mewithoutYou

Best of 2015: Music, Film, Literature

Oh hey there. Let’s jump right in.

Music

2015 was a fantastic year for music. Adele and Taylor Swift reminded us that people still buy music and that pop stars still exist. Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and a host of other streaming services pushed the discussion of “music as a commodity” centerstage. Despite where opinions settle, I think we can all agree that our streaming discussions were well overdue (and on two fronts: people paying for their music again and artists getting fairly paid for streaming).

NOTE: Amazon Prime’s streaming service (Amazon Music) is the industry’s best kept secret. It’s by far the best streaming service. Comes with your Prime account, you can download thousands of records, listen to them offline. Why is no one talking about this?

Every year I have artists and their releases that I look forward to, but this year there were some out-of-left-field albums that no one saw coming. Leon Bridges and Sufjan Stevens’ masterpiece, for instance, rocked (and rolled) almost my entire musical year.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Someone once told me that art should look different every time you see it. I think the same can be true for music, where you hear something different every time you play it. Stevens’ latest hits the proverbial mark. Borrowing from Gregorian chants, from 70’s folk, from his own catalogue — Carrie & Lowell is lyrically transparent, musically restrained, and almost perfect. Make no mistake, people: Sufjan Stevens made a masterpiece.

There are instances, such as in “The Only Thing“, where the track is just begging for a rhythm section (i.e., bass & drums), but we don’t get it, and it’s the right choice. “The Only Thing” is about despair, about barely holding on with just a glimmer of hope. Sure, you can sing about depression with a backing band, but it wouldn’t fit here. Stevens isn’t trying to be flashy, and he’s not making anthems, what Stevens is doing is splitting open his chest and singing therapy.

As someone who’s had a similar (not exact, but similar) upbringing as Stevens, I latched onto this record like a child to his mother, and it brought me comfort many times over. Can someone with a glossy childhood enjoy this album? Of course. But who actually had a glossy childhood? (more…)

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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…)

Memoirs of a Music Fanatic

We saw mewithoutYou last night. They’ve been a favorite band of mine for eight years now (geez). My fifth time seeing them and probably my last considering the average lifespan of indie-bands, I was reminded, during the show, of a time when life was simpler, when good music was the priority and everything else was dreck.

mewithoutMe

It started in high school. My afternoons were spent visiting record shops and my weekends spent seeing concerts. It wasn’t just about consumption; no, the music-life was about discovery. I was a California 49er searching for gold—staying hip and ahead of the curve—perusing the used and new-release bins for the unknowns and the yet-to-be-discovereds, old-favorites and new.

When a good group traveled through town I’d buy tickets and request time-off in a second-natured trance. The live-show, you see, completed it all.

What I realized last night, while watching the opening acts (in a dark smelly club I’ve never been to before, and yet, have been to so many times), was that almost all of my favorite groups from the last ten years have gone away. They’ve just left. Soon, I’m sure mewithoutYou will sail into the fog too.

I’ve noticed it before. I mean, I get it. Groups come and go; not everyone’s favorite band gets to be The Rolling Stones.

But what strikes me is the perspectival meaninglessness. Does it all just boil down to a ticket stub in a scrap book, a CD case on the shelf? Is that good enough? I used to pretend it meant something more, the music, the experience, but now, when another favorite band bites the dust, I’m surprised at how little it affects me.

The lead singers, the drummers, the guitar players I foolishly idolized—I’m curious if these days they wonder about me more than I do them.

Diskney 

On the second shelf of my bookcase, here in Rochester, lies two stacks of CDs. There’s maybe thirty albums total, “Quintessential,” I guess. If a fire burned my building tomorrow and I lost them all, I’d be sad, but I’d move on. Sometimes, I wonder if holding on to them keeps me from moving forward.

When we were preparing to move across country, we sold and gave away just about everything that wouldn’t fit in the car. Included was a box of maybe a hundred CDs, a box I had been meaning to donate to the local public radio station but never could.

Finally the day came to move, and they had to go, so I dropped them off. I wanted the moment to be something bigger than it was, a Toy Story 3-esq ending where a young, inexperienced music lover discovers my box of give-aways, presses play and falls in love. With courage, I’d drive away and wave, “Goodbye, pals.”

But that didn’t happen. Instead, a grubby, uninterested hipster threw them in the corner and probably the trash after I left: “You want a receipt?”

Getting older is weird.

mewithoutMe Part 2

Thoughts of meta-meaninglessness and perspective aging filled my brain between every set and song last night, more distracting than a young couple making-out in the front row. Finally, mewithoutYou came on stage and tore into “The Dryness and the Rain,” one of my favorites. At this point the crowd moved, and so was I, remembering—if only for a moment—the key to it all. Music doesn’t need to make sense. It just needs to have feeling.

Maybe that’s a good enough reason for spending a life chasing it.

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“The fish swims in the sea, while the sea is in a certain sense, contained within the fish! Oh, what am I to think of the writing of a thousand lifetimes could not explain if all the forest trees were pens and all the oceans ink?” –mewithoutYou