Gold Record

Let’s put Elvis to the side.

Among the other top recording artists of the 1950s were:

  • Fats Domino
  • Chuck Berry
  • Little Richard
  • The Everly Brothers
  • Bill Haley & the Comets

Even for those who are music mavens, this list is probably one that is more informational than musical.

That is, there probably aren’t a whole lot of people who spend any time listening to any of these musicians.

This is not to doubt their talents or contributions to music.

But to go to the point that with time (1) tastes change and (2) there is an abundance of other music that becomes available such that “Blueberry Hill,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Tutti Fruitti,” “Bye Bye Love,” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” just aren’t as compelling as they once may have been. And when you factor in demographics—let’s say for the sake of argument that in mid-decade a given fan of any of those recording artists was 16 years old; this fan would be 84 years old—the larger cultural relevance of these songs, to say nothing of all of the others that the musicians created, becomes somewhat marginal at most.

(A digression: in 1977 NASA launched Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, both of which carried along gold-plated albums.

The NASA description of the process of creating the records is worth quoting at length:

“Blank records were provided by the Pyral S.A. of Creteil, France. CBS Records contracted the JVC Cutting Center in Boulder, Colorado to cut the lacquer masters which were then sent to the James G. Lee Record Processing center in Gardena, California to cut and gold plate eight Voyager records. Gold plating took place on August 23, 1977; afterward, the records were mounted in aluminum containers and delivered to JPL. The record is constructed of gold-plated copper and is 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. The record’s cover is aluminum and electroplated upon it is an ultra-pure sample of the isotope uranium-238. Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.468 billion years. The records also had the inscription ‘To the makers of music – all worlds, all times’ hand-etched on its surface.”

Carl Sagan and his colleagues selected the contents of the Golden Record (this is far more meaningful than anything from the RIAA, given that it is meant to represent all of planet Earth, not just transactions).

Continue reading Gold Record

New Maple Glider: Don’t Kiss Me

Video: Maple Glider – “Don’t Kiss Me”

Directed by Tori Zietsch and Joshua Tate. Single out now on Partisan.

This is a cool song and a super fun homemade horror video.

Maple Glider is Melbourne, Australia’s Tori Zietsch. Her 2001 debut To Enjoy Is the Only Thing received a lot of praise but I missed it entirely. If “Don’t Kiss Me” is any indication, I’ve been missing out.

Zietsch says, “It’s a song about consent, and the experience of being predated on by older men as a girl/young woman. I think many of us are aware of that strong urge to say ‘fuck off’ and be left to our own.”

The video reminds me of the kind of goofy, playful shit my friends used to do in out twenties. My favorite part is when the actors break character and smile at their own ridiculousness.

“I liked the feeling of playing a powerful character, especially to this song, which has felt quite empowering to write and to perform,” Zietsch says, “It felt like I was kind of conquering little fears I have surrounding it through humour and play.”

Right on. Conquer them all!

Maple Glider: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Casual or Committed

One of the things that is missing from the music experience is a certain level of commitment. To be sure, there are still people who are engaged and perhaps even obsessively loyal to performers. But there is a large number who most certainly are fans of particular performers but this is more about attentiveness than it is engagement.

This all goes to the primary means by which media is now consumed: a few taps on a screen and voila! When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod in 2001 he made what then seemed to be an unimaginable claim: the device, which was about the size of a pack of cigarettes (yes, in 2001 even people who didn’t imagine themselves to be ironic or gloomy smoked), would put “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Now it isn’t a matter of containing songs on a hard drive as 1,000x are available, as it were, through the digital ether.

To be sure, this situation is one that was created by technological determinism. Its give way to bits.

Whereas it once was a commitment to owning artifacts—as in physical objects that house recordings, be it polyvinyl chloride discs or magnetic tape—it is now essentially about rental of the content without the container.

And the container once had resonance in a way that seeing an image on a screen simply doesn’t. Album jackets, sleeves, labels, and even the vinyl itself (there were sometimes easter eggs found in the space between the last groove and the paper label). Musical artists collaborated with graphic artists: one thinks of Frank Kozik, who died a couple weeks back: he worked with bands including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Offspring, and more. There was an exponential increase in the experience, the physical art working to enhance or even explicate the audio art.

Continue reading Casual or Committed

New Albert Hammond Jr: Old Man

Video: Albert Hammond Jr. – “Old Man”

Directed by Angela Ricciardi and Silken Weinberg. From Melodies On Hiatus, out June 23 on Red Bull.

Picking up where the Strokes left off on 2020’s The New Abnormal, Albert Hammond Jr. proves (again) that he was always the architect of that sound.

In “Old Man” Hammond grapples with the idea that it’s still tough to deal with your parents, even when you’re a grownup.

Time don’t make it better, no
Just makes the feeling grow
Don’t you know the tables turn on you
When you get old.

So it goes. Be sure to watch the video to see Hammond’s wicked air guitar solo, complete with Guitar Guy faces.

Albert Hammond Jr: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Sincere Engineer: Fireplace

Video: Sincere Engineer – “Fireplace”

Single out now on Hopeless.

It’s funny that Deanna Belos doesn’t try to keep a straight face while singing about how she “wouldn’t even help if you were stuck in some guy’s basement and he was getting ready to chop you up.” And why should she? It’s hilarious.

Belos says, “I took some lyrical risks with this one but I’m super stoked on it and think it’s really catchy. To me, it’s like the ‘Corn Dog Sonnet No. 7‘ of this record!” Which suggests this isn’t just a standalone single, but the first preview of an upcoming album. Can’t wait!

Sincere Engineer: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Listening at Home & Lingerie

It is something of a suburban right-of-passage that, when teens, a parent or two yelled at us while we were in our room, “Turn that – – – – – down!” And the five-letter word was not music, but more likely noise or trash or something that only has four letters.

Then it’s onto a dorm room or apartment, where there was considerable audio freedom, although odds are good that there was a pounding heard, vaguely, thorough a wall, ceiling or floor as the neighbors were not as chuffed with the tunes being played at considerable volume than we were.

At this point in time some of us have our own offspring who may be listening to music that we find to be somewhat off-putting at any volume (and if we don’t, there is a good possibility that the music selection will be calibrated until we do).

That right-of-passage—loud music/chastisement/moving/music/rinse/repeat—is being delayed for nearly a third of American teens, according to the Pew Research Center.

It finds that 32.9% of those who are between 18 and 34 still live in their parents’ home. That’s 29.7% of women and a surprising 36% of men.

At that point there is arguably a confluence of listening between a considerable number of them and their parents, such that the volume is selected at a more moderate setting.

What is more surprising is the number of those 18 to 34 who still live with mom and or dad in other countries. The top 5, according to Pew are:

  1. Croatia: 5%
  2. Serbia: 3%
  3. Greece: 9%
  4. Portugal: 3%
  5. Italy: 5%

But what is more surprising is the number of males who still live at home in places like Croatia (83.5% male; 69% female) and Greece (80.1% male; 65.2% female). What is the loud music situation in those households?

Continue reading Listening at Home & Lingerie

New Billy Strings: California Sober (ft. Willie Nelson)

Video: Billy Strings – “California Sober” (ft. Willie Nelson)

Directed by Ryen McPhersen. Single out now on Reprise/WMG.

I had never heard of Billy Strings before I saw the video of him playing “Dust in a Baggie” in somebody’s shitty basement apartment. It was January 2020 and Joe Pernice tweeted: “This @bstrings1 recording is nuts. Do yourself a favor and check him out.” I did myself that favor and I’m glad I did.

My pals and I joked about the dancing dude in the video. DP said, “Green Shirt is at every party I have ever been to since 1991. He’s been alive forever.” I replied, “Dude has sold all the weed in America since 1972. He really adds to the timelessness of this recording!” Our homie Tom disagreed: “Shocking you guys still can’t spot a narc. Too earnest, too clean, too muscular.”

Eventually we found out that Strings grew up one county east of us in Ionia, Michigan, which meant the time-travelling Green Guy really might have been at every party we’d ever been to…as long as he wasn’t bound by the space-time continuum.

It was a quite a shock to discover that in the years since that basement video was shot, the traditional looking bluegrass picker in the checkered shirt and leather vest had become a longhaired, tatted-up, tie-dye-wearing hippie! But he could still play, that’s for sure. It’s been wild to follow his meteoric rise from playing afternoon stages at jam band fests just a few years ago to headlining arenas and winning a Grammy. All without radio exposure or a major label deal.

So what’s going to happen now that he’s turned 30 and signed with Reprise Records? Well for starters it looks like he’s going to release a single with Willie Nelson. So that’s pretty cool. Where he goes from here is anybody’s guess.

And yes, you’re hearing Willie’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael on there, too, as well as legendary Doug Jernigan on pedal steel. So good.

Billy Strings: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Billy Strings: California Sober (ft. Willie Nelson)

New Hives: Bogus Operandi

Video: The Hives – “Bogus Operandi”

Directed by Aube Perrie. From The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons, out Aug 11.

How much have you missed the Hives? Can you believe it’s been over ten years since they released Lex Hives? Well they’re back, baby.

Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist says, “There’s no maturity or anything like that bullshit, because who the fuck wants mature rock’n’roll? That’s always where people go wrong, I feel. ‘It’s like rock’n’roll but adult,’ nobody wants that! That’s literally taking the good shit out of it. Rock’n’roll can’t grow up, it is a perpetual teenager and this album feels exactly like that, which it’s all down to our excitement – and you can’t fake that shit.”

Howlin’ Pelle cannot lie. Every word he says is true and always has been. And now the bands admits “they have not seen nor spoken to their founder, mentor and songwriter, the perpetual limelight-shunning Randy Fitzsimmons, since the release of 2012’s Lex Hives. Following the recent discovery of a hidden away obituary and cryptic poem in the local paper of the Northern Vastmanland town where The Hives are from, the band members were led to Fitzsimmons’ tombstone. Upon digging the freshly interred ground, the band found not a body but instead several tapes, suits, and a piece of paper bearing the words “The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons” typed up as if a title. Whether a hoax or Fitzsimmons’ opening gambit, remains to be seen. The uncovered tapes included the demos that would become the twelve new songs on The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons.”

Believe the Hives!

The Hives: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Butch Bastard: Las Vegas Salvation

Video: Butch Bastard – “Las Vegas Salvation”

Directed by Mike Immerman. From Las Vegas Salvation, out now.

I saw this guy open up for Father John Misty last week. Well, his last song anyway. People might think it’s terrible to skip the opener, but I’m a grownup and I’ve seen enough of them for one lifetime. If doors open at seven and there’s an opening band, I’ll be there at 8:30. If everything works out perfectly, I’ll catch the last song and be able to determine whether or not I made a bad decision. In this case it was Butch Bastard’s “Elegy for the Baby Boomer in D.” One line stood out: “Jumping Jack Flash gonna sell you a mobile phone.” So yeah, another geriatric millennial pointing out the hypocrisy of the literally geriatric hippie generation. I was on the fence.

But “Las Vegas Salvation” is slightly more original in its cynicism, full of the self-loathing that comes from blowing your wad in the gambling capital of the world. And it’s more fun than the cheerless “Elegy”. It’s got whistling as a hook plus a catchy chorus. The vocal effects might remind of you of Fleet Foxes, which makes sense since Butch Bastard’s Ian Murray was a part of that whole scene and a member of Fleet Foxes side-project Poor Moon.

I can wash away my sins now, baby, with a gallon of gasoline
Let the tongues of a beating sun lick down on me.

The video rides with this this idea, but I won’t spoil the punchline. Watch it for yourself. It’s good.

Butch Bastard: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Butch Bastard: Las Vegas Salvation

Learning to Write

Let’s say you want to write a sonnet. This means you have 14 lines, typically written in iambic pentameter, and separated into an octave of eight lines (or two quatrains that sum to eight) as well as a sestet, or a six-line stanza. And you then choose a rhyme scheme. There’s, for example, the Shakespeare approach: ABABCDCD EFEFGG. Or you might opt for the Petrarchan sonnet: ABBAABBA CDCDCD.

Or let’s say you’re feeling somewhat more adventurous and decide to pen a villanelle. Here you are going to write five three-line stanzas and end with a quatrain. However, the first and third lines of the first stanza are alternatively repeated in the subsequent stanzas. The consequent rhyme scheme is: ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA.

Or, frustrated with either of those, go for a haiku. This is certainly simpler: three lines with a combined 17 syllables, with five in the first and third and seven in the middle.

(Writing a haiku/can cause a feeling of calm/as others frustrate)

Regardless of which form you follow, assuming that you’re writing in English, there are some 470,000 words that you can use.

However, if you’re opting for the sonnet or the villanelle, there are a few more challenges, in that there are several words in English that don’t rhyme. Yes, orange. But the colors purple and silver don’t have rhymes, either. Wolf and walrus. And many others.

So there are restrictions, or boundaries, that are necessary in order to create something within a particular form or genre. Things can be done differently (Shakespeare published 154 sonnets), but in order to be in a particular form there are things that must be there.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the lawsuit brought by the heirs of Ed Townsend against Ed Sheeran in which it was claimed that there was a copywrite violation with Sheeran using chords and rhythms from “Let’s Get It On” in “Thinking Out Loud.”

Continue reading Learning to Write

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