A collection of musically themed musings by Brendan Bush in Burlington, VT

On the road: albums to travel with

Filed Under: Guest Post
Written by Susie
Tuesday January 4, 2011

[ed. note - to help sustain this blog over the busy holidays, I asked a few friends to write a guest post. This is Susie's contribution]

I spent much of 2010 alone, traveling in planes and rental cars for about a quarter of it. Awesome (seriously). For company I had my iPod and the AUX cable that traveled 42,000 miles with me. I listened to a lot of music, but these are three of my favorite albums.

I was introduced to Mumford and Sons by my friend Caitlin, who instant messaged me and said only, “you are required to come to this show with me (at the 9:30 club).” Knowing that I acquire new music almost solely via Brendan, Aaron and Caitlin, I enthusiastically agreed to go. The show was great. I knew none of the songs and still felt part of the event and went home and expressly bought “Sigh No More”. Their soulful, English accented love songs are wonderful to sit with regardless of my mood and the wailing interludes are especially conducive to my experimental singing (I’m awful and it’s best done in cars alone).

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Up From Below” tap straight into my hippy love-of-everything and the universal nature of life and living. Through and through love fest music, I swoon when I hear Alexander’s story to Jade of how he fell in love with her in “Home”. Seeing them live brought a whole new level of understanding of their soulful works, recognizing that performing, singing and dancing are to the level of religious for them and some members of their audience. I dig.

Broken Bells blends my affinity for electronic (Ratatat, Fila Brazilia, AIR, El Ten Eleven) and indie rock. With lyrics I can sing along to, droning choruses I love, and beats that work at 5am or 10pm, these folks can come with me anywhere I go.

Honorable mention goes to The National, Lissie, OK Go (mostly because I accidentally bought every song they have on iTunes and I’m largely not disappointed), Starf*cker, Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson, She & Him, Phoenix, Interpol, and that one song by Pearl Jam (fine, it’s called Breathe).

Thanks to the real music gurus who know what they like and shed a great deal of light on the music I listen to – can’t wait to hit more shows with you and do exactly as you say. Finally, here’s to whatever 2011 brings – may it be accompanied by a rich and varied soundtrack.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

2010 Albums That Fell Short

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Guest Post
Written by Preeti
Monday January 3, 2011

[ed. note: to help me get through the holiday mayhem, I asked a few friends to write a post. Here's Preeti's contribution.]

I know I’m always asking what music other people recommend — bands you might never have heard of, exciting new albums from old favorites, etc. I mean this blog is a perfect example since it highlights just those artists (if you haven’t checked out Brendan’s 2010 Favorites you should). Here’s the thing, there are also those bands in the last couple years that you loved and then somehow, after waiting at long last for their next album it just didn’t seem to match up OR it was a vicious disappointment. The 10 albums below are just some of those for me this past year.

Maybe I’m whining but imagine it this way, one day you go to Cirque de Soleil and the next you go to a Circus. Mine ears have seen the glory.

I write this not in criticism (though I guess one could take it as such) but really, some of these artists have made amazing near perfect albums in the past, albums I play over and over and over. I write this as a proposition to these artists to reach back into their Mary-Poppins-like bags of talent and dig deep for what again could be musical mastery. In the interest of being concise I will follow the Twitter-inspired 140 character limit for notes below.

P.S. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — what may be disappointing for me, may be listeners gold for ye.

Band of HorsesInfinite Arms
Love the band but Infinite Arms lacked heart. Similar calm and ease from Cease To Begin but felt too rehearsed.

Belle & SebastianWrite About Love
Love The Boy With The Arab Strap forever. Couldn’t play this album more than twice. Need more instrumental (strings/brass) less synthetic.

Broken BellsBroken Bells
I was all psyched for Mercer + Danger Mouse but this album was less than the sum of its parts. [ed. note - though it didn't quite make my favorites of 2010, I thought this album was fantastic]

Hold SteadyHeaven is Wherever
Hopefully this is a transition album (to something better), until then we still have their other three albums.

M.I.A/ \ / \ / \ Y / \
WTF? Let down + crazy town. “Born Free” video controversy is the only reason this could have been popular. Maybe her wedding distracted her?

The NationalHigh Violet
Is everyone overproducing these days? Boxer, Alligator – great albums. I wanted to like it but just didn’t feel growth here.

Of MontrealFalse Priest
After Skeletal Lamping I wanted to like this but I couldn’t. Nothing stood out. Too much orgy, not enough music. I’m sure this is just temporary.

Rogue WavePermalight
Hard to beat Out of the Shadow & Descended Like Vultures, Permalight didn’t succeed. Reinventing with poppy electronic is a trend this year.

Indie band with a long history of great albums. This was not one of them. Everyone has a bad day.

Sufjan StevensAge of Adz
I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m not supposed to get it. Electronic + Sufjan = disaster.

Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Girl Talk and the rise of the mashup

Filed Under: Guest Post, Music for a Mood, Random Thought
Written by Eric
Friday December 31, 2010

[ed. note: I asked a few friends to help me get through the holiday season by writing a post for the blog. Here's Eric's contribution]

At the risk of telling you what you already know: a mashup is a song that is composed of two or more songs blended together.   In the last few years, mashups have risen to the level of a legitimate genre-spanning form of music.   The popular television series Glee dedicated an entire episode to mashups and the video game DJ Hero took mashups to XBoxes and PlayStations.

Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, has been putting out mashup albums since the turn of the century.  His mastery of the mashup can most easily be noted by the low-quality work of competitors.  Check out this gem: Papa Roach vs. Rihanna.  Rather than bastardizing original works, Girl Talk creates mashups that enhance and extend the original works.  His 2006 release, Night Ripper, introduced the mashup into mine and many others vocabulary, but his latest work, All Day, is the culmination of the years he’s spent honing his craft.  For lack of a more detailed review, it just works.  The album is a free download and I highly recommend you check it out.

As an accompaniment to the album, I recommend checking out Mashup Breakdown created by Benjamin Rahn.  The site gives a visual representation of the songs used in All Day as it plays.  It’s quite amazing.

Girl Talk plays the Metropolis in Montreal on March 1, 2011.  Buy your tickets now and thank me later.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Holiday Music That Doesn’t Suck

Filed Under: Guest Post, Music for a Mood
Written by Aaron
Wednesday December 22, 2010

[ed. note: I asked a few friends to help me get through the holiday season by writing a post for the blog. Here's Aaron's contribution]

I don’t do Christmas music. The stuff is terrible. But this time of year, some people could care less. Otherwise respectable friends love the stuff. Much like crack cocaine or stale marshmallows — they’ll consume holiday music regardless of its quality or efficacy. Bah humbug (whatever that even means).

When your pals ask you to plug in your iPhone and provide the soundtrack to their mistletoe-ridden gathering, don’t fret. Here are a few holiday songs that don’t suck. This short list includes some Christmas songs, some Chanukah songs, some winter songs. Jesus even gets a shout-out once or twice.

The John Spencer Blues Explosion – High Gear: JSBX snarls out a rocker about a dude long-haul-trucking a load of candy canes through snowy mountain scenery. With reindeer.

Dressy Bessy – All The Right Reasons: Synths, snowmen, and sleigh bells combine in a pleasant twee tune from these Denver indie scenesters. Best part: it ends with a Chanukah ditty.

The Go! Team – The Ice Storm: Winds and sleigh bells whip against organs for a holiday-ish wintery instrumental. No religious agenda whatsoever.

Dar Williams – The Christians And The Pagans: Well-told tale of a family gathering with different winter holiday traditions. A modern folky classic.

Ben Kweller – Rock of Ages: It’s a 13th century Chanukah song. About the Maccabbees, duh. Sung rather sweetly and sparingly.

Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery – Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Two greats of the jazz organ funk out a wordless winter heavy hitter on dueling Hammond B-3s.

Steve Earle – Christmas In Washington: Easily the greatest neo-folk roots-rock song about Congress’s December lame duck period. And about Woody Guthrie’s campaign to elect Jesus Christ. It’s a bit to the left of most Christmas songs.

Johnny Cash – It Was Jesus: Not about Christmas. But very much about Jesus. If you’re into that sort of thing, nobody sings it better.

The Fiery Furnaces – Tropical-Iceland: Somewhere in the fuzzed-out rock minds of the Furnaces lies a winter wonderland of stray ponies and ice castles. I want to go there.

Pas/Cal – I Wanna Take You Out In Your Holiday Sweater: A light, non-denominational holiday romp with bells, handclaps, and delightful doo-woop vocals.

Jill Sobule – Soldiers of Christ: A pleasantly sung tongue-in-cheek indictment of extreme American religiosity. Not a holiday song unless you’re fighting The War On Christmas.

Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Wrapup: Erin McKeown @ Kennedy Center 8/19/2010

Filed Under: Concert Reviews, Guest Post, Live Shows
Written by Aaron
Friday August 20, 2010

Ed. Note: Brendan asked me to fill in for a few a few days. I’m happy to oblige.

A 6 p.m. rock show?  Fine by me.

I moved toward the front of the stage and found an empty chair next to two chatty, much older women.  Why were they here?  Were they unlikely rock fans?  Perhaps they were hoping to hear some lady jazz singer profiled in the patrons’ newsletter.  Folky singer/songwriter enthusiasts?  Maybe that was the case.

Erin McKeown - Hundreds of Lions

Hundreds of Lions

Since this blog typically covers music closer to Burlington, I’ll do a little explaining.  Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center is a short walk from my apartment.  It’s even closer — across the street — from the famed Watergate complex.  Young people live where I live.  Old people live in the Watergate.

So I was sitting next to some Watergate retirees.  Their pre-show banter pegged them as regulars at the Kennedy Center’s daily Millennium Stage shows.  Music I love isn’t often featured at the free performances hosted in this arts palace (later this week in the same series: “Marvin Hamlisch conducts alumni of the D.C. Youth Orchestra!”).  But tonight was different.

At 5:57, the very slight Erin McKeown hustled through the atrium hefting an enormous backpack.  She was on stage a moment later wearing a white shirt and white pants — both rolled and unbuttoned enough to reveal intricate tattoos.  Not the typical Kennedy Center look.

McKeown’s latest album was released last October.  As she tells it, Hundreds of Lions chronicles a relationship from start to finish.  It’s a solid record.  At this abbreviated show, McKeown chose to play what she called a “mini suite” of songs from that batch (“Santa Cruz,” “Put the Fun Back in the Funeral,” “To A Hammer,” “The Rascal,” “The Lions”) along with some older gems and two new songs.  She was alone on stage with an electric guitar, a grand piano, and a cup from Starbucks.  Her voice sounded better than ever.  She rocked.

Erin McKeown’s first proper album, Distillation, popped onto my radar screen nearly a decade ago thanks in large part to WXPN,  Philadelphia’s cooler-then-than-now public radio station.  I’ve seen her plenty of times since 2001.  And I’ve even dragged my parents along.  I think of McKeown as a great rocker with smart lyrics.  Others pigeonhole her as a folk artist.  And she’s released a record of jazz standards.  She’s tough to label.  As McKeown tours relentlessly she promotes herself to that NPR audience that enjoys a little bit of folk, jazz, and just maybe sometimes rock.

She’s a commanding performer on stage.  McKeown can tell quick stories and call attention to particularly witty lines from her own pen.  Tonight she overcame an extremely stiff crowd and managed to look like she enjoyed herself.  “Let it fly, y’all,” she yelled during one brave attempt to garner audience participation.  “I think to sum up the record and certainly this song: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.  Words to live by, kids!”  The ladies in my row exchanged stern looks at that advice.  They whispered disapprovingly.  They should have gone home.

McKeown closed with “You Were Right About Everything” from her 2005 record, We Will Become Like Birds.  The women on my row shuffled out, unmoved.  They were wrong.  This was a brief performance but a real treat.

You can watch video of tonight’s full show on the Kennedy Center’s site. McKeown has announced an upcoming tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Distillation.  She’ll play that complete album before moving on to newer material in several cities (stops include Cambridge, Mass. 9/24, Northampton, Mass. 10/9, New York 10/17, Arlington, Va. 10/23, and Philadelphia 10/24).

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Still Disappointed By Spoon’s ‘Transference’

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Guest Post
Written by Aaron
Friday August 13, 2010

Ed. Note: Brendan asked me to fill in for a few a few days. I’m happy to oblige.

I’ve struggled all year with Spoon’s latest album, Transference. With the band on the road this month (supporting Arcade Fire), I thought I’d revisit this record. I’ve tried to find more to like on Transference. I’m not sure I’ve been successful.

Some of Spoon’s more challenging and typical gimmicks are on display throughout — but the reverb, the left/right pans, and the abrupt cutoffs aren’t adding much anymore. (To wit, the end of “Mystery Zone.”) Maybe it’s just that the element of surprise is gone for Spoon. Or just played out.

But enough about my hangups. There are some subtle good things about this mostly ungreat record. My favorite spots:

  • The cover art – More on that later.
  • “Trouble Comes Running” – A neat little rock song with trademark sharp drums and fun melodies. Simple but good.
  • “Goodnight Laura” – A sparse, sweet, un-Spoon ballad that only seems Spoon-ike in it’s “alright, you’re alright” repetition.
  • “Got Nuffin’” – Not too bad. A great buildup from “darkness and shadows” traces its way to some pleasing guitar rock. But then it peters out. I love the line, “the flowers bloom and the trains collide, I’ve got nothin’ to lose.”

Transference isn’t Spoon’s best work. By far. If it hasn’t been obvious before, now it’s certainly clear how much Britt Daniel drives this band. A January New York Times interview painted a picture of bandmates who live in scattered cities, waiting for Daniel to send along his latest material. There’s nothing wrong with that model. And there’s nothing wrong with a band that has one very-central frontman. [As an aside, the 2002 split EP that paired a solo Britt Daniels with Bright Eyes is something you should definitely have in your collection.]

In that same Times piece, the band talks a bit about their carefree aesthetic. They’ve never done beards. They don’t care about hair… Whatever. It seems like they care a good deal about appearances these days. And it’s commendable. It’s hard to watch their live performances and not notice the stark black and white uniform — with Daniel himself often dressed entirely in white. The video for “Written In Reverse” carries that look forward with high-contrast black and white treatment throughout.

But nothing points to a keen non-musical aesthetic like the smart cover art on Transference. They’ve chosen a great photo from William Eggleston. The famed photographer (who died after Transference was released) snapped this image in Sumner, Mississippi in 1970. It works for the album and it keeps me looking back at the image when I’m listening to the tunes. [Spoon aren't the first band to choose an Eggleston photo for their cover.]

Perhaps Transference will grow on me. Perhaps I’ve already spent enough time trying to come to different conclusions. It’s a darker and less-fun record for Spoon. I would have really enjoyed a return of the horn section that graced some of their more recent records (and that joined them on tour as recently as last week). There are elements in Transference of Spoon at their best — or of Britt Daniel doing some great writing — but still… something is missing here.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.


Standout Tracks: “Right On” by The Roots

Filed Under: Guest Post, Standout Tracks, Track Reviews
Written by Eric
Friday July 9, 2010

Ed. Note: I’ll be filling in for Brendan for a few days.  Our musical taste arc has followed the same hip-hop to indie music (with some hip-hop interspersed) progression, so I hope to do this blog’s theme justice.

“Right On” by The Roots is the 9th track off of their latest release, “How I Got Over.”  While I highly recommend the entire album, I want to focus on this particular track.

A rework of “The Book of Right-On” by Joanna Newsom, this track immediately hit me with its haunting and mesmerizing hooks and break beats.  Newsom’s harp and voice combined with Questlove’s drums create a backdrop for this song that leaves the listener yearning for more.  An aside: you can read more about Joanna Newsom’s unique journey through indie music at NYTimes.com.

Black Thought deftly maneuvers through his verse. Like the rest of the album, his level-headed but strong flow drives the track with a sense of purpose.  On this occasion though, the lyrical gem of the track belongs to the other guest.  STS aka Sugar Tongue Slim, the Philly by way of Atlanta rapper, comes out of nowhere to steal the track with his verse. He quickly burns through his 45 seconds, dropping several scientific references and finishing with a sports analogy.  That combination is a key to my rap-loving heart. It’s the type of performance that makes you do a double-take and rewind to the beginning of it.

Sure, the track’s message is a bit shallow; it’s equal parts ego boasting and city repping.  But it certainly left an impression on me for days.  Give it a listen and let me know what you think:

Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Old Music: Neil Young’s “On The Beach” (1974) is an album for our times

Filed Under: Album Reviews, Guest Post, Old Music
Written by Aaron
Friday June 4, 2010

Ed. Note: Brendan asked me to fill in for a few a few days. I’m happy to oblige.

Neil Young promo photo for On The Beach

Promotional photo for On The Beach.

With summer approaching and oil gushing from the sea floor, I’ve been thinking this week about a classic record.  Neil Young’s dark, introspective On The Beach is a reminder that things can get messy.

Darkness abounds.  In “Vampire Blues,” Young sings about the thirsty oil industry.  Organs back his slow, hopeless romp.  The words are prescient given our current catastrophe:

I’m a vampire, babe, suckin’ blood from the earth …
Well, I’m a vampire, babe, I’ll sell you twenty barrels worth…
I’m a black bat, babe, I need my high octane…
Good times are comin’, I hear it everywhere I go.
Good times are comin’, but they sure are comin’ slow.

Have a listen:

In spite of the doom and gloom, there are plenty of reasons to love this album.

The track you may know best, “Walk On,” kicks off the record with guitars moving from bright to chunky to whiny.  And back again.  It’s a pleasant-sounding recollection of good times with good friends.  But the good times don’t last.  Some friendships crumble and our protagonist sings that, “sooner or later it all gets real.”  He looks back fondly but he knows when it’s time to move along.

The messy, sad beauty continues in other songs.  “Revolution Blues” follows a paranoid militiaman or perhaps a cult leader.  “For The Turnstiles” ends with the image of perpetually unsuccessful baseball players.

Neil Young, On The Beach, Front cover photo.But summer brings an escape.  In the album’s title song, Young reminds his audience that road trips can solve problems:

Get out of town, think I’ll get out of town. I head for the sticks with my bus and friends, I follow the road, though I don’t know where it ends. Get out of town, get out of town, think I’ll get out of town. ‘Cause the world is turnin’, I don’t want to see it turn away.

On The Beach is a beautiful record — recalling the politics and paranoia of a not-much-simpler era.  It’s a solid classic for your collection.

It’s worth noting that this was a tough album to find a few years back.  On The Beach and a few other Young records fell prey to the artist’s distrust of compact discs’ audio quality.  An online campaign a decade ago called “Release On The Beach” sought to change that.  You could illicitly download a set of scratchy MP3s from that early petition site (and I did).  In 2003, On The Beach was among the first batch of Young’s older albums remastered to CD (and I was eager to buy it).

Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.