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.
Eliza and the Organix is, to quote their website, “a funky female-fronted rock band based in Brooklyn centered around the songwriting of vocalist and guitarist Eliza Waldman”. And today marks the release date of their new music video for the song “Road Home”, which you can take a peek at down below.
The very first thing that draws my interest in this music video is the slap of the car’s wiper blades in the opening scene. A minor detail in the scheme of things, but the that initial, almost metronome-like groove acts like a neat little slide into the ear-worming drum rhythm that buoys this song forward. “Road Home” is a tight, fun bounce of a single that uses plenty of synonyms from the funk handbook. That guiding beat’s soon paired with a slinking guitar line, Waldman’s bluesy vocal, and a pacing horn backdrop that altogether bends the line between jazz and punkish Pavement rock-pogo. This fluctuating tempo creates a layer of tension well-illustrated by the music video, in which our main character (played by Waldman herself) is on the run from deer/panda-headed representations of… time’s ceaseless pursuit? The anxiety of life’s constant obligations? Some combo of both perhaps?
A very serious set of questions to consider. The ending in either case represents inevitability. “I don’t know the road you’re on, I don’t know how much time is gone, how much remains?”, Waldman croons in a well-honed echo of the quiet desperation we have for one of existence’s biggest questions.
But this song doesn’t just spend time mired in its thoughts. If anything it considers those philosophies and decides to greet them with a sly smile and the timeless joy and abandon trademarked in the shape of rock and roll.
Both a song and a video worth keeping in your playlist!
Because really, do they ever get the respect they so justly deserve?
Maybe people are just jealous of the hair. The need for this dedication comes courtesy of two sources.
1: This writer’s ongoing obsession with the music of Anderson .Paak (see previous post, RE: The Reasons Behind That)
As you may or may not know, this video of 8-year old Japanese drumming prodigy Yoyoka Soma replicating John Bonham’s (extremely difficult) drumming on Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” recently went viral. Now watch this video because the interest is SO well-deserved!
I don’t say that easily either.
You see, I’m one of those Grinch types that can’t get onboard with kid musical performances. And I don’t mean the 8th grade high school talent show variety, more like the “see this crazy gifted 10-year old on major network television” kind. I applaud them for what they’ve done… I’m just not likely to watch.
But let’s not dwell on that, and instead talk about this video. I’m not a drummer so forgive the lack of any technical knowledge in describing this, but suffice to say this kid has chops. Her foot can barely reach the kick drum pedal, yet she’s already acing the patterns of one of rock’s more technical drummers. If you’ve seen the video already, just go back and watch it for that kick drum impressiveness alone.
In 8 years I was lucky if I had complete mastery of the alphabet (spoiler alert: still a work in progress), let alone nailing the percussion to one of rock’s more classic songs. Right down to the opening cowbell flourish people. Somewhere, Christopher Walken is very happy. And still likely as weird as ever, according to Captain Obvious.
So all hail the sick drumming skills of Yoyoka Soma, as well as all the young, very talented musicians who may or may not be “crazy gifted on network television”. Ya’ll are doing fine work, and despite this Grinch’s worse ways, you are the coolest.
As we sit upon the cusp of a week just starting to peek its wayward head above the horizon, my music-worshipping brain has decided to ship a few (newer) musical selections your way to help make the days more bearable. Those commuter treks don’t just soundtrack themselves after all.
Brandi Carlile, By The Way, I Forgive You
First #realtalk moment of 2018: I was clearly napping at the wheel to not have seen how amazing Brandi Carlile has become as an all-around musician. Not that she was any slouch when her album The Story made waves in 2007, but while some might call that period of time a popularity “peak”, Carlile’s had other plans in mind. BTWIFY captures her hitting all the right notes, with tracks like “The Joke”, “Party of One”, “Hold Out Your Hand” and “Sugartooth” leading a list of music that could rank #1 for the year when all the votes are cast.
Leon Bridges, Good Thing
There seems to have been some initial objection to Leon Bridges shifting to a more shine ‘n’ buffed production veneer on his latest LP Good Thing, but chalk it up to typical fan resistance to change: Bridges works this direction well. Not every track lands, but the album is still a well-crafted relationship of modern hooky textures (“Bad Bad News”, “Shy”) with plenty of endearing throwback (“Beyond”, “Shy”, “Georgia to Texas”). I don’t recommend getting through a few listens of this album unless you plan on having a good portion of it stuck in your head by the end.
Brent Cobb, Providence Canyon
Brent Cobb may have only just dropped 2nd LP Providence Canyon last week, but upon first listen he doesn’t seem to have missed a beat (or chapter) between now and debut record Shine On Rainy Day. Cobb has the same given knack for blue collar, salt of the earth storytelling as classic country artists like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, without wasting time on any of the tropes dragging down the modern version of the genre. Another fine installment of folk-rock finery here.
Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness, “Ohio (Single)”
Now, for the final entry in this quick list of weekly musical choices, I’ve selected Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness and his new single“Ohio”. I was first exposed to McMahon when his track “Cecilia and the Satellite” was a consistent figure for radio airplay, and I could see “Ohio” ultimately being on a similar trajectory. It doesn’t hurt that musician Butch Walker’s onboard as producer, which always gets my Spidey senses tingling after Walker’s work with the likes of Brian Fallon. Either way, a bit of piano, a lot of nostalgic heart, and a few hooks for the road propels “Ohio” to the good listening list this week.
Now, get out there, enjoy your week, and make sure to bring the music!
When I was first introduced to Stephen Babcock through his prior record Said & Done, I could sense his developing potential. The kind of young musician beginning to reach out and establish himself as he found the basis of his sound and where it might possibly stake his career.
Said & Done felt like the initial foundation of that structure, built on charming acoustic-laden fixtures. Now, Babcock’s new release Fiction feels as though the walls of that metaphor are starting to build up and take on a greater shape. Not that it isn’t without its fair share of familiar moments.
The folky Dawes send-up of album opener “Atlanta” and folk-rock of “Seersucker Dress” could certainly slot in easily alongside tracks from Said & Done. I think the major difference for Babcock on this album though, is more experience. As with any talent, getting to constantly learn, hone and repeat your art is always the best medicine. And you hear those results both in the familiar, speedway-chugging, Paul Simon wit of “Atlanta”, as well as the real left turns that start coming in with tracks like “Darlin” and “Good Things”. The first gets off the ground on the wheels of a boisterously racing Hank Williams-style hoedown, while the other is a smoky, organ-accented blues take that rewards Babcock handsomely for reaching outside the box.
In fact, “Good Things” final, guitar-searing crescendo may be the most head-turning moment of the whole record. Its the kind of hallmark standout that takes a good song and makes it great, while hinting at greater vision along with it.
Closer “5A” settles back into what Babcock does best without ringing of repetition or ground retread. If the first four tracks of Fiction weren’t enough to have you at least humming a chorus or harmony the first listen in, the earworming lines of “5A” will handle the rest.
Now ordinarily this would be the line where I’d riff a closing pun about how Babcock’s talent is no Fiction, but since I already did it in the title suffice it say: put this album in your summer playlist. You’re gonna have fun.
Find Stephen online at stephenbabcockmusic.com, on Spotify, and where good social media is sold!