Vinyl View: Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain

Cinematic jazz lead by a trumpet engulfed in purity, provacativity and unmatched prowess.  It begins as a romantic journey that develops into a dramatic apex and finally returns to a gentle, comfortable location.  More classical than the usual improv-based jazz that Miles Davis fans are used to.  

Let me preface this review by stating a very important fact: I am no jazz aficionado.  However, my qualifications for this review are as follows:

  • I own and enjoy multiple jazz records (including another Miles Davis/Gil Evans record, Quiet Nights)
  • I have always been extremely fascinated by 1940s Jazz, including Django Reinhardt’s two-fingered, French-Gypsy, swing-style
  • I believe that I have a good ear for understanding music that’s considered “different”, while enjoying modern progressive artists that reference Miles Davis as a major inspiration

Miles DavisSide I:

“Concierto De Aranjuez”

For the sake of this review, I have broken down this lengthy track into four sections – divided by tempo changes or other dramatic alterations

– Part I – 

The album starts with the mysterious clattering of castanets, followed by some distant horns, strings and elegant percussion that builds upon a slow cinematic experience.  Lead by Davis’ signature trumpet, the beginning of the marvelous “Concierto De Aranjuez” sounds like the start of a gentle rainfall. An elegant string section, gentle harp and perfectly supportive horn section join carefully placed hits of the high-hat and a muddled bass line.  This part of the song would go well with a cloud-covered walk along the beaches of Cadaqués, or any other coastal town in Barcelona.

– Part II – 

In the middle of a verse (near the three minute mark) the beauty is replaced by an outburst of electrifying sound, fronted by an aggressive array of horns.  As the beat changes into a swing, the mood is carefully altered.  Blistering horns and eerie strings support Davis’ provocative melody. The production here is superb – giving Miles Davis the ideal platform for showcasing his incredible talent alongside Gil Evans superb orchestral arrangement.  The end of this section sounds like a theatrical form of jazz with a dramatic eeriness (I’m guessing Sondheim may have found inspiration here for elements of Sweeney Todd’s 1979 musical score).

– Part III – 

Another significant development in “Concierto De Aranjuez” occurs right before the eight minute mark.  The castanets return as Evans, once again, alters the arrangement to deviate his orchestra into a new direction. Davis’ muted trumpet creates a pure sound that compliments the adventurous mood of this third act.  It now feels more like traditional jazz than any of its proceeding moments. An interesting bass line carries the majority of this section, until the climatic apex around the twelve minute mark.

– Part IV – 

Another intense outpouring of trumpets and other horns prelude this final section. Aggressive tambourine shakes lead directly into an anxious arrangement of brass.  A gentle array of woodwinds follow and seem to apologize for the previous hostility.  The listener is taken on a new journey as quiet becomes the leading element.  Davis’ signature trumpet closes out this track as the castanets return one final time – taking you back to the calming beach on Cadaqués. 

“Will O’ The Wisp”

The second track, “Will O’ The Wisp”, has a contemporary structure (especially when compared to it’s predecessor).  The catchy melody is easy to follow and the orchestra works to compliment Miles throughout the cut.  A soulful bass provides bottom something primarily dominated by high pitched trumpets.  “Will O’ The Wisp” feels more like an interlude than a complete song with the sole mission of preparing the listener for side two of the album.

Miles Davis Gil EvansSide II:

“The Pan Piper”

Side II begins with a brief declaration by Miles’ vibrant trumpet, followed by trailing flutes and breezy bells.  “The Pan Piper” is a great song that fuses together Gil Evans’ excellent sense of certain classical elements with upbeat jazz.  The real hero of this track is  found in the partnership established between the bass and drums which gives Davis the perfect canvas to sketch his playing upon. You’ll wish the rhythm track went on forever or at the very least, spanned the entirety of the track (instead of just the second half).

“Saeta”

If the Spanish military had a soundtrack, “Saeta” would definitely be on it.  Davis’ timbre is exceptional here as his instrument takes center stage.  But the rest of the song seems odd with a marching drum beat that dominates, droning strings and a horn sound reminiscent of a réveil from a bugle. “Saeta” is strange when set amongst the other cuts on Sketches of Spain and is the only questionable moment on the record.  It seems like there must be a backstory to this song, which could help give it context.

“Solea”

“Solea” also includes a similar military drum beat, but instead uses this more as a starting point, rather than the main basis for the song.  Maybe the strongest piece of work on Sketches of Spain, this final track has near perfect production.  A magnifying bass line fits in perfectly amongst the rhythm section.  Evans’ arrangements help to compliment Davis’ playing in a way that feels planned but not stale in any way.  For me, this is the song that includes everything I want from a Miles Davis record: a great melody played flawlessly by Miles, has both quiet instances and climactic apexes, and establishes a refreshing structure that is contained yet still feels improvised at times.  Listeners of “Solea” are guaranteed to start dancing or moving in their seat during the concluding moments as Sketches of Spain draws to a close.

Final View: Sketches of Spain truly is a masterpiece – but it also requires an asterisk (*): this challenging record is not meant to be played in the background of a casual dinner party, like some other jazz albums.  Careful listening is required to enjoy the moments of quiet beauty while the surprising outbursts of sound could send the wine glass of any casual listener flying across the room. Listener, consider yourself warned and appreciate this cliché – expect the unexpected.

Overall score: 9/10

Recommended if you like: Miles Davis albums, jazz with minimal improv, classical music

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Vinyl View: The Doors – L.A. Woman

L.A. Woman is a challenging, yet wonderful record that feels like it was created by two completely individual entities.  The first being a somewhat uninspired and bored Jim Morrison, who still sounds great at certain moments (his involvement consisted of stepping into a bathroom recording studio infrequently throughout the sessions, only to lay down his vocal tracks). The second, a band who set out to prove that they were, in fact, worthy of their own individual praise – aside from the shadow cast by their ever-popular frontman. Overall, this is still an outstanding album (especially when assessed next to other artists – separately from Morrison Hotel or their near-perfect eponymous debut).

As previously mentioned, the most surprising elements of this album exist in the amazing musicianship found on each of the ten tracks.  While Morrison’s vocals are irreplaceable, The Doors sound as good or even better on L.A. Woman than any other professional studio musicians who worked during that time period (i.e. The Wrecking Crew).

doorslawomansessionsSide I:

“The Changeling” is a groove-centered cut that weaves around a bass and keyboard riff that perfectly supports Melissa’s most electrifying vocals on the album.  The chorus takes quite the turn (is this what he meant by “The Changeling” from the title?) as the rhythm changes, followed by a bridge with a slow build-up and resonating apex. By the end of “The Changeling”, you’re definitely stomping your feet and rocking your head in soulful accordance.  This song stands out as one of the best on L.A. Woman.

While being one of the most popular songs on the record and in the band’s catalog, “Love Her Madly” sounds just as relevant and exciting in 2013.  Morrison croons gently (with plenty of effects laced atop his vocals) over the great backing of Manzarek’s skillful organ (that feels like a Western saloon serenade), Densmore’s simple drums and Krieger’s crafty guitar work (consisting of that signature upstroke riff).  “Love Her Madly” shows hints of the 60s hangover while looking forward with superb production quality.

Aggressive vocals and a heavy bass riff kick off the third track on Side I – “Been Down So Long”.  This bluesy number includes more swagger and soul than anything produced after 1980 while proving to be one of the best tracks on the record. During the momentary lapse in vocals,  Krieger grabs a slide to showcase his underrated guitar skills and Densmore shows off his impressive stick handling.  Morrison also sounds almost as good here as he does on “Roadhouse Blues”.

Four fifths of the way through the first side of the album, The Doors break into a slow rhythm and blues number called “Cars Hiss By My Window”.  This fairly standard 12-bar blues is a nod to traditional blues standards – lacking really any effort from The Lizard King and seeming more like a setup for the next song than an actual attempt at anything creatively appealing.

“L.A. Woman” closes out the first half of the similarly named album with one of the most famous intros of any song from the early 70s.  Morrison’s sloppy bathroom vocals contrast, yet compliment, the extremely tight backing track from the rest of The Doors until he breaks into the memorable chorus.  Clocking in at 7:49, this cut includes plenty of riffing, solos and jams to be considered historical proof of this band’s excellent musical abilities.  Although, cutting out the extra content (about 3 minutes worth of jamming) would have made this lengthy track a legendary rock classic without any faults.  I can imagine this track reaching its peak enjoyment level on a long drive up Santa Monica Blvd. with the windows rolled down on a summer night in L.A.

JimMorrison_MarkBenno_LAWomanSide II: 

Side II is much stranger than the first. Part two starts off with one of the strangest songs by The Doors, “L’America” is haunting and mystifying – introducing a very different vibe for the second side.  A marching drum beat carries the listener headstrong into Morrison’s vocals that don’t really seem to go anywhere…until the chorus.  “L’America” is interesting but doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the record. This cut resembles what a Carlos Castaneda novel would sound like put to music.  Seemingly, the bridge gives you reason to come back at a later time and give it another go.

“Hyacinth House” brings you back with an uplifting melody and welcoming keyboard part (sounding like a resonating church organ).  This song carries the listener along a journey perfect for awakening on a Sunday Morning.  Even though that music was written by Krieger, Morrison’s lyrics suggest finding something new in life – i.e. Jim’s immediate exit to Paris following the album’s completion.  An enjoyable track that feels like the calm before the storm…

One of the few covers ever recorded by the band, “Crawling King Snake” slithers along, as the name suggests.  This old blues standard puts Manzarek’s organ and Krieger’s trademark Gibson SG guitar sound front and center as the rest of the studio band crunches and attacks the empty space.  Although the lyrics are not his own, Jim seems to be relating directly to the reptilian themes found within the words (just as The Lizard King should).  It’s a great blues number, played by a band that idolized the blues and can pull it off as well as anyone.

“The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” contains lyrics that were taken from one of Morrison’s poems – which is most likely obvious considering that most of the words are spoken, rather than sung.  While being intriguing, it seems like more of a piece of history than something a listener would want to return to.

Distant echos haunt this track.  Thunder and rain provide a chaotic backdrop.  The melody is unforgettable and the musicianship is unmatched.  Manzarek’s organ solo is intelligent and beautiful, while falling down like raindrops as it crescendos into another verse.  Elvis’ bass player, Jerry Scheff, lays down one of the most famous bass lines in The Doors discography. Morrison sounds unbelievable on this song – youthful, aggressive, confident, frightened and frightening all at the same time.  This “swan song” is the perfect ending to an amazing band that created an inspiring final album (at least, the final album with their singer) that is completely forward-thinking.

I can see Jim leaving the studio during the last few minutes of this track – leaving his band to make the final statement as he boards his plane to Paris.

Overall score: 8/10

Recommended if you like: Morrison Hotel (by The Doors), The Coral, blues, L.A rock and early 70s music

Vinyl View: George Harrison – Living in the Material World

For someone my age, I’m most likely one of the biggest Beatles fans around (my brother being the only other person I know that can run circles around my mop-top knowledge).  I tend to favor John Lennon songs over any other Beatle, with George Harrison coming in closely behind because of his unique guitar playing and honest lyrics. While George’s Beatle catalogue is somewhat limited, most of his cuts are gems and have become some of my favorite songs by the Fab Four (i.e. “Something”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “I, Me, Mine”).

To preface this review, I’d like to point out that my experience with George’s solo work is very limited.  All Things Must Pass remains one of my favorite albums of all-time by any artist.  But other than that, I’m unfamiliar with the majority of his post-Beatle career.

materialworld-lpSide I: 

Living in the Material World is wonderfully refreshing and full of slide guitar, stellar vocals and the influence of greatness.  For a an album that came out 40 years ago (1973), the songs could easily be shuffled in with newer releases by My Morning Jacket or Wilco.

The album opener, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) “, is the only track that I was familiar with before this listen.  In traditional post-Maharishi Harrison fashion, the lyrics discuss George’s relationship with the Lord and how it helps him cope with life.  It can be classified as a “nice” track – something that warms your heart.  Luckily for us, the album gets heavy very quickly.

“Sue Me, Sue You Blues” is a solid track carried by plenty of Harrison’s crafty slide guitar work.  Tumbling cymbals guide the song alongside a Bill Joel-esque piano riff and lyrics suggestive of an agressive legal battle.  The double-tracked vocals sound warm and powerful while never reaching the glossy pop feel of his previous vocal work with The Beatles – a feat that makes perfect sense on this song.

On most albums, track three tends to have a reputation of being the single or most radio-friendly track.  “The Light That Has Lighted The World” is instantly likable and could have easily been played on 70s radio. But to my knowledge, it is only heard by those lucky enough to find it within the confines of this album.  Like many of his songs, George’s vocal melody and carefully placed electric guitar accents add depth to a somewhat simple song. The piano dominates in terms of instrumentation but shimmering production on the acoustic guitar track cause it to outshine all of the other musical elements.

“Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” is a great, GREAT alt rock song.  It finds Harrison singing portions of the verses in falsetto, before leading into “now don’t let me wait too long” with thunderous drumming.  Indie rock owes a lot to this song in terms of how George has crafted something that doesn’t necessarily sound complicated into an intelligent composition full of behind-the-scenes complexity.

George always had this ability to shape slower songs into adventurous ballads.  “Who Can See It” compliments the tracks occurring before and after but probably wouldn’t stand well played on it’s own.  The vocals are the definite highlight of this song with a powerful performance that follows a beautiful melody.

“Living In The Material World” is a mediocre track that upon first listen, seems like it could have been cut from the album.  While it stands out from other songs with a bridge that includes Ravi Shanker inspired instruments, an out of place sax solo gives it a bit of a pre-disco “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” vibe (possibly my least favorite Lennon song ever).    It even ends like an episode of Saturday Night Live, complete with synchronicity between the sax, drums and piano as the credits roll across the turntable.

material-world1-1Side II:

While Side I felt like a collection of individual songs, the second side feels cohesive with each song flowing into the next.  One of my favorite tracks on the album has to be (surprisingly) “The Lord Loves the One”.  Harrison’s guitar playing soars atop solid grooves to create a welcoming atmosphere.  While I can’t personally relate to the lyrical content (that which could have been found in many Sunday sermons), there is no doubt that Harrison is passionate about the contents of this song.

“Be Here Now” is simplistically beautiful and includes everything you want to hear on an overcast November morning.  I feel like after some time, it will become one of my most favorite George Harrison songs ever.  The acoustic guitar is reminiscent of Nick Drake (only in tone, not necessarily in style) and compliments George’s double-tracked vocals perfectly.  A gentle organ gives this song depth while a heavy standup bass causes this track to be heavier than it should.

George is no stranger to the dramatic waltz (“I,Me, Mine” and “Long, Long, Long”).  “Try Some Buy Some” swings heavily from side-to-side with excellent orchestral accompaniment as Jim Gordon (of Derek and the Dominos) lays down the ideal drum track.  Including some of the best vocals on the album, this song could have easily have fit alongside some of the more theatrical work from McCartney on Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour.

“The Day The World Get’s ‘Round” and “That Is All” both tip their hats to Lennon and contain elements of “Imagine” in terms of lyrics and piano structure.  The first feels like it could be  great but ends up lacking any sort of originality.  While being my least favorite song on Side II, the intro and outro are refreshing and keep “The Day…” from becoming a skippable track.

The final track on the album, “That Is All”, starts with lyrics that carefully sum up Living in the Material World: “That is all I want to say”.  Although another piano balled, the bridge propels this track into excellence as George sings “Times’ I find it hard to say, with useless words getting in my way.”  A brief signature guitar solo adds familiarity to this cut – rounding out the album and leaving the listener feeling satisfied with another great album by another great Beatle.

Overall score: 8.5/10

Recommended if you like: The Beatles, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals

Best Kept Secrets of (Indie) Rock in the 2000s

Author’s note: This is my personal guide to all the nerdy insights and forgotten lore of indie rock from the 2000s. I have tried to omit personal opinions in order to keep the article as factual as possible. Of course, some snuck through (it’s tough when writing about the music you love). Make sure to click on the links in each section to see the videos, hears the songs and experience each fact firsthand.


21. Chris WallaMany albums by The Decemberists (The Crane Wife, Picaresque, The Tain EP) Nada Surf (Lucky, The Weight is a Gift, Let Go) and Tegan and Sara (Sainthood, The Con), along with countless others, are produced by Death Cab For Cutie’s CHRIS WALLA. The multi-talented guitar player has also produced almost every Death Cab song ever recorded.


20. jason schwartzmanPHANTOM PLANET‘s hit single “California” was co-written by then drummer Jason Schwartzman – the now famous actor starring in Wes Anderson films like The Darjeerling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rushmore. The other writer, lead singer Alex Greenwald, was in a few Gap commercials (that cheesy everyone in vests one) and starred as antagonist Seth Devlin beside Jake Gyllenhal in the 2001 film Donny Darko.


19. rogue waveROGUE WAVE‘s drummer, Pat Spurgeon, only has one kidney. But there’s a bigger problem, this kidney doesn’t function too well. Pat goes through a rigorous process to give himself dialysis on the road (hotel rooms – not a big deal, back of rock clubs – sorta a deal, on a moving tour bus – major deal). Dialysis under the right conditions is tricky enough – doing it on tour is a whole different ball game.


18. john nolanThe biggest love triangle in indie rock comes straight from the post-hardcore roots of New Jersey – but J-Wow and Snooki are not involved. When TAKING BACK SUNDAY was first starting out, Jesse Lacey was in the band (now of Brand New fame). At the time, he was dating Michelle Nolan, sister of guitar player John Nolan. Taking Back Sunday recruited lead singer Adam Lazarra – who then began dating the sister – causing Jesse to leave the band and start alt-rockers Brand New. Adam eventually ended the relationship, causing John to leave the band and pursue his own creative outlets with his broken hearted sister. Cue John Nolan and his sister (“the girlfriend”) starting Straylight Run. This three-for-one deal worked out poorly for those immediately involved (heartache) but great for us on the outside (three exciting bands).


17. tumblr_lm5u4yyB8n1qzx2tpo1_500At the end of the video Sic Transit Gloria Fades, Jesse Lacey of BRAND NEW faces a silhouette figure who mimics his hand gestures. It was long rumored to be Geoff Rickley from Thursday but is actually Justin Beck, guitarist for Glassjaw.


Johnny+Marr+marr316. JOHNNY MARR, guitar player from The Smith’s, will probably never reunite with Morrissey for a reunion show. Instead, he returned to the music world in a new form while joining up with indie poppers Modest Mouse. He toured rigorously with the band from 2006 – 2009 and can be heard on 2007 album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.


15. ringo zak OASIS‘ dueling brothers, Liam and Noel, are known Beatle fanatics (Liam even named his son Lennon). So it makes sense that Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey , joined Oasis as full-time touring drummer in 2004. Zak also stepped in behind the kit to record for Oasis and can be heard on the albums Don’t Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul. Zak has kept busy since the demise of Oasis and continues to rock out with The Who.


large_092303 GUSTERjc14. You could say that GUSTER‘s drummer marches to the beat of a different drum. Or perhaps, just learned how to play drums a little differently than most other people. Brian Rosenworcel didn’t pick up a drum stick until Guster’s fourth album – playing live shows and recordings with his bare hands (bongos, cymbals, etc.). His unique style has even earned him the nickname “Thundergod” by adoring fans.


jayclifford213. Jay Clifford of JUMP, LITTLE CHILDREN knows pop extremely well. So well that in 2003 singer-songwriter (and long time friend) Howie Day asked Jay to play on his album Stop All The World Now. Jay’s guitar playing and vocals can be heard on most of the album, including the massive hit “Collide“. Clifford is also given co-writing credits for four of the album’s tracks.


936full-leslie-feist12. Before FEIST was making addictive indie pop and some infectious videos with fully choreographed dance sequences (see “1234”), Leslie Feist contributed her talents to two songs on the album Riot on an Empty Street by Kings of Convenience. Side note: Feist was also a member of the indie rock group Broken Social Scene before her solo efforts.


blake-sennett-split11. Rilo Kiley’s talented guitar player (and sometimes singer), BLAKE SENNETT, may look extremely familiar to people who grew up in the ’90s. Reason being…Blake has graced our color TV sets with some very memorable characters. Sennett stared as the silly Ronnie Pinsky on Nickelodeon’s Salute Your Shorts and the notable swirly-giving bully, “Joey The Rat” Epstein, on Boy Meets World. Take that Jenny Lewis’ acting career!


fun-band110. FUN. has seen some pretty stellar success over the past twelve months. Years before the group had started this small SIDE PROJECT (yes, fun. is a side project) each member of fun. traveled the world with their own successful indie rock bands. Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost began his musical career as a member of the Michigan band Anathallo. Guitar player and backup vocalist, Jack Antonoff, was the afro-sporting frontman of New Jersey jam band indie rockers Steel Train. Lead singer Nate Ruess could be found belting out infectious indie pop in Arizona favorite The Format.


634.scarlett.john.ls.112012_copy9. Before tearing through solos with indie poppers fun., lead guitar player Jack Antonoff wrote infectious rock gems about heartache, death, life and everything in between. Jack’s debut album with the band STEEL TRAIN (Twilight Tales from the Prairies of the Sun) was written almost entirely about his experiences and heartache with high school sweetheart Scarlett Johansson. The album is littered with not-so-cryptic references about Scarlett (see “Better Love“: Scars are in her name/And she scars me with blame/Hey Scarlet, you’re not the same).


awol8. “Sail” has become an electro-hard rock hit for Los Angeles band AWOLNATION. Let’s not hold our breathe too long for another full length album from AWOL though. The band name is really a moniker for lead singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Aaron Bruno. The Westlake Village native has fronted two other successful bands with some major radio singles, always suffering the same demise – one album and done. Bruno was lead singer of the band Under the Influence of Giants (churning out the smooth 1970s influenced anthem “Mama’s Room“) and Hometown Hero (belting out the high school rocker “Eighteen“).


atthedrivein7. Drama and post-hardcore don’t usually go hand-in-hand. Being punk, being loud and being heard seem to be the fuels behind the fire. But things happen – people change – and soap operas are sometimes born. AT THE DRIVE-IN had just released it’s most critically claimed album to date (Relationship of Command) when the band decided to call it quits. From the ashes of the phoenix arose two bands, separated by hair styles. Prog-rockers The Mars Volta grew from the minds of afro-toting Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. On the other (less hairy) side came post-rock thrashers Sparta – with ATDI alums Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar and Paul Hinojos.


220px-Greg_Graffin-Starland_BallRoom-20076. BAD RELIGION have been making intelligent punk rock since 1979. Lead singer Greg Graffin’s smart-punk doesn’t halt when the record stops spinning. The Bad Religion co-founder earned a PhD from Cornell University where he teaches evolution and has taught lectures in the life sciences and palentology at UCLA. Oh yea, and he wrote a book. Chalk up a few marks for punk rockers around the world.


Chris Wall Field Manual5. The always busy CHRIS WALLA (see #21) won’t let anything stop him from doing what he loves. Even the U.S. government can’t foil Chris’ musical destiny. In 2007, U.S. Border Patrol agents seized a hard drive containing the master tracks for his first solo album. Reason being: the album was titled “Field Manual“. Chris didn’t let a little armed response keep him down – the album was re-recorded and released in 2008 on Barsuk Records.


Jimmy Eat World Bleed American4. JIMMY EAT WORLD‘s Bleed American album from 2001 made the Arizona alt-rockers into household names with the “The Middle“. After the first single was released (also titled “Bleed American”) with support from the energetic anthem “Sweetness”, the band decided to change the album name to Jimmy Eat World as they became concerned that the album title could somehow be misinterpreted post 9/11.


OKComputer-InRainbows3. A decade may seem like a long time, but really it’s just a decade. Ten years, 521 weeks, 3,652 days. Ok – it IS a long time. But not so long that RADIOHEAD can’t make two albums, 10 years apart, that go together like twins separated at birth. By following these fairly simple instructions, listeners can mix together 1997’s OK Computer and 2007’s In Rainbows to make a seamless listening experience. Basically, when sequenced properly, track 1 from OK Computer leads perfectly into track 1 from In Rainbows, track 2 from both albums match up, etc. – so that the time and key signatures are in almost in perfect sync. That’s some serious future-planning Mr. Yorke.


The-Vines-Interior2. Australian rockers THE VINES have had their share of godlike comparisons in their 10+ year career with some major hits like “Get Free” and “Ride”. Popularity aside, The Vines have recorded consistently diverse albums successfully drawing from respected predecessors like The Kinks, The Beatles, The Clash and even Nirvana. All the while, lead singer Craig Nicholls has been plagued with well-known negative reviews of live performances due to his spastic stage behavior (see meltdown on Letterman). Craig’s erratic behavior was eventually explained through a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome (a form of Autism). Post-diagnosis, Craig continues to produce hit songs and some of the best albums of the decade.


postal-service1. The POSTAL SERVICE name (cult collaboration between Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard and Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello) was inspired by a very reasonable situation. Tamborello, living in Los Angeles and Gibbard, living in Seattle made music by sharing songs bit-by-bit via one of the oldest communication methods in modern American history – The U.S. Postal Service. Long after the hit song “Such Great Heights” helped to earn them 400,000 album sales, only one Postal Service is moving on with full strength hint: the winner still sees success while working on the weekend). The Postal Service recently played a ten year reunion show at Coachella to an insanely large crowd.

*some of the bands in this article may not be considered “indie rock” by typical genre standards (i.e. Oasis) but are included because at some point in their career they released an album on an independent label.

Reading Makes My World Go ‘Round

Books vs. Television (can't we all just get along)
Books vs. Television (can’t we all just get along)

Reading is a strange thing.  I find it completely different than anything else in life.  That’s a pretty profound statement because well, EVERYTHING is different than EVERYTHING else.  But what I mean is that reading makes me feel, think and act in a way that can’t be mimicked by any other activity.

Time Moves At The Speed Of…Well, Time:

I am currently reading “Darker Than the Deepest Sea: The Search for Nick Drake” on my lunch breaks at work.  There’s something about reading during these 30 minutes that just makes the pace of time feel so natural.  Let me explain: I consider 30 minutes to be a pretty short period of time. While getting engulfed into the life of an enigmatic character like Nick Drake, those 1800 seconds feel like they are over before they started.  Compare this experience to 30 minutes of sitting at a computer and working and I think you get what I mean.

My Brain Feels Like It’s Working:

Goooooooeeeyyy Brain Cupcakes
Goooooooeeeyyy Brain Cupcakes

I picture my brain as this gooey ball that sometimes lets in some new stuff, but mostly forgets the things I have learned throughout my life (probably looks something like the gooey brain cupcakes shown here to the right).  Most of the time the gooey ball just kinda sits there while I watch TV or listen to music and grooves along with the frequencies traveling through the air.  But when I am reading, I feel like the words and messages being communicated to me are actually flying off the page, into the goo, and giving my brain some sort of structure.  The words from books actually stick around and more often than not, make it into sentences or my writing.

Side note: I actually enjoyed readying during my graduate studies.  I would be watching TV and thinking “hey, I’m looking forward to reading after this show is over.”  My brain is one weird specimen.

Feeding My Feelings Through Fact:

Ok, I’m pretty nerdy.  I am currently also reading “A Short History of Nearly Everything” on my iPad.  This book is 900 pages of everything you learned in elementary, middle and high school but didn’t really care about at the time.  I’m getting a second chance to learn about the history of dinosaurs, the solar system, elements, geography, atoms, gravity, etc.  The weird thing is that as I am learning about the evolution of Earth and on a larger scale life in the Universe, I start to really have feelings and thoughts about my own existence.  I have laughed out loud, felt sorrow and concern, related with researchers and been angered by outrageous scientific claims. Nerd facts bringing out emotion? That’s just not right.  But it’s an experience that is more powerful than any drama on TV or comedy I see in the movies.

How? What? Huh?

Here’s my take on the whole thing: reading leaves room for imagination.  Two people sitting ten feet away from each other are reading the same chapter in the same book.  But both of them are having completely different experiences.  No matter how descriptive a story may be, each person is still going to have a different illustration playing out in their head.  Think about book clubs or even English classrooms – the purpose of discussions are to get everyone on the same page and understanding because of the “fill in the blank” nature of reading.

TV, movies and other media rich mediums don’t leave much room for interpretation.  It doesn’t take much effort for your brain to absorb the information so the goo just kind of goes with the flow.  The conscious effort required to understand a piece of text enriches and livens your senses.

So as I said, reading makes the world go ’round.  But round for me is probably different than what round is for you.  I think of round as a baseball, with seams, and printed logos.  You probably think of round like a globe, or a doughnut, or the Pillsbury dough boy, or…you get it.

Lovedrug – Wild Blood : It’s A Killer, Not A Filler

What makes an album great? Is it the slick production that gets you? Maybe it’s the goosebumps that show up when you’re cruising down a dark highway and you hear a melody that just wont escape your head.

For me, it can be simple at times to tell when an album is great. The instruments will blend together like they were born for each other. In the same sense, vocals will sound like they don’t need any instrumental accompaniment to make sense and the lyrics that make an instant impact.

But usually, it takes a much more complicated scenario combined with the above to formulate what I consider to be a “great” album. Sometimes it’s a carefully choreographed soundscape consisting of one crunching guitar resounding through my left ear – while my right side is treated to a glistening lead guitar riff full of reverb and treble.  One factor that remains consistent is the need for me to listen to the album over and over (when I wake up all I want is to hear that one part of that one song). 

This “complicated” scenario can be found all over Lovedrug’s latest release titled Wild Blood. To categorize Lovedrug as an alternative band or even put them somewhere near the rock genre  immediately places restraints on a group of artists that have developed an album worthy of being described as entrancingly ingenious. Wild Blood combines beauty, sadness, virtue, energy and hope into an album that constantly blurs genres and rules.

One of my favorite tracks of the last year can be found on this album, the prehistorically named Dinosaur.  It starts with the bold lyric, “Fever – drugs – money – blood. Is it bad for love?”.  Dinosaur is a very different song both lyrically and musicaly compared to what I would usually consider to be my favorite cut on an album. The chugging rhythm guitar is answered with a clean lead guitar melody that gets you prepared for the chorus. “We were dinosaurs in the end…like we’d opt out of survival in lieu of some survival pretense”, referring to a companionship doomed from the start for extinction – something every romantic can relate to with a past relationship. In the middle of the song lead singer Michael Shepard whispers “we were”, making sure you are still listening and ready to be haunted for the rest of the cut.

Listen to Dinosaur here:

Another standout track, Pink Champagne, begins with circling cymbals and solid snare drum snaps. Everything feels like a pop song trudging through molasses until the chorus hits and everything changes. “Sure shot – you were always my sure shot” – describes someone whose guaranteed plans fell completely apart. As with every song on Wild Blood, this track combines solid rhythm work with a remarkable vocal melody.  Happiness can be found in the sadness (at least for the listener) because of the melancholic beauty trembling from this track.

Listen to Pink Champagne here:

Other notable tracks include the simplistically epic Premonition, the insanely catchy Your Country and the tender ballad Girl where Shepard’s vocals have never sounded better.

Overall this album contains some serious guitar work coupled with impressive drumming and solid bass backing. The vocals are on a whole different level as most songs could be listened to with no instrumentation needed. While Shepard previously resembled a young Billy Corgan, on Wild Blood he has found a home for his voice. That home is right at the point where beauty and chaos meet.

*Recommended if you like: Muse, Thrice – Beggars, and anything from piano rock to 90’s alternative

Download this album here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/wild-blood/id496739871

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