Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Music and Feeling Down

One of the things that I have always thought about music is that certain songs come along at a certain point in your life and those songs are absolutely perfect at the time. Yet, times change, your friends change, your life changes, and it hurts to actually hear that song that you once loved so much. The song is played and it actually hurts a little too much to listen to because the reminder is just too hard to deal with. Perhaps, that song will be okay to listen to at a future point in your life, but you still cannot bring yourself to listen to it right then. 

In contrast, there are certain songs that you have loved and will always love, which you will always seek out when you are feeling a little down. For me, the song is the hidden track on Coldplay's first album called Life Is For Living. I tend to screw up quite a bit and when I do, I always return to this song because it gives me comfort. Chris Martin sings, "Now I never meant to do you harm that is what I came here to say. But if I was wrong then I'm sorry, I won't let it stand in our way. Now my head just aches when I think of the things that I should not have done. But life is for living they all say, and I don't want to live it alone." We all have those songs that give us comfort when things are not going our way. The song speaks to us as if the songwriter was actually specifically writing the song for me. I know Chris Martin was not writing that song for me, but it is fun to daydream about that fact. We all have those songs that comfort us in these times and that is a reassuring notion for all of us. That is the beauty of music. If you are feeling depressed, you simply visit an old friend that has some words of advice for you. It may not change anything, but at least you do not have to sit there in silence hearing the sound of your own wayward thoughts. I know being sad and depressed pretty much sucks, but Music can make it tolerable.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Music We Like and Fistfights?

One thing that I have always thought about when it comes to music is the fickle nature of how certain songs hit us. I am always fascinated by the fact that a certain song one person likes; another person simply does not get that same feeling. I have some time struggled with this fact. I will cry out to some of my friends, how come you do not love this song as much as I do. Yet, I will be the one not wanting to hear the great qualities of country music, period. 

The problem exists as I explained in my jukebox article is when people do not understand and tolerate this fact. On occasion, I am guilty of this as well. You then have two choices in how to proceed next. The first choice is to accept that we have musical differences and even try to appreciate the likes of other people. The second choice is to become a music snob. I believe that I have done a fairly decent job, not a great one in trying to appreciate the music of others. My proof is the fact that I try to listen to rap and hip-hop, even though my great musical love is indie rock 'n roll. If I had not done this, perhaps I never would've discovered Kid Cudi, Kanye West, Jay-Z. 

In contrast, the music snobs will not come within 10 feet of a certain type of music. This does not make me angry, but it makes me feel sorry for them. The reason why is they are missing out on music that could possibly bring about amazing feelings inside of them. The same people sit there and complain about your music, but when it comes time to hear criticism on their choice of music, they simply do not want to hear it. Even if the reasons behind not liking that kind of music are valid. 

This seems like such a small argument to some people. People say, come on, it is just music. Yet, people must understand that it is not just music. People are hopelessly devoted to the songs they are attached to in this world. I am guilty of this as well. I have always had a difficult time accepting why people do not love the band the Strokes as much as I do. 

This becomes why music in public places can be risky at times. The songs and the artists that people like is a deeply personal thing that will not only rub them the wrong way if criticized, but will cause them to be outright offended and do something about it. I have seen it before. Not only do they get into a heated argument about music, things almost escalate into getting physical. I love music and I love the music that I love, but I will be damned if I am going to get into a fistfight over it. People can be foolish sometimes.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Remember That One Show...

Going to a live show is wonderful. You can talk about the music all you want. One can talk about the shared experience of seeing these musicians live and up close. Yet, one of the things that I love about concerts are the memories that you take with you forever, especially the hilarious ones. Let me share with you some of my favorite ones over the years.

At Oasis in Las Vegas in 2008, I was sitting in the balcony next to this couple from New Jersey, who had traveled all the way from there just to see this band. Liam and Noel came onstage, but then I noticed that this man's wife had fallen asleep or to put it more precisely, she had pretty much passed out. I said to the guy, "Don't you want to wake up your wife?" He looked at me with a very serious face and said, "Fuck her if she cannot handle her liquor. It is her own damn fault." She missed the whole show.

Another time I was at Lollapalooza watching the band Spoon with a friend of mine. We were relaxed lying on a grassy hill when another guy that we came with bugged us. He said, "You have to come over and meet these guys I just met. They are from Australia." My friend said no. We were fine here. The guy screamed out, "But they are from Australia!" I said, "I don't care where they are from." He sulked away really upset that we would not meet his new friends from Australia.

Other moments are even more surreal when you get to meet members of the band. I attended a show in Chicago for And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. After the show, I hung out at the bar waiting for my cab to arrive. Suddenly, the entire band surrounded me quite by accident to have a drink or two. I summoned up the courage to tell one of the founding members how much I had always loved their music and they put on a really great show. He said thank you and wondered if I wanted an autograph. I told him that an autograph would be nice, but what I really wanted to do was a shot with him. I asked him if he would like to do a Fireball with me. He said, "I only do tequila." I ordered up two tequilas and I think one more for their manager. yet, when it came time for me to pay the bartender, I realized I needed to go to an ATM. Thank God there was one right around the corner still inside the bar, but I sat at that machine praying that it would give me money. How embarrassing that would have been. We downed the shots and it ended up being a very good night.

My favorite concert story of all time is when I met the band Weezer backstage at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago before one of their shows. At that time, I had this running joke with a group of my friends that if I ever became a male stripper, my name would be Hurricane. I even had a hat that actually said Hurricane on it. I ended up wearing that hat on the night that I met them backstage for a photo. As I am walking away, the bass guitarist for Weezer asked me what my hat meant. I told him that it was what my name would be if I were a male stripper. Immediately following the statement, I noticed the lead singer, Rivers Cuomo, smile and laugh. I will never forget the look on his face for the rest of my life. I made him smile. As I was walking away, the bass guitarist told me not to give up hope, there was still time for me to become a stripper. 

Live music is fantastic. You sometimes hear things that only on that night would you hear. Yet, these things nowadays are recorded and you can watch them on YouTube over and over. Yet, the memories that people obtain while attending concerts are the priceless things that you cannot go on to YouTube and find.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Supergroups...Super Complicated

Supergroups. They have become so fashionable lately like Them Crooked Vultures, A Perfect Circle, Broken Bells even. Everybody and their mother are joining forces in one way or the other it seems. The thing that fascinates me is the dynamics behind the supergroup, the motivation behind starting one, and the inner workings of these entities. You can't say that the supergroup is merely a group of individuals getting together because they admire each other. Now, the question becomes are we going to start seeing, to use a sports analogy, things like the Miami Heat and their big three. Are we going to start seeing bands completely forsake prior relationships in order to form a supergroup? 

Now, as much as I love the supergroup, there is a sense that people really want to see material coming from the original band. It simply is just not the same as the original. It is a strange feeling to articulate. Yet, one visualizes the original bandmates for each particular musician accompanying that person, instead of who is actually on stage with them. It is in a way kind of like a cover song. The cover song might've been done more skillfully then the original, but that still does not change the fact that it is not the original. The other thing at play here is how do you cater to all these talents. I mean something could be said that these people that join supergroups are going from being a big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a big pond. I am really not sure what the best analogy for supergroups could possibly be. 

You could say that it is a girlfriend that her husband cheats on, but would never really leave his wife for. The wife has too much history, too much shared experience, and he has put in way too much work to simply throw that all away. I guess you could also look at it as the original band is a bit of a safety net. This is particularly so, if the supergroup has not released anything yet. 

Yet, I believe one of the reasons that draws people to the supergroups is the idea of newness, where these artists can gain fresh experiences that are simply not occurring anymore in their current band structure. They talk and work with these acquaintances and say to themselves, wow, this feels pretty good. I simply do not feel that way in my current band. I just simply do not believe that unless the band situation is so toxic, these musicians will completely forsake their original band to enter into the supergroup. If history and trends matter, supergroups do not last because the egos eventually get in the way after the honeymoon period is over like Cream. This again brings up the comparison of marriage of an original band and the temporary relationship status of the supergroup. 

One of the characteristics of the supergroups is that the reason they get together in the first place is a love for music. These are the artists in their respective groups who eat, sleep, and pretty much shit music all day long. The conflict occurs in the fact that each person probably has their own strong ideas on musical direction and it is probably even harder in a supergroup. This is why I think for the most part supergroup albums tend to fall short of the heightened expectations. Many times there is no true direction because the members in a supergroup are trying their best not to step on each others toes, but also to give each member their say and chance to shine. An original band is not that democratic, where not everyone gets to have their say.

In the end, supergroups are great, fascinating, intriguing, and produce some really great music. Yet, they do not possess the characteristics of long-term or permanent success. The dynamics of the supergroup are so much more complicated and require much more nuance then an original band. Let me also close in saying that the original bands have a certain sense of loyalty to them. These bands made a lot of money for a lot of people, and the leaders of these bands that go to a supergroup simply cannot forget about all of that. If you think about it, when Maynard Krebs goes into the rock 'n roll Hall of Fame and, what band will he go in as first ? Well, you have to say without a doubt that it is going to be Tool, not A Perfect Circle.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Free or Not Really That Free? U2 and Jay-Z

Yesterday with the announcement of the new iPhone 6, U2 released their new album for free for anyone with an iTunes account or an iPhone. This is similar to a move made a summer ago when Jay-Z released his new album to anyone with a Samsung phone. At first, I was rather excited over the prospect of a new U2 album that I get for free. Some people would say who do I have to kill? Yet, I listened to the album and there are some decent songs on there, but for the most part it is a very average album. This is not new because I remember the album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and thought the same thing. You just expect more with this artist. Perhaps our expectations are just too high for them with their past work. 

This is a problem for every major artist that does excellent work. The public is always expecting something to surpass what they have done before. This is unrealistic and unfair, but whoever said life was fair anyway. The album seems to drag along at certain points. The songs that you would like to end very quickly seem to go on forever. There just isn't anything sonically exciting about a lot of the tracks on this album.

Now, this brings me to the entire point of this article. Jay-Z's album Holy Grail from last summer suffered under the exact same conditions. I remember calling it lazy, common, and pretty average. My point is, if an artist or band is releasing an album for free to a certain population like a certain phone user, do they present a less desirable product? Maybe it is just a coincidence that I found both these albums to be simply average. I feel the question must be asked because if another major album comes out unexpectedly for free on Virgin Mobile phones and it is very average, what are we to think? 

I am beginning to think perhaps that the artist knowing that the album is going to be on all of these devices and they are still going to get paid from the phone company may not try as hard. I am not accusing either of these artists of doing so. Yet, one does have to wonder whether or not the factor of being able to sell your album ever crosses the minds of these artists when they've been given this huge payday from the phone company. I do not wish to question anyone's artistic integrity, but the proof is in the pudding and the pudding says these albums are not as good as previous ones. 

Now, I probably still would've purchased these albums anyway. This is based on the previous track records of these artists, so perhaps my perspective in this article really makes no difference at all in the end. Yet, I simply find it hard to believe that U2 has been working on this for five years with such noted producers as Danger Mouse turned out to be so average. 

Now, magazine articles have compared artists like Radiohead with U2 and Jay-Z. I am assuming they're talking about the In Rainbows album, but that was a much different situation altogether. Radiohead did not receive a huge payday from releasing that album for free. Fans could donate whatever they wanted to Radiohead, if anything at all. They left it up to the fans. In contrast, Jay-Z and U2 are being paid monstrous sums of money to allow their album to be downloaded to phone users. The problem with this is some music fans will look at these artists as selling out and aligning themselves with the corporate nature of the music business. One of the things that I know about music fans is they hate sellouts. 

I guess in the end, we will just have to wait and see if this is a trend where artists are giving away their albums for free, just for the exposure. This is a point that must be emphasized about U2. They have not come out with an album in about five years. The music world has changed quite a bit since then. The band is getting older and Bono probably wants to remain relevant. Yet, then again, Bono has always had a thing for Apple anyway. If you remember, they sold U2 iPods when How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was released. Is it any coincidence that it was pretty average as well?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New Music Releases: The Good and Bad

Yesterday, a number of high profile albums were all released on the same day including Ryan Adams, Interpol, The Kooks, Karen O, and U2 the next day for free no less. This only happens once or twice a year, but it does present certain issues for the music fan. First, let me say, that having some of your favorite artists come out with albums all at the same time is a good thing. I would rather have these albums be released, than not at all. Saying that, let me point out a problem with this. For example, four albums came out yesterday and I wanted all of them. I will get all of these albums at the same time. Which one do I listen to first? How much time do I spend on each album? Am I rushing through listening to a certain album? How do I find the best songs as fast as possible for an album? All of these things go through the music fan's mind when trying to digest multiple albums all at once. You cannot even go to reviews to find out the best songs because some of these albums are so new; they have not even been reviewed yet. 

In contrast, one of the more annoying traits of buying a new album is when the only good song was the single that went along with the preorder. This can be very frustrating moneywise, but for me that is not what I get annoyed by. I hate the fact that I wasted a certain amount of time actually listening to the darn thing and not being able to pull out any songs that I liked besides that single. This is what I hate about the pre-release singles that are always coming out months ahead of an actual album. These singles are the best songs on the album. The artist know that if they release the singles, people will think the rest of the album is just as good when this is not the case. I found this out first hand with Interpol's new album, El Pintor. 

These pre-release singles are a problem because they are too good, which causes heightened expectations for an album that cannot live up to them. I would much rather discover these songs within the confines of the actual album release. Yet, I know music is a business and they have to sell records somehow. An entirely different discussion is how the album is dead and digital singles are all that matter in the music business world now anyway. 

In the end, if a number of albums come out at the same time, I feel blessed and take however long it will take to fully listen and appreciate each of them. Sometimes this can take up to a month, but I want to make sure I don't miss any golden nuggets that are out there on these albums.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Solo Album: So Very Complex

One of the things that has always interested me in the music world is the concept of the solo album. There are varying trends and issues that emerge when looking at the solo album as a concept. First of all, what prompted the artist to create a solo album? One of the things that worries me is that the band is on the verge of a breakup. What if the solo album takes off and the artist decides that he or she would be better off without the band? I think of Stevie Nicks when she had a couple of hits on her solo album, which caused her to resist returning to Fleetwood Mac.

To me personally, there are reasons that a solo album makes a heck of a lot of sense, but on the other hand there are times when it makes no sense at all. The times that it does make sense is when an artist has music inside of them, but cannot communicate those ideas within their current band or group. Albert Hammond Junior of the Strokes is a key example of this. It is a well-known fact that Julian Casablancas, the lead singer of the group has a very difficult time allowing other ideas to come across when they are making the new album. Albert needed to go outside the group to express his music and once he did so, everyone discovered that he was a pretty good artist on his own. 

Another reason that I find valid for an artist to go outside of the band or group is that they wish to get more experimental than any album ever made by that band. I think of Julian Casablancas and the Voidz or Thom Yorke of Radiohead in this instance. Artists such as these wish to expand their sound, experiment with their sound, but doing so in the natural framework of their original band might cause issues. Some of the possible consequences of doing so in the original band would be turning off fans, underselling an album, alienating the other band members. Sometimes going outside the group would be the only way for the music to see the light of day as other band members may not want to go that experimental. Being experimental is interesting and fun, but people do start to get scared when it becomes risky and affects potential earnings growth. 

Another time that a solo album makes sense is that a particular artist in the group is going to make a complete break from the group anyway. This has happened over the course of time throughout music history. You think of an artist like Rod Stewart or more recently Noel Gallagher, who really needed to be on his own due to his enormous ego breaking free. The fact that this happens is sometimes sad, but explains the complexities of group dynamics and smacks of the inevitable. 

Now, there are other times when a solo album seems pretty pointless. One of the examples in the recent past that I remember is the one done by Brandon Flowers of the Killers. The album was basically made up of songs that had been rejected by the band. If you play the album, the average listener probably could not tell the difference between that and a regular Killers album. I believe what happens is a driving force in a band from the songwriting standpoint gets really anxious to create and produce new music, but other band members simply do not want to record at that time. Instead of being patient and waiting for the band members to come around, they simply go ahead and call it a solo album. One of the issues with this is the fact that the other bandmembers do finally come around and are ready to record, but that songwriter is not ready to record because he is out touring his solo album. I remember Julian Casablanca's during the recording of the album Angles recorded his vocals on his own and emailed them to the group. This really is not a very effective way to make an album.

The solo album simply put is a complex creature. You never know the dynamics or the emotions behind it. So album could be quite harmless, but it also could cause damage to a band that is beyond repair. That is before the album is even made, toured with, and received by the public. I guess for me with some of my favorite bands when a solo album is on the horizon; I get a bit angry and jealous because I simply do not want to wait around even longer for the band to come out with new material. Let me close by saying that I think that in rock 'n roll the solo album becomes a much more complicated venture because of the prevalence of bands or groups when compared with other genres of music like country and rap where the entire substance of that kind of music is solo related.