparkly and ambient affair.

Her voice has a raspy-yet-full, deep-yet-delicate quality, akin to Stevie Nicks or Fiona Apple. It’s a tone that demands to be listened to and taken seriously without pretense of what a female vocalist “ought” to sound like. Plus, the backing tracks of songs like “Ginger Ale” and “Counting Sheep” are so dreamy and echoey that her voice becomes the spine of the songs, with lots of brighter, glimmering tones around. Lyrically, Gloeckner can be sassy or thoughtful but ultimately sensual and expressive. She’s got that blend of assertive yet feminine down to a science, and it manifests musically, too — take the song “Breathe,” for example, that feels a little nu wave in its synth use with thoroughly modern drum beats mimicking a dance track.

She doesn’t come across like a singer-songwriting whose dying to fit in with the trends or fill some sort of cultural niche — and I like that about her. I like the way her songs come off as a manifestation of a time, place and scene only imagined by a sole creator to be extrapolated out in sound to listeners at large. It’s mood music through and through, equal parts other worldly, mature and serene.

6/9/17

Oh happy day! Taylor Swift is on Spotify! Of course there’s some dubious reasons on how this came to be, but all I know is I’ve spent the past three hours going through the catalog and it feels like revisiting an old friend. I’m compelled to share my memories of Swift Through the Ages, so here we go, album by album:

Taylor Swift-2006
I remember being in high school sitting in my aunt’s living room when the video for “Teardrops on my Guitar” came on. We stopped our chatter and even my tough-to-impress aunt remarked, “She’s got a nice voice,” or some beign compliment. It was then Swift was special, and from there “Picture to Burn,” “Our Song” and “Should’ve Said No” become country indulgences that I was too insecure to admit in open company that I loved — but no doubt got tons of play on my iPod.

Fearless-2008
Swift was back with glitter and gold for Fearless, and from the title track to “Change,” I loved every track. The more country-tinged takes like “Tell Me Why” fit with the Swift I knew, while the popularity of “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” made her OK to embrace among friends. As a college student with college student problems, these songs fit like puzzle pieces into the goings-on of my life, each representing a person, place or feeling that meant something to me as I started to learn what it meant to grow up. There was a juvenile enough sensibility to Swift at this point, so it wasn’t enough to pull me away from listening to my favorite pop-punk and rock bands for meaning and more literary moods, but there was no doubt Taylor could keep me company in good times or bad.

Speak Now-2010
This was where it all clicked. My memories of Speak Now coincide with my fresh-out-of-college lifestyle, working in a small lake town with friends and fun surrounding me. I dove into my work, into new relationships, into new experiences without ever looking back, and this record become a soundtrack to all that when I was alone — from the crushes I had, the friends I missed and the people I’d left behind in college or high school. The country rock vibe fit in well with the Americana catalog I was beginning to dive into with my newfound musician friends, and “Sparks Fly” was blasted with the windows down driving down West Lake Road more times than I’d care to admit. Then “Mine” became the first song I learned on my very first guitar. And it’s true what they say about never forgetting your first — I picked up my third guitar just now and knew it like the back of my hand.

Red-2012
I bought Red on CD a few days after it came out. I wanted to listen to it on a road trip from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, and I remembering playing it as I drove on the turnpike in the dark. Knowing I loved Speak Now, I was prepared to be happy with the release, but I remember being struck by how mature the songwriting was, how developed it seemed, and how much the themes of passion, youth and letting go seemed to mirror my own life. “Treacherous” became a favorite of mine to play guitar to, while “All Too Well” was a too-real recollection (and I think, to this day, one of Swift’s best efforts yet). Red managed to skyrocket Swift’s success, put crimson lip color back into trend and set a precedent for deeply felt, deeply revealing pop songs. We’ll forgive that drop in “I Knew You Were Trouble” as a sign of the times, especially considering that outro coda of “Holy Ground” is so good.

1989-2014
In my life and in Taylor’s, so much happened between these two years. I’d moved yet again, and she’d embraced pop in full form. Separate and apart from my connection to it, this record was a cultural touchstone, so 1989 became a centering point for my friends and I in Pittsburgh, we rung in the New Year with it. Her exuberance for life (“Welcome to New York,” “Shake It Off”) reminded me to embrace my own, while her more vulnerable confessions that came to the fore gave me something to relate to (“Clean,” “This Love”). I loved this album deeply, on drives to work, on nighttime solo dancer parties — and then my fave Ryan Adams came out with his own version, which hasn’t let my saved Spotify songs since. But I’m still coming back to 1989 in all its iterations — her performances at the Grammy Museum are particularly meaningful, and beautiful, and highlight the pureness of what she can do with her voice, her guitar and her message. That was how she first was introduced to the world, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that’s what we’ll get more of — and soon.

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