Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Boo. Here's a Halloween Spotify Playlist that I created especially for tonight. Happy ghouling.


Monday, October 15, 2012

ST&SP The Formative Years Pt. 3: College & Beyond

Awhile ago I made the announcement that this site would no longer be a weekly update on current musical trends and instead turn to more introspective periodicals. This week I continue to deliver that promise with a three part introspective about the music that shaped my life through key stages of growing up starting with "Elementary School-Middle School" through "High School" and ending with "College and Beyond." Today we conclude with Part Three: College & Beyond. 
                                                                             Loyola Marymount University

I think part of the reason why I never really got into techno was that I already had LCD Soundsystem in my life, and they made my feet move more than any dubstep artist ever could. To me they are the ultimate dance band, ever. I started listening to them in high school, I remember listening to LCD Soundsystem with my dad as we were driving through a blizzard in Montana. For some reason the mix of James Murphy's infectious grooves and the fact that we couldn't see ten feet in front of us created such a vivid and exhilarating experience in my head. However, it was not until recently when I look back and see how much they dominated my college years. I saw them three times during college, more than I saw any other artist during those years. I saw them upstage Arcade Fire at The Hollywood Bowl, I saw them get the vast Empire Polo Fields to shake ass during Coachella and I saw them lastly at The Hollywood Palladium where they absolutely burnt the motherfucker to the ground. LCD are a band that humbly takes all the influence from their predecessors and channel it into something brand new and exciting. By the time LCD Soundsystem broke up they were immensely popular, even headlining Madison Square Garden for their now historic four hour long farewell. It was such a joy to follow them from their humble beginnings to where they ended up. Mark my words, LCD Soundsystem will be seen as one of the most influential bands that were active during the '00s.

Is this really a surprise to anyone? Arguably the most important rock band for more than a decade, I hold a high esteem for Radiohead. They are able to shed their skin and present a varied sound with each LP all while maintaining a familiar aesthetic. If you were to look at my charts you would notice that I listen to Radiohead a few hundred plays less than The White Stripes. I listened to them during High School as well but not with the same frequency as I did during college. I remember buying In Rainbows for a cent off of their website thinking how wonderful it was and how big of a "fuck you" it was to record labels.

I saw Modest Mouse open for R.E.M at The Hollywood Bowl a few years ago and I thought they sucked. Sure seeing Johnny Marr was fun but they lacked any sort of stage presence or fire about their performance. I hadn't listened to much of them before than other than their hits like "Float On" and "Dashboard." However, something happened I decided to give them another shot and gave their discography another try. I still have Lonesome Crowded West in my car and can say with confidence it's one of my top ten favorite records. Something about Modest Mouse clicked for me in college that hadn't in previous attempts. I couldn't get enough of their raw erratic take on rock. Issac Brock's voice is like a rat under duress and I wouldn't want it any other way. Since then I haven't been able to go a few weeks without listening to Good News For People Who Love Bad News, The Moon & Antartica, Lonesome Crowded West, or We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. 

Wilco is a group that my younger self would have slapped me for liking. Their mid-tempo "dad" rock is definitely for a more mature audience. However, that's what I love about Wilco. They have been through a lot as a band, through breakups and even death yet they still manage to record some of the most beautiful folk-rock around. Tweedy is an extremely gifted songwriter and he pairs quite well with guitar virtuoso Nels Cline. They also put on quite a solid show and I was fortunate to see them a few times during college. They know how to kick out the jams occasionally, check out "Art of Almost" and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" for examples of that. However, I appreciate Wilco for the mix of different kinds of songs they manage to put together. Any Wilco record will do, but I highly recommend Being There as a prime example of their range.

My Morning Jacket is another band that I couldn't get into during high school yet has grown into being one of my current favorite bands during college. People who get to witness Jim James' voice in person tend to have an out of body experience. His voice is a chameleon, it can be the sweetest falsetto that quickly becomes a banshee's scream. I have enjoyed all of their releases although At Dawn is easily my favorite, especially the title track.

Dr. Dog are a group that slowly grew on me and now Shame Shame is one of my most heavily rotated records. They just know how to create a really good hook, they remind me of The Beatles in that regard. They harmonize very well and can craft a memorable song. All of their records are immediately accessible and are great for singing. That is one element I don't feel enough critics give enough credence to, the ability to make a song that makes someone else want to sing along to is an incredibly hard yet rewarding thing to accomplish, and Dr. Dog make it look easy.

The Magnetic Fields helped me get through a really rough breakup. I feel like we all tend to lean on music during rough times, and Stephin Merritt was my buddy during that time. I recommend 69 Love Songs for anyone. It's really a huge achievement for a songwriter to write an a triple album about one topic. Yet Merritt did and showed the vast and wide varieties of love. The highs, the lows, the little insignificant things "Papa Was A Rodeo" and even big picture ideas like "Grand Canyon." I can't thank The Magnetic Fields enough and next time they're in town I will be front and center.

Sufjan Stevens was the soundtrack to my summers during my college years. During roadtrips home Illinois would be playing with the windows down through the California desert. I regrettably haven't listened to any of his other stuff that often because that one record is so important to me. There was a study done once that showed people who listened to Sufjan Stevens were the smartest music listeners. It's no surprise to me, his orchestral chamber-pop is so complicated and takes the listener down so many different paths that it really takes a dedicated listener to really enjoy him. That being said "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." is the most hauntingly beautiful song I have ever heard.

It seems as I look back that there has always been one stand out hip-hop artist that defined certain periods of my life. Elementary school it was Eminem, high school the Beastie Boys and college it was without a doubt Hova. Jay-Z is the Elvis of our generation like it or not. What I love most about him is his confidence as a performer. He knows he's the best and doesn't have to do a goddamn thing except keep on being himself. He was the most electrifying performer when I was at Coachella. However the one memory I will never forget is going for an early morning jog in New York City listening to Jay-Z, it just felt so right.

I unfortunately just missed Sleater-Kinney when I first began to listen to them. I have a vivid moment of hearing "The Fox" on the radio for the first time and stopping in my tracks. These three ladies from Portland created some of the feistiest rock I have ever heard. They are in my mind the best of the feminist Riot Grrrl scene that started in the 90s and has continued today most notably with Pussy Riot in Russia. I also have a mad crush on Carrie Brownstein. She is in my mind the perfect woman. She's not only one of the best guitarists alive (go see a Wild Flag concert and prove me wrong) but she's also one of the funniest, as a main cast member of Portlandia. In fact it wasn't until Sleater-Kinney went on their indefinite hiatus for Brownstein to come out of her shell as a well known individual artist. So on one hand I'm sad they're not around, but if they hadn't broken up I probably would have never found my one true love.

Fugazi are a 90s D.C. punk band that I completely missed until my college years. They are now my favorite punk band. Their music isn't necessarily the fastest of their brethren but in my mind they are the most intense and formidable band of that era. They just did it right. They would rather play in high school gymnasiums or in some basement and charge their fans $8 rather than some big concert hall that costs an arm and a leg. Fugazi hasn't done anything for about a decade but they still say they are together. Here's hoping they come roaring back to life soon.

There's a bar on the outskirts of Culver City in Los Angeles called the Cinema Bar that I used to go to during college. It was a completely unpretentious place, a diamond in the rough of all the douche bars in Los Angeles. It's a total dive filled with nightly regulars that pile in to drink and listen to some of the best live music around. At that time I was already a bluegrass fan, but hadn't yet given Country-Western a try. This bar is what won me over to the genre. Country is like every genre, the shit artists float on the top while the really good stuff seems to be at the bottom of the barrel. There are some great country and southern rock artists out there today, you just have to dig a little deeper. The one band that has been pointing the light in the right direction for quite some time now is Drive-by Truckers. These guys have been steadily on the road since the early 90s. They are the ultimate bar band, and some even say they are the saviors of the entire southern rock genre. I have never been to the south, though I desperately want to so Drive-by Truckers are sort of like a window for me to see into that world.

I say "College & Beyond" because I'm still actively seeking out new music even after college. Case in point, Ty Segall. If you haven't heard of Ty Segall this year you've been living under a rock. He is the poster boy of the San Francisco slime-garage rock scene. This year he's released three albums and has done two world tours. The guy is a machine that churns out some of the most exciting rock I have heard in a long time. I'm seeing him in December and cannot wait.

Finally, we come to Reggie Watts. Whenever someone asks me for new music recommendations he is at the top of my list. I respect him on so many levels, as a musician, as a comedian and as an improviser. He improvises all of his songs! He loops his own beatboxing as percussion and uses occasional keyboards for added effect. The man is able to improvise on a whim better pop hooks than most pop bands can make. In my mind he is the most creative, innovative and inspiring artist currently working today and it's baffling why he isn't a household name. Listening to him doesn't do the man justice. You have to see to believe.

So this concludes this trip down memory lane. It's always fun to look back and see how far you've come as a person and I believe music is a good way of staying connected to one's past. Still, the main question I have is, what was the music of the day that you listened to when you were in College?

Below is a Spotify playlist where you can listen to all of these songs uninterrupted.


Monday, October 8, 2012

ST&SP The Formative Years Pt. 2: High School

Awhile ago I made the announcement that this site would no longer be a weekly update on current musical trends and instead turn to more introspective periodicals. This week I continue to deliver that promise with a three part introspective about the music that shaped my life through key stages of growing up starting with "Elementary School-Middle School" through "High School" and ending with "College and Beyond." Today we continue with Part Two: High School.
                                  Arcadia High School (The Circle) Phoenix, AZ.

The one band that dominated my high school years and still continue to do so today is The White Stripes. I can remember seeing the video for "Fell In Love With A Girl" for the first time on MTV and just being blown away. For Christmas that year I asked for all of their CDs so I tore through White Blood Cells, De Stijl and The White Stripes. I immediately connected to their raw power and inventive nature. Back then they were still a buzzworthy band and had not risen to the titanic-sized household names that they would eventually become. I remember a lot of people predicting them to be a one-hit-wonder but I could sense that Jack White was here to stay. They are without a doubt my favorite band. Hell, this blog is named after one of their lyrics. I have sort of calmed down from my fanatic tendencies towards this band but there was a time where I ate slept and breathed everything White Stripes. I could write a novel of nothing but praise towards this band and how much they mean to me but I'll save that for another day.

The 2002 MTV VMAs were big for me. That particular awards show displayed some of the best rock bands around at the time. It was also the big day out for the onslaught of the 'The' bands. The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, The White Stripes and to a lesser extent at the time The Black Keys. The Hives caught my attention due to their matching suits and hyper personalities. Fans of The Strokes always liked to quarrel with fans of The White Stripes as to who was the more exciting band. I always thought it was a stupid argument because a) the two bands couldn't be more different from each other, and b) it's easily The White Stripes hands down. The White Stripes were able to completely deconstruct rock and roll to it's fundamentals and then slowly build upon it with each of their albums. The Strokes released two tremendous records that sound exactly the same, and then have suffered trying to branch out ever since. The Vines are a band that I feel will have a renaissance in a few years time. They had a whole lot more potential than their two hits "Ride" and "Get Free" it's just a shame singer Craig Nicholls's mental health is always so erratic they were never really able to hit their stride.

I Get Wet turned ten this year. It's one of those reminders of how quickly time passes.When Andrew WK busted into the limelight with I Get Wet it was an immediately divisive record that instantly made him a cult artist. Pitchfork named it one of the worst records in recent memory (they love it now). However, I think WK is a genius because that record has aged like a fine wine. Andrew WK is about one thing and one thing only: partying. So he set out to make an album that is essentially a party. What resulted is one of the most effortlessly fun and passionate rock albums in years. There are no slow songs. Every single song rocks hard and is a sheer riot. What's also crazy is not a lot of people know that Andrew WK is an accomplished concert pianist but you would never guess that from this record. Sometimes you've gotta say "fuck art, let's dance" and Andrew WK lives that mantra every day of his life.

Yes, the Beasties have been around before I was alive but it wasn't until high-school when I really got them. If there are an infinite amount of universes out there with an infinite amount of possibilities I'm glad I live in the one where three Jews from Brooklyn were the first to have a number one hip-hop record and subsequently brought the genre into the mainstream. MCA's death this year hit me harder than I thought it would. The Beastie Boys deserve every single accolade and praise that they have coming to them. I remember getting in line at Sam Goody waiting for To The Five Boroughs to come out. The world was a better place when the Beastie Boys were making music.

I'm not the biggest techno fan. It is the one genre I still haven't really explored. I'm the kind of person who is like "Skrillex who?" However I love Daft Punk, and I know a lot of people like me who listen to Daft Punk and no other EDM artist. Daft Punk have transcended being just another techno artist and have reached a echelon that I don't think any other artist are in except for maybe a few. They are mysterious robotic titans. Very little is known about them as people and hardly is known about their process. When they release records they are clamored over like gifts from the gods. They rarely ever tour and when they did it was a spectacle that is still being talked about in some circles today. I am still absolutely fascinated with how this duo works. Their records are insanely danceable yet are quite simple allowing other artists to sample their tracks. Discovery and Homework are two of the most essential dance records I can think of, although what I've been hearing through the rumor mill about their new album makes me extremely elated.

I wish I had a more hipster way of how I was introduced to Devendra Banhart but quite simply I heard "At The Hop" on a commercial for Fat Tire beer and I thought the song was lovely. I would have to say Devendra was the first hipster artist I ever got into. He had just released Nino Rojo and was still very much an underground artist, only a couple of my friends had a clue who he was. Folk music wasn't that popular in Phoenix Arizona. It wasn't until I moved out to California I realized that he had a very dedicated following and sold out large venues everywhere, just not in Phoenix.

I started listening to Arcade Fire because I liked the sound of their name. It's one of the few cases where I judged a book by its cover and got it totally right. I even made a music video for their song "Une Annee Sans Lumiere" I knew they would eventually be huge and by the time their third record came out they won Best Album at the Grammys. Arcade Fire just might be one of those bands that symbolizes my high-school and college generation. They got from the bottom to the top through sheer hard work and determination.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah came out around the same time as Arcade Fire and were on track to being a huge deal but they didn't and that's a damn shame. They are a very talented band even if Alec Ounsworth's voice is a little challenging. They were the first indie band to achieve a great deal of notoriety for being successful without having to sign with a label. That's how it works for them and they still continue to do it this way. After a long hiatus these guys are back making music and I couldn't be happier about it.

There was another period where I listened to Animal Collective a lot. I got hooked to them when Sung Tongs came out. Their music is so unbelievably challenging yet catchy at the same time. They are like an erratic pack of coyotes wailing on drums, synths and vocals. Their two main members Avey Tare and Panda Bear are polar opposites yet compliment each other quite nicely. Tare being the most animalistic with his screeches while Panda Bear offers a more harmonious Beach Boys vibe to the group. They are one of the groups that I never let me parents listen to because I just knew they wouldn't understand what I saw in them. Quite simply they are the most unchained experimental pop group around. Sure they have some terrible songs, but when they get it right they really hit the nail on the head.

The other extremely experimental group I listened to back in the day were The Flaming Lips. Of course Yoshimi is what introduced me to them, however it's The Soft Bulletin, At War With The Mystics, and Clouds Taste Metallic that turned me into a superfan. Their music goes hand in hand with their live show. Seeing a Flaming Lips show isn't so much a concert as it is an experience. Their shows are a participatory confetti-soaked celebration of life. I will never forget celebrating New Year's Eve with my dad and best friend at a Lips show and watching Wayne Coyne in a inflatable hamster ball descend from a giant UFO and walk on top of the crowd.

I am convinced that Mother Nature herself forged together the elements and created Sigur Ros. They sound so earthly yet so otherworldly at the same time. They are the band that exposed me to Iceland. I have been longing to go there since I was a junior in High School. The natural beauty and landscape of Iceland is something that I have been dying to see with my own eyes. I even set up a savings account with the sole purpose of using some of the money to go there. Someday.

I remember in the 8th grade a few mentions of a new band called The Format and by the time sophomore year hit they were everywhere. They are the hometown heroes for people my age living in Phoenix. I can't say I was the biggest Format fan, and I certainly could care less about Nate Ruess's other band Fun. However, a bunch of my friends have a ton of memories of high-school associated with The Format and so by association I must admit that The Format impacted my High-School years too. Looking back, I don't understand why I didn't like them more. Interventions and Lullabies is filled with catchy pop-hooks that harken back to the old AM-Radio days, and Dog Problems is straight up Sgt. Pepper-esque. They still are the best band to come out of Phoenix in a long time. I can only hope that fans of the mega-popular Fun. will branch out and give Ruess's first band a shot.

That's a pretty good sampling of what I listened to during my high-school years check back next week for the dramatic conclusion of The Formative Years with what was going through my computer speakers during College. Still, the main question I have is, what was the music of the day that you listened to when you were in High-School?

Below is a Spotify Playlist where you can listen to all of the songs I have mentioned in one sitting.


Monday, October 1, 2012

ST&SP The Formative Years Pt. 1: Elementary-Middle School

A while ago I made the announcement that this site would no longer be a weekly update on current musical trends and instead turn to more introspective periodicals. This week I continue to deliver that promise with the first of a three part introspective about the music that shaped my life through key stages of growing up starting with "Elementary School-Middle School" through "High School" and ending with "College and Beyond."

                                                      Inside Christ Lutheran School where I went.

There are so many bands and artists that I could have mentioned. The Beatles, The Kinks and especially Led Zeppelin have dominated my CD player throughout the years but my goal with this series is to show how much of a product of my generation I am and how much the music that was being made then shaped me into the person that I am today. Music is something that defines us and helps us relate to others. I also believe that people's taste shifts throughout time and to me it's a great way to wax nostalgic and see how much one has changed. Some of these artists I am ashamed to admit I liked others I still proudly listen to and will defend their importance till the day I die.

The first CDs I ever owned were the McDonald's Celebrates Disney CD series that came with Happy Meal toys circa 1997. I remember vividly going to McDonalds with my mom day after day until I had the entire collection of Buddy, Hero and Rascal Songs. My dad had a CD collection and now I had my own little three CD stash. I was literally amazed with how this little disc could be put in my Dad's stereo and play sounds, and on top of it all these CDs were mine.

The first CD that I ever had my mother buy me was Smash Mouth's Astro Lounge at a Target in Phoenix. It's crazy. I don't remember most of my classmates from elementary school but I remember buying this album like it was yesterday. I must have heard Smash Mouth's smash hit "All Star" in some Disney Channel program but then again when that song came out it was everywhere. It's interesting how this was the first album for many of my friends who are around my age as well. I can see why, it's a fun shiny album and is safe for kids to listen to. Looking back on it I see Smash Mouth as a band for people who think They Might Be Giants are a little too extreme but at the time I thought this was the bee's knees.

The second album I ever owned was Fatboy Slim's You've Come A Long Way Baby. I remember with my mom at the mall buying pants at a JC Penney's and on the TV the music video for "The Rockafeller Skank" came on and so I asked my mom if we could go to the mall's Sam Goody and get the CD because I liked that song. This was also the first record I ever owned with a parental advisory sticker on it. On the ride home I put the CD in the car stereo and on the third track "In Heaven" the lyrics of the track are "Fatboy Slim is fucking in Heaven" are repeated over and over for three minutes. So my mom freaked out, turned the car around and returned the CD to Sam Goody. That was the first and only album I have ever returned. I still don't own it. I should buy it on vinyl. Great record.

Since 1983 Weird Al has dominated the school yard. Back in the 3rd grade I remember listening and memorizing Weird Al lyrics with my friends at recess. He has a ton of albums but I would argue that Bad Hair Day is still his most essential. Weird Al was actually my first concert. I saw him perform at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania for free with my mom, he was on his Running With Scissors Tour. I was absolutely floored being able to sing "Eat It" and "Amish Paradise" with my mom and tons of kids my age. Weird is still pumping out hilarious accordion parodies of pop music to this day with the same band, he still rocks and I'm sure kids are still quoting him on the playground to this day.

My dad has always had a...unique taste in music. He used to collect the ESPN CD series Jock Jams so by association I listened to Jock Jams. Some of the songs were really good "Flagpole Sitta" is still a great 90s rock song. However, most of the mix was made up of the most senseless pop hits of the day like Chumbawumba. I am sure that Jock Jams was only intended to be used for cheerleading competitions, but my dad loved them.

Okay, now here we go. The Offspring fucking rule. They were my first truly favorite band. My dad loved them and they were our go-to artist to play in the car to get me pumped up on the way to hockey practice. Granted The Offspring have sort of faded out of relevance even though they're still touring and making music but Smash, Ixnay on the Hombre, and Americana are in my mind three of the most essential mainstream punk albums of the 90s. I will defend the importance of The Offspring till the day I die. I've been listening to them since I was a little kid and I still have Americana in my car. They were the first concert I ever saw with my dad too. I have great memories tied to this band.

Much like the NSYNC vs. Backstreet Boys camp there was a Blink-182 vs. Green Day camp. Even though it's a ridiculous argument cause both bands have released really amazing and really awful records. I was team Blink 182 all the way. Primarily because at the time I watched a lot of MTV and Blink made way better music videos than Green Day did. I also connected better with Blink's personality. They seemed like a bunch of goofballs who liked to run around and make fart and dick jokes which is exactly who I was at the time. I also was a huge fan of their live album The Mark Tom & Travis Show, I learned a lot of new swear words and references to the human anatomy from that album alone. The first half of it is a solid hit-packed live album and the second half is filled with hilariously inappropriate live banter. It's borderline stand-up comedy. I still listen to Enema of The State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket occasionally.

There were no music blogs back then and Napster was just getting started so I just assumed that whatever they played on the radio or on MTV was all that was out there. That was until I discovered my favorite local radio station the now defunct Arizona rock station Edge 103.9 had a weekly late night SkaPunk show. Here I was exposed to a plethora of current 90s punk and ska bands that I didn't know existed until then. NOFX, The Dead Milkmen, Less Than Jake, and Operation Ivy among others. It was so raw and exciting. I knew that even as a 6th grader this would be a genre worth remembering. I would write down the artists names that I enjoyed when they were announced by the DJ after a block of songs and the next day I would go to the Phoenix Public Library or on Napster and try to find them.

Sigh. Nu Metal. A dark age in the history of rock and roll. Nu Metal was different than the more traditional thrash metal of Metallica that I was currently listening to. These songs were more about their "feelings" and were much more slowed down and I would have to say even vaguely influenced by hip-hop. Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Staind all dominated the airways and as an impressionable youth I bought into it. I try to forget this period but at the time I fucking loved it. I even went to a Korn concert and you know what? It kicked ass. It was loud and in your face and I loved any minute of it. So fuck it, I'll wear it like a badge. There was I time I was super into Korn.

Eminem was the only artist my parents forbid me to listen to. So naturally, when they weren't watching I downloaded everything he released. The Eminem Show was the first record I purchased with my own money that I had from my allowance because I had to purchase it behind my mom's back. Eminem was one of the most divisive artists I can think of. Everyone at the schoolyard either hated him or loved him. I wanted to hate him so much but I couldn't. He was so angry and passionate that I was drawn to his music. I never agreed when he talked about domestic abuse but Eminem was the first hip-hop artist I ever truly got behind. I re-listened to Marshall Matthers LP when I was researching for this post, it's a game-changer of an album. Dr. Dre is a great producer as well. It's interesting how he's gone from being the most controversial artist alive and having his CD's being destroyed by kids parents to becoming what is essentially the soundtrack to National Guard commercials everywhere.

If you asked me to I could recite the entire Tenacious D record from heart, and I have been able to do that since the eighth grade. I have a similar relationship to Tenacious D as I did with Weird Al. I love Jack Black as a comedic actor but I would bet the first Tenacious D record is what many people my age appreciate him for. It was a record that brought people together and forged friendships over dirty, filthy and hilarious songs. Long live The D.

A lot of people and critics would say that Nirvana's Nevermind is the quintessential 90s rock record. While that record is certainly monumental and I listened to Nirvana a lot. I would argue that Weezer's debut record Weezer (The Blue Album) is the quintessential 90s record. Their first two records Blue and Pinkerton are some of the best rock music made during the 90s. Every Weezer fan loves and hates Weezer very passionately, talking about how great they were and how far they have fallen from grace since those first two records (I still think Maladroit is under-appreciated). I can state for a fact that Weezer was many of my closest friends favorite band growing up. Every single song on those first two records are solid.

I am sure there are other bands and songs that were a big part of my early years but those are the main ones I can think of, I will be back soon with Pt. 2 High School soon. However the main question I have is, what was the music of the day that you listened to when you were in Elementary-Middle School?

Below is a Spotify Playlist where you can listen to all of the songs I have mentioned in one sitting.