Music often repeats itself. Sometimes out of that comes something new and inspired, something that can be claimed as one’s own. But most of the time music is recycled so closely that it’s more of a mimic and less of a revolution. And in that comes many forgotten artists fallen by the marginal wayside.
I:scintilla is a continuation of goth and industrial music, but it’s certainly of its own. Locally known but likable enough to take over both worlds. It’s a genre filled with many geniuses; VNV Nation, KMFDM, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Bauhaus, NIN and so forth – but I:scintilla has their own claim, and their own sound. It’s a separation from anything in the genre I’ve ever heard, and I can’t help but call them an all-time favorite of mine.
They have a new EP out, Prey On You. It’s inspired, sure, but their own sound is so impacting and brilliant that you get the idea right away this band could very well, and very well should, reach the sounds of every industrial and goth lover on the planet. The title track is catchy, easy to listen to but also very musically inclined. Hollowed is incredibly bluesy and moody for its genre, with incredible harmony and an almost jam-like quality to it. It’s got the phrase ‘prey on you’ embedded all throughout it, keeping with the great consistency of the feel of the album. Ammunition is my favorite – a fast-paced, hard-hitting and intense track that reminds me of early NIN work, but clearly not. They’re emotional songs, with personal stories told with melodies that a general audience can truly connect with.
Prey on You is a remarkable album by a remarkable band, and though it only contains three songs and five remixes, their span of talent is just unbelievable. The remixes prove that you can dissect their carefully designed songs and recreate parts of it to bring new life to each track. Some songs should never be toyed with; I:scintilla doesn’t ‘toy’ with their tunes, they master them. Over and over again.
I wrote in my last post how inspired, original, captivating music is hard to find. How most newer music doesn’t capture the essence of its ancestral rock and pop originators. It’s hard, after so much music in this genre has been written over the past several decades, to find a crisp new sound. Eight out of ten people I know gave up on new music fifteen or twenty years ago.
Stellar Road is not such a band. It’s a strong and solid argument that they’re just a branch of Dave Matthews, Ben Harper or Jack Johnson. I can’t stand the last two artists, and I only like Dave a little. But that’s mostly because most people I grew up with listened to only those few artists for the most part, and most of those people were like James Spader in Pretty in Pink. So, bad connotation there.
I digress. Stellar Road’s new self-titled effort is phenomenal. It’s acoustic rock for the most part, with additional horns and strings as needed. The songwriting is brilliant, though; their melodies and harmonies are, well, stellar. They have passion that a lot of newer music lacks; you can hear it loud and clear in tunes like “Try to Be” and “Amazing.” They’re catchy, but also intelligent; I can imagine an entire amphitheater singing loudly to the chorus of “Shipwrecked” and “Believe.”
They’re bluesier than those in their genre, and you can even hear a little jazz. Each song is put together carefully with just enough construction and layering to make it strong and brilliant, without overdoing it. An entire room could dance and lose their minds to their perfected jams in many of their songs, but it’s the intense passion when they let it rip that really captures me. Daly can croon as well as he can belt out, and the band meshes so well together that you’d think they’ve been doing this for thirty years.
Songs like “Before We Dance” and “Goddamakaway”, on the other hand, put me to ease as well as anything else soothing that I’ve ever heard. You can imagine them being played on a beach after sunset, after a long and exhausting day. They sing of love and fun, of the future and the past; never trying to be something they’re not. I think that stands for something.
Stellar Road is for anyone who enjoys a good rock or pop song. What’s amazing is that the world doesn’t know them, yet; for now, I’ll enjoy seeing them at Chicagoland bars until some major label realizes these songs have to be truly heard.
Before I critique another album, I’m taking this time to make a point, or statement, whatever it is. My thoughts are so jumbled and layered that I don’t know if I’ll make more sense to myself than I might right now. It’s an exhausted argument and a very narrow one as well, but one I feel will always be addressed.
You know who the biggest bands in the world are right now? That’s right, the same damn ones that have been on top for three, four, five, SIX decades now. U2. The Rolling Stones. AC/DC. Metallica. Madonna. The Who. Iron Maiden. Can Phoenix sell out 100,000 seat arenas? No, but Edward The Great can. They’re the biggest draws live, and they’re just as big now as they ever were. These artists and the scores more at their level have sealed their legacies and legends, and have inspired masses and generations, and always will.
Now, granted, they’ve had the time to keep it together, stay together and stay inspired enough to stay relevant. Time to create these legacies. But these artists defined their generation, revolutionized music, whether they wanted to or not. There’s no way to know if something you did will be groundbreaking and a worldwide favorite, but there’s always something magical that happens when it’s made.
These artists are the master at what they do. Whether it’s brilliant lyrics, defining entertainment, groundbreaking musical talent, they mastered it. You see them live, they define your own lifetime, they move you, they become a part of your own dreams and loves.
Kings of Leon? They’re as marginally forgettable as Kingdom Come. Rihanna? Incredibly talented, but is the millionth R&B singer to shout out songs about relationships. Lil Wayne? I’ll admit that hip-hop has had many brilliant talents in their innovative and culture-defining uprising, people like Russell Simmons, Grandmaster Flash and Dr. Dre, but at what point does it begin to sound like self-obsessed noise?
I don’t write this blog to attack people who live their dreams and make great careers for themselves, and I’m trying to pick my words wisely now. But there’s a point where you just have to take a leap and say “Will this inspire? Will this song live on? What is the point here?”
I’ll also say that artists, many of them, don’t want to lead the pack. They’re not looking for infamy, or an avant-garde musical lifeline, and that’s fine. But there’s got to be someone who can take the torch from the artists that have held it for generations. It’s going to have to happen sometime. The Rolling Stones are nearing their mortal end. So is Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page and Roger Daltrey. Rock n’ roll isn’t old enough to see its direct originators play it through their 80’s, but it’s far from easily possible.
Music isn’t defining anymore. If it is, I consider myself dated. Music’s movement has been technological; vocoders and auto-tuners are “in.” Bands like The Postal Service, Owl City, VNV Nation and Shiny Toy Guns are successful due to their computerized sounds that stem as far back as Nine Inch Nails and before that, 80’s synth pop.
In that, music a continuance. Maybe that’s all it is. I don’t know if music is going to define our lives like it did our parents and grandparents. I think we’re forced to grow up too fast in a harsher reality, and music doesn’t always have the sway it used to. With more ways to get music out there, with more media and with so much created in an always-corrupt recording industry, maybe there will be no one to step up to the likes of The Beatles. Then again, we’ve never been able to see what’s to come in music, so why start now?
I’m rambling. I knew I would. I guess my bottom line is that I’m bummed I missed Woodstock, missed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, missed the foundation of bands like Aerosmith, Cream, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Those bands changed the world. They’re honored and worshiped today and will be forever.
Is there anyone else coming? Will my generation and those after have such incredibly earth-shattering swarms of talent that would overcome any dry spell in popular music? I don’t know, and I don’t see it, and that worries me.
Three entries into this site’s new format, I’m going for the guts here. I’m reaching into an album that defies almost everything I like as a music listener, a style I’d usually roll my eyes at, but I’m going to go for it anyway. I want to try to see how objective I can be in critiquing something I’d usually despise.
Lady Gaga, and her albums, The Fame and The Fame Monster.
What would I, the listener, have against her? Well, her sound is not all that groundbreaking, it’s not much of a new take on anything, and it sounds about as dated as Amber (remember her? ‘One More Night’?) when you’re not actually seeing Lady Gaga perform it. “Bad Romance” sounds like something you’d hear played between Ace of Base and C&C Music Factory, groups we generally laugh at now. “Just Dance” sounds like something I’d hear on a Disney kids compilation. It just has the manufactured sound of a general and vague display of pop performance.
However, I respect that she came up through the club scene, working her way up to fame, which is what she’s all about. And I salute her taste of music, in people like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, who I worship alongside her. As a listener, I’m glad she found inspiration from them more than she might have in, say, Technotronic. She’s not a particularly good looking woman, nothing exciting, and could have been nothing more than just another performer in New York. But that’s like saying Madonna could have been just another flash in the pan from Detroit.
The difference is, Lady Gaga looks like an epic drag queen, loves the glamour and fashion, and brings thoughts of fame and fortune to every household. She’s a lot for the eye to enjoy with her wildly designed outfits and makeup, who clearly enjoys working her ass off to get our attention. And boy, does she get it. She steps up the mystique and appeal pop stars need to be taken seriously and relevant, and is still just 23 years old. When she performs her ordinary songs, she does it in an extraordinary way, just like KISS has for four decades. They’re easily her best comparison.
I will say that “Speechless” is a tremendous ballad that really brings out her voice, and completes her as a musician. That’s one that every household should give a listen to.
Lady Gaga brings fun and excitement, and a whole amazing show, to a world where people no longer care about album covers or collections, and can rarely afford concert tickets. She brings the show to them; you can’t miss her, and if you do, you’re missing out on some amazing performances. It’s almost like you love the songs because you love and appreciate her. To me, that’s the height of what a pop performer can do, and I respect her for that. “Paparazzi”, “Bad Romance”, and “Eh, eh” are songs I can imagine being played at my old high school dances, but her idea of bringing the idea of fame and stardom to her fans in a day where our stars are only a tweet away absolutely works for her. She brings her songs to life with her style and larger-than-life performances, and makes herself a superstar in an otherwise bland showcase of new music in this millennium.
You’re not blowing me away with your generally bland music, Gaga, but you’re certainly needed in what I call a darker era for music.
In an age of advanced electronic music, that stems from techno to house to jungle, it’s all too easy to get caught up in gadgets and vocoders, and miss out on the whole purpose of music, which is of course to reflect emotion, thought and personality. Key word; person.
Owl City’s ‘Ocean Eyes’ is a remarkable and respectable take on emotional electronic music. “Fireflies” is their biggest hit, discussing the rotation of our world, the colorful symphony of millions of fireflies and how he’s kept them before. Its music video and lyrics combined paint the image of the imagination of what used to thrill us as children. I will argue that it is damn hard to bring a refreshing take to nostalgia in a song, but they pulled it off this time.
To me, that’s just one of the many peaks of this album. The album continues to show an exciting, visual take on the world that we take for granted, and again one that hasn’t been done over and over again. You would think these guys lay under a skyline all night every night, and let their minds explode. “I am floating away in a silent ballet” is one of the several brilliant lyrics on the album that just provide an excellent summation of the scenery they show such passion for. Meteors, stars, the whole non-luminescence we all take for granted. They connect such nature to love in one of my favorites, “Vanilla Twilight”, as well as on “If My Heart Was A House”, where he dances and embraces under a sun held from a string. Adam Young, the sole member, makes his voice almost as visual as the words sung out of it, as he allows it to travel and echo and carry with the many harmonies he creates on each song, in a perfect order.
I won’t dissect albums track-by-track, because it makes an album all to microscopic. The best albums are defined as a whole scope, and this album fits that bill when it comes to electronic music. Again, what makes Own City so unique and outstanding is that they take the largest departure from ‘natural’ sounds in my opinion, that being synthesizers/keyboards, and combine that with the most natural things in the world; our sky, daisies, islands, and insecurity coming down like a tidal wave that myself and many others understand all too well.
It’s music that has very much to do with personal taste more than the quality of the music, so I could see how Owl City could be hated; the bizarreness of their band name, the whole electronic sound, the lack of machismo. Who knows. But in my opinion, the album creates a scene that envisions a combat to my anxiety, and brings me to a place where I actually feel relaxed.
I, too, got lost in this silent ballet.
To start off my blog – the non-critic critic site for all music – I am going to start easy on myself. I only have a vague idea of what I’m doing, so I might as well start with my favorite album of all time. It has been for well over a decade, for its perfection, energy and emotion; Metallica’s Metallica, or “The Black Album.”
From its opening, “Enter Sandman”, through its ending with “The Struggle Within”, it’s one brilliantly well-crafted tale of angst, sadness, despair and ferocity. Songs like “Sad But True” and “Holier Than Thou” are the essence of aggression in heavy metal, but it doesn’t lame out with a song that repeats the same thing. I see it as a perfect puzzle of all of these emotions; all songs with similar feeling and blitzkrieg, but told differently each time. No song sounds redundantly like any other on the album, a tough achievement for any artist. It’s like twelve different puncture wounds with a dagger constructed with a perfectly-edged blade. Softer stabs with storytelling, intense ballads like “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters”, my favorite song of all time, go perfectly well with the darker bites of “My Friend of Misery” and “Of Wolf And Man.”
It’s like in Dexter, when the title character sees a perfect murder with a perfect, and in his eyes artistic, way of completing the act, he can only stand in admiration. That’s how I feel about Metallica; simple without draining their creative intelligence, heavy without overdoing it like they had done a little to their predecessor …And Justice For All, and final without missing a single edge. It’s the height of hard rock and heavy metal at its finest; true to its roots, but enjoyable for anyone and everyone. A matchless record, and one of the best of all time.
An ear for music is very different from a taste for music. I have no ear whatever; I could not sing an air to save my life; but I have the intensest delight in music, and can detect good from bad.
My original reason to write this blog was to build up a writing portfolio for a writing career I so deeply desire. I transformed that into a site about expressions, feelings and social situations that people have, the ‘mask’ they wear, and how many of us hide ourselves to a fault, or almost to a fault. I then brought my passions into the blog, referencing these thoughts and feelings; baseball and music. It became a kaleidoscope of how people are, act, and feel, and how that’s associated with things that I love. I haven’t loved that fusion, and I no longer enjoyed it and how unfocused it’s been. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I haven’t written on here as frequently as I once did. The other part of that was just a lack of inspiration, and I think the inward struggle I had with myself on here was a big cause of that.
So, I start over. I thought about what I wanted to write about, and thought of only that alone. I don’t want to impress myself, or force anything I’m not inspired to write. I thought about what I’d simply enjoy doing, which is what I thought to do in the first place before I got all jumbled up.
I don’t enjoy most music critics; I don’t even enjoy reading the words of most pop culture writers in general, because I always see a sale behind everything. Peter Gammons, Paul Gargano, Craig Calcaterra and Rob Neyer are the only people in the online writing world I truly enjoy and actually truly love.
So I decided to make a music critic site on my terms; albums I may or may not listen to as a fan, albums from yesteryear or from today. I may even just dissect a song at a time. I truly don’t know. What I know is; I’d enjoy this, I’d be passionate about it, and the idea wouldn’t be to sell anything to anybody; it’d be more about understanding the musician, what they were trying to do, and if I enjoyed its end result or not. I’m doing this for me, and I couldn’t be more excited.
So, stay tuned.
It’s been hard for me to find my words on here. I’ve spread the word – I fear I’ve lost what little steam I had on here. It’s so funny how you can have as many interests as I do, and as many opinions as I do, but when given a blank page to write on in recent times, neither come to form.
I’ve done writing exercises. I’ve spoken to writers I believe in and admire, and I do what they say; just write. Write, write, and write some more. Who cares, just write. It’s fun, but also aggravating, because no matter how much I try not to worry about the substance and stick to just the idea of writing, I want to make the words perfect. And nothing is perfect. Everything has its limits.
I’ve been using baseball on here to serve as a segway to a lot of emotions, feelings and psyches. Honestly, my love of the game is the only sensible reason I have for doing so. Baseball is a simple game played for simple reasons. I almost get uncomfortable when a baseball player or coach is grilled on some sort of “mindset” when going up to the plate, or catching a ball, or throwing a pitch. It’s simple; hit the damn ball, catch the damn ball, throw whatever pitch you know the batter won’t like. It’s all about whether you can simply achieve that simple success or not.
Maybe that’s why I used baseball, come to think of it; nothing is more complex than human emotion; nothing to me is more simple than a baseball game. Using something simple to relate something complex makes the task quite easy.
But I’m defining more, and I’m toning up this site more. It’s not going to be just baseball. Life can be defined through lots of methods, and I will be using this site to open every door I’d like to.
I’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men. I’m nearly done with the second season. The show takes place in the early 1960’s Manhattan, at an advertising firm called Stanley Cooper. It follows an executive there by the name of Don Draper, and the life he leads and the past he fights.
I can’t help but compare myself to characters I watch in my favorite shows. There are qualities in each character I’ve come to love in each favorite series; I love the living-to-die, gung-ho ferocity of Jack Bauer, I love the power of Tony Soprano, I love the intelligence and leadership of President Josiah Bartlet, and I love how Hawkeye Pierce can turn dark days into light and sarcastic humor. Each character has taken a lot of pain, and in rising from it, has developed some sort of unique strength and intrigue that keeps me watching them. Events and life-changing experiences these characters have that you just don’t get to see in this society where everyone shuns their problems away from others.
Don Draper is different. I like him less than most characters I’ve gotten to know, and I’ll even include all the characters in the thousands of books I’ve read over the years as well. On the surface, if I knew the man, I’d consider him just another suit. He’s gritty, he’s tough as nails to be around if you like to be goofy like me, and he cheats on his loving wife with several women that I can hardly stand to watch. Maybe it’s because my own dad couldn’t stay loyal, and thus it’s hard for me to swallow, but at the very least watching unfaithfulness is tough, and hearing about it makes me subconsciously make a fist. Not a character you can see me enjoying, clearly; yet, I’m deeply interested in him and what he does and how he lives.
I realized this is for one main reason, at least the only one I’ve thought of; unlike every other character I’ve come to love, I have a connection to him that I don’t with anyone else I’ve watched or read about. He has no family. He changed his identity, started fresh after coming home from the Korean War, after a childhood and adolescence where he never found his niche or real home. So he remade himself that on one hand is a success, and in another is this mysterious and empty darkness that he probably had to assume when he shut his old life away. After all, you can’t shun the first couple decades of your life completely without either realizing and emptiness, forming an emptiness, or even risking your own emotionality. I do have more family than Don did, but I know that emptiness he feels. The same things that haunt him haunt me as well. The only difference is, I deal with mine by talking about it and making sure I surround myself with great friends and my dream of a girlfriend, and he deals with his by masking himself from everything and fighting his battles alone to the point where no one gets him.
Every emotion is a crossroads; each story is told with each decision made. Sometimes we deal with it by throwing ourselves into the fires of war, or by making our own army to max out our power, or by joking all the way through until a fifth of liquor becomes a truth serum. Either way, when someone you’re close to mistreats you, it brings you to this crossroads where you either uniquely build yourself back up from its frayed ends, or you end up mistreating others and never letting anyone know who you really are. Sometimes the war doesn’t end in your head or your heart until you end the battle for good.
I am all about employee rights and privileges, especially as a former employee who didn’t even get treated as well as I deserved. But there’s one thing I never understood about many of today’s baseball contracts – the no-trade clause.
This clause basically states that the player cannot be traded unless he approves a possible trade, or he can limit the teams he’s traded to, which usually includes the worst teams in the league. It’s all about winning championships, of course.
I can see how a player wants to be set, and wants to not have to change their life around – a topic I touched heavily on during my ‘trade deadline’ post back on July 31. I totally get that. But at the same time, why do you want to stay there when the team’s being held back financially a few years into your contract, for instance? Wouldn’t you want to be dealt if you’re not wanted so they can have more payroll flexibility? It’s all about winning championships much of the time, especially if you’re a highly-paid superstar, so why not be moved elsewhere where you can win? That would not only be a win, it would be a win-win. I could barely face myself if I knew I was hindering my own team.
Or, as another example put more vaguely, why be somewhere where you’re not wanted? If a team wants to trade you, wouldn’t you want to leave out of principle? No one in the world hates being where they’re not wanted more than me, so I find this fascinating. Sure, you may love the city you play in, and you may love your teammates and the fans, but it would be too awkward and tense to show up to work everyday knowing the powers above don’t want to see you there anymore.
It’s a nice, and very very rare opportunity to have such control over your own fate. But is it worth the possible media hype, and the awkwardness from the same people that signed you in the first place?