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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

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

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

6/9/17

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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