All That Jazz

The first jazz song I remember hearing, even before Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, was Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”. My mom owned the Time Out album and I remember being fascinated yet a little weirded out by the cover, as well as Joe Morello’s sparse yet intense drum solo on the big hit.

I never quite followed up on my brief 1985-6 fascination with jazz, other than listening to it on my Walkman late at night, but lately I’ve been making a slow return back to it. It’s mostly been the new piano-based bands such as the amazing GoGo Penguin…

…or one of my favorites from the last couple decades, Brad Mehldau…

…but I’m yet to fully embrace it as I once did. I’m thinking this is something I should look further into. I mean, I’m relatively familiar with most of the classic musicians like Miles and Monk and Oscar and Basie and so on. I’m thinking maybe I should do a bit of homework and find a couple of good radio and internet stations and get myself back in the groove.

Who are your favorite jazz musicians, old and/or new? I’d love to try them out!

Second Chances

I think it’s safe to say that everyone has experienced that band or musician that just didn’t do it for you, despite everyone else screaming at just how absolutely phenomenal they are. Sometimes it’s because their style just doesn’t suit your tastes. Sometimes it’s that you’re only familiar with their three songs on permanent rotation at the local radio station, despite a lengthy discography.  Sometimes you’re just not in the mood.

And sometimes, ages later, it finally clicks and you finally understand what the hullabaloo was all about.

Bob Dylan is a good example of me not *getting* him the first time around. As a kid I’d only heard a barking troubadour with songs that went on far too long. It wasn’t until recently when I bought that big box set a few years back (The Complete Album Collection) and started listening through the years that I finally understood what he was doing.  Now I get why so many people find him so amazing.

LCD Soundsystem is another one. I was initially turned off by their retro-disco shtick they had going (especially with their then-hit “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”).  Pretty sure they were also part of the wave of bands that Pitchfork found absolutely amazing but about three people had ever heard of them.  Then I listened to last year’s American Dream album and, wouldn’t you know it, they’re a damn catchy band with some fine tunes going on!

Another recent changeover is Parquet Courts. I kinda-sorta liked some of their songs but couldn’t make myself go any further than streaming the songs. Then their latest song “Wide Awake” comes out and man, that is one hell of a fun earworm.  It’s one of my favorite songs of this year.

Or Courtney Barnett, which at first I thought, ‘okay, kind of has a dopey-hippie thing going on’, but then I started listen to her lyrics, which are often off-kilter but deceptively brilliant. “Avant Gardener,” for instance, is actually quite a mundane yet harrowing story of having a debilitating asthma attack. And her record with the equally weird Kurt Vile is actually an amazing blues album.

I guess what I’m saying here is that it’s okay not to jump on the bandwagon and sing the praises (har har) of the bands and musicians with everyone else.  Sometimes it’s better to take it all in at your own pace and see where it goes.

Listening In

dave grohl drumming

One of my new year’s resolutions was to change up my listening habits a bit.  It’s not really about any annoyance with stagnant playlist rotation, although that’s a bit part of it.

No, this time out it’s about wanting to check out new things.  I’d like to listen to more podcasts and audiobooks.  I’d also like to discover new stations that play unexpected things.  It’s the wayward listener in me, I guess?  Every couple of years I like to shake up my long-held habits and try new things, and that includes what I listen to.  Quite often, these new avenues inspire me creatively, in new and unexpected ways.

And hey, it’ll give me more to write about here at the blog, right?

I’m not sure where any of this will take me, and I know it’ll probably be a few weeks before radio sheds its post-holiday ennui and brings in new sounds, so for now I’ll keep my options open.  I also have a few free audio book points waiting for me over at Audible, so perhaps it’s high time I cash them in.

I’m curious to see where this goes…!

Time Keeps on Slippin’ Into the Future

I know, this time of year I always start writing one of my patented nostalgic ‘this time of year I…’ posts.  This one’s probably no different.  Maybe a little bit meta this time around.

Given that thirty years ago, we were going from 1987 into 1988 — two classic years of college rock containing some of my all-time favorite albums — I got to thinking not so much about the music of the time or what I was going through at the time (for once!) but the passage of time itself.

About this time thirty years ago, I was working my meager internship/job at WCAT, then an AM-only radio station, slogging through my junior year.  The station had a listen-at-work playlist, with Red Sox and local color on the weekends.  Kinda sorta current music, maybe a few years behind with a few recent lighter tracks dropped in.  Which meant that I still had a bit of a connection to the pop charts.  The fourth-quarter wave of new releases had quieted down to a trickle, as expected.  I spent most of December listening to the music I’d purchased so far, listened to the students on WAMH play their last shows for the semester, checked out some of the year-end countdowns.  I was still making the radio tapes but hadn’t yet started making the mixtapes in earnest yet (that wouldn’t happen for another few months).

I was listening primarily to my favorite releases from the last few months: Music for the Masses, Strangeways Here We Come, Happy?, Floodland, The Lion and the Cobra, Bête Noire, Savage, Earth Sun Moon.  I’d read Rolling Stone and Spin and watch 120 Minutes for release news, but for the most part I had no idea what else was coming out.

As far as I knew, I wasn’t going to expect anything too exciting.  I didn’t have too much access to more intensive music journals at the time.  I’d heard that Morrissey was working on a solo album, that The Cure were going on tour, but that was pretty much it.  So I went into 1988 in my usual teenage way, being the moody bastard and plugging away at my writing and all that.

I had no idea, probably not until maybe halfway through the year, that 1988 would end up being one of my favorite-ever years of college rock.  I knew then and I know now that part of this was due to the music being there at the same time as a cherished time with close friends.  But part of it was also me letting myself get totally immersed in the sound, even more so than ever before.

Years later, the same thing happens.  I never quite know if the upcoming year is going to be stellar, merely okay, or just plain dull until we’ve gotten almost halfway into it.  And whatever I happen to be doing in my life does play a part in it as well.  [I think of 2012 as a more recent example, which had a bevy of excellent releases, plus I was headlong into the Big Honkin’ Trilogy Revision Project for most of that year.  And 2006 is on the other end of the spectrum, as I had a lot going on in my life and I hardly remember any of its album drops.]

I’m looking forward to 2018, to be honest.  Despite what’s going on in the big wide world, I’m in a much more positive place emotionally and mentally, and I’ve got some exciting creative plans that I’m looking forward to.  I’m not about to put high expectations on whatever music comes my way next year, but if it ends up being stellar, I’m not going to complain!

 

Boots and Cats

boots and cats

One of my favorite birthday cards ever.

I do blather on about alternative rock quite a bit on this blog, don’t I?  Well, considering that it’s been a major part of my life for over thirty years now, I’d say I’ve earned the right to keep blathering.

It occurs to me, though, that I don’t give enough time to some of my other favorite styles and genres.  I’ll mention them in passing, especially when I’m doing my new release round-ups, but I don’t dedicate nearly all that much blog space.  I should probably do something about that.

I don’t often mention it, but I also listen to a lot of electronic music.  I tend to lean more towards the chill-out / ambient / moody stuff, of course, considering I’m definitely not what you call a club-hopper.  I find a lot of remixes tedious and little more than a keyboard preset left running for ten minutes (with maybe a few seconds of the original recording thrown on top somewhere in minute eight), and I find the bass drops and overmodulation of dubstep kind of ridiculous.  [In fact, overmodulation really irritates me because it just sounds like unprofessional crap.  But hey, that’s just me.]

On the other hand, I find Primal Scream’s Screamadelica an absolutely PHENOMENAL album that everyone should have in their collection. It’s a perfect blend of psychedelic hippie rock and 90s UK techno. I also particularly love the 90s trip-hop of Massive Attack, Tricky and Sneaker Pimps.

That’s not to say I don’t like the loud stuff. I jumped on the Chemical Brothers bandwagon pretty early during my HMV days. I find Aphex Twin weird as hell but amazingly creative.  I love Lords of Acid‘s sexy freakishness.

But yeah, for the most part, I’m more the laid back guy who’ll lose himself in a really cool groove.  [For the record, I’m not a listener who uses additives (so to speak) during my listening.  I tried that once and found it irritating as hell.] I love to listen to this sort of stuff, especially during my writing sessions, because more often than not it creates a positive, consistent mood that works well with my mindset when I’m working on projects.

So yeah…maybe it’s time I started talking about more electronic bands here in the future!

Music On the Go

btdt

been there, done that

Ages ago when I had a long-ass commute halfway across the state of Massachusetts on a daily basis, I’d always have tunage with me.  Mind you, my old Cavalier (and later my Firebird) only had a tape player, so a lot of my traveling music was my older tapes or, more often, my mixtapes.  That kept me sane, made the time pass, and gave me a soundtrack for when I was pondering what I’d do next in my writing.

Nowadays my travel tunage is on two mp3 players.  Much easier to carry, thankfully.  I bring them on vacation for in-flight entertainment or background while I’m working on revision.  I bring them to the gym for something to listen to while I’m on the treadmill.

I’ll switch out what’s on those players every now and again, depending on my mood.  One of them is filled with releases from this year, while the other usually contains an ongoing soundtrack to whatever writing I’m working on.  Since I’m not going anywhere on that treadmill and the view is mostly of the ongoing construction across the street, I’ll let my mind wander so I can think through issues I’ve been having, or play out a scene I’ve been planning to write.  This works out quite nicely, actually.

Lately we’d been looking into buying a new car.  Ours is a 2004 Civic that, while it’s still running strong and has less than 60k on it (thank you SF transit!), I can definitely feel that it’s aging.  It’s getting worn out.  While A has been looking into the specs and whatnot — she’s more knowledgeable about cars than I am, I will admit — my only major request is that it has a decent stereo, and perhaps a USB outlet so I can plug said mp3 players in so we can listen to our own tunage.  Secondary requests, of course, are that I can fit into the car without needing to get into a yoga position, has minimal blocked vision, and that it can climb the hills of this city without significant rollback.  Everything else I can adjust to.

So on Friday, we went shopping, and came home (after some delay and some unexpected shenanigans) with a 2018 Honda Fit.  It definitely hits all my requests and more, and I’m looking forward to getting used to tooling around town in it.  At present we’re just waiting for the dealer to finalize all the DMV paperwork (they’ll take care of the plates/sticker/etc for us), and on Monday we’ll call our insurance guy to update the information.  I love it so far.

Now I just need to make an inaugural mixtape for it. 🙂

Finding New Music

Finding new music to listen to isn’t always easy.  As I’ve mentioned before, commercial stations tend to have a set rotation so we hear the same core songs over the course of a few months, with maybe a new track popping up every now and again.  But it’s rare for that new addition to the playlist to immediately get a lot of play right away.

In a way, the same can be said for listening to college radio.  While those stations often don’t have the set rotation setup, they can also be a bit too leftfield, playing nothing but obscurities and outsider music.  It’s fun to listen to if you like that sort of thing, but that sort of stuff doesn’t really resonate with me.

I tend to go somewhere in between; I’ll listen to college radio for part of the day (my home station lately has been Boston College’s WZBC, though I’ll slip over to my other favorite, Santa Clara University’s KSCU, later on), but then I might switch over to Boston’s RadioBDC or one of the SiriusXM stations.  Somewhere during all that listening, I’ll catch a new song that will catch my attention.

I’ll also stop by some of the websites that are streaming new albums.  NPR features an interesting selection, as do a few others.  I’ll also check out albums that I can stream through Amazon Prime (one of the main reasons I signed up for it, actually); I actually use that site extensively on New Release Fridays to check out the new stuff and decide if I want to explore the bands further or not.

Interestingly, I’ve found some favorites via social media as well.  Sometimes a random band will follow me, and I’ll always give them a quick listen and follow back if I’m interested. This is always fun, because these bands and musicians tend to be more low key yet absolutely fantastic. I’ve picked up a number of albums from bands this way.

Here’s a few of my favorite finds over the past year:

FiFi Rong (followed me on Twitter)

Of Verona (followed me on Twitter)

The DROiDS (followed me on Twitter)

Pia Fraus (suggested by AllMusic.com)

Cosima (suggested by Stereogum and The Line of Best Fit)

 

Cymbals (suggested by AllMusic.com)

Gang of Youths (heard on WZBC)