A Very Belated Update

My apologies for not updating in a while. This semester is turning out to be much more than I originally bargained for, but as of yet nothing I can’t handle. Unfortunately, my posting count has suffered because of midterms, house obligations and chores, work and two large cumulative projects I’ve been working on throughout the semester.

But I am still here and as excited about 2017’s music scene as ever. Currently, I’m barely able to wait for Mac Demarco’s “This Old Dog” and Father John Misty’s “Pure Comedy” to drop (May 5 and April 7, respectively). I’m also loving the new music from Alt-J and Lorde, two artists I’ve been anxiously awaiting follow-ups and new directions from. Thanks to The Needle Drop, I’ve also been enjoying new music from PWR BTTM, especially their new single “Answer My Text” (which I highly recommend you listen to right now).

Since school is consuming every aspect of my social life, I also was unable to attend the Lucy Dacus/Hamilton Leithauser show I was planning on blogging about last month. Fortunately, I’ve been offered a chance to see Foxygen in a few weeks during a lull in my academic, social and work calendar, and I’ve also gotten tickets to see Spoon on May 11 after my finals are done, my projects turned in and I have a break from work for a few weeks.

And of course I’m counting down the days until 4-day passes for Lollapalooza go on sale. With the rumours of headliners I’ve heard (Lorde, Arcade Fire, Muse, Fleet Foxes…), I get more excited with each passing day. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I can’t wait to see Car Seat Headrest-I just feel like they HAVE to be on the lineup this year. They just have to.

So again, I apologize for the delay in updating over the last month. I was going to do a playlist post for Valentine’s Day (and still might, even though it’s quite belated), but this will have to do for now. I’ll try my best to keep updating here in the upcoming weeks after my Spring Break; I always enjoy the feedback I receive and writing about one of my most favourite things is quite relaxing.

Thanks for reading, and God bless.

-A.L.D.

A Very Car Seat Headrest Christmas

I’ve been avoiding writing about Car Seat Headrest’s masterpiece “Teens of Denial” because a.) it’s impossible to come up with enough good things to say about a record that, no joke, seems to speak so well to the stage of life I’m in yet is enjoyable for anyone (my dad and his friends have been listening to it for months), and b.) EVERYONE into indie music on the internet is putting it atop their end-of-the-year record roundups. It’s a fantastic record, and all I want to say has been said a thousand times in some iteration (and deservingly so).

But I can try. Or at least praise the new single version of “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” that graced Spotify a few weeks ago.

I’ll admit that the original version of the song is actually pretty low in my song-by-song ranking of “Teens.” Don’t get me wrong, the first time I heard it I was like “Oh my LORD” (my reaction to basically every song on the record, in particular the 11:30 “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia”), but after listening to the record in it’s entirety on repeat, my favourites are instead dominated by the heartbreakingly blunt “Cosmic Hero,” the punky and defiant “Fill in the Blank,” and the desperately raging “Destroyed by Hippie Powers.”

But I must give credit where credit is due, and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is what turned me on to “Teens,” along with “Teens of Style”‘s big hit “Something Soon,” which got a lot of airplay on my satellite radio after Car Seat Headrest got signed to Matador Records.

This new version of the tune is much more upbeat, with lyrics that simplify the message of picking yourself up out of a hole of irresponsibility and finding new meaning to life (some of which are borrowed from Toledo’s 2013 song, “Plane Crash Blues (I Can’t Play Piano)”). The backing vocals on the second verse bring to mind a bit of Beach Boys, and for me, the riffs remind me of a more indie-centric, youthful U2 sound. It’s also shorter, clocking in around 4:02 instead of 6:32, making it more radio and festival-friendly.

Personally, I quite enjoy the changes and find the song to be delightful-it gets the message   across, yet you can still bounce along to the music and sing along to the signature chorus of “It doesn’t have to be like this/Killer whales/Killer whales.” I’d love to see either version performed live, and I feel both serve their purpose: The original a great addition to the post-collegiate crisis of “Teens of Denial,” and the single version an excellent way to add some thought-provoking lyricism to a late night TV performance (where I originally heard the song on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon).

I’ve heard Car Seat Headrest is back in the studio already, and I wish I could convey with words how excited I am that another record, or even just some new singles, will be coming soon. Hearing what a crew of young 20somethings can create, and seeing the impact it has on college students, 40-year-old radio and TV hosts, 50-year-old businesspeople and everyone in between gives me hope that God’s gift of music will always be around to bring us together.

As for me, I intend to continue along with my trek into Will Toledo and Co.’s back catalogue, and “Nervous Young Man” and “Twin Fantasy” will most likely be blasting all winter long.

Happiest and blessed holidays to all my friends and readers out there, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the jams of Car Seat Headrest.

God bless, safe travels and peace on Earth.

-A.L.D.

The Weather is Starting to Turn…

…and with it comes the start of my favourite time of year.

I really do think that November and December are some of the best times of the year. Perhaps it’s because I love gray skies and wearing sweaters and when it starts to get cold (but not unbearably cold). But I think it’s also because the weather sets the perfect tone for some of my favourite indie rock.

To this day I’m still surprised The National chose to release “Trouble Will Find Me” in the summer because to me, their music is met for the late fall and early winter (it’s still a great record, though). Overcast skies put me in an introspective and introverted mood, and listening to Matt Berninger brood about lost love and falling into adulthood is always a perfect soundtrack for a morning cup of coffee, a rainy drive to work or a walk to class while the dead leaves blow across the brick paths.

Interpol is also a great choice, especially their record “Our Love to Admire.” Granted, I do prefer “Antics” and “Turn On The Bright Lights,” but moments on OLTA like “The Scale,” “Pioneer to the Falls,” “Rest my Chemistry,” and “The Heinrich Maneuver” always feed into that dimly lit nightclub persona Interpol always embodied with their tuxedos and twisted lyrical narratives (and, OLTA was the last record with Carlos D, a true musical mastermind).

I also find myself listening to older Decembrists tunes as well, and usually end up calling to mind a vivid memory of my friend and I driving around the state park near our hometown, a dreary and damp day stretching before us, while “The Crane Wife 3” played in the background, making the scene absolutely beautiful.

Of course there has to be some symphonic soundscape rock with Arcade Fire, usually in the form of Neighborhood 1, 2 and 3 from “Funeral” and “My Body is a Cage”(actually one of my favourite songs of all time) from “Neon Bible.”

Weather sets the scene to the day, and finding a great soundtrack for it is one of my favourite parts about late fall and early winter.

What are your favourite songs for this time of the year? As always, thanks for reading, and God bless.

-A.L.D.

A Forgotten Song

As I type I’m listening to an LCD Soundsystem song I used to listen to all the time as a freshman in high school, “All I Want.” For some reason (I’ll chalk it up to switching phones a few times and losing a lot of music in my library in the process) it slipped out of my playlist and I haven’t heard it since early spring/late winter of 2012.

I realize this may not seem like a long time, but so much has changed for me since February of 2012. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my life is rapidly changing as I continue my education, and since music has always played a large part in my life, hearing certain songs has a lot to do with it.

I’m no longer a high school student with vague aspirations of what I want to do with my life, I’m a college student studying and working towards a real career one day. I am so thankful for what I’ve been able to do and learn since then. I’ve traveled and studied in different parts of the world, I go to a school I’d never considered when I was 14 (college was just this sort of fantasy for me back then), I study my love (writing) because it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I certainly never would’ve pictured myself seeing LCD Soundsystem as the headliner at Lollapalooza back then (but I have!).

Times have changed since I last sang along to the final refrain of “Take me home” in the song, but the great thing about music is that songs both stay encapsulated in time and grow along with us. I have so many more things that I’ve accomplished and that I have to look forward to than I did those years ago, but hearing “All I Want” took me back to when life was a little simpler for a while. It’s like a time capsule of experiences I’m very thankful for and I’ll continue to learn from, while still being a song I can enjoy and sing along to today.

What are some songs that do this for you? Do you still listen to them frequently today? What are your forgotten nostalgic songs? And be sure to listen to “All I Want” here.

As always, thank you so much for reading. I’m currently back in my hometown on break for a few days from school, so I’ll try to fit in at least one more post before I have to go back Sunday night.

Have a great day, a wonderful weekend and God bless.

-A.L.D.

My Afternoon with Bertis Downs

Sometimes, I feel really blessed to attend a school like Ohio Wesleyan University.

Case in point: Yesterday, I got the opportunity that an aspiring music journalist at a small liberal arts school could only dream about. I got to interview Bertis Downs, former manager of R.E.M., educational reform activist and retired entertainment law professor from the University of Georgia.

Downs was invited to OWU by our politics and government department to give a lecture titled “New Adventures in Storytelling: Music, Business, Schools, Life.” As a journalism minor, I got to interview Downs and cover the lecture for our school paper, The Transcript (the article will be online soon; I’ll try to post a link).

My conversation with Downs ranged from discussing the value of small schools, the changing shape of music creation, studying history, my own high school experience and his favourite moments with R.E.M.

“They were good at what they did. I had something to do with the business planning and strategy,” Downs said. “I had a pretty light touch as a manager. They didn’t want a lot of control.”

Whether or not you agree with the band’s politics, you have to admit R.E.M. had a pretty successful career not just as musicians, but as social activists as well.

Downs said some of his favourite moments with the band happened while they were playing benefits for Neil Young’s Bridge School, Bruce Springsteen’s Vote for Change in swing states or Live 8 to help fight global poverty.

The band also helped get Athens, Georgia’s first female mayor elected. They even helped get the Motor Voter bill signed during Bill Clinton’s presidency, an act that made all licensed drivers eligible to register to vote.

“They just had some really great political lyrics,” Downs said. “Like the song ‘Stand’…’Stand in the place where you live.’ That’s a great message. Do what you can, make a difference with what’s in front of you.”

Downs said an especially impactful moment was watching R.E.M. play a show in Hyde Park a week after the London bombings of 2007. “Someone in the crowd was holding up a sign that said ‘Thank you for staying,'” he said.

Then again, R.E.M. seems to have an impact wherever they go.

“College rock became the counterculture in Athens,” Downs said about R.E.M.’s early days. In a town focused mostly on college football, bands like R.E.M. and the B-52’s offered a different scene for those more interested in music.

“Lots of fraternity brothers still came to their (R.E.M.’s) shows. They didn’t care. Anyone could come to their shows,” Downs said. “They were just happy people were coming.”

Downs said college radio was what really helped R.E.M. gain traction before the radio success of “Losing My Religion.”

“It’s easier to make music now. Anybody can make music and get it out there on the Internet,” Downs said. “Now when you make music it’s going to be available for free. You didn’t have to do that 30 years ago. We used to judge success based on how many records were sold. Now, it’s how many clicks you get on Spotify.”

Downs spends a lot of time now focused on what he calls “the disconnect between policymakers and students on the ground” in public schools.

In his ideal world, Downs would want a school system with adequate funding, well-paid teachers, teacher who were passionate about changing lives and not stressed about standardized testing, a multicultural student body and a curriculum of many different topics.

He wants public schools to get the respect they deserve. “Public schools are being criticized and attacked for lousy teachers and low test scores. This seems counterproductive,” Downs said.

He said he is against the “obsession” American policymakers have with using standardized tests as a way to measure student/teacher progress. Instead, he wants public schools that everyone will be content with sending their children to to learn and grow. He believes that current circumstances should never limit a student’s chance to rise up in the world, attend college and get a well-paying job.

Like myself, Downs (a graduate of Davidson College, a liberal arts school in North Carolina) is a huge fan of a liberal arts college education.

He especially likes that students get to learn about a variety of topics and take classes in everything they’re interested in. He said this makes students who are quick to adapt, eager to learn and able to think critically.

“Lots of things I learned in college have a lot to do with what I do now. College helped me get my feet wet,” Downs said about his own education.

Really, Downs thinks it’s important to learn something new every day. For him, classroom learning is definitely important, but so is learning from everyday interactions with the people around you.

“I just learned today that Branch Rickey went to Ohio Wesleyan,” he said, laughing.

“The lesson I’m proudest that my kids are learning is how to have a lot of empathy,” he said. “You might not know what things look like from someone’s perspective, but you can at least try to put yourself in their shoes.”

As always, thank you for reading, and God bless.

Until next post,

-A.L.D.

Why I Love Stripped Back Performances

(In an earlier post I outlined why I love demo versions of songs so much. Here is the continued version, where I talk about why stripped back performances of songs appeal to me).

As some may know, I use my satelite radio frequently to discover new music. This year I’ve come to appreciate both SiriusXMU’s (channel 35) and Alt Nation’s (channel 36) in-studio Sessions that they do with bands who are gaining traction in the music world.

Why is it that I like stripped back sessions so much? As I mentioned in a previous post, the first time I ever heard EL VY’s “Return to the Moon,” it was the SiriusXMU Sessions version and I thought it was gorgeous.

A stripped back version captures the original emotion of a track, just like a demo. It’s the closest the song can get to raw bluntness of its first recording.

Like when I heard a piano version of Passion Pit’s “Take a Walk” on Alt Nation. I love the political themes in this song and the sense of desperation in the lyrics, and the original is bombastic with synthesizers, drum machines and backup vocals. But hearing the subdued and quiet pleas of frontman Michael Angelakos over a simple piano line made the message of the song far more haunting.

Or, when Small Black stripped down their songs “No On Wants it to Happen to You” and “Boys Life” from their newest record “Best Blues” on SiriusXMU. Taking away all the synthpop elements and lo-fi production helped bring the stark portrayal of life for New York residents post-Hurricane Sandy right to the front of the tracks.

And, who can forget the hauntingly beautiful version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” that Bono and The Edge played at U2’s Pop Mart tour show in Mexico City? All of the exaggerated vanity and over-the-top theatrics of U2’s 1990’s persona created a brutal contrast with this performance of a song about violence breaking out at a march for human rights on a cold weekend morning in Northern Ireland.

But a stripped back version doesn’t always have to be slow or moody or resigned. I heard POP ETC play an unplugged version of “Vice” on Alt Nation, and honestly, I liked it way more than the original. I’m pretty indifferent to the single; it’s a standard alt rock radio hit, but with no production flourishes, an acoustic guitar and minimal backing vocals, it had a MUCH more fun and playful vibe.

What do you think of stripped back performances? Do you prefer them to the album version? What are some of your favorites?

On an unrelated note, I apologize for the delay in posting. Classes have just started up for me, I’m starting a new job and I’ve been busy moving into a new house. I will try to keep up with blogging in my down time.

Thank you so much for reading, happy Sunday, and as always..

God bless.

-A. L. D.

 

Why I Love Song Demos

Lately on my satellite radio I’ve been tuning into Jason Schwartzman’s Coconut Radio show on SiriusXMU (channel 35), and I must say, the guy plays some great stuff.

His latest show theme was “Demos.” He’d play the demo version of some of his favourite tracks and then play the album version for comparison. I especially enjoyed him playing both versions of the Cure’s “In Between Days,” which is my favourite Cure song.

And it got me thinking…what exactly is it that I find so compelling about an artist’s first attempt at creation, when the only person they suspect will be hearing is their fellow bandmates?

As a writer, it all boils down to the emotional element for me. Take, for example, the Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up.” The demo version is just Brian Wilson and a piano. The song is raw, it has pauses for Wilson to catch his train of thought, it lacks the orchestral embellishments of the finished product. And it is bursting with unadulterated feeling.

I remember reading an interview  Father John Misty did with Pitchfork, where he wrote about how difficult it was for him to write the song “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins).” He often grappled with how he could expose himself without being too open into his personal life, and ended up drowning the track in too many effects, embellishments and flourishes. Finally, his wife told him the only way he could achieve a true version of the track was to put aside his fear of vulnerability and write how he felt.

A demo is a band’s first attempt at capturing a feeling into a sound. It’s the sometimes fragile, sometimes a cacophony, encapsulation of a period in time, a person, a thought, a fear. An artist has to be vulnerable to reveal their demos: You’re hearing the original process before the effects and mixing came along and masked the particularly exposing feelings, buffered the rough edges, stowed away some of the emotional baggage.

While listening to Coconut Radio, I noticed I was enjoying the demo versions more than the original. A major example was The Lemonheads’ “My Drug Buddy.” Already a lyrically exposed song, the demo was slower, sadder and it sounded like the lyrics were painful for the frontman to sing, especially during the “I’m too much with myself/I wanna be someone else.”

Another was Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love.” The demo Schwartzman played was by The Velvet Underground (as opposed to just Lou Reed), and it was far more unpolished and rough-and-tumble than the atmospheric, dense final product. It was fun to hear the relaxed rock side of such an iconic song.

Even Mac DeMarco, an artist that proudly embraces the slacker-rock and jangle pop genre had a lovely demo of “Passing Out Pieces” (originally called “Passing Out Pieces of Me”). It showed that anyone, even someone who’s already as stylistically laid-back and exposed as DeMarco, starts with a tentative rough draft of various outlined feelings.

Basically, releasing their demos is an artist letting you into their mind, their creative process; it’s their attempt to help you feel for yourself what lead them to this creative point. If you listen, you can hear their words calling out to your internal monologue, to make that connection with someone who knows where they’ve been physically and emotionally.

And I, for one, am happy to listen.

Thanks for reading and God bless,

-A.L.D.