Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Fast Computers

And for your synth-pop listening pleasure I bring you The Fast Computers. Hailing from Portland, OR, the quartet makes some very compelling music. Their full-length debut, Heart Geometry, came out in 2007 on Coeur Electronique. To me, this band is another sign that Portland has it going on and is the source of a ton of great music these days.

Check out some tunes here.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Neko Case Live at the State Theatre in Ithaca, NY Januray 26, 2008

This post originally appeared in the Tompkins Weekly under the title, "State Audience Responds To Neko Case"

Even though it is an unusual way to start a concert review, I must first off thank my wife. She stayed home with our two sick kids, allowing me to attend Neko Case’s concert on January 26 at the Historic State Theatre in Ithaca, New York. Thanks, Love, I owe you!

That said, let’s just get it on the table right off the bat: I’m a huge Neko Case fan. And judging by the near-sold out show, I’m not the only one. Getting the opportunity to see her in a great venue like the State Theatre was a huge treat. The State is so intimate for a 1600 seat theater and even in the balcony the stage seems very close. But what made this show even more special, was the fact she was out for a very short tour to road-test new songs for her album that will, hopefully, be released later this year.

Listening to Neko Case’s voice on her records is great. To get to hear her live was fantastic. She could really fill the room with her voice. It almost seemed as though she didn’t need a mic. She proved she’s the real deal—no Auto-Tune for her. In addition, her band was rockin’! What a great group of musicians. The band was made up of Tom V. Ray on bass; Paul Rigby on electric and acoustic guitars; Jon Rauhouse on pedal steel guitar, banjo, and guitar; John Convertino on drums; and Kelly Hogan on backing vocals. She’s been playing with this group for several years, and it shows. Each musician’s part was integral to each song. And as a testament to the great sound of the show, you could clearly pick out each part in the mix. It was perfectly balanced. While the entire band was great, I especially enjoyed Jon Rauhouses playing. He really proved that the banjo could be pretty rock and roll. Kelly Hogan’s dog, Augie, joined the band on stage for most of the show. The dog, in fact, stayed on the stage after the final encore was played and only left with great prodding.

The show’s set was largely comprised of songs off her most recent album Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. The show opened with “Widow’s Toast,” which starts off acappella. What an amazing way to open. Neko’s voice just filled the place. It was really magical. There were, of course the six new songs, as well as two covers. One of the covers was a great version of Tom Petty’s “Listen To Her Heart.” The set was filled out by a few older songs, such as “Deep Red Bells” and “Favorite.” The new songs were killer. It is certainly going to be hard to wait until Neko Case’s new record comes out.

While the performance of the songs was tight, the band’s stage presence was loose and fun. They were easily able to handle the calls from the audience for songs as well as comments from members of the crowd who thought they were pretty witty. When one woman called out, “Neko you’re beautiful,” she responded by saying, “Thanks mom.” To my taste there was a little too much audience participation, not to mention the people near me who talked through the whole show. It may come as a surprise to these folks, but the vast majority of the audience didn’t actually come to the show to hear them yell from the audience or talk through the concert.

If you missed this show or just didn’t get enough of Neko Case, you’ll get another chance to see her when she returns to the State Theatre on April 13 with her other main band, The New Pornographers.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Epic 2015

This isn't actually music related, which is a switch for me. But this is an incredibly cool short film that I originally saw at a public relations training I attended. It is definitely worth a look. It is presented by the fictional Museum of Media History as a history of media between 1989 and 2015. In actuality it was created by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson. They acknowledge that what they present is unlikely to come to pass, but it is compelling viewing none the less.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ithaca Rocks: The First in a Series

It is pretty easy to forget that Ithaca, NY has some totally amazing musicians living and playing here. And heck, one of he greats has toured with The Mekons and is the co-owner of a moving company whose motto is, “No job too weird.” Now those are credentials. And to think that it is common for me to see Johnny Dowd around town. For those not familiar with his music, it can be loosely described as roots or Americana.

So check out a performance by Johnny Dowd.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's the Way You Land

I am often ambivalent about electronica projects. I think I really crave the sound of traditional instrumentation and vocals. Not so with the Soulsavers and their album, It's Not How Far You Fall, It's the Way You Land. This is a testament to really excellent production by the core of the Soulsavers, Rich Machin and Ian Glover as well as the addition of vocalist Mark Lanegan, best known for his work with the Screaming Trees. This band shows what great music can happen when excellent collaborations happen.

Check out an interview with them from World Café.

Or this video.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Rest Is Noise

The desire to strive for authenticity and fight against the generic has always been present in music. While it may not always be at the forefront, it is always an element that is present—strived for by the artists trying to make music that has a broad impact. This impact could be social or musically challenging or both.

In his book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century, Alex Ross has created a very compelling musical history. One of the major themes carried through the book is this aforementioned struggle against the generic and toward the authentic.

It is amazing to read about the debuts of symphonies that caused fistfights between audience members who disagreed about the piece they had listened to. Another very fascinating element of the book is it s discussion about how music has been used, some might fairly argue appropriated by political figures. This certainly resonates today with the myriad politicians running for president who all have their various theme songs.

Beginning in the early 1900s with Strauss and Mahler, this book leads all the way through jazz to the modern/contemporary with discussions of the Velvet Underground, Bjork and Radiohead. Given its breadth and fascinating content, I can’t recommend this book enough.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Tomorrow, Cat Power (Chan Marshall) is back with her second disc of cover tunes, Jukebox. The aptly named The Covers Record was her fist, released in 2000. She recorded Jukebox with the Dirty Delta Blues, which has replaced the Memphis Rhythm Band that she was previously touring with. She will also be touring with this lineup in 2008.

Jukebox is another great album by Cat Power. Like any compelling artist, she strikes the difficult balance of having some connectivity to her previous work, The Greatest, while still showing growth as an artist. I think this is made even more difficult by a record that is made up of all but two songs by other performers. And to her credit, she does this very successfully.

Beyond the songs, to me, one of the most appealing aspects of Cat Power is there’s a cracking or a rawness to her singing that is so compelling. It draws you into the music—wanting to listen carefully—so as not to miss what is coming next.

There are some gutsy choices on Jukebox, such as “Don’t Explain,” which was made famous by Billy Holiday or Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” To attempt and successfully re-interpret songs by some of the great vocal stylists goes to show what an immense talent Chan Marshall is.

Here is the listing for the album. And if you just can’t wait until tomorrow, you can listen to it here.

1. New York (Frank Sinatra)
2. Ramblin’ (Wo)man (Hank Williams)
3. Metal Heart (Cat Power)
4. Silver Stallion (The Highwaymen)
5. Aretha, Sing One For Me (George Jackson)
6. Lost Someone (James Brown)
7. Lord, Help The Poor And Needy (Jessie Mae Hemphill)
8. I Believe In You (Bob Dylan)
9. Song To Bobby (Cat Power)
10. Don’t Explain (Billie Holiday)
11. Woman Left Lonely (Janis Joplin)
12. Blue (Joni Mitchell)


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Call Me MC Ishmael: The Sequel

After posting my “Call Me MC Ishmael” entry, I didn’t really think anyone from World Cafe would see it, but I was wrong. The day after the post, I received an email from David Dye, who hosts the show, with the subject line, “Ask and ye shall receive!”

I was very surprised, first off, that they saw the post. And secondly, here I was being asked for a Top 5 List. I was pretty excited, but also pretty nervous about having a good list. I had submitted a lot of times and had a backlog of lists, so I went for it. David Dye asked for a couple to choose from.

He selected my Harmony Vocals List. These are songs that wouldn’t be nearly as good without the harmony vocals in them. Some of these have well-known musicians singing the harmony vocals (and are noted below), while the rest have great voices, although not famous ones.

Yesterday I got a call from David Dye and recorded a one-minute intro to the list. This was fun. I hope you like the list! My top five list will be broadcast on Friday January 18. Please visit the World Café website to find your local station. You can also tune in at WXPN from 2-4 PM EST.

Call the Doctor—Sleater-Kinney Listen Here
Hard Sun—Eddie Vedder with Corinne Tucker Listen Here
Green Gloves—The National Listen Here
Province—TV On the Radio with David Bowie Listen Here
Guided By Wire—Neko Case Listen Here


Monday, January 14, 2008

You could drive a car through my head in five minutes

If you’re like me, you can get hooked on a song and listen to it over and over again, listening for its every nuance. Right now, I’m in love with "Slow Show" by The National from The Boxer. I listened to it 5 times on my way to work. This is why headphones exist—so no one else has to listen to your latest musical obsession on repeat.

Why this song? There are a lot of reasons. First off, the lyrics are beautiful, but not without an edge. When Matt Berninger sings the chorus, “I wanna hurry home to you / put on a slow, dumb show for you / and crack you up / so you can put a blue ribbon on my brain / god I'm very, very frightening / I'll overdo it,” he captures the sweetness and urgency of a relationship. Also, like the entire album, the instrumentation and arrangement of the song is great. The music and the lyrics work together perfectly. And the last major piece for me is the harmony vocal. This song would not nearly be as good, with out the lovely harmony vocal in the song.

Here are a few ways to hear the song.

During a World Café Interview

Live at the 9:30 Club from NPR’s All Songs Considered Concert Series

And a live video


Sunday, January 13, 2008

U2: Under A Blood Red Sky

In my previous entry about Joe Strummer, I talked about the musical touch point that The Clash was for me. At about the same time, I saw U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky on TV and it had a similar effect. I believe it was broadcast on the USA Network. I videotaped this and watched it endlessly. I must have been about 14 years old. It is hard to believe now, that something this cool was so easily available. Then I bought this on cassette. I still listen to this today, but on my iPod.

Sadly, this concert isn’t available on DVD. But, the good news is, thanks to YouTube you can watch almost the entire concert—albeit one song at a time.

What are some of your musical touch points?

Here are some highlights.


Shuffling back to Beth Orton

One of the truly great things about an iPod is shuffling. For those of us with large music collections, it can be difficult to revisit our back catalogs. There is, after all, always something new to listen to. But iPod shuffling can help.

Such was the case as I rode the bus home from work the other night. Beth Orton’s song, “Live as you Dream” cycled on and I thought, “Beth Orton, I’ve missed you.” I hadn’t listed to her in a really long time. So off with shuffle, and on with Beth.

There are a lot of things that I like about Beth Orton’s music. She has such a great voice. It truly works with the words she writes. The imagery in her songs is really evocative.

Also, when she collaborates, she picks amazing people to work with. She has co-written with Johnny Marr (Concrete Sky), Ben Watt (Ali’s Waltz) for example. And the musicians she has recorded with Include Ben Harper, Dr. John, and Ryan Adams. She, of course, got her start by working with William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers.

So in honor of my shuffling back to Beth Orton and the fact that she should have a new record out this year, here are some great things of hers to check out.

Here is an interview and performance from KCRW from 1997.

A performance on Jools Holland with Terry Callier.

Central Reservation live and acoustic.

Lastly, Conceived live on David Letterman.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kid Grooves

Wow, that last post was a bit heavy. Here's another.

I recently heard Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air. He was discussing being a parent and how his 17-month-old daughter seemed to inherently know good music from bad on the radio. I thought about this and agreed, with the caveat that you are generally exposing your kids to a broad range of quality music. No Raffi, please. And just to get it out in the open right away, I do have an agenda here. I have no notion of objectivity. I want to avoid whatever music happens to fit the BritneyDuffMontanaWiggles model being played in my house when my kids are older.

But, back to the topic of kids understanding quality music. I have two examples of kids grooving to good music, from a very unscientific study based on my two kids. My son is four and a half and my daughter is seven months old. One day this past summer I was driving our son around in our decidedly unhip (but much loved) Toyota minivan. My iPod was shuffling through songs and Sufjan Steven’s song "Chicago" came on. This is a great song that can be found on his album Illinois and on the soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine. I looked in the rearview mirror and there was my son full on banging his head to the song—fine blond hair waving everywhere. After that, he referred to this as his favorite song; and still does.

OK, a four and a half year old you can agree with, but a seven month old? I swear one day that my daughter was crying and I put on "1,2,3,4" from Feist’s album The Remainder with the hopes that a little dancing might help. Did it ever! She started smiling and growling (which at the time was her highest form of complement). Her brother came into the room and started to dance with us. We listened and danced to that song on repeat for a half an hour, until my wife came home and could nurse her. Anytime I put that on she wiggles and wants to groove out baby style.

If more evidence is required—and also a case for taking your kids to see live music—I offer up lasts years concert at the State Theatre in Ithaca, New York by Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. My family attended this amazing concert and my son was blown away. When I asked him the next morning what he thought of the concert, he said, “It was great. I want a piano.” SCORE! So last Christmas Santa brought a very nice little used upright piano to our house, which took two roles of wrapping paper to wrap, I might add. My family also attended a Solomon Burke concert with my son, and he loved that, too. Our general concert guideline has been based on volume, as my son isn't too hip to wearing earplugs. If isn't too loud, we'll take him.

There are certainly many other musical possibilities and styles that appeal to kids. There is even some great kids music out there. If you haven’t gotten a hold of any Dan Zanes cds, they are fantastic. Zanes was a founding member of the super ‘80s band, the Del Fuegos. His albums usually include guests such as Aimee Mann, Lou Reed, John Doe, and Suzanne Vega. Another great choice is They Might Be Giants who have released both kids and adult albums.

In the end, though, I think that any music made with passion and integrity is kids’ music. I must say, though, that now that my son is 4 and a half, I do try to avoid music where the F-Bomb is dropped loudly. Call me a prude, but I don’t really relish the thought of my son yelling F*** in the middle of his pre-k class.



I have been thinking a lot about Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem,” lately. Strangely, it is the sad headlines about Britney Spears that have reconnected me with this song. Leonard Cohen—musician and poet—really found the truth about us all when he sang, “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

Check it out.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Remembering My First Concert

Yesterday on my way to the office, I stopped at the Ithaca Bakery for a bagel. While waiting in line, the Simple Minds song “Alive and Kicking” was playing. Wow, I hadn’t heard anything from Simple Minds in years. And honestly, I can’t say that I’ve missed them.

But, I was taken back to 8th grade in Falmouth, Maine—just outside of Portland. I had my combat boots and my Eisenhower Jacket and I was the cool young punk. But maybe not so cool after all, because Simple Minds was the first rock concert I ever saw. The Call opened the show. And not only that, but my mom dropped me off and picked me up from the concert. This is no offense against my mom. She’s super cool.

Do you remember your first concert? I remember this one. It was at the Cumberland County Civic Center. I believe it was a winter concert, which means the ice for the Maine Mariners hockey team on the floor of the venue was covered by plywood. Not very rock and roll, I must say.

But I didn’t care. It was my first encounter with the communal power of the concert experience. And this feeling of being with a large group of people experiencing music together, but all in each concertgoer’s individual way, is really a magical thing. It is a feeling I have never lost. Hearing the band on the radio reminded me of holding my lighter in the air when they played their closing song. You guessed it . . . The song was “Don’t You Forget About Me.”


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Call Me MC Ishmael

Call me MC Ishmael. Actually, you should call me MC Ahab, but the line seemed too good to pass up. Anyway, I must confess that I am obsessed. My obsession with music is pretty obvious. Why else would I write Dynamic Meter? But I'm talking about a specific music obsession.

The obsession I'm writing about here is with World Café’s Top 5 List. I have submitted numerous lists. And I wait for the call or the email—that fateful contact that would tell me that my humble submissions would be used on the air.

But I've never heard back and every Friday I listen to the show to hear the list that is chosen. And the songs and the lists are generally great. But what about me? I’m a hip guy with wide-ranging musical tastes. Or so I think, at least.

Of course rationally I tell myself that a lot of people submit lists. After all, there can only be 52 lists chosen in a given year. But this isn’t rational. This is a mission. So World Café, if you’re reading (well I am thrilled your reading), but help me out. Boost my self esteem. Pick one of my lists.