I’ve spent the last few days attempting to gather my thoughts on an event that’s seemed to pull at the entire world’s consciousness in an unparalleled way.
So, if I’m a bit long winded in the paragraphs to come, I apologize.
I remember being 6 years old when I saw a vinyl record player for the first time. Back in those days, mostly everything was on cassette in my house, so it was a big deal to hook up the turntable. Even then, I remember thinking that this was close to an elaborate ritual. I thought, whatever records were, they were important and I would be in for something huge. My mom then brought out a large box from the close and thumbed through the albums inside, until she came to a sudden halt. She smiled.
She pulled one out from the catalog of worn discs, and there was a picture of a man in a white suit on it. The background was black.
“Thriller” was spelled in cursive across the front.
At 6, I didn’t know much about music at all. I was more concerned with Batman and how to avoid cooties. But I still remember that hot afternoon quite vividly, simply because I knew the beats and the melodies that flushed my ears were something incredible, even at 6 years old. All I know is that at 6 years old, I’d been thrilled.
This was what music was supposed to sound like.
Flash forward to high school.
We didn’t always have cable in my house, but when I started high school we got a basic hook-up. Things like MTV and VH1 blew my mind, and back in those days I remember VH1 used to run this special called “Michael Jackson’s Most Memorable TV Moments.” The documentary wasn’t anything fancy, but it went through Jackson’s 4 decade career with concert performances, music videos, and newscasts covering his public scandals.
The more I watched the special, the more Jackson intrigued me.
The documentary showed a great deal about Jackson’s life. The interesting thing is that despite everything that happened to him, Michael Jackson existed as the perfect pop-star. The crowds at his concerts worshiped him like Jesus Christ. His private life was eccentric and terrifying. He’s experienced both the highest highs and the lowest lows. Simply put, it showed Michael Jackson as the apex of stardom, as well as the good, bad, and ugly that came along with it.
I remember thinking that everything this man touched was legendary.
That’s the legacy he’s left behind.
Whether or not you believe this man has done some awful or bizarre things, Michael Jackson is something of anomaly that this planet will never see again. From his unusually high timbre, to his record selling albums, to his highly innovative and disciplined choreography, Michael Jackson ensured that every creative and commercial move he made was recognizable as his own.
The white socks. The black hat. The single glove.
Fans are quick to point out what a revolutionary album Thriller was. It's got some great tracks that defined the 80s, "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Thiller," but I’ve always preferred Jackson’s 1991 effort, Dangerous. For me, I think it’s the album that encapsulates Jackson’s persona best. While Thriller had massive commercial appeal, Dangerous exuded a perfect musical balance. The uptempo songs were angular and heavy, borrowing from metal, dance, and R&B, while the ballads were tremendous orchestral statements, as big as the ideas he was wrestling with.
No artist in recent memory has displayed this level of sonic diversity.
Jackson’s musical tension and genre bending truly made Dangerous his piece de résistance, and its title also seems to perfectly sum up his life. Reckless, risky, and unsafe, Michael Jackson WAS dangerous, and the high standard that was set for him ultimately destroyed him.
Thankfully, it seems that the media has been handling his passing with the grace and dignity they’ve refused to give him since 1995. Jackson’s being judged on the quality of his work, and given how sketchy his public scandals have been, it’s the only thing people can truly hold him accountable for. Suffice to say, the world will never see an entertainer whose image and creations have left such an indelible mark on the world’s pop-culture psyche.
The King Of Pop is gone, but his memory will live on indefinitely.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
I’ve spent the last few days attempting to gather my thoughts on an event that’s seemed to pull at the entire world’s consciousness in an unparalleled way.
Friday, June 19, 2009
The whole music piracy debate is as old as the year 2000, but this new case with Jammie Thomas-Rasset is perhaps the meanest the RIAA has been in a good long while.
A mother of four, Thomas-Rasset has been found guilty of violating copy right laws on 24 songs she allegedly shared on the Kazaa file sharing network. The recording companies are asking for $1.92 million and really being vicious about it, espeically considering they can't prove Thomas-Rasset herself shared the files, only that someone using her computer did.
Whatever your specific stance on piracy is, this case should be unsettling for a few reasons. For one, shouldn't the punishment fit the crime? Even if Thomas-Rasset is responsible for sharing these files (Not even downloading the material in question, just seeding it), I doubt she caused $1.92 million worth of damages to these labels and these artists. Perhaps this is my naive 21 year old self, but there is a huge incongruity between the level of harm the crime has done and the severity of its punishment.
This might be an issue more closely aligned with our justice system, but it still boils down to the basic question: How does a big company suing a Minnesota mom for millions really stop anyone from pirating copyright protected material?
The short answer is that it doesn't. Internet users have shown that frivolous lawsuits such as this one push music pirates to find other ways to circumvent the law. Whether it's torrents, music forums, or abusing Mega Upload it's clear that hammering the consumer (The people that you want to buy the darn CDs in the first place) isn't going to help end music piracy.
I wrote a paper last year for my ethics class and I ended it by basically saying the RIAA is going about this the wrong way. Piracy is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. An album should not cost $20, and the fact that the price is so inflated is the big reason why people a pirating in the first place. There needs to be compromise on the part of the record label as well as the consumer to find a happy medium for affordable music and fair profit, rather than companies lashing out at the people that end up supporting them.
Ultimately, it comes down to common sense: Lawsuits over music aren't going make consumers want to buy it.
Oh, and using Kazaa is clearly a bad idea. Duh.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Try as I might, I could not give New Again the additional ½ star I originally wanted to.
Now this is coming from someone that’s loved everything Taking Back Sunday has put out, someone that believes Tell All Your Friends is a landmark album of the 2000s, and someone that loves the strides they took musically on their last two records. But I suppose things change, and after two stellar albums with guitarist Fred Mascherino, Taking Back Sunday has returned with a new guitarist (Matt Fazzi), a new approach to their song writing, and a new sound with New Again.
Suffice to say, there is a great deal to get used to as a Taking Back Sunday fan.
Forgetting for a second that this band has been a revolving door of musicians since John Nolan’s departure a few years ago, this is the first time that a line up change has left such a dramatic impact on the band’s overall sound. While Taking Back Sunday experimented with stadium rock grandeur on 2006’s Louder Now, New Again tries incredibly hard to be a big sounding rock record.
From the snappy handclaps and chunky riffing on “Sink Into Me” to the pulsing bass work on the album’s title track, it’s clear that every melody line has been written to grab the listener, written to be slick and stick in your head. Unfortunately, this sacrifices some of the band’s uniqueness, dispensing their normally exciting buzz saw time changes that turn on a dime.
So in short, Taking Back Sunday try very hard to impress their listeners and it results in a set of songs that don’t always feel natural. The instrumentation is tight though, Mark O’Connell’s drumming fluttering and precise, Matt Rubano’s bass warm and fuzzy. Hell, Fazzi is a fine guitarist in his own right, exercising his fluid chops on cuts like the embittered “Everything Must Go,” but the band sorely misses Mascherino’s pop sensibilities.
While nothing on New Again is blatantly awful, a majority of these tracks come off like Louder Now b-sides: Fun and entertaining, but missing a certain something that prevents them from becoming truly memorable.
However, the songs that do end up standing out are the ones that seem to have the most musical tension in them, the ones with the natural build-ups and big crescendos. “Summer, Man” begins with a loopy guitar melody that explodes into a propulsive riff-work out, one that perfectly compliments Adam Lazzara’s rock star croon of “So go prove to the world/Well you've already proved/That you just couldn't do on your own…” Elsewhere, cuts like the driving “Capital M-E” and the U2 inspired ballad “Where My Mouth Is” display the bands new found versatility and musical range, but don’t always hit the mark lyrically.
This is a big problem with New Again and for the band itself.
In the past, Taking Back Sunday has ridden Lazzara’s snarky lyrics to really leave a mark, but New Again is the first time where the front man’s tongue has been hit or miss. For every “I was a tower and you were an airplane/We happened before we knew/What was happening…” as found on “Carpathia” there are clunkers such as “Cut Me Up Jenny’s,” “So cut me up, Jenny/Well, cut me up gently…” Lazzara loves tounge-in-cheek metaphors, but when every line HAS to be a one liner, and a hooky one at that, the result is tedious
But bar none, the hardest thing to get used to on New Again is how the band has simply dropped their duel vocal interplay.
This was a staple carried over from Nolan’s time, and Mascherino paid homage to it with his two albums with the group. Now, however, Taking Back Sunday has opted to have Lazzara lead their songs and supplement him with backing Beach Boy harmonies that make the group sound far too modern rock and far too tame. While this might seem like a minor criticism, the back and forth between Lazzara and whom ever the second guitarist was added a surprising amount energy and danger to their tracks. Now, it’s as if the group has to either play twice as fast or write a ballad twice as saccharine to do the trick.
Ultimately, New Again displays a group that’s aiming to be some sort of merchant of cool, but falls short where the group used to soar. While the record itself is easy to digest, the aggravating part is that New Again could have been more than just a record that sounded good. Sadly, the tracks here are so enamored with being fresh and new, that they don’t seem to stick with listeners the same way Taking Back Sunday’s old material does.
Hopefully in the future, the band will realize that new/clever doesn’t always mean better.
Sounds Like: There Is Nothing Left To Lose (Foo Fighters), Action (Punchline), Weezer (The Green Album) (Weezer)
Key Cuts: Summer, Man, Where My Mouth Is, Capital M-E
Click on the artwork to sample some of New Again for yourself!
Sunday, June 14, 2009
It’s suddenly that time of year again, where the days are long and the nights are short. The smell of Banana Boat seems to fill the air, and people are sporting their aviators on the long drive to the beach, top down and wind in their hair. As such, the summer deserves a spectacular soundtrack to commemorate the mountains of BBQ and tanning that will ensue. Here's 5 albums to mark the occasion with.
20 Good Vibrations: The Greatest Hits- The Beach Boys
It would be inappropriate to exclude the Beach boys from any list dealing with the summer, so they proudly kick off this one. While they’ve got truckloads of classic tracks scattered across their discography, 20 Good Vibrations: The Greatest Hits is a lean and concise representation of their very best. Cuts like the wistful “Surfer Girl” with its swaying harmonies and warm bass really seems to embody those endless nights looking out at the lapping tide. Elsewhere, the rickety thump of “California Girls” conjures images of swimsuit clad ladies and island paradises. And as the sun sets on your beach adventures, doesn’t it make sense to have Brian Wilson and Co. holding down the tunes?
Key Cuts: Surfer Girl, I Get Around, California Girls
40 Oz. To Freedom- Sublime
While it might be one of the landmark albums in stoner culture, that doesn’t mean 40 Oz. To Freedom can’t be enjoyed sober. In fact, part of the reason it appeals to that specific crowd is because of how laid back the songs come across. Deftly blending everything from reggae to punk, ska, and hip-hop, Sublime marches through 22 tracks about enjoying the lazy days of summer, as well as capturing the restlessness of Southern California. “Waiting For My Ruca” starts off with a rather deep and hypnotic drum beat while Bradley Nowell’s nimble voice holds it all together with crafty hooks and smooth singing. Additionally, “Badfish” is a tender love song that’s augmented with rich surf rock tones and sugary upstroked guitar. Ultimately, with an album this relaxing, it’ll grant your summer some freedom in no time at all.
Key Cuts: Waiting For My Ruca, Smoke Two Joints, Badfish
Californication- The Red Hot Chili Peppers
Is there any other place in the world that seems to embody the season more that California? In that sense, it only makes sense that the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Californication makes it onto our list. But aside from its namesake, the music found on Californication certainly embodies the spirit of the season with its fuzzy bass work and syrupy lead guitar. This is an album made for road trips, from the rumbling and tension filled “Parallel Universe” to the somber and expansive “Scar Tissue.” With unflinching honestly, the Chilis remind listeners not only of the best parts of the season, but of how the experiences seem to linger with us long after summer has past. Like sun baked baseball caps and clearly defined tan lines, Californication reminds listeners that some things about summer run deeper than mere photographs can capture, and that’s the record’s real beauty.
Key Cuts: Parallel Universe, Scar Tissue, Otherside
Everything In Transit- Jack’s Mannequin
Continuing with the California theme, Everything In Transit seems to be Jack’s Mannequin’s (And pianist/songwriter Andrew McMahon’s) open valentine to everything Southern Californian and beach-related. With descending piano and drifting guitar, “Holiday From Real” treats us to the sights and sounds of Venice Beach as well as McMahon’s fascination with capturing perfect moments in musical snapshots. Lyrically, McMahon is enamored with finding personal oases in the Californian sun while the whole world seems to tighten around him. If that sounds like a bummer, it isn’t. The record’s rich harmonies and upbeat hooks keep the songs hopeful, alongside the message. The real stand out is the synthesizer soaked power-pop of “Miss Delaney,” McMahon’s story of a girl who keeps him waiting in all the wrong ways. If “the-one-that-got-away” isn’t filled with summer nostalgia, nothing is.
Key Cuts: Holiday From Real, I’m Ready, Miss Delaney
Weezer (The Green Album)- Weezer
So this is it, the perfect epitome of the summer sound. Weezer’s second self-titled album is everything that makes up the season and thensome. For one, it sounds HUGE with deep drums and crunchy, but melodic, power-pop earmarking all of songs. Additionally, Rivers Cuomo seems preoccupied with love and memories, the stuff that summer is made of. So with confident rock swagger, Weezer marches through ten tight tracks that are tailor made to blast at full volume on your stereo. Most know the quaint acoustic charm of “Island In The Sun,” but the album’s hidden gem is the driving “Simple Pages.” Here, Cuomo reminiscences about his perfect crush with romantic images of radio hooks and huge guitars. It’s fitting, for Cuomo crafts the same sort of album he idolizes, an album that sounds big but feels intimate. In the end, he captures the spirit of the season with Weezer (The Green Album), making an album that feels endless even if its 30 minute running time makes it seem like a glowing memory.
Key Cuts: Photograph, Island In The Sun, Simple Pages
Author's Note: This is the last piece I wrote for for MIX IT UP Magazine, my internship site over the past year. What's posted on this blog is the unedited version, so check out MIX IT UP's website for the online/print version.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
I know I’ve promised you fine people entries, so to keep up my end of the bargain I’m going to get caught up with this one. Post-graduation has been rough on my time with the job hunting and the unpacking, but I appreciate that you guys stick with me throughout my absentmindedness. So, let me get the ball rolling with a wonderful gift someone gave me as well as some small tidbits about two 5 star albums that have been out for a while, but still deserve praise and mention here.
First off, take a gander at this:
This lyrics booklet for Jack’s Mannequin’s The Glass Passenger was signed by one of my favorite artists currently making music, Andrew “Cancer Can Suck It” McMahon. I’ve been a huge follower of McMahon’s work ever since my friend Paulina lent me Something Corporate’s Leaving Through The Window way back in high school, and receiving this made me all giddy and weak in the knees. Suffice to say, the fact that this gifted pianist touched these pieces of paper is astounding.
An incredible amount of thanks goes out to my good friend Steven for not only handing me this great piece of fandom, but also getting McMahon to sign it. We were supposed to see Jack’s last fall at Slims and obligations at the newspaper kept me from joining him. The fact that he thought enough to get this for me was incredibly nice of him, and I'm eternally grateful. Thanks buddy!
With that said, let’s talk about some 5 star albums that I can’t get ENOUGH of.
Swoon- Silversun Pickups
I was a latecomer to the whole Silversun Pickups craze. Yeah, I jumped onto the bandwagon with “Lazy Eye,” but Carnavas always left me wanting something more from the band. I loved Chris Guanlao’s propulsive drumming, Nikki Monninger’s watery bass work, and Brian Aubert’s androgynous vocals, but the songs seemed very bare bones for the types of musical swells they were going for. So it’s on Swoon that the LA four piece seems to have read my mind and corrected the issue. With their use of crunchy-meets-ethereal guitar fuzz and striking strings, the Silversun Pickups put out a record that feels one part space opera and part shoegazer fantasy. From the droning rhythms of “It’s Nice To Know You Work Alone” to the tense heights of the string laden “Catch & Release,” it’s clear that Swoon is a record that’s diverse, while the band continues to refine the song craft qualities that won them fans with Carnavas. Elsewhere, the stratospheric digital overdrive of “There’s No Secrets This Year” proves the band can still rock with the speakers set at 11, just a bit more tempered this time around. All in all, this is a record that Silversun fans will, appropriately, swoon over.
Mean Everything To Nothing- Manchester Orchestra
Mean Everything To Nothing is, quite simply, Manchester Orchestra’s Pinkerton. If that attribution seems overzealous, it isn’t. Much like Weezer’s love-it-or-leave it opus, Mean Everything To Nothing comes on the coattails of a cult favorite (I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child), is darker that its predecessor, and finds lead singer Andy Hull expelling his demons in an almost confessional-like fashion. Yet it’s the music really that really shines as Manchester Orchestra creates arrangements that are more dynamic and more confident than the ones found on their debut. From the stompy workout of “Pride” to the southern rock infused power pop of “The Only One,” Manchester Orchestra balances clean tones with warm rusty riffs. It comes together effortlessly, the songs building from swirling atmospherics to choppy, and thrilling climaxes. But the real star is Hull with his schizophrenic vocal delivery. His versatility is astonishing to hear as he pushes his voice to it’s raspy edges on “I’ve Got Friends” while saving enough smoothness for ballads like “I Can Feel A Hot One.” Ultimately, these qualities contribute to an album that has teeth, a record that balances the hooks with the soul searching. Hopefully, people will realize how much an album like this one, should truly mean to them.
So loyal readers, consider me caught up. Stay tuned for my last contribution to MIX IT UP Magazine and my review of Taking Back Sunday’s New Again in the coming week.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
It’s a rare thing to find music artists that are focused on their song craft rather than the trappings that fame yields, but Marc Walloch is just that type of man.
Making a name for himself as the guitarist for Company Of Thieves, Walloch is currently touring on the group’s debut record “Ordinary Riches” alongside vocalist Genevieve Schatz and drummer Mike Ortiz. Determined to represent a song set that he and his band mates are proud of, Walloch was kind enough to speak to MIX IT UP Magazine about the group’s song writing, line-up changes, and the drive that pushes them to create the best music they possibly can.
The first things I noticed is that you guys had started out as a four piece. Could you shed some light on the circumstances revolving around Dorian Duffy’s departure?
Well basically, Genevieve, Mike, Dorian and I met a long time ago and we’ve all changed a lot since then. Ultimately, it came down to who would be a good fit for us as a group. However, it’s been really hectic finding a solid line-up. We’ve gone though about 4 or 5 line-up changes looking for personalities that compliment our group. Right now, we’re beginning to realize what will make us more comfortable as a core and we can’t rush that.
One of the things that stood out for me when listening to “Ordinary Riches” is how well you guys gel as a musical unit. How do you ensure each member has their own musical personality in these songs?
It really works itself out on its own. I think it helps that we as a band share similar music tastes, and sometimes either Genevieve or Mike will bring some music that we all really seem to like. I think what’s great is that it never feels forced, for us that just happens.
How did you settle on the album title “Ordinary Riches?”
It was very last minute but I think a lot of it had to do with what this record says about us. We really believed in these songs from the start. For us, people needed to hear these songs from where we wanted to be as artists. The actual title itself is a portion of an Oscar Wilde quote, “Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” I think we felt these songs said that about us and that nobody can take our passion away.
What’s your song writing process like?
It’s always changing into something different; however, when we wrote the songs on “Ordinary Riches” we wrote them as a group of friends. I don’t think we really see ourselves as singer/songwriters. When we work together, it’s like combining all these different puzzle pieces together, but there’s not a specific system we use. I wrote most of the musical ideas on “Ordinary Riches” and Genevieve wrote the lyrics, but we all sort of came together in the right way. Now I’ll write something and show it to the group or Genevieve will do the same and we’ll just jam on it, but it’s always changing.
Are you as a group aware of your musical influences when you’re writing, or is it something that you look back on afterwards and say, “Wow, this sounds like _______?”
I think we’re aware of our influences from artists like The Beatles, Radiohead, or Wilco, but they just sort of “show up” in our songs. Every once in a while, I’ll hear a particular part in a song and say to myself, “Oh, I want to try something like that,” but that’s about it.
Right now Company Of Thieves is probably most well-known for winning the 2007 New York Songwriters Circle Contest for “Oscar Wilde.” What do you think that means for your band at this point in your career?
I think we’re incredibly proud of everything we’ve accomplished before we signed to a label and something like this is only reaffirms that. We actually didn’t enter the contest ourselves; I think a friend of ours submitted it. It all kind of worked out, lyrically it’s one of our favorites and we flew out to New York to play it acoustically and all of a sudden we’d won. I think it gives us faith in what we’re doing, and winning something like this when we haven’t been around too long feels really good.
How have you guys been adjusting to life on the road?
We’ve been touring since Feb. 1 and we’ll probably be on the road for about 2 months. Then we’ll be doing some radio promo stuff in April and we’re eyeing a summer tour as well. Honestly though, it’s not as if it’s been a huge shock to us. We’ve been doing these short, weekend gigs for about a year and a half now so that’s definitely eased us into doing lots of traveling. Sure, it can get exhausting sometimes, and we don’t have as much time to write songs, but that’s probably the worst of it. Right now, we’re just having fun getting in touch with our fans.
What’s your favorite song from “Ordinary Riches” to perform live?
That tends to change all the time, but if I had to pick I think I’d say “Old Letters.” Yet more often than not, I get excited to play very specific parts of songs. It just depends on the dynamics, sometimes I’ll get a strong emotional connection out of one song and a completely different one on the next day.
As performers, is there anything that you do to make sure you’re ready for a concert? Any pre-show rituals?
[Chuckles] No, not really. It’s pretty easy for us to get into the performing mind-set. Normally, we’ve been in a van all day long and we look to our 30 minutes to unleash all that pent up energy. We just try to chill out and relax before that show, maybe have a drink or something.
Seeing how you guys are artists, I’m sure you keep up with what other people are doing in the musical world. What are some things you’re currently listening to?
Well seeing how we’re out on tour, it’s like everyone takes turns putting their iPods on so we go through a lot of different music when we’re traveling. Still, I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of Pedro The Lion and the new Bon Iver E.P. Oh, and Radiohead, Mike actually got their 2003 set live from Glastonbury so we’ve been listening to that quite a bit lately.
How does it feel to make a living playing music like your idols are able to?
We’re incredibly thankful, and I’m pretty sure we think that everyday. 10 years ago, we were just a group of people that dreamed about this kind of stuff. Now, that we’re at this other level and I think we’re pretty conscious of how much of a privilege it is to play music. In a way, it’s almost like we have to live up to this opportunity.
You guys mentioned on your website that these are “scary times” in the world, especially considering the state of the economy. Do you have an advice for those just starting out in the music industry?
When talking about the economy, I think it’s clear that this is a stressful time for everyone. I know friends of mine that are just getting out of college and everyone’s pretty panicked. However, I’d say the big thing is to keep at it. You can come close to things most of the time, but you can’t give up when it gets hard. People that are young right now can get away with being on the poorer side of things because they don’t have a family right now, and now’s the time to take advantage of that freedom. I think what’s important is that you’ve got to live life on your terms, and if you never attempt something, you’ll never know if you can accomplish it.
Author's Note: This is an Interview I did with Marc for MIX IT UP Magazine, my internship site over the past year. What's posted on this blog is the unedited version, so check out MIX IT UP's website for the online/print version. Special thanks to Steve Karas at Wind Up Records for setting up the phone interview and to Marc for being such a cool guy to talk to.