Matt Brundage

Archive for the 'music' category

Monday, 14 April 2008

Sera Cahoone and Sea Wolf

Small Image Sera Cahoone is an interesting little-known “country” vocalist from the west coast. I first heard her on KEXP (Seattle) and purchased her first self-released album almost immediately thereafter. Her voice isn’t particularly commanding or strong, but it’s very pure and has a certain charm to it. Her band plays down-tempo classic-influenced country with just the right amount of pedal steel guitar and banjo.

Small Image Sea Wolf is a newish band — actually a pseudonym for Alex Brown Church, an indie-pop singer/songwriter from LA. I actually just purchased his debut EP (Get to the River Before it Runs Too Low, 2007) a month or so ago; it was only a matter of time before the full-length album came my way. I think what initially drew me to Sea Wolf was the way his songs sounded like sped-up dirges. Church also double- or triple-tracked his vocals on the songs — altogether pleasing to the ears. Further adding to his appeal are at least two songs on the album that specifically mention gypsies!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Guitar and thump duet

Matt playing the guitar with Sniff While I was singing and playing the guitar for Annie, Sniff hid under the bed and kept thumping his hind legs. We sounded like a badly rehearsed duet between a guitar and a bass drum. After a while, either my playing had improved or Sniff’s curiosity got the better of him as he came out from under the bed and began to inspect the cause of the ruckus. Pictured: Sniff helps me tune the “G” string, as I was presumably a bit flat.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Musical arc

It’s been said that the music you listen to as a young adult will — more often than not — be the music you’ll be listening to for the rest of your life. I’ve been trying to evaluate that axiom in terms of my own listening habits; so far the diagnosis is still quite muddy.

Like most people, my taste has evolved slowly and steadily; lately I feel as though I am settling down — not in the frequency in which I acquire music, but in the rate that I fall out of favor with certain bands or genres.

In my early years, I never listened to the radio and didn’t own any music. Exposure came from lying on the floor in my parents’ living room with an old Sears hi-fi record player and headphones massive enough to cause discomfort after a couple LPs. My parents’ collection was spotty at best. Random John Denver and Beatles albums. At least three albums by the now-obscure Mason Williams.

In the summer of 1989, I received a compilation tape of Beach Boys songs from my uncle in response to my positive reaction to the song “Kokomo”. A year later, I remember wanting to own M.C. Hammer’s breakout album Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, and dancing around like a total loser to “Ice Ice Baby”. During this period, I was discovering vapid early nineties pop and listening to oldies. A few years later, I developed an intense obsession of the music of Ace of Base (my first pop CD). Throughout high school, I took to mostly mainstream rock (Weezer, then The Smashing Pumpkins) and pop and listened incessantly to commercial rock radio.

By the end of the nineties, I was acquiring CDs at an alarming rate of one every four or five days. It was as if I were making up for lost time. In 2000, I rediscovered the Beach Boys while taking a music appreciation class at Montgomery College. I embraced them with open arms and became a rapid Beach Boys completist almost overnight. At the same time, I began falling out of favor with commercial rock, especially that which is played on the radio. I started listening to more “indie” bands, more obscure sounds, more classic country, more underground bands.

Small Image Which brings me to the point of this post: what (in addition to my own tastes) has changed? I’ll use Semisonic’s breakthrough 1998 album Feeling Strangely Fine as an example. If this album had been released nowadays, I would probably not even hear it, given my aversion to commercial pop and rock radio. If I did happen to hear it, I would probably brush it off, classify it as forgettable, and move on. But yet the album remains a classic in my own mind — dare I say, a minor masterpiece. I must acknowledge that I’m approaching the album with bias. I can’t evaluate it objectively because I continue to view the songs through a lens clouded with good memories: Buying my first car. The bittersweet relief of graduating from high school. The giddiness and elation of having a girlfriend. Becoming independent. Climbing up the lower rungs of the career ladder. Et cetera…

I look back fondly at music from my late teens, yet I recoil with disgust at some of the cookie-cutter “music” being released now. I used to follow the Billboard charts every week and know most of the songs. Now, I’m lucky if I can hum one or two songs in the top 40. I’ve come to realize that the deciding factor isn’t the music itself, but my emotional connection to it. I like to think that I evaluate music more objectively now, as a (mostly) level-headed adult. My appreciation of a new band or particular song won’t be influenced by frivolous things such as unrelated emotions. Or at least that’s my hope.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Death From Above

Medium Image Medium Image The two CDs to your right may have only cost me about $10 a piece, but they’ve proven to be a much more expensive investment in the long run. I recently caused permanent damage to my car’s factory-installed speaker system while blasting Death From Above 1979’s “Romantic Rights (Erol Alkan’s Love From Below Re-Edit)” on the way to volleyball a few weeks ago. The song is little more than tribal-style drumming, a throbbing, distorted bass, and keyboards that sound like twin turbofans powering up before a sudden burst across the runway of an aircraft carrier. An indulgent six-minute mess of noise with, as one Amazon reviewer put it, no “socially redeeming value.”

My once-acceptable Saturn L-Series speakers now have clearly audible distortion, but only at certain pitches in the lower register. Certain bass sounds are now replaced with a slight vibrato. Not exactly a clipping sound, but still a clear sign that the speakers are trying in vain to reproduce certain sounds.

Monday, 16 July 2007

First impressions of The Boy With No Name

Medium Image Travis released their fifth studio album a couple months ago; it was only a matter of time before it found its way into my living room. From the beginning, I had a good feeling about the album, as it was produced by Nigel Godrich — the man who also influenced the sound on The Man Who and The Invisible Band.

Their previous album, 2003’s 12 Memories, can be seen as an aberration — it was more or less self-produced and was overtly experimental and political at times. The Boy With No Name finds Travis sailing into safer waters, both stylistically and lyrically. While inferior to The Man Who, TBWNN excels, thanks to expert work by guitarist Andy Dunlop. Listen to his imprint on “Selfish Jean.” The song is pleasing in and of itself, but sticks out like a sore thumb as the second track. It would have been more at home after “My Eyes”, Fran Healy’s tribute to his newborn son, Clay.

“3 Times and You Lose” is possibly the standout track. It’s similar to some of the better songs on The Man Who and makes for a solid lead track. “Sailing Away” is also quite strong, but is hidden as a bonus track, tucked away at the end of “New Amsterdam.”

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Gibbard, Bazan, and Rice

David Bazan, May 10, 2007 I saw Ben Gibbard, the ever-venerable David Bazan (pictured), and newcomer Johnathan Rice tonight at the 9:30 Club. NPR has a nice little writeup about the show, including download links.

While I bought the ticket solely for David Bazan’s set, I did enjoy Gibbard’s performance. I’m a casual fan of Death Cab for Cutie, but was actually disappointed that Bazan was touring with such a well-known and popular artist. I wanted another intimate show, with only the faithful standing by my side. The crowd was almost oblivious to Rice’s and Bazan’s sets, talking throughout most songs. When Gibbard walked on stage, the conversations ceased. While Gibbard did deserve the attention the crowd gave him, Rice and Bazan should have been afforded the same respect.

I’m officially in a rut with my concert going, with the majority of my shows involving David Bazan in some way. That Man Man show at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel in April doesn’t count because — as much as I enjoyed the show — I probably wouldn’t have gone if a certain someone hadn’t handed me a ticket and offered to drive. Man Man are a kind of “guilty-pleasure” band: not a band to tell your children about, but something to indulge in every now and then.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Hey man, slow down

I recently touched on a small OK Computer-related coincidence back in November. Here’s another similar coincidence that bears repeating:

For a little over two years, I split my work days between the Dept. of Energy and the Smithsonian, in buildings facing each other on both sides of the National Mall in downtown DC. Each day before lunch, I’d leave Energy and walk across the Mall, passing tourists and their buses, large packs of school children on field trips, hot dog and t-shirt stands, and the like. One afternoon on my “commute”, I was running a bit late and made a conscious effort to pick up the pace. No sooner had I started walking briskly than Radiohead’s “The Tourist” started randomly playing on my MP3 player. The song is a lament of the average tourist, who, when pressed for time, will try to pack as many events into his day, pausing briefly at photogenic buildings and monuments to take sub-par snapshots.

While the song could easily have been directed at the myriad tourists around me that day, it was also speaking directly to me. People actually tour my city. They spend hundreds of dollars flying or busing themselves in, and I would like to think that they genuinely appreciate the attractions Washington DC has. I live three miles from the DC border, but you’ll rarely find me in DC on the weekends. Perhaps a handful of times a year at most. A shame, really.

Friday, 9 February 2007

New York Nanny State

Recently, you may have heard about the New York City Board of Health’s push to ban artificial trans fats from restaurant menus. Never mind the fact that trans fat occur naturally in meat and dairy products. Or that trans fats are “FDA-approved”. According to the FDA, a full 17% of our fat consumption comes from margarine. I personally got off the margarine train years ago, but I’ll willing to bet that there are thousands of people of the misguided opinion that margarine is the healthier alternative to butter. Just wait twenty years or so, and margarine will be good for you again.

So: liquid oils — made into solid fats by adding hydrogen — will be banned. But what about saturated fats, shown to be correlated to higher rates of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease? When will the Board of Health push to ban meats, daily, and cheeses, all of which are typically high in saturated fats? Soon, all we’ll have left to cook with is olive oil. Until they declare war on monounsaturated fats.

Sure, the Board of Health may be trying to act in the best interests of the public, but how far should legislation go? Consider this nugget of wisdom from Barry Goldwater:

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

Goldwater’s words strike a chord with those who believe New York is turning into the “Nanny State.” Additionally, the excerpt stands up like a fortress to the illogic of New York State Senator Carl Kruger, who has proposed legislation banning iPods and other such devices whilst crossing a city street.

Kruger says that while he is trying not to intrude upon personal freedoms of New Yorkers, it becomes difficult to leave the problem alone when pedestrians tune-in to an iPod/Blackberry/cell phone/video game only to walk blithely into a speeding bus or moving automobile to meet with near certain death.

Yes, Kruger may say that he is “trying not to intrude upon personal freedoms of New Yorkers…”, but he is failing miserably at his goal. Even without considering the personal liberty issues at stake in this issue, consider the holes in his proposal:

  • People with headphones cannot hear approaching cars or their horns. Neither can the deaf. Should deaf people also be fined for crossing the street?
  • People watching their stock quotes or playing a portable video game aren’t watching traffic. For that matter, nor are the blind. Should blind people also be fined for crossing the street?
  • Should we fine people for not looking both ways?
  • What if the music is coming from an old-school boom box not directly attached to the pedestrian’s ears? What if the pedestrian is listening to music originating from a street performer, a source he cannot readily eliminate without force or coercion? Would the iPod cops put the kabash on street performers in the best interests of pedestrians?
  • Should we fine people who put their hands over their ears as they cross the street?
  • Kruger has said that people can simply take the earbuds out of their ears as they cross the street to avoid the fine. But what if the pedestrian simply pauses the song, essentially turning the device off? How would the iPod cops know? And what would they do about those twenty-something interns wearing earmuffs?

Seriously, Kruger acts as if pedestrian deaths suddenly started happening after the iPod was launched in 2001. I hate to break it to him, but non-attentive pedestrians have been getting run over for millenniums. If this illogical proposal becomes law, expect New Yorkers to take to the streets. With their iPods and french fries, of course.

Friday, 12 January 2007

Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys, and the Slow Burn

The Beach Boys at the San Diego zoo in 1966 for the photo session for Pet SoundsI purchased an old LP of Pet Sounds in the mid Nineties. By then, my infatuation with the Beach Boys’ music had ended, and I was but a casual fan. I played it, recognizing a couple of tracks from a mix tape that my uncle had made me. The rest of the album, I thought, was boring and disposable. It was too “mature” for me at the time. Consider this from Lindsey Buckingham:

The first time I heard Pet Sounds, I have to admit that I did a little bit of knee-jerk in the same way probably the record company and some other people did because it wasn’t as accessible as Brian’s songwriting approach had been up to that time. I’m not sure I fully appreciated that until years later, I started making records myself.

Over the next few years, I collected a couple more Beach Boys LPs, not seeing anything special in them. But in 2000, a music course at Montgomery College changed all of that. A teacher by the name of Roy Harris turned me on to their music again, and suddenly, I couldn’t stop listening. The Beach Boys albums in my collection were good, but they weren’t enough. To make a long story short, I bought their entire back catalog, as Capitol Records was conveniently in the midst of a Beach Boys reissue campaign.

After I exhausted that avenue, I turned my gaze onto bootlegs and oddities. A capella tracks. Studio rehearsals. Demos. Backing tracks. Live performances. Live rehearsals. Outtakes. Alternate mixes. Remixes. Tribute albums. Solo albums. DVDs. Books. When the dust finally cleared, the Beach Boys comprised about 14% of my record and cd collection, which is saying something, as I have close to 1200. But I digress.

Up until rediscovering the Beach Boys in 2000, I had no musical identity. I didn’t really know what I liked, and I was oblivious to what I was missing. A year or so later, I remember telling myself that “this band will be my favorite for the rest of my life. This is something that I know.” I am just as certain of this today. In a sense, I can liken this connection to my marriage — or to my religion. There’s a comfort in knowing that you’re done searching — you can simply sit back and enjoy what you have. It was as if I had found something of great value — something I could cherish and never let go of.

While my affinity for music in general means that I will never tire of seeking out new bands and new sounds, I can be confident that I will never find another band like the Beach Boys. Some bands may be more technically proficient. Some may be more savvy in the studio, or with the press. Others may win more awards. But the Beach Boys have the right mix of just about everything: Americana. Timeless, universal (if at times corny) lyrics. A studio genius (leader Brian Wilson) who wrote, arranged, produced, mixed, and sang (with perfect pitch). Equal parts hip and square. Girls, fun, sun, cars. Spirit. A trio of brothers, a cousin, and a childhood friend who formed the bedrock for quite possibly the best rock harmonies ever recorded.

Needless to say, that old Pet Sounds LP has grown on me. The songs have sustained me in times of happiness and soothed me in times of sadness and grief. It has become more than just an album — Pet Sounds and other Beach Boys songs from that period transcend the musical passages that they are and have become something else entirely. Something rich. Something that I may never fully understand.

“How deep is the ocean?”

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Radiohead on Radioparadise

Yesterday, I remember telling myself to bring OK Computer to work so that I could hear “Let Down”, particularly Thom’s beautiful falsetto in counterpoint harmony in the final verse. But alas, I rushed out of the house too fast this morning and didn’t bring it. At work, I turned on the station and was treated to “Let Down” about a half hour later. A happy coincidence, but also another little thing to be thankful for.