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3/19/18

Is it true what they say, that all good things must come to an end? It’s at least half right; all things must end, at whatever time their end is met, whether they’ve been good things or bad things or anything in between. So it is today, from a one-room home in Phoenix, that I will write a final entry in this here blog, nearly 10 years after beginning it from a tiny third-floor bedroom in a Georgetown row house.

This ending is not meant to signify an end of my love for music, songwriting and active listening — nor will I end my exploration of these things in written form or otherwise. But this blog, this forum, this means, is something I can no longer commit creative energies to. And that’s OK.

I thought today was the right day to write this farewell because I listened to the new record from The Decemberists, and was immediately hooked on the opening lines from track one: “Oh, for once in my/Oh, for once in my life/Could just something go/Could just something go right?” Backed by acoustic guitar, highlighted with harmonies the second time around with a quick pick-up from the tambourine, it’s a beautifully crafted and powerful song — and such a perfect sentiment to hear put to music as I begin a new chapter, with so much ahead of me and so much to leave on the cutting room floor. I’m taking the best from the old world while I begin the new, as we do with any change in life, and to be accompanied by greats like The Decemberists is a warm comfort. The record, I’ll Be Your Girl, is rich and layered, edgy and nerdy, in true Decemberists form, and I’m looking forward to playing it again and again.

I’m still forever struck by these moments of musical magic, even if I no longer write about them. I like to think I’ve reserved a special place in my heart and mind for hearing the right song at the right time, and that I’ve documented enough of these moments in a decade to see some through-lines. Like what it means to be stilled to the bone by someone’s work, how it feels to be frozen in your tracks when something fits just right. How the proper amount of sadness can somehow cure yours. How the loudest volume on earbuds can hurt so good. How the right words and the right notes can turn your outlook around on a dime.  These moments have stunned me, surprised me and saved me — and even if I’m not writing about them anymore, I’ll be looking for them on every next listen.

Until we meet again,
MD

 

“Oh, for once in my
Oh, for once in my life
Could just something go
Could just something go right?

I’ve been waiting all my life
I’ve been waiting all my life
All my life
My life
All my life
All my life.”

~Once In My Life

The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl

1/29/18

The past few days, every time I reach for my headphones to listen to music I’ve had to listen to a track from the new record from The Dangerous Summer. I don’t know why I was anticipating this more — I’ve loved this band and their lyrics and their style for years –but it kind of snuck up on me. Maybe I’ve entirely lost the ability to keep track of new releases, at least with the fervor I once did. Maybe my mental energy is bogged down by the world’s problems, personal stressors and the general, numbing myopia of adulthood, and it simply doesn’t have any more space to hold the same exuberance for new release calendars the way it once did. But since everything works out for a reason, I instead find myself pleasantly surprised and blissfully lost in new songs.

When I first heard The Dangerous Summer’s Reach for the Sun I was living alone in a small town at my first job out of college. I was figuring things out, I was terrified of something on a daily basis with varying degrees of rationality on my side. The songs on that record made me feel simultaneously understood and strong, as if the trials I was having in my life were the standard fare for pursuing a dream. I learned it by heart, then War Paint dropped the next year and I had even more of a story to follow. Sonically I love what they do as much as the lyrics — there are guitars that thrash, drums that pound and melodies that soar, all the trademark alt-rock/pop punk trademarks. But don’t let genre labels be misleading — there is more substance here than you’ll find in many associated bands, both in the way they build their songs and the darkness of the soul that flits at the edges of some songs and downright dominates others.

The self-titled release from this year is as mature in themes as those tackled on “Golden Record” but with a little more energy behind it — maybe it’s the time off since the band was last active that gave them an extra boost, maybe it’s the precarious world of modern adulthood that I myself am in the throes of experiencing that has provided some sort of muse. There’s a lot of love and romance on this record, but it’s not blind and naive, it’s weathered and worn — like on “Valium,” which seems to beg for the return of the most familiar love when the worst of the loneliness has passed. “Wild Again and” “Fire” are my favorite tracks so far, the first has an insistent longing for the present with my favorite lyrics, and the second and third is straight from the TDS playbook under “Personal Calls To Action.” I’ve been putting on “Live Forever” a lot too, it’s from a similar standpoint with a bit of a brooding beat to contrast some really stellar vocal performances.

It’s that kind of talking-to-himself persepctive that AJ Perdomo does best that I love so well. He reflects on the good and bad in his life with the same kind of clarity and always comes back to the same conclusions — to be steady in one’s own path, to keep to the beat of your own drum, but not be so hellbent on staring at your own two feet that you lose sight of the world around you. It is the exact message and inspiration I needed to find in the start of this calendar year, and I’m so grateful for the surprise, for the warmth of something familiar to melt into.

“But those legs drag again,
I feel them taking over now; walk again.
I might be coming closer,
so tired and dead.
I let emotion carry me back again-
and every road has given me something.”

~Fire,
The Dangerous Summer, The Dangerous Summer

12/7/17

Tonight I had an ever-more-rare moment of musical memory — I saw Marianas Trench had a new song out, and after giving it a listen I remembered how much I loved Astoria when it dropped in the fall of 2015. That record lit me up, tethered me in ways I needed and stretched me to new emotional heights all at the same time. I’ve been listening to it while getting some to-do list items crossed off tonight, remembering how beautiful and strong it is, and when “Who Do You Love” came on, I had to stop what I was doing and play it three times.

This was the song I needed all along. I loved it alot and listened to it a lot while obsessing over the record back when, but tonight, here, in my life in Los Angeles in December 2017, these words couldn’t ring more true. It’s like they’re coming from my own guts. And with the propelling marching rhythm, layered harmonies, and cascading melody, it’s a gem of an earworm. You don’t hear voices like this very often, you don’t hear vulnerability sung about in such a brave way — and there’s also something about a song that kicks off with its chorus that just screams confidence in the face of whatever the singer is facing. You can almost hear the marching band coming down the street, with Josh Ramsey leading the pack, baton in hand.

I’ll get around to the new song eventually. But for now, I’m sticking with memory lane, and I’m looking deep in all the corners I might’ve wandered by before.

Well, I’ve been deep in this sleeplessness, I don’t know why
Just can’t get away from myself
When I get back on my feet, I’ll blow this open wide
And carry me home in good health

Screaming,
Who do you love? Who do you love?

God, it’s been so long wide awake that I feel like someone else
I’ll miss the way that you saw me or maybe the way I saw myself
But, I came back to you broken and I’ve been away too long
I hear the words I’ve spoken and everything comes out wrong
Just can’t get this together, can’t get where I belong
Who do you love?

Well, I’ve been deep in this sleeplessness, I don’t know why
Just can’t get away from myself
When I get back on my feet, I’ll blow this open wide
And carry me home in good health
Screaming,
Who do you love? Who do you love?

From fable to fumble, from stable to stumble, nevermore
I’ll say goodbye to my demons and all my break-evens, ever yours
I, I won’t come back to you broken, I won’t stay away too long
Even if words I’ve spoken seem to still come out wrong
I’ll get my shit back together, get right where I belong
Who do you love?

Well, I’ve been deep in this sleeplessness, I don’t know why
Just can’t get away from myself
When I get back on my feet, I’ll blow this open wide
And carry me home in good health
Screaming,
Who do you love? Who do you love?
~Who Do You Love
Marianas Trench, Astoria

11/21/17

What is it about a cover? Is it the familiarity, or the novelty? Is it the feeling of comfort you get, the intimacy between a listener and a work they are already familiar with? Or is the spine-tingling newness that makes it feel fun, edgy, extra worthwhile?

Tonight, this absolutely stunning cover of “Wicked Game” from James Vincent McMorrow has me swooning. There isn’t exactly a shortage of covers of this song, it’s true, but this one stands out for its stark minimalism. His voice is ethereal, the guitar is simple, and I love love love that way he holds out the note during the final chorus. Mastery! The live recording adds another dimension — as an audience member, you feel like you’re capturing something unique and special when a performer whips out something that isn’t in their catalog. As a listener six years later, it captures something about that room, that moment, that cannot ever be replicated.

I think that’s one of the things I love so much about performance. That it is ephemeral, that it is fleeting, that it cannot ever be replicated or copied. You can sing the same song and have it come out an entirely different way.

“The world was on fire and no one could save me but you
It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do
I’d never dreamed that I’d meet somebody like you
And I’d never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you…

~Wicket Game
As covered by James Vincent McMorrow, Live at Killkenny Arts Festival 2011.

10/22/17

One of my favorite tracks so far this year came from an artist I never heard of, as it sometimes happens.

“Slip Away” by Perfume Genius is one the most complete, moving tracks I’ve heard this year — it makes me think of that early Arcade Fire wow-factor with the sweeping tones and intimate, mentally keyed in lyrics. It shimmers and glistens, it casts shadows and grenades. It pulses and pulls you in every which way, offering the respite of stillness before crescendoing into a bit of noise and clutter as the glitter starts to fade. The whole album, No Shape, is all around something special, but it’s this track that I keep coming back to.

I first got hooked on this song while walking through DTLA(as is often the case) and it quickly became prime headphone music, the kind of song that adds atmosphere to the world around the listener but embedded in the self. It carried me through the sweaty days of summer and  into the (still sweaty) hazy days of autumn. It’s one of those songs that, as the title implies, has an immense centering power. And that line in the chorus — “they’re never break the shape we take” — lifts me up every time, what a beautiful sentiment. I listen to this song when I need everything else around me to drown out, when I need to tap into all the chaos inside rather than beyond.

“Don’t look back, I want to break free
If you’ll never see ’em coming
You’ll never have to hide
Take my hand, take my everything
If we only got a moment
Give it to me now

Oh, love
They’ll never break the shape we take
Oh, baby let all them voices slip away…”
~Slip Away
Perfume Genius, No Shape

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

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