Forth Quarter Music

You’ve heard me talk about this before: the best music releases of the year are quite often released within the fourth quarter — specifically, between late August and late November.  This is so prevalent that you can set your watch to it.  We’ll have a few strong spring releases, usually bands that already have a long-lasting cred; summer will be full of chart-worthy pop; late summer will be kind of skint, but may also contain some unexpected gems.  But from September to just after Thanksgiving?  You’re gonna see a crapton of releases.

Why?  Simple:  Christmas shopping!

It works on multiple levels.  The spring releases are usually slow-burners and tried-and-true names that guarantee a sale.  The summer releases are the impulse buys to celebrate vacation time.  The end of summer is usually quiet because the kids are too busy purchasing things for school or college.  But by the time September rolls around, there’s money in hand once more.  And secondly: as much as we hate to admit it, a lot of us really do start our Christmas shopping hella early.  And the music business knows this, so they’ll keep the guaranteed high-sale titles for when the shopping is at its highest.

So what do we have on tap in the rock universe, anyway?  What’s coming out that’s going to take my hard-earned money?

September 2:
–The Wedding Present, Going, Going…

September 9:
–Bastille, Wild World
The Beatles, Live at the Hollywood Bowl reissue
The Head and the Heart, Signs of Light
–Local Natives, Sunlit Youth
–Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree
–Wilco, Schmilco

September 16:
–Against Me!, Shape Shift with Me
Steven Wilson, Transience

September 23:
–Warpaint, Heads Up

September 30:
–Banks, The Altar
–Big Jesus, Oneiric
–Pixies, Head Carrier
Regina Spektor, Remember Us to Life
–Yello, Toy

October 7:
–Kaiser Chiefs, Stay Together
Green Day, Revolution Radio
–Melissa Etheridge, MEmphis Rock and Soul
–Phantogram, Three
Placebo, A Place for Us to Dream

October 14:
–The Orb, Chill Out, World

October 21:
–Beck,  (title TBA)
–Korn, The Serenity of Suffering

Ocboter 28:
–Empire of the Sun, Two Vines
Madness, Can’t Catch Us Now

…and that’s just what’s been announced over the past few months that I’m interested in hearing.  By late September we’ll start seeing more titles from all kinds of groups and across all the genres.  We’ll start seeing more box sets and major reissues (An expansive box from Pink Floyd, and Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage, for instance).  Mixes and greatest hits packages will start popping up.  And somewhere in there, probably mid-October and early November, we’ll start seeing new and repackaged Christmas albums as well.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year indeed, especially if you’re a music nerd like I am.

Everything I Learned About Writing…

I’ve been thinking about writing one of those writing memoirs over the last few years.  Specifically, I already know the title: Everything I Learned About Writing I Learned from Rock History.

I mean, think about it:

The Beatles, “Love Me Do”:

Their first single, and their first professionally recorded song, back in the summer of 1962.  It’s an incredibly simplistic song: barebones production, moon-June lyrics, and Paul’s vocal fill at the end of the verse is so full of nerves that you’d be surprised how often he fearlessly belted out songs at the Cavern on any given day.

What do I learn from this song as a writer?
–Your first work is more than likely going to be crap, because you’re too nervous about trying to get it right the first time that you fail to get it right the first time.
–On the other hand, if you have something unique and catchy enough, fans will look past that and give you another chance.  Single #2, “Please Please Me”, was released in January of 1963, and you can definitely see the improvement in not just the sound but the songwriting.  That track would end up being their first #1 hit.
–End result:  It’s okay to kinda make a fool of yourself first time out.  As long as you’re going in the right direction and you’re confident from the get-go, that’s all that matters.


Another example:  Woodstock.

The great thing about Woodstock is that it was the ultimate “let’s put on a show in the barn” and it was blessed with an amazing amount of luck and good karma that it ended up being a success (as an event, at any rate — financially I believe there were numerous hiccups) and a defining cultural event.

As a writer?  I learned the following:
–Sometimes the weirdest, craziest ideas might end up being the best and most successful ones.
–Go for it.  No, seriously: go for it.  What are you gonna lose?
–Caveat: At least have a general idea of what you want and how to get it.  Don’t make hasty and questionable decisions that could possibly bite you on the ass later on (yes, I’m thinking of Altamont here).  But trust your instincts if they’re screaming out that this is the right thing to do.  Or the absolute worst thing to do.


Or perhaps something more up to date:  One of my favorite indie bands of the moment, Dirty Dishes:

What, pray tell, did I learn here?
–Going indie is totally a viable career choice nowadays.  I heard about this group via NoiseTrade, and quickly downloaded their entire available discography to date from Bandcamp.  I’m on their mailing list, so I went out and downloaded this new track the day I got the note that it had been released.  They’ve become one of those bands where I’ll download their new works when they drop, even if I haven’t heard it yet.  [Just a few weeks ago, someone wrote something along the same lines as their review of one of my books — and let me tell you, that just about made my damn year!]
–The great thing about indie releases is that you can upload it to all sorts of sites if you wish.  I’ve seen bands on Bandcamp, eMusic, Amazon, and elsewhere.  You can do that with books too:  My ebooks are through Smashwords, but they’re also available through Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, and elsewhere.  I’ve even put them up on NoiseTrade Books, and I’ve gotten a good handful of downloads from there as well.  Point being: be creative about getting your stuff out there, and keep an open mind.  You never know which avenue is going to bring in new fans!
–If you’ve got a unique voice and you know how to use it, perhaps releasing your work in a way you feel fits best may no longer be via the high-end pros.  I most likely will try selling future stories to agents and publishers, but in the long run, I realized that going indie was the best avenue for my trilogy after all.


The point is, it seems my decades-long obsession with music and its history has influenced my writing in more ways than what I write.  I’ve learned a lot from the music business as well, and I can see so many parallels with the writing business that it’s given me a clearer path to future endeavors.

So yeah…maybe writing a book about that might not be a bad idea…?

More on the 90s

So yeah, I’ve still been contemplating expanding the Walk in Silence series to include the 90s.  I’ve started listening to the decade chronologically, much as I did with the original series and going through the 80s, and once again it’s been an interesting ride.

Presently I’m listening to Living Colour’s sophomore album Time’s Up, which came out in late August 1990.  It was the back end of summer, and I’d chosen to take the last two weeks off between my summer job (second year at the DPW) and starting my sophomore year at Emerson.  Chris and I got together to reform the Flying Bohemians as a duo, and recorded a few tracks in my parents’ garage.

I spent those last two weeks doing not much of anything: made a pretty decent compilation that I still listen to in 2016, did a bit of poetry, lyric and journal writing, a lot of Solitaire playing, and met up with all my friends who’d come home for a brief time.  For the most part, most of them had taken root in their college towns and gotten local summer jobs or were taking summer classes, so there was only a narrow window of time that we could meet up.

Me?  The only reason I’d come back home for the summer was that I hadn’t prepared myself for any summer position or an apartment to sublet for a few months.  It had crossed my mind, of course, but I hadn’t the time or the money to plan it out sufficiently.  I figured the summer of 1991 would be when I’d stick around.

That, and I’d wanted to spend more time with T, as well as distance myself from the frustration of freshman year.  Summer 1990 was time to start over again.

[Year]: The Year [Something Happened]

savage 1966

I’ve been reading a few rock history books lately, and it seems the current trend is to focus on a single year and focus on its events chronologically.  It’s meant to put the music in some sort of context; it’s very similar to what I’d originally wanted to do with the Walk in Silence project.  The focus of these books is to not only explain how these groundbreaking songs and albums were recorded but why.

Jon Savage’s 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded is a great example of this.  It not only focuses on the back end of the British Invasion, changes in fashion, and the ups and downs of politics, it also comments on the public and governmental reactions to each, both in the US and the UK.  Nearly all the events of that year informed or influenced events that happened soon after.

Andrew Grant Jackson’s 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music (yay, fellow Emersonian!) does a similar job, showing how pop music of the time — not just rock from both sides of the Atlantic, but the soul of Motown and Stax, and the country of Nashville and Bakersville — but the ever-rising tension of politics, war, race, and gender.

A third interesting example is David Browne’s Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970.  The title format is flipped, but the story is the same, this time focusing on the public hangover of the late 60s and four bands that influenced the start of what would be the bipolar decade of music, one side embracing lite-rock and the other embracing Bacchanalian excess.

Another is David Hepworth’s 1971: Never a Dull Moment – The Year that Rock Exploded.  I haven’t read that yet, but it promises to be interesting…the Beatles may have broken up, but in their place we were given, Bowie, Led Zeppelin, post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd, and more.  Not to mention John, Paul, George and Ringo being able to express themselves in ways they couldn’t have as a group.  In short, rock had ceased to be a ‘pop’ element and came into its own as an art form and a self-supporting music genre.  Given that 1971 is my birth year (yep, I’m an old fart at 45, folks, but I’m still rockin’), I’m looking forward to giving this one a read.


While I am a bit amused at how often this book trend has been popping up lately, they’ve all been fun reads.  Too often I’ll hear a song on the radio and completely forget its place within the bigger history of music and what was going on in the world at the time.  These books definitely offer a lot of that insight that you don’t always hear on the radio.

What are the current music history books you’ve read that you’ve enjoyed?

Hey Wait I got a new complaint

I don’t use the Sirius XM radio on my own PC as much as I should, so today I thought I’d put it on.  I chose the Lithium channel, primarily because the song playing at the time was Nine Inch Nails’ “Down In It”.  And now I’ve been listening to the 90s all morning.

Yes, I know!  Me, the guy who’s posted about 80s college rock for far too long, finally moving forward in time?  Heh.

Seriously, the 90s was an interesting decade, looking back on it now.  I tend to think of it as a decade where we crossed a lot of lines that had drawn in the sand for so long that we kind of forgot why they were there in the first place.  A lot of interesting chances were taken in the creative world; some fell flat, but some were welcomed and became the norm.  College radio became modern rock became alternative rock became chart-topping rock.  It didn’t help that the 80s chart rock had become a sad caricature of itself, full of hair metal spandex and arpeggios, and bar bands with very few actual hits.  Something had to take over eventually, and alt.rock had been waiting in the wings since the early 80s.

The music of the 90s for me felt sort of like a light was finally turned on.  More to the point, it felt like I’d exited the dark cave of my bedroom and its 4AD/Cure gloom and entered the sunshine of the wider world beyond.  I could easily say that Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was in fact the point of change, as it probably was for many others.  It wasn’t the first alt.rock song that broke through to chart radio (I’d like to think that honor actually belongs to Love and Rockets’ “So Alive”, which hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart two years earlier), but it was the most important one.  Rock radio wasn’t the same afterwards.

Yeah, sure, there were also the bands that weren’t grunge, weren’t Britpop, and didn’t quite fit into the already-standard ‘alternative’ format.  In retrospect they were chart rock’s New Breed.  They were melodic, catchy, and just mainstream enough to be played on pretty much any commercial rock station without scaring the parents.  They were just edgy enough that the kids loved them anyway.  You probably wouldn’t hear them on college radio (that avenue was being filled at that time with No Depression, math rock, slowcore, and the other decidedly noncommercial subgenres), but you’d hear them on the burgeoning Modern Rock and AOR stations.

These are the songs you’ll hear on Adult Alternative stations nowadays, tracks by Collective Soul and Tonic rubbing shoulders with James Bay and Elle King.  The slightly harder stuff will pop up on the alt.rock stations that have survived this long, sneaking in as ‘classic tracks’ next to new tracks by other 90s bands that have miraculously stayed together this long (Weezer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink-182).


I can pretty much divide the 90s into two distinct personal eras: the college/Boston years (1990-95) and the HMV years (1996-2000), with the yearlong entr’acte of ennui and deadend jobs of 1995-6.  Despite the personal ups and downs I was contending with at the time, I rarely missed an opportunity to follow the latest trends.  I may not have had the money to buy it all at the time, but that didn’t stop me from making radio tapes, dubbing cds from friends, or keeping my boombox set to the local alternative stations.

Or spending most of my hard-earned pay at the record store I worked at, for that matter.

Despite my personal and emotional ups and downs in that decade, I found it to be a lot more enjoyable than the previous decade when I was dealing with my gawkish teenage self.  My twenties certainly had their extremely frustrating moments, and I did make a lot of really stupid decisions, but by the back end of that decade, I had my shit together and knew exactly what I wanted to do.  That’s when I knew for a fact that I’d be a writer.  It’s also when I knew that this infatuation with music was going to be a lifelong thing and I was perfectly fine with that.

What I’ve been listening to lately

Josh Stewart & Dan Snyder, 1850. One of the free albums I downloaded from NoiseTrade, it’s a spooky post-rock album with atmospherics that remind me of Global Communication and Boards of Canada.

Paper Lights, Great Escapes. Dan Snyder is also the man behind this band (I got one of his earlier EPs from NoiseTrade and bought this one when it dropped). I seem to really enjoy quirky one-man-band groups (Decomposure is another). This album’s quite relaxing; I often listen to it during my editing sessions.

Big Jesus, Oneiric Sampler EP. These young’uns have no right to rock this hard and melodic. Another NoiseTrade find, and I’m totes going to buy the album when it drops. They’ve got that fast grunge sound that reminds me of Helmet, balancing it with a bit of soaring guitar noodling reminiscent of POD. Expecting great things from this band.

The Avalanches, Wildflower. Apparently its de rigeur now to let a decade and a half go by between albums? Heh. A welcome return to a band that’s inventive, fun, and oftentimes a bit silly.

The Temper Trap, Thick as Thieves. A very strong third album from this Aussie band, it sounds much heavier and crunchier than their previous albums.

Garbage, Strange Little Birds. Been a fan since their first album, and this new one is just as excellent as the rest of them. I’ve been playing this one a lot during the day, but I’m sure it’ll get more play during my evening writing sessions soon enough.

Paul Draper, One EP. It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard from the former Mansun lead singer, but it’s well worth the wait. I’m really hoping he comes out with more tunes soon!

Minor Victories, Minor Victories. Rachel Goswell from Slowdive, Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai, and Justin Lockey from Editors? A cat kaiju (nekaiju?) video? HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE A BAD THING.

And one more, this from about nine years ago…

Blonde Redhead, 23. I’d been hearing the title track popping up on KSCU every now and again, and I kept forgetting how much I loved the song, so I put the album on my mp3 player. It ended up being my falling-asleep music on the plane out to Europe a few weeks back, and man, I couldn’t have picked a better album! A mix of 4AD moodiness and noise-rock hinting at Silversun Pickups. Totally worth having in your collection.


I’d tweeted earlier this week that one of my favorite things about vacationing in London is hearing some of my favorite songs in their original context.  By that, I mean hearing songs that were big and important hits in the UK that may not have been even a blip on the US radar.

A year or so ago we were at a bar near Smithfield Market meeting with a friend of ours when Manic Street Preachers’ “Everything Must Go” popped up on the jukebox.  It was a top-ten hit in the UK and signaled a new direction for the band after the strange disappearance of their former lead singer months previous.

David Bowie was of course a worldwide success, and his title theme for the movie Absolute Beginners was a very minor hit in the US (hitting #55 on the Billboard chart) but hit #2 in the UK.  The movie itself is somewhat based on the British novel of the same name written by Colin MacInnes — a well-loved coming of age novel set in the hip London of the late 50s.  Heard this one in a coffee shop just outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral one rainy morning.

The Divine Comedy is well known in the UK as an ‘orchestral pop’ band in the vein of Scott Walker (another musician quite familiar there but not in the US), and they wrote a song about the oversize tour buses one sees all around London.  This track would pop into my head every time I saw one of them go by.


I love doing this kind of thing wherever I go, come to think of it.  It’s partly to get the feel of the local sound, and partly because I’m just a sucker for rock music history.  Whether it’s getting in touch with with Britain’s quirky rock (most of which became alternative rock here in the states), or Boston’s unique mix of collegiate and blue-collar, or San Francisco’s purposely weird sounds, I love being able to not only connect with the music itself, but the context in which it was written and recorded.  It brings me closer to the real lives behind the music…it lets me understand why the song exists.

Fly-by: On Our Way Back Home

Hi there! Currently writing this entry at the Minneapolis-St Paul airport, waiting for our connecting flight home from our Half Pop Musik Tour (aka our vacation to London and Paris). 

The plan is to get a nap in on this last leg, as I will need to get up early tomorrow morning and do a bit of food shopping before we head out to Outside Lands later that day.

Regular entries here at WiS should resume this week!  Thanks for waiting!