I often sit here looking at the blue screen and flickering cursor, wishing I could craft a masterpiece in words as readily as a painter paints or a carpenter shapes. Something if I had my way that would be… defining yet real, verbose yet relatable (that description worked way better in my head AND had a British accent).
But I’ve never had that sixth sense, that grand scheme of a master plan to “call my shot”. I simply write what I feel when I come here to talk music. Though more often than not nowadays I’m internally awash with fear, which means I’m not writing much at all.
We can be our own worst enemies in the grips of what we struggle to control. Especially when it becomes about handling the fate of our own destinies. I’m among the many battling that beast, and some days prove more difficult than others. I feel it’s wrong to even say I’m tired, but I’m tired right now and struggling to acknowledge being in the slump of a low. Of feeling like nothing and nothing good.
But, maybe nothing is also the best foundation to restart from in order to build something better. My great grandfather Lloyd and his brother were exhibiting chicken farmers in their youth, and they came of humble beginnings. Lloyd found that he liked to talk and give speeches as sort of a hobby during downtime from these activities. One day in his teens, a neighbor spied him standing on a box delivering an impassioned plea to an empty field.
The neighbor told Lloyd’s father (who was greatly amused), suggesting he might eventually make for being in politics. This eventually came to pass, with my great grandfather serving as a mayor during a working career that also included taxi driver, courier, alderman, a milk company inside man and railroad worker.
These were many hard-earned accomplishments for a man who once wrote that his decision to leave school after 10th grade was his greatest mistake. I may have eclipsed him with pieces of paper in learning, but I feel miles from the type of proudly obtained road I care to be on. Not that he wasn’t forced to improvise during times of illness/poor economy, but Lloyd often seemed… content. Yes times could be hard, but he was so grateful to have seen and experienced so much in his years.
I can only hope to say the same when it comes my time to find the end of the line. I have not yet had the fortunate wings of such a grace.
Regardless, I’m here forever learning with a blast off. Whether music or otherwise.
Burnout is a term that’s only grown in relevancy since the COVID-19 pandemic entered humanity’s worldview. I picture burnout as the Opera’s mysterious Phantom; covertly sly in the parlors of mental exhaustion as it quietly adds to the brain burden. You don’t see it coming, or at least I never did.
In my mind I thought burnout required massive amounts of exhaustion brought on by a dogged fight with piles of important work. But as I’ve learned now, those feelings can manifest through a variety of triggers both large and small. I deal with such issues to this day, which is why I appreciate those who’ve felt the burnout and can offer advice on potentially easing it.
Enter musician and previous OTBEOTB feature Andrew Thomases. He and the lovely people at Muddy Paw PR have put together a great feature on the subject of salving burnout that I’m so pleased to share with you below! -C
Bay Area-based conscious rocker Andrew Thomases is not only a talented singer-songwriter, but an experienced attorney as well. He has always had a passion for music, but he put that passion on hold to develop a career and raise a family. In the midst of the pandemic, his love was reignited, and he reveals his journey back to music in his new single “Exploring.”
Thomases takes on themes of empowerment and curiosity in the song. Through it, he encourages listeners to be adventurous again and try something they’ve always wanted to do. It is a powerful reminder to make the most out of life, something that he often advocates for. Read his story below on how the process of making music helped him escape burnout and reinvigorated him throughout the pandemic.
As you may know, I am a 54-year-old attorney by day, and I have been practicing law for 27 years. So, I have had my run-ins with burnout. Whether it’s the tedium of work or the hardships of life, sometimes you just feel like you are stuck in a rut.
How do I overcome this? I challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone by learning new things, meeting new people, and traveling to new places. I love exploring all aspects of life, so I want to make sure the sense of adventure is always present. Planning a trip gives me something to look forward to. Meeting new people gives me new perspectives on life. And, learning new things keeps the mind active.
For me, the last one is the most important. I have loved music since I was really young, and I started playing bass guitar when I was about 10 years old. I played in cover bands throughout high school, college, and law school, and once in a while, I would try my hand at writing a few bars of music for a new song. However, I never really sat down to write a whole song or even learn how to do so. Then, mid-life hit, and that coincided with the pandemic, which gave me more free time outside of work. So, I dusted off my bass, bought a new guitar, and taught myself how to play chords and melodies. I watched tons of videos on music theory and playing guitar. I realized how invigorating it was to learn new things. I began looking forward to finishing up work for a day so I could turn to making music. I even found some lyrics I had written decades ago and began building a song around those.
I also taught myself music recording and production on my home iMac. Lots of tutorial videos online, and lots of trial and error. Again, it was a challenge, but I enjoyed the process of gaining new knowledge.
At first, I recorded a very personal song about my dad’s passing during the pandemic and sent it around to family and close friends. I was reluctant to send the song to folks, because I was really putting myself out there – both because of the personal nature of the song and because it was the first time I played and sang one of my original songs for anyone else. I was pleasantly surprised that I received positive feedback and encouragement to create more music. Again, if I hadn’t put myself out there and explored something outside my comfort zone, I might have never continued in my music writing endeavor.
But, I dove in with a passion. I had some guitar licks in my head, some song ideas that were kicking around, and some chord progressions that sounded cool. I looked forward to working on them each evening and on the weekends. It was great to have something exciting to turn to each day. My music-making got me off the proverbial couch. Much less TV watching, and much less surfing the internet. I was creating, learning, stretching, and experimenting. It was great.
The positive reception has certainly been rewarding. It has also revealed to me that a new interest or hobby has tremendous benefits. It has been great for my psyche and other parts of my life. I no longer feel stuck in a rut. If I contemplate something new that may be outside of my usual routine, I now relish doing it rather than worrying if it would be uncomfortable or frustrating. Sometimes the best things in life are the ones that take a bit of exploring and challenging oneself. Enjoy the adventure!
Thanks again to Andrew as well as Erica from Muddy Paw for the feature!
Listening to Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak tear it up as new duo/band Silk Sonic has reminded me how much more fun we need to be having in music again. Yes we live in hard times and the world isn’t easy, but we also need to have even just moments where we can stop to joke or smile or laugh. Or in the case of .Paak and Mars, sing our hearts out with deliriously retro-hugging joy using their bubbling new LP An Evening With Silk Sonic.
As any music fan will tell you, that often off-kilter crooning can be a very therapeutic, cathartic experience. And this funky, soulful, R&B cruise of a record is gonna give you that good feeling allllll Evening longggg.
The artistic influences on Silk Sonic are plenty and often-referenced, so I’ll skip further detail and say this instead. Bruno and Andy do this shit so well together on An Evening with Silk Sonic it’s like they’ve been at it 20 years. The chemistry and friendship is real through lounge groove (“Leave The Door Open”), beachside Carribbean flow (“Skate”), forbidden-hour get-downs (“After Last Night”), and pure fur-lined swagger (“Fly As Me”).
I’m sure the haters will try to spin Evening as being old school 70’s parody; trying too hard to blend into your grandparent’s furniture like a dated Saturday Night Live sketch. But Mars and .Paak are no lightweights in this field. They didn’t just find period piece equipment, slap on chest hairs and gold chains and wing together an album. Both men are exceptional lyricists and musicians that have assembled a tight band of talents led by bassist Thundercat, jack of all trades D’Mile, and legendary funk master Bootsy Collins.
My only complaint of the whole piece is the best one possible: at 8 songs and an intro An Evening with Silk Sonic is just too damn short. But the resulting music might arguably be the most crisp 30 minutes of an album you’ll hear in all of 2021. There are no bulky moments here, just every second finding a different way to Silk Sonic slap all over this project.
By now, if you only know the group’s wildly popular debut single “Leave The Door Open”, you’re only scratching the surface of this melodic feast.
Summertime in 2021 has felt more than a bit abbreviated, especially with the weight of an unprecedented pandemic at our backs. Now we’re in September and it’s already become easier to see the day’s light ending earlier on as the season begins to mull its inevitable change.
With that gradual alteration of perspective moods begin to sway as well, and not always for the greener side of the fence. I’ve been in and out of that crevasse many times, but regardless of the moment music has always been a salve for those invisible wounds. Especially when I’ve felt the words and the emotions were speaking directly to my state of mind.
I’ve felt that connection with Andrew Ryan’s new, very appropriately-titled single “Autumn Rain”, which comes out on all things digital today. The song vibes perfectly with a feeling of an upbeat smile hiding deeper, lightning-laced storm clouds of weary discontent beneath the airy surface. The track walks a similar path to “Somewhere Only We Know” from Scottish rockers Keane or prime Oasis, and the contrast pays off with great satisfaction.
Ryan’s impeccable knack for mixing and production also sticks out here as it did with his prior single “Never Let Me Know”. The musician is clearly a drummer at heart as every skillful note falls into place as evenly as Tetris tiles, and the layers bear repeat listening to avoid missing the small details (like the piano notes) brought out especially well through headphones.
As I noted the last time I discussed Ryan’s music, “Autumn Rain” fits like instruments to the background of cinema when I imagine the old days of going to hole-in-the-wall rock show venues. We’ll be able to go back regularly (hopefully) someday, but in the meantime its fun to imagine what might be, soon.
In the meanwhile, check out “Autumn Rain” below, and for more on Andrew Ryan’s work be sure to follow his presence across social media!
Andrew Ryan- acoustic guitar, keys, bass guitar, synth, production, and mixing. Will Walden- electric guitar (StaG), Eric Slick- drums (Dr. Dog). Mastered by Jamie Sego at Portside Sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
There’s much to be said for the word identity here on this mid-August night, mid-2020.
I recently dug into my family’s past via genealogy. Yes, despite perhaps many valid fears about entities holding onto your DNA, I was too much a history fanatic to resist the temptation of learning about connections. The detective work involved in crafting a story made up of your own chapters.
I think the urge largely came as a result of escapism. The world has embraced such a shattered fetal position in my 30th year of life, and it’s nice to blink it away for just a moment. Not so much to imagine myself as part of the prior cast in my existence so much as where they lived. What the lands looked like, and what was beautiful then. Away from the sheer mess of these current days.
I’ve been your music writer on and off here a long time, but none of those words have felt appropriate during the COVID pandemic. Especially when many, many people are still sick, many of have lost loved ones, and many weeks news only seems to get more frightening in a place I once felt so safe in when I was younger. And while I do believe in distractions to help ease these type of anxieties, the sentences I form have to be more truth than story. More honest than disguised.
And honestly? As just an average person, I’m unsure of almost everything I see. I look at all leadership gone, regular individuals as close as my neighbors struggling, equal, equitable rights for all still being held back, and I have so many fears. I’m concerned for the creators, the small businesses, regular folks just trying to make a go of things.
Are we being left with a future here? It feels less like it by the day.
Thankfully, music is at my side still despite not writing about it. Run The Jewels, Anderson .Paak, Fantastic Negrito, Kathleen Edwards, and Taylor Swift have all been making appearances as of late, and have new stuff that’s worthy of a listen right this second (go now, I’ll wait).
I’m also almost 3 months in to a likely year-long process of healing from wrist surgery, so typing has become a slower, jittery process while the strength rebuilds over time.
Additionally, I’m trying to use this time to figure out how to rebuild. How to find my identity and how to make it in what the world has become. For now, all I can say that feels right is stay healthy, stay safe, and just be good to each other whenever its possible.
Just a regular guy checking in; signing off for now.
I’ve been missing from the land of the living, here we are now lonely together…
What a difference a few months can make between updates.
Since my last post in late-February, we’ve all had a front row seat for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t had the virus myself and I’m lucky to say it hasn’t hit too closely to those in my personal life, but regardless the ongoing situation has been a difficult one to attempt to process for a multitude of reasons.
There’s of course the anxiety and fear spent on any possibility of getting ill, as well as worrying for those who’ve gotten sick, are on the front lines fighting COVID, or are just struggling to get by. This period of time has also brought to mind that innocence of childhood, where so much more seems simple and safe.
That well-being, if perhaps a bit naive, felt like an impenetrable shield that acted as protection for any evil big or small. Sadly, part of growing up is learning life can’t always play by those unwritten rules, especially where a problem like a virus is concerned.
Issues like that have a way of getting real in a hurry.
But we will survive this. All the written words of thoughts and feelings aside, there will be another side out of which we will emerge again. I don’t know when that will be and there are still more hurdles to cross, but we will overcome and still be here to speak of music’s perfect melody!
I promise you that.
Be well and stay safe everyone. Much love to you all!
With the month of December firmly at our side, it’s time to start thinking about the next stage of the holiday season before we officially wind down 2019. Though for many by this point in time, the perspective has likely evolved from simply “thinking” of the forthcoming festivities. I’m guessing part of the mood has instead escalated to a frightened last minute, “Amazon and shopping list”-fueled, shaky-brandy-fever haze of equal parts perspiration and preparation.
Or… hopefully something a bit less extreme than that description was going for, but you get the idea.
Regardless, this post isn’t meant to reflect on such insignificant, commercialized matters. What I like to focus on instead during this period of time… is the pure aspect of simple joy. Whether the likes of Christmas, Hanukkah or just your own peace of mind acts as your guide, it’s important to snag every good vibe possible while taking the tour. Though it’s okay to be a Grinch too… at least sometimes anyway.
But to go back to that positivity, I can sense a wealth of it bubbling up in musician Rändi Fay and her cover of 90’s holiday tune “Grown-Up Christmas List”. The track’s arrangement is a sugarplum-sweetened send-up to that so-called “most wonderful time of the year”, with the rise and fall of a prime power-pop ballad soaked in a sheen of tinsel-like synths.
Despite the song having an edge that leans on the side of saccharine, Fay never steps over the line into the realm of corny and contrived here. Rather, the track’s sentiment of wishes for peace, love and harmony wear as well on her vocals as a familiar fall sweater. And in a world that can be quite scary in today’s day and age, that’s the kind of comfort we should never take for granted.
Now while we’re exploring this moment of such prominent holiday themes, I thought I would take this moment to turn things over to Rändi herself. She was kind enough to send over her own playlist of Christmas-themed tunes, read on to check ’em out!
Christmas music is so diverse, as is the spirit of Christmas. There are so many moods! And so many songs that I have performed, recorded and really enjoy! For this playlist, I focused on my experience of the season’s undercurrent of quiet love and anticipation. That is my favorite part of the holiday-unambiguous, honest, simple love. Candlelight and faith, sharing time, sharing hearts, or just sharing. I look forward to that all year! I added in a few Christmas songs that I have written-it is no surprise they effortlessly fall into this vein-and the songs that inspired my lyric and message.
Grown-Up Christmas List: Rändi Fay
I chose to record my first cover song in 7 years. If you know this song, the reason why will be obvious. It’s incredible! And eternally apropos. Can we collectively make our planet a more compassionate place by choosing kindness? That is my “Grown-Up Christmas List.”
2. One King: Point of Grace
The idea of four kings is so simple, fresh and beautiful. “One king held the frankincense, one king held the myrrh, one king held the purest gold, one king held the hope of the world…” I recorded this song on my “Noël” CD in 2012 and it is still one of my favorites on that project. Here is the original version by Point of Grace:
3. Some Children See Him: James Taylor
So sweet and true, through the eyes of a child, love is love. My recurring wish…
4. Joy Whispered: Rändi Fay
While writing this song, I tried to capture the vast span of culture present at the birth of Jesus- worldly kings, poor shepherds, heavenly angels all sharing their collective excitement of the birth of a child! But whispering their celebration so as not to wake him…Sweet and simple. Precious. Universal.
5. Merry Christmas Darling: Sitti
Being with the one you love-another Christmas wish. “I wish I were with you.” This is a very strong pull for me in the holiday, and the inspiration for my song “Evergreen.”
6. Song for a Winter’s Night: Gordon Lightfoot
Writing a love letter during a sleepless night through a winter snowfall, cold and dark. How telling is this sentiment: “I read again between the lines upon each page, the words of love you sent me…” Anticipation, heartfelt trust…When writing the lyric for “Evergreen” I wanted to touch at those communication gaps where hope fills in the blanks. And waiting through a storm with faith. You will come home. I recorded this song on my “Noël” CD as well, and it too is one of my favorites.
8. Blow Northern Wind: Midævil Babes
I absolutely love this one-the harmonies and clear tones are bewitching! Another inspiration for the mood and mystery I was hoping for “Evergreen.”
9. Evergreen: Rändi Fay
Haunting and sincere-this song is about waiting and faith and unconditional love. One of my earliest co-writes with my current producer and one of my favorites!
10. Wexford Carol: Libera
A continuation of pure tones, the simplicity of children’s voices, honesty. This whole album is stunning!
11. Mary, Did You Know?: Straight No Chaser
I have performed this song a hundred times and also recorded it for “Noël.” As a mother, it is very dear and near to me. I wonder what Mary knew? How could she possibly have grasped the potential and gravity in this child she just gave birth to? I love the fact that this song was written by a man, and I chose a version performed by men. The mystery is so great, crossing gender and generations. This song inspired “Little Babe.”
12. Little Babe: Rändi Fay
This song was a very powerful one for me to write. It is my attempt to answer the question in “Mary Did You Know?” From a mother’s perspective at the time of Jesus’ birth, I think all she knew was love and protection. How overwhelming those two simple emotions are at their core, when a new child comes into your life. You don’t think beyond it. You just want them safe in your arms forever.
Thank you for the chance to share some of my favorite Christmas and seasonal songs. Here is a link to the entire playlist- I am still populating it! I would love suggestions for some of your a little more obscure favorites!
Output 1:1:1 is a whisper-thin, gossamer industrial Bon Iver/Joy Division-send up of a musical project birthed north of the border in Toronto by artist Daniel Janvier. Output recently put out debut EP “Retroactive Rock Record” in November.
The collection of songs slowly unspools and relates its story as a minor-key claustrophobic, occasionally uncomfortable deep diving riptide. The space it creates as a result resembles the crumpled up-and-down heap of someone’s twist and turned car-spin psyche slowly being pulled under hazy waves of turmoil.
Tunes like “Issues at Track Level” take Janvier’s David Byrne-Morrissey fusioning drone of a croon and metaphorically presses it into the tousled scrapbook pages of something collected by Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich. There’s also just a sprinkle of slightly off-balance Tom Waits thump hollowing out it’s own space in the musical terrain. Yorke’s influence especially feels strong in other tracks like the title song, “Blue Jacket” and “The End Wave”. That’s not just from a vocal standpoint either.
While Janvier’s voice can certainly soar with a light delicacy, it’s the absolute desolation, longing and motivation in the tone of each of his declarations that sell the weight of meaning each track is meant to bestow. Half the battle separating a good vocal performance from a great one is just where the intention comes from.
I can hear a pitch-perfect singer with no soul, or a rugged, gasping ruffian who’s seen the weight of the world on their shoulders and worn it as an overcoat. Similarly, I can behold the words of pure poetry in a set of melodic lyrics, or I can simply be buoyed like a boat on a tempest by someone expressing pure emotion without need to place all the punch behind the words associated.
The latter comes to mind with “Retroactive Rock Record”, which takes its greatest strength from the simple power of feel. The lyrics do their part as well, but let it not be said that the musical artist can’t further color in their palette arrangement by simply mastering the conveyance of tone.
There’s a very strong early rabbit theme to Owen-Glass’ new LP The Rope & The Rabbit. There’s the title of course, but the initial track is called “Rabbit Hole” as well, and it feels very much like the dreamlike fall of Alice at the start of a pre-Wonderland excursion into this album. The pastoral folk strummer of a track begins small and grows into a varied, undulating thing. Like the rise and fall of sleeping breath into rigorous LSD fever-dreams.
How fitting then to be followed by “Here It Comes”, a Beatles Sgt. Pepper-vibing psych-rocker that makes the creatures of this “Wonderland” shuffle-dance together to a wave of Cole Humphrey’s George Harrison guitar lines and Anthony Earl’s hauntingly satisfying sax. This is all while Kelly Wayne Conley’s hushed vocals raggedly dart in and out of the arrangements, equally as capable shining on the gently-traced Springsteen meanderings of “Devil Don’t Mind” as the rugged groove of “Saint”.
Owen-Glass doesn’t hesitate to flex its strong cast of collaborators on The Rope & The Rabbit, or its desire to experiment out into different melodically-inclined avenues. It seems like a fitting decision given how many of these tracks lyrically deal with the vast complexity that is human conflict and emotion. An evocative musical backing just makes connecting to each song’s inner workings that much easier.
“General Butler” has a wry, Afro-Caribbean sway that brings to mind alt-pop outfit Jukebox the Ghost, while “Leave It Alone” is a full-on, moody burner. Meanwhile, “Paper Chains” feels like a jammier b-side off the Dave Matthews Band’s 90’s smash “Under The Table & Dreaming”.
To latch on to the word “jammier” for a moment, I applaud the group for putting out a song like “Paper Chains”. It’s a track almost 6 minutes in length that lets the musicians stretch their chops out a bit and not simply wrap up a theme in three minutes or less. In a world so dominated by digital singles and putting out work a piece at a time, to see those kind of album-focused moves (on multiple songs here) is a refreshing nod to how viable a good LP still is (and will always be).
Closing track “The Rope” returns to the humbly simple beginnings of the record as it mixes together dusty folk-rock with hints of something almost… chamber pop Parisian. The Rope & The Rabbit is content to keep the listener from just that, being content. Getting comfortable with good music and getting too boringly acclimated with what you’re hearing are two different things, and the latter usually lie forgotten after a time. Not so with Owen-Glass or this album, which offers the kind of intriguing variation to keep me going back to the start of “Rabbit Hole” to begin the journey again.
Check out more on the group and order the album on owen-glass.com!
I love when its time to write reviews about up and coming talent in the music world. I’ve never asked around to get an opinion, but I’ve always been on the fence about whether to write about whatever music I’m listening to (popular or not), or to purely focus on that independent landscape. There isn’t exactly a binding contract stopping me from both I suppose. But, I enjoy it just a bit more when I get to try in-my-tiny-little-blog way to help someone get their art out there by using my own form of creation. So with that being said, let’s talk…. Diamondfruit.
James Collector and Nick Hess are the San Francisco-based musical outfit Host Bodies, and together with Ryan Kleeman and Count Eldridge have created a new EP called (as you may have guessed) Diamondfruit. It’s an entirely instrumental creation, which isn’t a style I immerse myself in as often as I should. This was a nice way to be reintroduced. Music without words can speak just as loudly as a set of lyrics if the creators assemble it properly. Diamondfruit paints the scenery of its seven tracks with easily nimble fingers that leave plenty of room for the crafting of the melody.
“Stories” is a ghostly, woozy sway of an opening track that quickly sets a mellow mood with a Portlandia-sounding intention that slowly twists shape. Guitars fade in and out and grow and diminish with a relaxing hypnotism that doesn’t evoke sleep so much as… satisfying balance. The moment they start to drift in on the back of an organic acoustic arpeggio brings the space of this track just a little bit closer to Earth.
“Wildcat Beach” meanwhile returns more to the electronics of the constellations as it feels like the scene implied in the title, standing in the white dunes staring at the expanse of an infinite universe above. Guitar and drum kick in another layer to the party and spiral out with thematic elegance before spinning left into the ukulele strings and jittery zip of “One Under Won Over”. The pace and tempo of Diamondfruit never seeks to break the speed limit, but here you’ll go farther riding with the groove than speeding to the finish line.
The first line of a description for Diamondfruit calls it “a dreamy electronic EP that finds calm and clarity amid hectic times”. I quote that line because by the time “A Humble Student” and “Outro” roll around and hit the final fade, it feels like there’s just a little bit less stress in the world. Fewer harsh vibrations and more reminders of the truth to power earnest, thoughtful music can bring.
For more on the band visit hostbodies.com, and to listen to Diamondfruit for yourself, click here.