I ain’t dead yet

**To everyone who reads this post who is over 32-years-old, I apologize in advance.**

Sadly part of growing up is growing older. Even though the generational lines have been getting down-right blurry lately with adults continuing to act like kids well into their thirties (or forties… or even fifties), sometimes you have to admit that your body is getting older–even if the rest of you doesn’t feel like it.

This dichotomy has become somewhat more apparent to me during the last few weeks. Between the college students storming back into town (some of them are setting off fireworks in the street as I speak) and a carpal tunnel issue with my left hand (argh!), I have been feeling a little bit used up. Mentally, I feel like I am at least 10 years younger than I really am. Emotionally it is more like 15, thanks to a bit of pre-seasonal depression angst (I think). And lately it seems like I have the sense of humor of a 14-year-old boy (i.e., lots of snarky laughter at things that would have appalled me as a girl at that age). But my body tells a different story. And it annoys me. *sigh*

Thankfully, tonight I was reminded that I am not dead yet. I may be old enough to curse my aching hand, as well as the maniac students on the roads and in the streets. But I am not too old to roll down the windows on a cool Saturday night, crank the stereo all the way up, and cruise down a winding city road.

And what was I so happily blasting for one and all to hear? The wonders of shuffle mode once again served me up a song that felt just right for a night like this. With blaring horns, harmonious voices, and subtle, yet ultimately uplifting lyrics, it was Santa Fe from Beirut’s 2011 album The RipTide. Zach Condon’s brand of folksy, almost Mariachi-reminiscent indie rock (Do not let that stop you from listening to this! Live a little! Sheesh!) was just what I needed to soothe my soul and indulge in my remaining youth.

So please give this one a try. I promise you won’t regret it. And go ahead and crank it up a bit. If the neighbors complain, you can always blame it on the students. *smirks*

Santa Fe by Beirut

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Your Civic Duty: Record Store Day

I think this might my longest radio silence since I began this blog almost 2 years ago. (Holy crap! Has it been so long?) Suffice it to say that spring has sprung and the day job is positively humming away like a steam locomotive heading straight for a bridge that is no longer there (read: no end in sight and picking up speed). Add to this the bitter reality that my brain has simply not been cooperating enough lately to even contemplate putting my fingers to a keyboard outside of work and you have the complete recipe for a silent blog. (I know, excuses, excuses! Whine, whine, bitch, bitch, etc.) But what, you may ask, could possibly be so important that I would attempt to overcome my stifling writer’s block on a sunny spring day after a long day at work. Only one thing my friends: your civic responsibility.

Yes, just like it is the duty of every American citizen to vote, to help wayward turtles across the street to safety, and to wave at your friendly neighborhood crossing guard, you have the duty to support your local, independent small business owners in mid-April. And not that creepy hole in the wall storefront that sells crabs. No, no, I mean the ones who will sell you that new Vampire Weekend album you’ve been jonesing for. That’s right, folks! Saturday, April 20th is Record Store Day (my very favorite secular holiday!)

If the next question bursting from your lips is, “What the heck is Record Store Day?” then obviously you’ve had your head stuck in the clouds. Well never fear, my dear deprived readers, for all will be explained with my handy-dandy Record Store Day fact sheet:

What: Record Store Day
When: Saturday, April 20th (all 4/20 jokes unspoken)
Time: All day
Where: Participating venues in every state and most cities. Click here to check your local listing.

But the most important question is why? In the modern world, music is available everywhere, sometimes even for free. All you have to do is grab a computer or IOS device, punch a few keys, and music is practically thrown at you. No muss, no fuss, no dragging your butt down the street, no shirt or shoes required. But also… no soul, no joy, no heart. Some of my happiest memories are roaming the miles of aisles in record stores; walls crammed with posters; teenagers running loose in the stacks; brushing elbows with both young and old, black and white, hipster and redneck. And there is no substitute for riffling through piles of albums, finding that one that you absolutely HAVE to have, plunking your money down on the counter, and rushing home to listen to it before your heart rate returns to normal. It is an experience that fewer and fewer people are having these days and–in my opinion–that is just downright tragic.

Heed my warning! Don’t wait! Make the pilgrimage to your local record store before it is too late. Grab that album you’ve been meaning to pick up, peal back the plastic, pop the disc into the nearest player, and savor your musical good fortune while you still can. As a bonus, you’ll also be helping support a local small business owner. Your local chamber of commerce will thank you for doing your part to keep the economy alive. It is your duty as a citizen of [insert country name here]. Oh come on, you know you want to! All the cool kids are doing it!

And to help you get your brains in gear (and mine), here’s just a few of the bands that I intend to search for this weekend. Enjoy!

TRAILS AND WAYS

Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
[Technically this one is a remix, but it is brilliant, so listen to it anyway!]

Tinted Windows

The Flaming Lips

Tegan and Sara

Winter malaise

It is time to face the facts. I have been suffering from a major outbreak of writer’s block, the worst case I think I have had since starting this blog. And it is almost comical because I didn’t even realize that I had writer’s block until I mentioned the blog to someone else at lunch today. I’ve been in a bit of a funk for the last several weeks and I wasn’t aware of how bad it was getting. I was starting to think that maybe I had lost interest in writing, but that is clearly not the case. Writing here has been on my mind almost constantly–ideas floating in, ideas floating back out–but every time I started to contemplate even outlining a new post, my mind would veer off in a different direction. Invariably, some small task, the furthest thing on my mind and way at the bottom of my to-do list, would suddenly take on significance of epic proportions and I’d run off to fold the laundry or wash that dish (or re-watch that episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation that I’ve seen 5 times) instead. Then I thought it was because I wasn’t hearing any post-worthy music lately, that maybe I was just bored with the scene. But my list of music to buy is growing by leaps and bounds, while my list of entry ideas is keeping pace. So that couldn’t be it either.

So what could possibly be keeping me in such a state of frustrated suspended animation? And when I said it out loud today without thinking, the answer became so clear: writer’s block. A textbook case to boot, magnified by a resurge in the seasonal blues. And for the last week or so, it has been getting worse. It seems like writing has been all I can think about, a constant dialogue in my head between my creativity and my apathy, the former desperately trying to get something done in the face of the latter’s soul-crushing indifference. I want to write, I need to write, but the thought of actually writing makes me feel panicked and a little helpless. [Would you believe that my New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to work on the blog more? Ha! One month down with barely a peep, only eleven more months to go. Sigh.]

Well, there is only way to deal with writer’s block and that is to put something (anything) down, save it, walk away, and try not to worry too much about the details. So here goes…

Charm City’s temperature has been all over the map lately, but the last several days have been the most bitterly cold we’ve had all season, and that mean old imp known as Snow and his little toady Sleet have been making less than minor nuisances of themselves. Winter and I never do seem to get along together, dessert rat that I am. Even at the best of times, it seems like we are only able to call an uneasy truce. And despite a period of d√©tente, our current cease-fire is wearing thin.

But there is still a lot of brilliant music associated with this season–much of it stark, cold, and depressing–but beautiful none the less. So in honor of this, here’s my top 5 picks of the best songs for this most frosty (read: dreary) of seasons.

To start things off right is the Pixies and their classic cover of Neil Young’s bittersweet ballad, Winterlong. I first became familiar with this version and was kinda blown away to learn it is actually a Young original. But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The Pixies pay this song some serious tribute, but the lyrics feature a sweetness and almost innocent longing that is not usually a characteristic of Black Francis or Kim Deal’s styles–as much as I love them.

Next up is Winter Winds by Mumford & Sons. Gorgeous vocals, layered acoustics, and a sense of the ethereal tempered with a healthy dose of cynicism, this band never fails to deliver. I know that they are hot to the point of being overblown (I hate to admit it, but I’ve been avoiding their new album because of burnout), but they are really talented guys. And in every live performance I have found of them, they are spot on.

Moving on, we come to the deceptively cheerful White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes. I know that I have ragged on these guys before, but their style has grown on me over the last year. What once seemed too avant-garde for comfort, now feels clever and rings of craftsmanship. Beautiful, polished, and harmonious, often with just a touch of the sinister, this band keeps popping up on my radar and despite my initial hesitation, they have earned my praise. This song, in particular, really appeals to me. To the casual listener, and without the visuals of the video, it seems sweet and upbeat, but a closer listen reveals much and the video truly showcases the darker themes of the lyrics.

The fourth entry in my winter list is the Bangles’ rock-out cover of Simon and Garfunkels’ Hazy Shade of Winter. Retaining the bleak cynicism of Paul Simon’s lyrics, while adding some feminine four-part harmony and a searing guitar line, the girls produce the goods. And a little bit of 80’s flamboyance never hurts.

And the last, and perhaps my favorite, entry on this list is the haunting Winter Time by Steve Miller Band. I have loved this song since long before I knew what love, longing, or winter really were. And now that I am a bit older and more knowledgable (if not wiser), I love this song even more. Perhaps the saddest piece I know of from this band, it lacks the pomp and bombast that featured so heavily in the 1970’s classic rock scene. No winter mix can do without this one.

Whatever gets you through the night

Holy smokes! My life currently resembles a working case study in insanity. It feels like I am swimming upstream these days with a whole laundry list of stuff to tackle trailing behind me, which somehow never seems to get any shorter. Between taking on a load of extra responsibilities at work, prepping for 2 plane trips and 1 road trip, staring down the barrel of another birthday, valiantly (read: vainly) trying to get/keep my house clean, and desperately trying to find time to write, I am beat. And with the changing of the seasons literally happening as I type, I know that if I am not careful, I could have a really bad Fall… and don’t even get me started on the upcoming holiday season. It doesn’t even bear contemplating. *sigh*

What can I do but keep moving? For now at least, it is full steam ahead around here and in light of this I would like to present to you a little playlist. I think I’m going to call it my Holy Crap! Mix. If it has a frenetic beat and some unstoppable energy–mixed liberally with a sense of desperation–then it belongs here.¬†Please enjoy!

Whatever Gets You Through the Night, John Lennon

(Probably the closest thing to disco he ever did, but don’t be discouraged!)

Excuse Me Mr., No Doubt

(My very favorite. Gwen Stefani will mess you up!)

I Hear Noises, Tegan and Sara

(From my favorite Canadian twins. When I am frustrated and tired, I literally can’t play this song loud enough. )

Forever Yellow Skies, The Cranberries (Live in Detroit, 1996)

(Blistering guitars and drums not withstanding, just watch lead singer Dolores O’Riordan’s blur of an arm as she plays rhythm guitar.)

Paper Romance, Groove Armada

(Rather awkward video, but amazing song.)

Out of My Head, The Black Eyed Peas

(The moment I hear that base line, I literally breathe a sign of relief. Best sonic release valve I know.)

This is a list destined to grow. If you have any suggestions for additions, please drop me a comment and let me know.

2 for 1

It has certainly been a crazy couple of weeks for me out here in Charm City. Between car accidents (without injury, thankfully), navigating between our insurance and crazy-lady-who-ran-a-red-light-and-hit-my-car’s insurance, trying to get our car fixed, and dealing with the fatigue that inevitably sets in after the shock wears off, I’ve been hard-pressed to convince myself to write. My head felt like it was packed with cotton all last week. I could barely put together two brain cells outside of work and I finally had to just put off last week’s entry. Which is a shame because I am literally overflowing with fodder for album reviews and recommendations from all the amazing music I picked up on Record Store Day (my new favorite holiday). So to make it up to you, I’m going to treat you to a two-for-one deal. It’s a double-headliner tonight folks, so sit back and enjoy!
First up is a beauty of a London indie rock band called Bombay Bicycle Club. Their new album, A Different Kind of Fix, is a satisfying collection of songs that call to mind the vocal harmonies of Fleet Foxes and the quiet intensity of Radiohead’s In Rainbows, while presenting something instantly more radio-friendly. The over-all feel of the album is even and low-key, but not for a lack of energy–more for lack of variation. For the most part the flow is steady and constant, without major highs or lows, but there is a whole lot more going on below the surface than you might be conscious of on your first listen. Each song is rife with great bass lines that propel you through the track list and keep the fire burning bright. Jack Steadman’s vocals are velvety and understated with an occasional outburst of discord that is reminiscent of Robin Pecknold without dredging up the sense of tight-lipped dread that seems to accompany all of his songs.
Beggars is a great example of Bombay Bicycle Club’s ability to mimic Fleet Foxes’s harmonies, but with an instrumentation and a beat that manages to hit a sweet spot that the other band never quite seems to achieve. Here’s a pretty little live performance they did last August that while done well, lacks the punch of the studio version. Still it is a great showcase for their talent in an off the cuff environment (that thankfully, is not filmed by an amateur with an iPhone), so it is definitely worth a look.
My favorite song off the album is called Your Eyes, and it is everything that I love about this band: Suren de Saram’s vigorous drumming strategically building the energy of the composition, the rollicking guitar of Jamie McColl, and Steadman’s rather tremulous voice rising above it all. But it is the driving, relentless bass work of Ed Nash that really makes the song for me. I have always been a sucker for an intricate bass line and this song has one of the better ones I’ve heard in quite a while. The result is an addictive song that gets your blood flowing with every listen. Here again I found a decent live version of the song which someone was kind enough to film without shaking their phone around until my eyes watered. I’d love to see these guys live, but if you prefer to hear the version off the album then you can find it here.
The second half of this double feature is devoted to an intriguing singer-songwriter named Eleanor Friedberger. Perhaps better known for her work with her brother Matthew Friedberger and their experimental indie collaboration called Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor released her first solo album, Last Summer, in July of 2011. Throughout the album, she seems to waver up and down a spectrum with her exploratory music roots at one end and a more traditional brand of folk pop at the other. She alternately displays an amazing pop sensibility for turning out catchy, yet deep songs, and a willingness to abandon all those tried and true song-writing rules in favor of indulging in her poetical lyrics. The result is some surprisingly catchy songs that on occasion seem to have more syllables than melody. Honestly, she appears to be the nothing less than the tuneful love child of Joanie Mitchell–the queen of the quixotic lyric– and Carole King–the supreme monarch of pop-craft. But what really clinches it for me is Friedberger’s voice, which decisively asserts her spiritual connection to Carole King (I am absolutely convinced that she would do a killer cover of I Feel the Earth Move). Her mellow alto flows throughout the album, giving everything an easy-going sheen that is evident even in her darkest songs.
In honor of her musical split personality, I present to you one example from each of her styles. First up is the superbly crafted conventional folk pop ditty, I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight. Here’s an acoustic live version that is a bit more minimalist than the album version, but is somehow more moving in the simple presentation of a small venue performance.
To contrast the polished pop glow of that first song, I present to you Friedberger’s Roosevelt Island, where she employs an almost spoken word approach to her lyrics. Placed over top a funk-inspired instrumental track, this is a prime example of the syllables and the melody not quite matching up. But while it is miles away from her more traditional compositions, it still makes for an interesting listening experience.

Points for creativity

Okay kids, today we’re going to stray a bit from our beaten path–a bit of off-roading, if you will. Now usually I talk about things that I like on this blog. This is pretty much my whole purpose in writing and posting here, to share with you what I am listening to now, what I listened to back then, and what associations I make between my music and my memories. I may make a few critical remarks every now and then about a song or an artist, and sometimes a song is associated with a bad memory, but for the most part you get to read about what I enjoy. But not today, my dear readers.

No. Today I’m going to talk about a band that I am (rather surprisingly) very interested in at the moment. But I’m also going to talk about their latest single, which (spoiler!) essentially creeps me the frack out! The band is Seattle’s indie folk band Fleet Foxes and the song is The Shrine/An Argument, which is the first single from their second and latest studio album, Helplessness Blues–incidentally nominated for the Best Folk Album Grammy award this year. And I’ll come right out now and say it, the Grammy nomination was definitely well deserved. The band features a mainly acoustic instrumentation of drums, mandolins, guitars, bass, and the mysteriously titled “multi-instrumentalist”. And they apply a heavy hand in the use of layered, harmonizing vocals that inevitably put me in mind of 1970s era folk rocks bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, America, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The only modern-day equivalents that I am aware of are The Civil Wars (who beat them to the Grammy) and perhaps Mumford & Sons, who may come off as a bit more rocking but employ the same emphasis on vocal harmony. I’ve been a fan of CSNY and America for years, and I’d probably rank Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More as one of my top 10 albums of 2011. So you would think that Fleet Foxes would land smack dab in the middle of my bailiwick, right? Well… as I am coming to find out, Fleet Foxes is not here to make things easy on you.

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