Tag Archives: Music

Who wore it best?

Did everyone have a great Thanksgiving? Get enough gravy? Watch enough football? I managed to catch chunks of all 3 of Thursday’s games, but there was one thing I was determined not to miss: Nickelback’s appearance during halftime of the Lions/Packers game in Detroit. I was fascinated by the hullabaloo leading up to their performance — I can’t remember the last time mean-spirited-ness was so widely tolerated (especially of the musican-on-musician variety). Hating on Nickelback is fun and all, but the campaign to have them replaced seemed bizarre in its fervor, and I was curious to see how they would handle the adversity. The event itself was relatively uneventful, in a way that these performances must be in a post-Nipplegate world, but two things stuck out… 1. The lead singer got a long-overdue haircut, and 2. There was a drumline. Hmmm… Now, marching bands and football go together like Forrest and Jenny, but this seemed like an odd choice, given how little the corps was utilized and how little you could actually hear it. See what you think…

Still with me? What a trouper you are. Seemed kinda off, right? Well the drumline issue jumped right back to the front of my mind when Enrique Iglesias took the stage just a few hours later during halftime of the Cowboys/Dolphins game. Why? Because Mr. Iglesias, owner of the world’s tightest hoodie, was flanked not only by rapper and co-founder of Bad Boy Records subsidiary Bad Boy Latino, Pitbull (he knows you want him), but also by a sizable group of marching drummers. Have a look…

Seriously, if you’re still reading, you get a gold star for wading through this crap with me. Speaking of crap, if you’ve ever read a glossy gossip magazine, you may already be familiar with the commonplace feature where they place pictures of two celebrities wearing a similar outfit side-by-side and ask the question (we’ll go with US Weekly’s wording here), “Who wore it best?” So what do you think? Who wore the drumline best, Nickelback or Enrique? Feel free to comment below, or just click here to get both out of your head as soon as humanly possible by watching the University of Southern California’s marching band back up Radiohead in their performance of “15 Step” at the 2009 Grammys.

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Nas

I Am...

One more quick thought about visiting the big apple. I’m pretty bad at the geography of New York City. It seems so overwhelming that I’ve never done a terribly good job of getting my bearings (though I did retain a tidbit this time about even streets heading east). But I realized while riding (not driving, thank god) around the city that many of the places and names that I do recognize (me sounding real white in 3… 2… 1… OK I’m just gonna say it), I recognize from hip hop lyrics. It sounds lame, but it’s true. It hit me most on Saturday when we were heading to our hotel in Long Island City, Queens, near Queensbridge, a neighborhood that instantly sounded familiar. After incorrectly guessing rappers from Queens (I’m not saying who, it’s more than a little embarrassing) I went ahead and asked the interweb, and the list of artists from just that one borough is astounding. Nas. 50 Cent. LL Cool J. Mobb Deep. Q-Tip. There are many more. Ja Rule is one of them. It’s truly amazing to think about how the genre of hip hop is so closely tied to the city of New York, and how beautifully hip hop artists provide an oral history of their hometown. Just like the relationship between soul and Detroit or jazz and New Orleans (hear that Utah??), it’s hard to imagine the place without the music that’s blossomed there. With that in mind, I’ve included one of my favorite Nas tracks below, “N.Y. State of Mind Pt. II,” which brings the big city to life, both in terms of its lyrics and its beat, which makes you feel like you’re walking down a busy street (east, if it’s an even one), with your head on a swivel, surveying the scene. Listen below and buy his 1999 album I Am… here.

Nas — “N.Y. State of Mind Pt. II

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Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds

I was in New York City for a wedding this past (long) weekend, and had a super fun, action packed few days — I ate at some amazing restaurants, visited a museum exhibit that included a working slide from the 4th floor to the 2nd, conducted an unscientific study on regional differences in transactional conversation (saying “Thank you!” enthusiastically to store owners and waiters to see if they return a “You’re welcome” — they usually don’t, which I know isn’t considered to be rude, but it’s still fun to try) and saw an amazing band that I didn’t even know I’d be seeing. Saturday’s wedding reception was packed with great music, thanks in large part to the fact that the couple of the hour answered “Both” to that age old question, “Band or DJ?” The DJ provided an excellent chronological progression from Motown to “Otis,” deftly managing the inverse relationship between time and mean age, but it was the band, Brooklyn-based Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, that totally blew me away, playing a short set of dynamite soul songs that packed a serious punch. It can’t be easy to come into that environment and get people dancing with original music, but Sister Sparrow, fronted by Arleigh Kincheloe’s booming yet feminine voice and bolstered by a 4-man horn section (I think it was 4, but don’t hold me to that — the Brooklyn Lager was a-flowin’), did just that, playing tunes off their self-titled album alongside a few covers, and everything just worked. The horns were great, the vocals were great, the lead guitar was great, the harmonica was great — to paraphrase our good friend Thom Yorke, everything was in its right place, and I eagerly found the album on Spotify so I could preview it on the train ride back home to Richmond. Check out a full stream of their album below, and buy it on iTunes here.

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds – Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds

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Neutral Milk Hotel

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Raise your hand if you know one of these people: You’re having a conversation with a friend/coworker/family member and you admit to not having seen/heard/read a particular movie/record/book, and your admission sets off an incredulous tizzy in your friend/coworker/family member, as if you had just confessed to murdering manatees for sport. “What?!? You haven’t seen Mrs. Doubtfire?!? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?” Those of you who are raising your hands — aren’t those tizzy throwers annoying? Amiright, you guys? [laughs nervously] OK, who am I kidding. I am, deep down, one of those over-enthused people, but I pride myself on being able to put on the poker face when people say they haven’t seen or heard a movie or song I love (Full disclosure: A few beers in, all bets are off and I likely will throw a conniption your way if you tell me you haven’t seen Mrs. Doubtfire). But I don’t think this reaction is a simple display of overabundant enthusiasm — I think there’s a hint of jealousy mixed in there, as well. Take The Wire and Breaking Bad, for example. Both are incredible shows, and whenever people say they haven’t seen one or both of them, I’m envious, because I know that when they finally do pick either one up, they’ll be embarking upon a journey that brought me a tremendous amount of enjoyment. I felt very fortunate this past week when I got to be on the other side of this phenomenon, thanks to a chat with a coworker/highly trusted source for good music who was preparing for a high-noon battle with the faceless horde of e-people who also wanted tickets to Jeff Mangum’s upcoming show in Washington, D.C. He asked if I was going to try my Ticketmaster luck as well, and I had to confess to knowing of Jeff Mangum, but never actually having listened to his iconic band Neutral Milk Hotel’s indie (I think that word actually meant something in 1998) masterpiece, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, all the way through. I’d heard covers of the album’s title and opening tracks, but that was about it, aside from a quick look at his recent performance at Occupy Wall Street. My coworker (excited, but without a hint of incredulous spazzing, to his credit) shared his affinity for the record, and as soon as I could, I started my own Aeroplane journey. The expectations were so high, and so much has been said about the album, but my first run through from beginning to end was still rewarding and full of surprises. There are so many avenues, dark corners, explosive moments and mood swings that I was completely enthralled, and that sense of immersion hasn’t gone away after subsequent listens. It’s so easy to get sucked into In the Aeroplane Over the Sea — the way songs bleed into one another makes for an eerie, page-turning experience, with these juxtapositions building a dramatic tension that’s dialed up even more by a landscape of overdriven guitars, sometimes-disturbing imagery (all the probing and fingers and body parts make you think you’re reading the dream journal of an overworked surgeon) and carnival-like sonic chaos. It really is worthy of every bit of praise that’s been heaped its way over the years and OMG you have to drop everything and listen to it right this second [puts on poker face] I highly recommend you give the album a try. Start with opening cut “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1” below, and if you like it, continue the roller coaster ride by buying the album here (you wont be alone — it was the 6th best selling vinyl record in 2008, a full decade after it’s original release).

Neutral Milk Hotel — “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1

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Cass McCombs

Humor Risk

It’s kind of a freaky thought, but what we like isn’t always up to us. Does that mean there are dark forces at work, surreptitiously assaulting our brains with all manner of suggestions? Well, of course, but that’s not really what I wanted this post to be about. I think what I’m trying to talk about is mystery. Our brains work in ways we can’t understand, and that may be a good thing. What fun would it be if we could map out every notion and its neurochemical origin? That sense of mystery is all that separates us from being squishy, walking computers, so let’s embrace it! And let’s embrace Cass McCombs! The singer-songwriter is a self-consciously enigmatic figure with a well-documented disdain for interviews, a peccadillo that has forced some music journalists to actually sit down with a pen and paper and write to him by mail to get material for an article. He’s even posted a hilarious and self-deprecating faux interview to YouTube, in which he says absolutely nothing. Ironically enough, I started learning about McCombs’ steely and mysterious public persona from a phone interview he did do with Pitchfork, and my immediate reaction after reading the piece wasn’t great. I thought he came across as pretentious, even as he was describing how “a master craftsman is someone who is unpretentious.” At that point, my familiarity with his music was limited to a single listen of his new album, Humor Risk, and though I enjoyed it, his standoffish nature was enough to make me put the record down. End of story. Or is it? I can’t remember why I picked it back up a few days later, but when I made it to “Robin Egg Blue,” something had changed. Maybe the songs needed time to settle, or maybe knowing more about his personality opened a door that had been locked the first time I listened. Frankly I don’t know what switch was flipped that made me like this record so much more when I came back for a second listen, and in this case, I’m OK letting the mystery linger (though I can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that McCombs is actually a Jedi). I do know that Humor Risk is a special album, replete with a kind of brilliance that glows warmly and unobtrusively throughout all 8 songs. With this in mind, I’ve included a stream of the entire album below. If you enjoy it, you can buy Humor Risk on iTunes here.

Cass McCombs — Humor Risk

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Carl Broemel

All Birds Say

Sometimes you have to take an unpopular stance, though it’s nice when you have a good friend standing unpopularly with you. My buddy Coyle and I are both staunch supporters of the most divisive song in the entirety of the My Morning Jacket catalog. That’s right, Coyle and I are proud members of team “Highly Suspicious.” I’m pretty sure we both like it for the same reason, too — the hilarious, over-the-top serious way Carl Broemel, co-lead guitarist and backup singer to Jim James, delivers the song’s title lyrics. Watch the band performing the song on Austin City Limits to see what I mean…

How can you not love that? It falls in some strange netherworld between parody and badassery, and ever since the first time I saw a video of “Highly Suspicious” being staged, I’ve watched Broemel with an added sense of enjoyment. That’s why I was so elated when the wonderful people at Daytrotter recently posted a session that finds Broemel performing 4 of his own songs that I had no idea existed, all of which can be found on an album he released last year called All Birds Say. I dove into the record as soon as I could, and it didn’t take long to learn that Broemel is as gifted at writing solo material as he is at the guitar-thrashing, falsetto-floating duties he executes so expertly as a member of My Morning Jacket. All Birds Say is a mellow record to be sure, but there’s a great deal going on in these largely down-tempo songs worth noting, including a fascinating relationship between theme and substance. Many of the songs deal with the idea of spare time, surely a commodity when you’re part of an overwhelmingly successful band, with titles like “Sunday Drivers” and “Retired,” and lyrics like “I was waiting for the moment to be perfectly clear, when the world would stop and let me catch up,” and “save an hour for yourself.” Images like these appear throughout, and pair perfectly with the choice of tempo and mood. Too perfectly, in fact. That’s what’s most interesting about All Birds Say — it’s a leisurely sounding record about trying to find time for leisure, which, as any busy person can attest, is hard work. After doing some research, I wasn’t surprised to find that he recorded the album one song at a time, whenever he had an opportunity, over the course of 4 or 5 years, so it’s no wonder he’s focused on those elusive spare moments. Even his guitar work reflects this odd coupling of efficiency and relaxation. “Questions” features a walkdown that sounds so breezy on the surface it could have followed a drunk down the street in an old Disney cartoon, but it includes just about every single in-between note that particular scale can hold. So loose, yet so tight at the same time. And these extra, in-between notes are everywhere on All Birds Say. I’m enjoying the album so much I can’t decide which song to recommend, so I’m including performance videos of three of my favorites — “Questions,” “Carried Away,” and “Heaven Knows,” where he pushes the leisure theme even further by playing the song on an autoharp in the middle of a round of golf. Check out these three great songs below, his Daytrotter session here (you’re a member already, right?), and buy All Birds Say here.

Carl Broemel — “Questions

Carl Broemel — “Carried Away

Carl Broemel — “Heaven Knows

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Firehorse

We live in a cynical world. A world full of misinformation, self interest, greed and deception, one that’s trained us to question everything we see, hear, smell, taste and feel. For crying out loud, we can’t even walk our friends and family to the gate at the airport anymore, which makes this heartwarming moment heartbreakingly impossible. I love that scene. This is the best we can do now. Sigh. Plus, all this skepticism means that when you encounter real sincerity, whether it’s in another person, or a gesture, or a piece of art, it can be downright alarming. But you know what? It’s also unmistakable. It jumps out at you. I recently encountered a song that jumped out at me thanks to its inherent sweetness and sincerity, and I’ve been playing it a few times in a row whenever I need a reminder that the world isn’t as hard-hearted as it may seem sometimes. I’m talking about “If You Don’t Want To Be Alone” by Firehorse, one of the bands I learned about from All Songs Considered’s fantastic CMJ recap episode. “If You Don’t Want To Be Alone” is written from the perspective of a person who’s yearning for a loved one to return home, and it paints a picture of unconditional devotion and steadfast companionship that makes every cynical notion in my body melt away, with lines like “You can come back whenever you’d like” and “If you need rest, I’ll stay right by your side.” And the lyrics aren’t the only touching part of the song — the arrangement reinforces this narrative beautifully. Singer Leah Siegel’s voice is set against a backdrop of sparse instrumentation, reverb-soaked and distorted guitars and fading echoes of indeterminate origin, making her words seem like an earnest oasis of humanity in a vast and frightening sonic darkness. That image of a small light shining brightly in the dark was so moving during one particular cluster of repeated listens that I tweeted at her so I could say thank you for improving my afternoon, and that her album And So They Ran Faster… was exactly what I needed to hear at that particular moment. Sure enough, she sent back a short note of thanks that exhibited the same genuineness that drew me to her music in the first place. Much like her song, it was the kind of exchange that makes the rest of the world feel a little less cynical, which counts for a lot in my book. Give a listen to “If You Don’t Want To Be Alone” below, buy the album here, and click here to learn about the charitable organization for which the song was originally written, the Topsy Foundation.

Firehorse — “If You Don’t Want To Be Alone

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