Music

This is a Nightmare: Being a ‘Brand New’ Fan in 2016

Rock band Brand New’s infrequent musical output has frustrated fans to no end.

It’s been seven years since Daisy. Ten since Devil and God.

(Let that sink in).

Like an overlapping harmony, longtime Brand New fans lovingly obsess and revoltingly resent the Long Island quartet. I do too. There’s the waiting for new material, there are the mixed messages via merchandise, there is the complete and utter lack of communication (except for, of course, when they have something repurposed to sell).

It’s not uncommon for bands to keep private before releasing new music. The problem is that Brand New dangles the idea of new music in front their fans, but then never delivers. Playing coy for the sake of building interest is one thing. Lying to fans is another thing altogether.

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Brand New is basically the deadbeat dad who missed our birthday party. Seven years in a row.

We forgive them because we love them and we can’t help it.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget— with our insatiable Brand New appetites — that there actually is new Brand New music out there. No full album but singles, live tracks, mastered and reworked demos have all surfaced, both officially and unofficially, over the last couple years. (more…)

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Album Review: Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

You’re sitting on the coastline of a small, uninhabited island in the middle of the South Pacific. Sand burrows in the creases of your eyes and the corners of your cracked lips. The wind smells of birds. Behind you lie the remains of a small, wooden lifeboat — splintered and upside down; the oar rests upon your lap. An empty 7-UP can visits your feet, rolling up, rolling down, pushed in by the tide and retreating back with it. In the distance is a storm and you wait for its slow arrival, like a train approaching. You smile because you know there is hope in its dark clouds.

This is what it’s like listening to Kevin Morby’s powerful new record, Singing Saw. Put another, perhaps simpler way: it’s good, okay? Really, really good.

The type of good that resonates in the chest and reverberates in the blood. The type of good that sends you searching. The type of good that strands you on an island in the South Pacific.

Before establishing his minimalist and intimate song signature, Kevin Morby first navigated through the busy streets of Los Angeles’ indie music scene (The Babies, Woods). I’m not sure when I first heard the guy, to be honest, but the singer-songwriter’s sophomore album, Still Life, made my 2014 Best-Of List (the song “All of my Life” remains one of my favorite tunes).

Today, Morby has sharpened his sound — Millennial folk to the beat of Beck’s Sea Change and with the drawl of early Dylan. Not to say there isn’t energy lurking behind them calm waves. The first single from Singing Saw, “I Have Been to the Mountain,” punches in with bass, drums, horns, strings, a gospel choir and a guitar effect that can only be described as 1960’s sci-fi. The song is basically a Tarantino film, or say, a Bloody Mary on a sultry day. Recently, it landed on a Pitchfork summer festival mixtape (on the much-coveted leadoff spot of number one). (more…)

Story Behind the Setlist: The Swell Season — April 2008, Oakland, CA

My fondest memories revolve around live music.

That statement may mean nothing to you, but to me, it’s everything. See, my memory is not what it used to be. (Of course, how would I know?)

Maybe my memory was always lousy. Maybe I didn’t eat enough pistachios as a kid. I’m not trying to be melodramatic; I don’t think there’s anything medical going on. The truth is that my friends will reminisce, or my wife will remind me of some place we visited a few years back. I will eventually recall, but the memories must be coaxed, primed. It’s like turning a page in a novel with two pages stuck together: I just need a minute to get them unstuck.

But music? Now that’s something my memory can get behind!

SIDE NOTE: My theory is that since everyone around me has always had amazing memories, I never felt it necessary to encode much to long-term. I saved this brain power for much more important things, like charming women and learning guitar.

Concerning concerts, I can tell you who I’ve seen, how many times I’ve seen ‘em, and which song stuck out the most. I can hack any musical memory and transport myself back to the venue, where all of a sudden I’m wearing the moody, black emo-clothing of my high school years, and I’m praying to God that the drunk stranger standing next to me will stop singing so damn loud.

Fair warning: they say every time you access a memory, you alter it. With great trepidation, then, I’m going to go ahead and access a memory for you — a really, really fond memory, one of my favorites — knowing that I might wreck it in the process. Wish me luck.

*Closes eyes, knocks on the door of his mind palace* (more…)

In defense of vinyl-loving hipsters (Or, Record Store Day 2016)

There’s a lot to hate about hipsters — I get it. The coffee is never good enough, the beer selection is lacking, we’re poor but always wearing expensive clothing.

Also, we love vinyl records.

Get out of here with your Spotify, Apple Music, MP3s and compact discs. That’s all dirty, digital dope. We want the pure stuff.

Side Note: Yes, I used “we” in the above sentences. Results are in — I’m a hipster. I know it, I can’t help it, it’s what it is. I’m 29 now. The theory is once I turn 30 I’ll graduate to adulthood and can forget about all these silly labels.

Anyway, today is Record Store Day (RSD). Find your favorite local record shop and go buy a few things. They’ll probably have free coffee. You’ll love it. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with RSD. I always go. But to engage an overused cliche, RSD was great before it went “mainstream.” Typical hipster drama. Let’s just say the romance left once 14 year-old girls started stealing records out of my hands (long story for another time).

This year, however, was fun. The lines weren’t too long, everyone was friendly. And best of all, I got mostly what I set out for. As my friend Jake says, “The wax gods were in my favor.”

Here’s the loot:

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  • The Vandals — Sweatin to the Oldies (Live)
  • The Get Up Kids — Red Letter Day Ep
  • Robert Johnson — 10 inch repress (1936)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens — Picture Disc 10 inch
  • Violent Femmes — Memory/You Move Me (single)
  • Death Cab for Cutie — Tractor Rape Chain/Black Sun (live)

Back to the Quick Defense

I admit it: there’s a lot of showyness about vinyl collecting. It’s great to showcase your collection with a fancy shelf and brag on social media. For me, however, being a vinyl lover (there’s got to be a better name for it?) is about more than just pretension and affectation.

Vinyl records are a treasure hunt. You find the one you want, say an old record you used to love, and it’s like striking gold. In some cases, the prices are so high, you might as well just buy gold, but I digress. Record hunting is also a great way to discover old (but new-to-you) music. I’ve gambled on many dusty, used LPs at yard sales that have later become personal favorites.  (more…)

Skate and Surf Fest 2015 Recap: Rewinds and New Finds

Last week, (instead of attending college graduation), the wife and I skipped town and headed to Asbury Park, New Jersey to attend Skate and Surf Fest — a two day music festival.

The festival featured a mix of contemporary indie-rock bands: mewithoutYou, The Gaslight Anthem, The Front Bottoms. It also included some new acts I was excited to see: Rozwell Kid, Cloud Nothings, Diamond Youth. For some reason, I don’t know why, Skate and Surf Fest was the place to be to see some of my favorite high school bands reunite: From Autumn to Ashes, Poison the Well, Thrice, Acceptance. #oldguycrowd

If Asbury Park sounds familiar, it’s probably for one of two reasons: Bruce Springsteen’s classic album, “Greetings from Asbury Park” or Sandy, the devastating 2012 hurricane (or superstorm). Just walking around the boardwalk and seeing the damage hit me hard. It reminded me that communities like these are affected long after the news cameras turn off. But even in its destruction there is new life in Asbury Park, and it’s beautiful.

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For the first day of the festival we were joined by a couple west coast friends, Scott and Brook. We stood in line, ate pizza, stood in line some more, watched a boardwalk magician get arrested, stood in line some more, and finally, got close to the front of the line.

Eventually we made it inside.

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Skate and Surf Fest 2015

My first impression of the festival was, “This is it?” (more…)

Scratching the Niche: The Militia Group’s Massive Year, 10 Years Later

Author’s Note:

Initially, this blog post was a ten year retrospective of the 2005 indie/alt rock music scene, like a reunion of sorts. I was going to pun Gross Point Blank and we would’ve had a great time. Kings of Leon, Acceptance, and Bright Eyes were all going to be on this list. But when I finalized my top ten choices, I realized that five out of ten albums all came from the same indie record label: The Militia Group. So here we are.

Let’s reminisce, shall we?

Scratching the Niche

Once upon a time — when Dashboard Confessional ruled the earth — there was an edgy little record label out of Orange County, CA called The Militia Group (TMG). Their roster of bands lay somewhere in between what you’d hear on, say, Drive-Thru Records and Tooth & Nail.

For their origin story, you can visit Wikipedia (or this blog). What is appropriate is this: TMG started signing bands and releasing records in 2000-2001: Rufio, The Lindsay Diaries and Noise Ratchet (a personal favorite) were some of these early artists.

Most of TMG’s roster is now gone and left forgotten in the used bin of your favorite closed-down record store, but you might recognize some of the bands that hit major label success: Copeland, Cartel, Acceptance. Back then, there was an intensity in the music that TMG was signing. Noise Ratchet, for instance, was angst-fueled and Christian emo, i.e., perfect. Unlike the deliciously glossy (Sprinkled) Tooth & Nail releases, TMG was a little more unrefined, a little riskier.

They broke into my scene with Copeland’s debut record, Beneath Medicine Tree. We had known of love songs, and of rock songs. We had worn our hearts on our sleeves. But back then, when I was in high school, there wasn’t a better record you could buy. Beneath Medicine Tree did everything we wanted in an album, including the stuff we were afraid to admit we wanted: it taught us about the beauty in pain. It was thought-provoking and refreshingly transparent.

TMG was gaining momentum and we were all paying attention. When 2005 hit, this tiny record label stepped up big. It was a perfect storm and the timing was right.  (more…)