Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Pop Backstory, Volume 8: The National Peace Jubilee, Like Woodstock, but Actually High-Minded

Just...cool. Amazing to see this.
One day not so long after the Civil War, a man had a vision. That man was Patrick S. Gilmore and, holy shit, did he pull off something spectacular. Gilmore had a couple other visions, too, like this one from the first of several gestures toward enormity:

“In addition to many other patriotic tunes, during the last number, Hail Columbia, Gilmore shot off thirty-six cannon by electric buttons from the podium. As the cannon fired methodically in time with the beat, the bells from churches and cathedrals throughout the city chimed to create a most spectacular effect.”
Using an entire city (New Orleans) as an instrument gives you some sense of Gilmore’s relationship with scale (also of note, this happened in 1864, during the latter stages of the entire Civil War – and that was just two years after the Union reclaimed the city). The man lived on 11, in other words, but that’s what it takes to pull an absolutely epic, town-consuming event all the way off. That came five summers later, when Gilmore staged The National Peace Jubilee in Boston, Massachusetts, in June 1869, an event on a scale all but unimaginable in the era of the telegraph, before auto-ready highways, and the hospitality services that followed therefrom, before even the light bulb. Damn it…even that framing feels inadequate. The point is, so much of the tech we take for granted had only just started to get rolling.

Gilmore didn’t want for inspiration, either, he was mindful that, per Richard Crawford, “the war’s end had not soothed the bitterness between North and South.” He wasn’t the only person to try, on the other hand, because even Abraham Lincoln called for a playing of the semi-infamous “Dixie” immediately after the Civil War, and just because he liked the tune. Impressive as Lincoln’s gesture was, Gilmore (somehow) operated on a grander scale (yes, that the President of the United States). His vision/mission statement/declaration bears quoting in full (and that came from this):

“A vast structure rose before me, filled with the loyal of the land, through whose arches a chorus of ten thousand voices and the harmony of a thousand instruments rolled their sea of sound, accompanied by the chiming of bells and the booming of cannon, all pouring forth their praises and gratification in loud hosannas with all the majesty and grandeur of which music seemed capable.”
He would go on to pull this off, per Wikipedia’s entry, by employing (ahem): “100 choral groups with a total of 10,926 singers, 525 musicians with the orchestra, and 486 musicians with the brass band.” Again, Gilmore hauled this business to coherence just four years after the conclusion of this nation’s greatest trauma – and he did it all by begging and borrowing (no record of stealing) from (presumably) Boston’s famed Brahmins, businessmen, and anyone else with the cash to fund the vision. The whole thing came off too, with even critics like the (reportedly) notorious local critic John Sullivan Dwight coming ‘round, to the tune of the eloquent phrasing Richard Crawford would note in his (violently abridged) An Introduction to America's Music, it gave “’all classes (save, unfortunately, the poorest)’ the chance to experience music…perhaps ‘for the first time…a high and holy influence’ and ‘the birthright of a free American.’”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

New to Me: Diane Coffee, Everybody's a Good Dog

With an assist from gravity...
Truly interesting wee act this time around…

Diane Coffee, Everybody’s a Good Dog

The Gateway Drug
Mayflower,” a 30-year-old channels the 70s. And epically.

Heard this tune last year sometime, and my happiest memory of it happened when I walked around the supermarket loudly humming/imitating the horns (thanks, earbuds!). Every time I walked past a Mexican family they turned their heads. What I value most about “Mayflower” is its essential “bigness,” its bombast, the way it makes a fella want to hold his fists to the heavens and wail along with Diane Coffee’s singer, Shaun Fleming. It runs at a good tempo and he scales the music up and down nicely – the mechanics of that bombast – and the long, strumming drives beautifully into a close with those same horns. And…scene.

I only dug up the video yesterday and…well, I wish I hadn’t. Fleming (who grow up doing voice-work for one of my kids’ favorite cartoons) looks happy as a cat in catnip in the video, but the (low?) camp in that video somehow threatens my enjoyment of it. Something in me wants that song to be, for lack of a better word, sincere...and, after clearing up some of the lyrics, it matches better than I thought. Still. Resisting.

Then again, Fleming loves hamming. If you watch him in the band's Tiny Desk Concert (ft. “Spring Breathes,” “It’s Not That Easy” and “Mayflower”), you’ll see a man who can’t help performing.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

One Last Pick Thru the Bins, Volume 32: Flying Lotus, On Personal Problems and Appreciation

OK...but is he wearing pants? And what does that mean?!
Did bullet points in the last volume, and that feels like a fail. Still, made some good choices, too, so those are incorporated herein.

How’d I Find It?
I really thought that Flying Lotus connected cleanly with the Odd Future collective. Then again, I didn’t name him in my (let’s face it, weird) write-up, so brain-farts abound. He has, however, worked with Hodgy Beats and Earl Sweatshirt, at least.

Gateway Drug/Album
I have no idea how I picked up Cosmogramma; I only know I have it. Listened to it back when, too, and remembered liking it. By which I mean, I was happy when I saw Flying Lotus next in the queue. I couldn’t quite remember what it sounded like, at least not beyond recalling it as instrumental-heavy…

Notes/Tracks (and No Bullet Points)
…and that matters, because I always struggle with instrumentals. With the way my brain snaps to lyrics, listening to music without words bears a rough resemblance to contemplating an unfinished painting; yeah, yeah, that’s absolutely a personal limitation, but whenever I hear music without lyrics, I can’t help but pat my pockets for one of those audio doo-dads they give you at museums to explain the history and meanings of the damn paintings. (And, as with paintings/sculptures/all visual media…just look at the damn thing, ya lazy twit; something’ll reveal itself*.)

(* Also, I have improve, lo, these past 10-15 years.)

In a bid to contain the sprawl, I confined my close listening to just two of Flying Lotus’ albums, Cosmogramma (2010) and You’re Dead (2014, non-Deluxe), but with one detour back to his debut album, Los Angeles (2008). A couple tracks (well, names, actually; “Beginner’s Falafel,” “Comet Course” (for once, read the comments) and “Roberta Flack”) stood out on that one, but focus requires focus, so those got short shrift…that said, in a moment that reveals the persistence of my need for lyrics, my ears pricked up on “Roberta Flack” and just because someone said something. (Sweet, sweet relief.)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

New to Me: The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure

No idea. Googled some sensible words. I just like it.
Again, to briefly introduce what I’m doing here when I use “New to Me” in the title, I’m just reviewing an album that a song or two inspired me to listen to all the way through. The artists reviewed will be new, hopefully, but I really don’t give a shit so long as it’s something I’ve never heard before.

The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure

The Gateway Drug
Daniel in the Basement,” a playful, defiant ditty with the volume and tempo set to racing speeds.

The Backstory
I get a lot of my new music, most of it, really, through Spotify’s fascinatingly hit-and/or (seriously, this operates on quantum physics scales)-miss (badly) “Discover Weekly” feature. By that I mean, some weeks, the algorithm all but softly blows great songs into my ear; others, it’s like navigating your least favorite corporation’s automated phone answering service. “Daniel in the Basement,” though, had my interest from the first verse/chorus combo. The blistering musical intro didn’t hurt either.

What really sold me on the track, though, was the way it rewards further listening. Once you catch snippets of…hold on, Elizabeth Nelson’s lyrics, you’re forced to go back to figure out what’s next. “Daniel” packs in smart (and unintentionally relevant) nods to, say, Lou Reed (“lookin’ just Holly from Miami, F-L-A”), and follows it up with still smarter, real poetic couplets (“such a ghostly pallor/what a way to earn a dollar/Oh, Daniel, you’ve got so/many other debts to pay”; and it gets even better after that; damn).

The Album
Eh, I don’t hate it. I’ve picked up a couple snippets about them once having/still holding lobbyist gigs in D.C., and that only makes them cooler (oh, the other person is Tim Bracy, her boyfriend/husband/look, does it matter?) I read a couple reviews – a pretty upbeat one from Spin, and another from something called The Monitor – so I’ve got a better sense of what they’re about, and I agreed with a lot of it, but I feel like none of it changed my handle on the band.

Judge My Playlist Volume 12: Punk from Yout'

What good guitar sounds like to me....
If you asked me what music I liked from high school and my mid-20s, I would have said “punk.” (This came after, and somewhat overlapped a deep “classic rock” infatuation for most of high school; I don’t cover the past.) There was more than a little pretension in that, but, meh. I liked some other music (see?), but what I thought of as punk sat at the center of it, the same way a leashed dog can only wander so far from the stake in the ground in the back yard. (Also, take your dogs for a damn walk, take them into your home, or don’t get one.)

“Punk” might have been my jam, but I missed a lot and dismissed some of the stuff that came to me for failing to fit a personal, tightly pinched definition of punk – i.e., it could only be alienated, angry and fast. Punk can be only those things, but, as I’ve heard more and different people lay claim to marching under a “punk” banner, it makes more and more sense to expand punk, musically, as an approach to music, something tied more to mind-set than raging vocals, loud ragged guitar, and a drummer wailing away as if he’s forever trying to keep up.

First and foremost, punk seems like it’s about expression, the urgency of getting it out into the world. Sometimes that’s secondary to learning how how to play your instruments, too. If you pick up and read Please Kill Me, you’ll see that…every band stands as an example. (Will loan out that book, btw.)

At any rate, no small number of the songs below came from this collection, so find that if this interests. Some stuff I knew before (X, The Buzzcocks, Stiff...look, see below). I added a couple songs with an eye to undermining the theme – e.g., those songs ain’t from my “yout’” - but because I just liked them and they sounded like generic “punk” genre evolved and maybe a little cleaned up (Blink-182 is plenty fun, but…y’know?). “Surrender” might also feel like a clunker, but I’d argue it fits just fine under the spirit/mind-set argument. Oh, and also, almost all of these songs come from my linear youth, as opposed to my actual youth (as in, I heard 10 of these songs after age 30). And…yep, that’s everything. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 31: Frank Ocean, R&B's Prodigal Son

Dunno. Feels cheap, reductive...
I’m trying to clean up these posts, to make them look outward a little more than in. That’s all I’ll say about that.

How’d I Find It?
I probably first bumped into Frank Ocean by way of one of Too Good For Radio’s monthly playlists. Think I found a bad remix of Ocean’s “Pyramids” (which I can't find) the same month I picked up a solid remix of Kendrick Lamarr’s “Swimming Pools.” The pressure built steadily after that, whether by way of older people talking up his PBR&B appeal (hipster), or my kids talking him up due to his connections to Odd Future. He was everywhere for a while, basically…

Gateway Drug/Album
Channel Orange. I picked that one up three-four years ago, and always found it impressive. That’s as distinct from just “liking” it. By that I mean, Ocean feels like he’s doing something new…even though the specific thing he’s doing at least echoes older forms.

Notes, Music & Tracks
Because Frank Ocean has only two albums, it feels right to put fewer tracks on the playlist. Going with 10, in fact, which feels like a goddamn relief after weeks upon weeks of skipping past entire albums for other artists (then again, after Liz Phair, lesson learned).

All in all, both lyrically and in musical mood, listening to Frank Ocean feels a lot like just sitting with shit. He comes off as the sad guy at a party as much as anything, the one quietly taking stock after too many nights that run the gamut from great to disappointing to disastrous, and as everyone else keeps doing the same thing every weekend. I’ll confess directly that I pick this up more from sound/tone than lyrics (because I haven’t had enough time with his lyrics), but I detect a distinct “spectator/novelist” vibe in Ocean’s lyrics, just plain vivid storytelling with an updated take on R&B music to frame the lyrics. And I think that’s his main appeal – especially against the back-drop of his association with the far angrier/noisier Odd Future.

There’s not one song on either album I’d label “aggressive.” It’s implied above, but he plays from a mellow tempo and register, and never left it, not across two albums. As it happens, I like the songs I like off Channel Orange better than the songs I like off Blonde – though, I did include an equal number of both below and on the playlist. He’s just a little bouncier on his debut (…dunno, if life weighed down this kid already, he’s gonna struggle...)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Judge My Playlist, Chapter 11: The Toast of Elvis Costello

ALWAYS a messy lie....
This one represents sort of an accidental double-dip between this (weird) series and the Bins Project (e.g. the stuff titled, “One Last Pick thru the Bins,” etc.). I have a couple artists (and it might be two, literally) for whom I made personal, “best of” CDs and Elvis Costello was one of them. I guess I worried that I’d forget some of the side stuff unless I burned it into a CD…

…happily, I have a pretty clear idea about what I’m gonna do when I actually reach Costello’s volume on the Bins Project, and that should take care of the potential overlap. At any rate…

I fell ass-over-head-in-love with Costello at some point during high school; friends with more intact memories can probably tell you when this happened, but I can’t. He’s one of those artists – and these are less rare than one might think – who doesn’t so much defy classification, as he doesn’t fit any genre with ease. At least not outside “rock,” that’s broad to the point of being meaningless. I think that’s a pretty smart lure for people like me. (“What’s he write?” “Oh, music, I guess.”)

If you know Costello at all, I’m pretty sure (and, yes, just confirmed) that everything in this collection comes before 1986’s Blood & Chocolate. This is early stuff basically…and that’s why you won’t see overlap later. With that, below are some, but not all, of my favorite songs by Elvis Costello. Hope this gives fans of the man a nice trip down memory lane, and hope this serves as an appetizer for a huge main course for anyone who’s never heard him before (i.e., he's still making music, and fucking evolving, too).