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…)

Micro-filming with Adobe Premiere Clip: My life in 4 short videos

About a month ago it occurred to me that I carry a super computer in my pocket. My phone, that is. It’s a smart phone that connects me to the world and offers me every little bit of information from anytime in history, much like a community garden – all knowledge ripe and for the taking. And the phone is powerful. I can pinpoint my friend’s exact real-time location, no matter how far away from me he or she lives. I can record music. I can film movies.

98% of the time I use my phone to check email.

When I want to be fancy, I post a picture to Instagram.

That’s about it.

With fresh eyes, then, (the unlimited potential of my phone revealed to me), a query clobbered my restless mind. What if the ’90s version of myself were to get ahold of an iPhone? What would I have done with it?

Certainly, I wouldn’t have wasted battery power reading stranger’s status updates.

Enter ‘Adobe Premiere Clip’

What if I were to film the most boring moments of my life and then try to make them interesting?

I’m sure there are many movie-making apps available to the mass public. iMovie, for instance, is probably the most popular (I have some familiarity with the desktop version). Adobe Premiere Clip, however, happened to get in front of my face at the right time. This powerful video-producing app allows you to record, edit, add music, adjust tone and color — all from your phone. (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…)

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…)