I meant to get to this post a while ago, as the stench of 2016 (the year of shocking deaths and depressing Facebook posts) was still in the air. As I read the outpourings of appreciation for David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen, George Martin, Merle Haggard, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher and other people who were important to my people, it occurred to me that it usually takes a hero’s death to bring people to their keyboards to write out what they appreciated about that person. It’s disappointing that the artist can’t receive any of it, and that for those discovering these artists for the first time, it was just as the artist died. Boo.
That’s why I decided to fire up this ancient blog and start a new series called “Praise Your Music Heroes Before They Die.” I plan on gushing without reservation (ok, maybe a little reservation) on the bands that are important to me — before they’ve gone and kicked the bucket in headline-grabbing rock-star fashion. This way, if you’re not already familiar, you can start getting into them while they’re, you know, actually doing things (1).
But here’s the bigger picture: If someone reading one of my diatribes is inspired to gush about one of their own favorite artists, then someone else, and so on, then the act of writing out our appreciation for great artists will extend beyond the event of them dying. And that will be cool.
Now on to the Libertines.
My first entry is on probably my most treasured music hero. The Libertines are a London indie group consisting of dual singer/guitarists Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, drummer Gary Powell, and bassist John Hassall. I found them in college, reading about them in Rolling Stone while sitting on a friend’s couch with a chinchilla. Something struck a chord, and I grabbed their I Get Along EP at a Tower Records the next day. They blew a refreshing blast of unpretentious, foreign indie rock into my universe, which at the time was crowded with overproduced emo bands, metal-ish aggro rock, and punk bands that swung dangerously close to being cute. Hey, it was NorCal.
Today, the Libs continue to take up valuable real estate on my phone — and trust me, storage on that device is at a premium when baby pictures are in the mix. Even the Zombies and the Beatles suffered deletions to make space. Not them.
They’re rough … but fun rough. I don’t mean sucky. I mean too busy having a good time to worry about acoustics.
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The latest installation of my new hobby is here, with a song I learned probably in high school but never played for anyone but my wife. And now you too!
As mentioned previously, my new hobby is journeying into the deep woods (read: publicly accessible suburban park areas) with nothing but a guitar, my iPhone, some time to kill, and potentially donuts. Though rarely donuts.
Recording songs like this has definitely shown me how detail-oriented I have to become to do it well. This was about take 50, when I finally made it all the way through without a major screw-up. My phone died around take 54.
Anyway, here you are:
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my new hobby is venturing into the suburban wilderness of Southern California and recording songs on acoustic guitar using my iPhone, in selfie mode.
I usually aim for locations with no visible civilization — no cars driving by, no buildings, no sidewalks. I think a nice backdrop does the song justice, moreso than bedroom walls do. Of course once the recording is done, you can almost always hear the far-off buzz of traffic in the background, along with whatever other noises happen to be going on. This is OK with me, though, as it adds a little bit of “real world” to something that is so often geared specifically for social media. It also seems to turn out pretty damned relaxing to watch.
This was, I think, my third attempt at recording this song. I tried a couple of times before to tack it into the end of another recording, but was always out of juice by then. You’d be surprised how tough it can be to get through a song, even one you know thoroughly, without screwing it up.
As I record other songs, they will be posted on the MD YouTube channel.
So the author of MD has a new hobby: going out into the wilderness (or relative wilderness) and recording songs on his acoustic guitar, selfie style.
This was spurred mostly by the thought that when I’m 80, I won’t remember how to play any of the songs I know. It’s doubtful I’ll even remember playing an instrument at all, as I curse “what the hell is that damned thing?” at my old, cracked, half-strung guitar hanging around in the back of the closet behind all of my brown loafers and boxes of Depends.
Now I’m not an exceptional guitarist by any means. But I will say it takes some balls to play live in an environment where people might pass by and overhear you. Because unless you live in deep-woods Montana, and not densely-populated Southern California like I do, you can’t really go anywhere where someone can’t hear you. The best I can hope for is that they think “where is that guitar coming from? Oh well,” and move on.
I do like how the soft background noises of the wind, birds chirping, and light traffic sounds in the distance serve to ground it all in the real world, as opposed to a controlled studio or a bedroom. Anyway, see what you think.
More to come…
By the way, all of them will be posted on the MD YouTube channel as they are recorded.
If you’re in the LA music scene, or if you’re just into small-time bands about to hit it big, you’ll want to be watching this one.
Caught a Ghost, the indie-meets-electronic-meets-vintage-soul (if that can exist) group that as of late has been making a classy impression on LA, just released their debut album on iTunes. Titled Human Nature, it includes previously unheard material as well as a few of the tracks fans have been passing around on EPs. Are any destined to become classics? I think there’s potential.
Some may recognize their sound from an episode of Suits, where they turned a few heads with “Time Go.” They were also featured on episodes of The Vampire Diaries, Grey’s Anatomy, Boardwalk Empire and a few others, including a recent Last Call with Carson Daly. A long haul from their first show in 2011, an intimate affair at Echo Park’s Son of Semele Theater in front of friends and acquaintances.
It’s probably not worth trying to describe their sound, since words wouldn’t really do it justice, but there are reviews out there that provide a pretty good glimpse. All I can say is: seriously, check them out.
They may be approaching decrepit geezerhood in terms of rock years. Their mention may time-stamp anyone as a “‘90s kid.” (That’s lame, right?) But it can be said with absolution and from a totally righteous standpoint that after almost 25 years of being ridiculously musical wankers, Blur remains the badass.
Actually, for a band that has churned out solid Britpop glory for most of its career, including one of the biggest ‘90s radio hits (“Song 2,” known to rock ignoramuses as “Woo-Hoo”), Blur is still a fairly well-kept rock and roll secret – at least if you’re on this side of the vast aqueous barrier that shields North America from all of the drunken Oasis fans.
Whenever I’m at a party or a Queen’s Luncheon and I bring up Blur, I get one of two responses:
a) (Contemptuous smirk) Blur?
b) (Slow, solemn nod) Blur…
This usually depends on whether or not I’m talking to one of the aforementioned rock ignoramuses. And it’s because of “Song 2.”
“Song 2” is kind of like Radiohead’s “Creep” (to recap an earlier post, most rock ignoramuses are unaware of any Radiohead material other than “Creep”). It’s not necessarily representative of the band’s catalog, but for whatever reason it is the only blip on most people’s radar where the band is concerned. As a bonus, it’s not really the sharpest song in the shed, so the consensus among rock ignoramuses is that Blur is a shallow, candy-pop one-hit wonder. Thus, there is a sizable divide between those who are aware of Blur’s legacy of badassery and those who blithely deny it.
To remedy some of this ignorance, let me try with this humble post to explain the brilliance of Blur for the benefit of those who weren’t previously aware, or might have even doubted it. (Those drunken, Blur-hating Oasis fans can be pretty confident en masse.) If you are already aware of Blur’s awesomeness, this will simply sharpen your awareness, and maybe send you on a tear listening to all of their albums in your car for a week. It’s a plus either way.
Here are several reasons why Blur is a bastion of stone-hewn coolness:
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This whole “going into the future” thing has me thinking about how long I’ve been in LA, and tangentially about the Silver Lake music scene I was hanging out in when I first got here in the earlier half of the ‘oughts. So, for your listening enjoyment (or your ignoring pleasure, whatever), I thought I’d take a glance back at the “old school” Silver Lake indie scene and give a shout-out to all the fun indie bands that were making the rounds. Hey, many of them still are…
People on the street were talking about Interpol, Ambulance LTD, the Shins’ second album, and MySpace. (What?) Silversun Pickups was appearing on Letterman. The Sunset Junction music festival was bringing Blonde Redhead and the Buzzcocks in to entertain everyone. And most importantly, these guys were dominating the scene…
Autolux – Turnstyle Blues
Army navy – Saints
When you hear The Shins breakout tune “New Slang” back to back with this track, it’s almost a joke that “New Slang” hasn’t been completely eclipsed by now, considering the increasingly insane songwriting skills James Mercer has flaunted in each album since then. Wincing the Night Away, partially recorded in Elliott Smith’s Portland home, has an inexplicable Smiths-like feel to it. The album Port of Morrow, named for a thought-provoking road sign in Oregon, brings up all kinds of new ideas. The melody and lyrics to “It’s Only Life” can bring a knot to your throat, and the chorus of “40 Mark Strasse” opens up like an ocean of sweet pancake syrup. But by far the most interesting direction the Shins have taken yet is the album’s title track, which sticks out like a purple tree growing in the Redwood Forest. Weird, watery opening. Strange, alien instrumental shrieks and moans. Heroin-esque Velvet Underground bass. Not an acoustic guitar in sight.
Mercer starts the verse sounding kind of like a female blues singer from the ‘20s. Then as he moves into the pre-chorus, he sounds damn near like John Lennon. Still no traditional New Mexico Shins-y-ness, just a haunting aura of superstition that might frighten children and the elderly. The subtle low-end doubling on parts of the vocals do a lot to seriously build up the track’s freakiness. Lyrics like “I saw a photograph, Cologne in ’27 / And then a postcard after the bombs in ’45 / Must have been a world of evil clowns that let it happen / And then I recognized … you were there and so was I” add an air of ominous terror, like this particular song foreshadows the end of the world. Is it a coincidence that Mercer wrote it while pondering death, inevitability, and doorways into the netherworld? “Life is death is life” … I think not.
Now imagine this song live, when its languid, staring menace is replaced by louder, even more menacing guitar sounds and a chorus that jumps out at you like a huge, black cat. If most Shins songs make you feel better, this one is here to make you terrified.
In an act of unparalleled musical terrorism, San Diego bands Transfer and Family Wagon reduced local music venue the Casbah to rubble, broken glass and flailing limbs Saturday night. The bands, joined by Oakland’s Mister Loveless and local band the New Kinetics, descended upon the helpless venue with serious megatons of sonic fury and gnarly weapons of mass distortion. Not a single eardrum survived the melee.
This writer arrived in time to see Family Wagon take the stage, and was consequently blown back several yards by the band’s sheer intensity. Heel tapping and head bobbing kicked in by themselves, defying any attempt to stop them. Before long the scene was one of total annihilation of any people looking bored or not acting completely rowdy and riled up. Lead singer Calen Lucas made a performance out of flipping out righteously and crushing any semblance of sanity, and bassist Gareth Moore’s hair became the 6th member of the band as he redefined the motion ranges humans are capable of while holding a mahogany log. CDs were sold and stickers were passed out.
Transfer took what was left of the place and utterly smashed it with their set, which was part loud, electric fury, part intense vocal power, and part frightening volume levels. Besides their obviously high-impact stage show, their songs are extremely catchy and somewhat sing-along-able, unless one is stunned into silence as was the case with “White Horse” and “Wake to Sleep.” Listening to those is similar to standing in the middle of a hurricane while demons scream at you and pound on your head with giant drumsticks. The experience was traumatically awesome.
Acknowledgement of Long Delay in Posting
Seeing as it has been a little while (around 2 ½ years, give or take) since I have posted anything here, it really took an event of this magnitude to spark things up. To keep it short and sweet, the impetus here is two bands.
Transfer: The indie band you actually want to hear even though you know they’re an indie band
Take everything people don’t like about indie bands, throw it into a garbage bag and toss it into the cement bed of the LA river, because sometimes indie bands can be powerful, confident and put together. And no, they’re not venturing into lame underground hip-hop or being produced by Timbaland. Listen to this song, this song, and especially this song, and see whether you agree they may have the force to drive music blogs back into publication.
Family Wagon: The indie band that sort of makes you want to try shooting Southern Comfort
I have been acquainted with this southern-style rock band for roughly 40 hours, but I have faith they will be on your TV on a late-night show within a year or so, and will one day become one of those bands that headlines for an act they once opened for, causing all of their fans to exuberantly recount their rise to glory, a la those kids from Detroit Rock City. That’s because aside from their music being fun and loud, their stage presence ensures it is cheerfully rammed through your brain, with a toothy grin and a “you’re welcome, ma’am.”
Stay tuned for more rants, stale news, and unfounded musical armchair analysis. The ship has left port once again.
Check out this new video, featuring a guy who looks a lot like Christian Bale and a song that sounds a lot like the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place.” This makes me very happy.
Directed by the same guy who made this random, funny squirrel video and a bunch of other cool stuff. I’d say he has a future ahead of him.