Friday, August 30, 2013

Band Review: Jeff Keyson

Jeff Keyson doesn't seem to do a whole lot of self-promotion, but there is an album, See You Around, on Spotify, and there also seems to be music available for purchase via iTunes and Amazon, though not the same songs.
I have primarily been listening to the See You Around album, and it's pretty good. The opening track, "No Hesitation, No Reservations" starts off as fairly straightforward alternative rock, as do "Tale Of History" and "See You Around" with their strong intros. Interestingly, though, a lot of the other tracks end up with a more techno sound.
They don't completely lose the alternative rock sound, but cadences and patterns come in that seem inspired by dance and hip hop, where it seems like the songs could do well in a club setting too, without necessarily being of the club. Listen to the machine beat and effects on "So Long" for an example of that, or the vocal patterns on "How The World Goes Around".
My favorite is "No Hesitation, No Reservations", which reminds me a bit of Foxboro Hottubs. That being said, I wanted to mention "Face In The Crowd", which may be the most interesting. It has the most explicit content, with some profanity and drug references, which it uses in telling the story of someone searching for fame and being thoroughly disillusioned. I was initially put off by it, interpreting it as judgmental. On additional listening I feel like there is some depth and understanding in the telling. I hope that following creative desires hasn't been too much of a downer.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Band Review: Kris Orlowski

The Facebook description for Kris Orlowski say "orchestrated folk pop", and I was wondering about that. Should it be orchestral? Because they do make use of expanded instruments, and featured a 17-piece orchestra on the latest EP. At the same time, "orchestrated" could refer to a certain deliberateness of the manner in which the music was implemented.
It struck me (possibly leading to overthinking it) because what I had noticed in listening to the music was that without being really showy, there are all of these little bonuses in the music - trills and plinks and other small musical surprises. Because of this, it may be valuable to listen multiple times, or at least to pay close attention. There are rewards for it.
None of these extras are overpowering, so the consistent attention to detail strengthens each song while making them stand apart from each other. In "The Way You Are", they accomplish a mood that I have heard others try to establish and fail at. With all of that, I think my favorite song is "Waltz Of Petunia", so make to not miss it.
They do some things with violins here and there that are just beautiful. "Steady And Slow" may be the best example of this, but their violin deployment is consistently good. The funny thing is that while the violins imply a more elegant sound, they are also doing things vocally that are almost like scat, but not quite. Maybe they are referencing scat. That seems like they styles would clash, but they work out. And then they can go with a completely different feeling and strong percussion on "Follow".
The overall feeling tends towards mellow. Several of the songs are upbeat, but as a whole it still seems more calming than not. More important, there is a naked vulnerability below it all, keeping everything heartfelt. The craftsmanship is not sterile.
Portland-area readers, they seem to come to the area pretty frequently. Check the main web site for details.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

And the dialogue begins with Kellin Quinn

In Going Emo I mentioned that there were various musicians for whom I had some positive feelings, without having listened to their music yet. This comes from tweets and Tumblr posts by people I follow.
Kellin Quinn, the lead singer of Sleeping With Sirens, has been at the point where I could  recognize the face and name, but that was about it, until recently, where there were two issues getting a lot of re-tweets. Since both of the issues pertain to problems and opportunities in the modern music industry, we will use those as jumping off points, and this will probably bleed into next week.
The most recent issue was two tweets, from Kellin, re-tweeted by multiple users, and a reaction to the VMAs (Video Music Awards):
"I've lost faith in music after watching last nights VMA awards.. If that bulls*** is what music is today.. Then I f***ing quit"
"This! This is music, this is inspiration.. I think it's time artists look to where we started from, and begin again."
(Asterisks are mine.)
The picture shows works by several artists, including Prince, Fleetwood Mac, Foo Fighters, Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen, and Aerosmith, so covering multiple decades and genres.
As you might expect, I am sympathetic to that sentiment, but my first thought was "Oh, don't be such a drama queen." I can say that, because for me, that is not what music is today. Yes, I have spent a lot of time listening to past music, but there is contemporary music in there too. Great albums have been released this year and last year. Good bands are in the studio now, working on new material. It is easy for me to feel positive because of that.
(Also, I did not watch the VMAs, and I think that helped. I highly recommend not watching.)
It is true that this music is not what is making the headlines, or the big bucks. There are ways in which that is a problem, and I hate seeing dreck rewarded, but it's important to focus on the positive, and on ways of making things more positive. For me, the band reviews are my contribution, and the other music blogging, and maybe more playlists, because I keep thinking of other ways to be more effective. Spread the good music!
That works in two directions. One goal is that we are trying to help more people find good music that suits them. Music is so important emotionally, and can bring so much joy and pleasure, that there is a real value in that.
The other part is, of course, that these artists producing good music need to be able to live, and so people need to buy their music, or concert tickets, or band merchandise. This leads to the next Kellin issue:
Long story short: Oli Sykes (of Bring Me The Horizon) tweeted about charging for pictures, which was indirect, but seemed pretty clearly pointed at a Sleeping With Sirens package.
Honestly, $80 for a Polaroid would seem like a bad deal, but as the full package includes the ticket, early admission, a question and answer session and a signing, along with a signed poster, that's probably a pretty good deal. The thought of using a Polaroid so the fan can get her own picture with Kellin signed is pretty clever as well.
So, I can't really hold this package against Sleeping With Sirens, or Kellin. I also don't hold the other tweet against Oli that much. I suspect he just saw $80 for a Polaroid, and did not investigate fully before going off. I will hold this against a professional music writer, and I would hold it against myself, but with musicians tweeting maybe the bar can be set a little lower. And of course from my point of view these guys are all just kids anyway.
That being said, there is something that I hate about the package too. Again, it is completely reasonable for them to get in on the act: Meet and Greets and VIP packages are becoming really common, with lots of bands, and something that everyone is looking at now is how to get more money. Digital streaming has a very poor cash return, actual album sales have become less and less popular, and so what used to feed the labels has largely dried up, leading to the labels wanting more out of the touring piece of the pie.
There's a lot that's ugly about it, and when you add it all together it is not just a revenue problem or a publicity problem, but a new world that requires a new way of thinking.
So, I think I want to spend some time there next week, and maybe I will explain that crack about what I would hold against a professional music writer. See, I can be indirect too, though I think I was indirected recently as well, which I think means I offended a band that I reviewed, but there were reasons for that. Anyway, it's not stopping me, so you can look forward to reviews of Kris Orlowski and Jeff Keyson, coming up.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I started out listening to the various guitar songs via Youtube, but had moved to Spotify for the most part by the end. The selection on Youtube was greater, and it is nice being able to see the artists, but when I had only an artist, instead of a specific song, it was simpler to get an overview through Spotify via their "Popular" section at the top of an artist's section.
I did end up making the Guitar Sampler playlist, and then I noticed that if I clicked "Share", I could add a note, so I went through and added relevant blog posts for each playlist, because I have written about almost all of them. Using "Share" for this ability means that they were all on my Facebook timeline, but the connection to Twitter did not seem to work.
Spotify was very useful to me in this project, and I appreciate that. There are two things that I appreciate less.
One is of course the low amount of royalties paid. Technically I think their payments are lower than Youtube, though with Youtube if the video is not loaded specifically through that group's channel, they are probably not getting anything for it. That would not be an issue for Spotify, though since I have seen at least two cases of groups with the same name having their songs mixed in together, I do have to wonder how that works. Regardless, I know that it takes hundreds of thousands of plays to earn a dollar.
Therefore, my first point here is to reiterate the importance of buying music. I love that I can listen to songs and albums before I purchase, but once I know that I like this, and I want to listen to it multiple times, then it's time to buy, whether you purchase a physical or digital copy.
Currently, I often use Spotify to listen to music I already own. This is partly to benefit the bands more, even if only infinitesimally so, but it's also a matter of convenience. I've sort of let the alphabetical order slide on my CD rack, and the dog is often sleeping in front of it, so it's often just easier. Still, I buy.
The other thing that sometimes bugs me about Spotify has everything to do with monetization. This is an important topic, and one that's close to my heart as someone who cares about bands getting the financial support they need, so we are going to talk about that more tomorrow.
For now, I am just going to focus on how that comes into play specifically with Spotify, which functions on the principle of the add-on sale. It is more sophisticated than asking if you want fries with that, because it is looking at your history to make the appropriate offers. In theory, the ads  you see on Facebook have a similar technology behind them, though what piece of data leads certain ads to appear is beyond me. I question their algorithm.
Spotify is a little more sophisticated for that, I guess, except that they don't understand that the way I listen to music involves a lot of exploration and study. This means that I am usually pretty up on what is out there, so the link to get tickets for AFI is nice, but I already have mine.
It also means that sometimes I am listening to things that I hate for academic purposes. Therefore while they have accurately identified a band that is similar to the one I was listening to, this in no way means that I have any desire to listen to them.
Of course, sometimes science can't account for anything anyway. By all accounts, as someone who loves My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, I should love Panic! At The Disco, and band members will be mean to me if I don't like them, but I don't like them! I'm sorry! I don't know why they annoy me; they just do.
Finally, sometimes Spotify hits a nerve. "You have been listening to (this song) a lot lately; would you like to listen now?"
What are you implying? Are you calling me obsessive? I mean, I like the song but I like lots of songs; you are way off base trying to ascribe some deeper meaning to it. I am not in love with the bass player!
Ahem. In conclusions, Spotify can be quite useful for exploration and convenience, but it is not a way of supporting artists. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What about Bowie?

As you can see by the title, I am not considering this post to be part of the Greatest Guitar Songs series, but it does have its roots there.
If you recall, in sorting through the comments regarding the list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs as deemed by Rolling Stone, the worse of the comments was someone who just put "Bowie". Looking up a specific song or album is easy. When someone only gives an artist name, that can be a little harder, but still doable. But Bowie? There was just too much there.
I tried listening to different things, and talking to a friend, and that led to some thoughts, but I really thought there was just going to have to be a lack of closure on this one. I would not know what the original poster meant. Then I started The Platinum Collection, and it just clicked. Somewhere in the first few songs I nodded and thought "Now I get it."
(Those specific songs are "The Jean Genie", which I had never heard before, followed by "Space Oddity" and "Starman". Probably at about track 7, "Let's Spend The Night Together", the guitar starts to be less of a factor, but I was nonetheless just grateful to feel like I understood.)
It was a relief to have that thought, but I wanted to go over a few points that had come to mind when I was still thinking it was hopeless.
First of all, even though I trying to focus on a Bowie song or timeline that would make sense when talking about "greatest guitar songs", I had sort of thought "Let's Dance", and Karen mentioned that one too. The guitar is good in it, though I'm not sure it stands out. The big problem is that generally when listening to David Bowie, I am focusing on the voice or the piano or the saxophone.
I think I know why we both thought of "Let's Dance" though, because I'm pretty sure that was where Bowie first became accessible to us. I had seen videos for "Under Pressure" and "Ashes to Ashes" early on, but they were a little off-putting with the grotesquerie and extremity.
She developed an appreciation for his envelope pushing pretty quickly. For me, I didn't really get "Ashes To Ashes" until a few years ago, where it was used for...I guess it would be considered a modern dance. It was pretty close to ballet, but perhaps not strictly all ballet. Anyway, in a new setting, I could actually hear the music, and I loved it. It is an amazing, brilliant song. I still don't like the original video for it, though it's not quite as overpowering as it was for a fourteen-year old girl.
So, there might be more room for exploration on the topic of music and visuals, and I may go there, but the real point is how many places there are to go. You can write doctoral theses on Bowie, from the themes he incorporated, the influence he had, the psychology involved, and possibly the part that is most important, the ability to reinvent himself over and over again. Some of that is being able to be a musician or an actor or an internet service provider, which is impressive, but it's probably more impressive of how he was able to adapt musically.
I don't want to give unalloyed praise here. I don't believe in pushing the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope, or for publicity's sake. There are consequences to it, and Bowie himself felt Ziggy taking over his life. I am seeing a lot of people getting overly caught up in things, where they may be cheating their real lives, and so the foundation you are working from is an important thing. I want to focus more on things he does right.
First of all, Bowie is a total innovator. Lots of good things can come from one person doing it a different way. Maybe not everyone can see the possibilities at first, but once that door is opened, other people still get to go through. So having that vision, and the willingness to chase it is important.
Also, he is good at recognizing the talent and abilities in others. David Bowie is gifted musically, and he can do a lot on his own, but he still does amazing collaborations, and that is helped by his being open to other styles. So he can work with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Brian Eno, Bing Crosby, Cher, Mick Jagger, or Nile Rogers, and take influences from others, even if he might not work with them, and putting it all together not be confined to one genre or sound.
Finally, he seems to know when to take a rest, and let one project go, start a new one, or take time off.
When I say "finally", that is not in any way implying that this is the final word on Bowie, or even a particularly complete word on him, but all of these things have come up, because they are things that I am thinking about for other bands, and for music in general. So, don't be surprised if those issues come up again. That's why this is not a continuation of the "Greatest Guitar Songs" - we're moving on.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Band Review: San Juan

San Juan is a folk/alternative band out of Seattle. Their music currently seems to be most accessible via Facebook, with recordings of four songs being performed live.
While the songs generally have a bit more groove than traditional folk (perhaps indicating that they lean more towards alternative), there is a definite folksy feel as you listen to their banter with the audience while performing. The band seems very accessible.
"She's Been Out There" has some blues-y bass in it, whereas "Hey Yo Sister" and "Golden Shoes" are a little mellower, and softer, conveying a different emotion, but one that works within the songs.
The only song I really want to complain about is "I Need You", which strains so horribly for rhymes I thought it must be a joke. Actually it's a cover of a country song, which I guess makes sense, but I have to recommend against it. If the audience tends to give a good response. maybe the band should stick with it. The band performs it well as far as that goes, but it's just hideous. This could just be a result of my prejudice against country music and abuse of the English language, but my recommendation is to go to their page and listen to the first three songs only.
Music does not currently appear to be for sale, but appearances do get displayed on the web page.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Band Review: The Repeat Offenders

The Repeat Offenders are available on Spotify, but it took a while for me to find them due to similar names. I am almost certain that even when I did find them, their catalog is mixed in with another band with the same name (or possibly two). However, they do have a well organized site of their own, which gives you access to several tracks, a couple of videos, and other dates and news, so that's probably the best place for starting out.
Here is how the band self-describes:
"They’re The Stone Roses meet The Rolling Stones, with an Oasis attitude. It sounds like utter chaos but their sound is tinged with a Richard Ashcroft vibe to even things out."
I really heard the Oasis on one song, "Slide Away", which is actually an Oasis cover. The Rolling Stones is probably more in the guitars and the vocal delivery. It's that feel of Brits who have been hanging out in American juke joints, and they blend those different influences together. There is some grit to the music, like they have seen the harder side of life. In fact, they are still there, but they are standing steady against it.
"Beg, Steal, or Borrow" is probably the funkiest of the tracks. I like the guitar play on "Fade Away", which is a little more rock, and then you have "Perplexed Mind" which feels more contemplative and sad. And yes, "Slide Away" is beautifully sung. It is an overall good selection with a mature sound.
Their EP Frame Of Mind is available via iTunes. Look for that album name specifically, or it could be someone else.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Greatest Guitar Songs: The Sampler

It's time to wrap this up. Well, I do intend to revisit the Bowie issue, but I am not technically considering that part of this series. That will either launch me down a different musical road, or I might take a break from writing about music. Some of the things I have to say might be better later.
For now, I thought it would make sense to put some music together for someone who might be wondering where to start, and create a Spotify playlist. It won't be definitive or conclusive, which is not even possible. It is somewhat chronological, but not strictly. So really, it is just a departure point, but it comes from hours of listening and writing.
If you have been following along, I have written about many of this before, so sometimes I will not put a lot of detail. We have songs from the Rolling Stone list, songs from the Stereogum comments, and songs from my disagreements, sometimes more strenuously than others.
We start out with Django Reinhardt with "Minor Swing". There were many good song candidates, but I thought this was a good example of his style, and it focuses on the guitar a bit more perhaps, where many of the combo pieces focus on violin or bass.
Next up is Robert Johnson, "Believe I'll Dust My Broom". This is for the boogie bass line, taking something previously belonging to pianos and now standard in guitar, making it perhaps the most appropriate song for representing his influence on guitar.
"Ain't That Just Like A Woman", by Louis Jordan, is really boogie piano, like the music from which Robert Johnson borrowed that bass line, but with Carl Hogan on guitar it gives us that famous riff, after which we jump a couple of decades and get it amplified and electrified in Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Goode".
There is a sound to that guitar, beyond the notes, that seems to lead into Dick Dale and the Surfaris, and a lot of instrumental music, but I am going to go with "Rumble" by Link Wray next, because I think it hints at some of the aggression and societal unrest that is so relevant to rock.
It does have room to get funkier though, and shouldn't forget its blues roots, so this is where I'd like to bring in "Green Onions" by Booker T. & the MG's, which gets us into the '60s.
That's kind of all I want to do from the '60s. It's easy to put in Beatles, Stones, and Hendrix, but they are on all the lists, and we already know what they sound like. I was tempted to put in "Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf, but I feel like it would drag things down. Therefore, I am going straight to 1976, with the release of The Ramones and "Blitzkrieg Bop", followed by "Shot By Both Sides" by Magazine.
Despite yesterday's debate on whether "Blitzkrieg Bop" is their best, it is definitely a good song, and it is really early for them. They are brand new here, and they must have been a revelation. They never got as much play as they could have, but for those who were listening, this must have been a breath of fresh air. That also may be how the original list settled on "London's Calling", off of The Clash, two self-titled debuts by two great bands. So I get that, but I am going to go with a different track on the same record, "White Riot".
"Shot By Both Sides" is just a cool song that I had never heard of before. Also, right around here is the time for "Crazy On You" by Heart.
It would be completely reasonable to put Van Halen's "Eruption" in here, but it sounds like Eddie Van Halen was not happy with the recording, so for mind-blowing instrumental I am going with Joe Satriani's "Surfing With The Alien". Yes, that is a Silver Surfer reference. This recording session did not go exactly as planned either, but I still think it came out very well, and it's pretty amazing. On one level it reminds me of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Captain Nemo music. Don't overthink it.)
And now we are into the '80s, my old stomping grounds. "Beat's So Lonely" by Charlie Sexton makes it in, but so does The Knack's "My Sharona". I was thinking about putting in some Kinks for earlier, and nothing felt right, but I always feel like this song has some affinity with the Kinks, and so that sound is still kind of represented.
It is a harder sound, and a bit longer, but Metallica's "Master Of Puppets" needs to be here, because it shows some mastery of composition here, with the ground they cover and they way it builds. We will then relax a little with Quiet Riot's "Cum On Feel The Noize".
Two songs I feel awful about excluding, but they are not on Spotify, are "Take It Easy" by Andy Taylor (1986) and "Saturday Night" by the Misfits (1999). And they don't have "I Love Rock N Roll" as performed by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts! The '80s are already well-represented, but I am afraid I am going to give short shrift to the '90s. This is where I started to pull away from contemporary music, as I didn't care for grunge, or for the direction rap was heading. My band was the Gin Blossoms, but I'm going to hold on to them for right now. Our '90s songs will be "Dammit" (Blink-182) and "Basket Case" (Green Day).
Actually, I think of "Island In The Sun" (Weezer) and "The Middle" (Jimmy Eat World) as the '90s, but they were post 2000, brining us into the new century, and this is possibly where we are going more into things that I specifically love, rather than songs I learned about from this project, and now it feels weirder to write out the full song and band names, because I just mentioned all of them yesterday. However, I'll try not to start coasting.
I picked on one comment for suggesting what was basically a coffee shop duo type song for the greatest guitar songs list, and for greatest, it doesn't work. For a sampler, though, where we are just trying to remember what guitar can do, and why we like it, that makes sense. So we are including The Weepies here, with "World Spins Madly On". This is from 2006, though I only discovered it a couple of years ago.
Similarly, "Mercy Me", by the Alkaline Trio, is from 2005, but I only found it this year. Perhaps this is why my Fall Out Boy selection is "A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More Touch Me": I am always late.
And then it is totally time for "Triumph Of Venus" by Torche. Actually, of the songs remaining, I think I have expressed my love for them so frequently and clearly, that I don't know that a lot of comment is necessary. We are getting "Summertime", "Great Expectations", "Fast & Slow" and I think I am going to throw in "Bulletproof Heart", though I had not originally intended too.
However, the one I really want to talk about a little is "Don't Change For Me" by the Gin Blossoms. As important as they were to me in the '90s, and as much as I still love those songs, it was really important to me to find that they were still around. That song is great for me specifically, but also, just still having them here, and for a while I didn't know how they were.
The distribution system for music has changed greatly, and it's easy to miss stuff, and not even think that there is anything out there for you. You have to look harder, or at least differently, but there is rich, vibrant, glorious music popping up all over. I think about it a lot for the new bands I review, and for the older bands I still love. If the occasional blog post or playlist helps, I'll do my part. Long live rock and roll.
You can find these songs on Spotify as the creatively named "Guitar Sampler" play list for Gina Harris.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Greatest Guitar Songs: Excuse me, you left out my favorites

One of the earliest comments, but late enough that there had been several complaints, criticized that the issue with the complaints was that they hadn't even listened to the songs; they just checked for their favorites, found them missing, and assumed the list was invalid based on that.
Obviously I'm not doing that, but I do want to hit on my favorites here too. I will be reasonable. I have no intention of trying to shoehorn in A-ha or Reggie and the Full Effect - they will come up for other things - but again, so much of even getting into this comes from getting into My Chemical Romance, who are great with guitar, and so many of the other bands I listen to are great with guitar, that I just need to have my say.
First of all, the two bands that filled the top two spots for about a decade, The Clash and The Ramones, both made the list, with "London Calling" at 48 and "Blitzkrieg Bop" at 18. I guess that should make me happy, but I wasn't sure about either choice.
As I tried thinking about that more, especially while listening to The Ramones, I was thinking maybe "I Wanna Be Sedated" or "I Wanna Live" were stronger candidates, but over that I kept thinking that a lot of the guitar lines really sounded the same. And you know, that's punk! Simplicity is sort of its calling card. We're going to play three chords really fast with a lot of attitude for two minutes. Oy!
So maybe the reason they chose "Blitzkrieg Bop" was because it has four chords. But then you could argue that The Clash should rank higher, because they had songs with five chords, though I am not sure about "London Calling" specifically. I had thought about "Rudy Can't Fail", but I'm not sure that I can justify that. "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" might actually be stronger guitar-wise.
Suffice it to say, there is not a lot of punk on the original list, or in the comments, but punk is nonetheless awesome, and these two bands should be listened to a lot, regardless of technical complexity.
And, while all of the above-mentioned are good songs, my favorites are "Howling At The Moon", though the non-guitar aspects are probably more important to the overall sound, and "Train In Vain". Also, listening to "Pinhead" again, at the end that totally sounds like the Minions from Despicable Me.
Now, while these two bands are older, my love for them came later. I did not get into classic punk  until a few years after college. Actually, I've come to most of my modern bands kind of late too, so it works, but I am going to try and go in a kind of chronological order here.
If A-ha is not particularly known for guitar, it doesn't mean that my other 80's loves were not. Of the Split Enz/ Crowded House/ Finn Brothers continuum (but from a guitar point of view, it's basically Neil Finn), I'm going to call out "History Never Repeats" (I think there's some early jangle there), and "Something So Strong". As much as "Won't Give In" means to me, it is the pathos in the voices, and the depth of meaning. The guitar doesn't get in the way, but it's not what the song is about.
For Charlie Sexton, as much as his sound has matured over the years, I think I need to go back to "Beat's So Lonely". He was already so skilled, and there is something in the grind in the intro that still works for me. I did love "Hold Me" a lot.
For college, I need to give a shout-out to the Presidents of the United States of America. At the time, I did not even know that they were playing with minimal strings, and at some point I would like to go back and take another look at that. If you can do so much with so little, then what can you do with more. For now, "Lump" would probably be the best guitar song, but I have really enjoyed their covers: "Video Killed The Radio Star" and "George Of The Jungle".
That being said, college was more about the Gin Blossoms. It would be easy to go with "Hey Jealousy", but I don't know. I know that Scott Johnson and Jesse Valenzuela are a good team, and I know that with a lot of the songs it is the way that the guitar and the percussion and the vocals go together. "Until I Fall Away" creates an interesting mood. Honestly, I have a harder time being analytical with them. Some of that is probably the time and place when they hit, when I was not as analytical, and big emotional life-changing things happened, but their more recent titles really get me too, and I am old and settled now, kind of.
Going into some of my more recent loves, I find I have a lot more favorites. There are certainly bands that I love more passionately, or where there music hits me more deeply, but also, sometimes with the tweets, and having music playing when I work, and maybe just having gotten so much more serious about music, there are just a lot more bands that it would feel wrong to leave out. No matter how long this post gets, I will realize I forgot someone later, and feel bad, but, chances are I will write about them at some other time, so this just needs to be a post that covers a lot of cool guitar stuff.
I think it was Jimmy Eat World that came next. I became aware of them because "Sweetness" was used in promo for something on MTV, and it intrigued me, but it didn't grab me like "The Middle" did, and still does. While some of that is certainly the message, that intro hooks.
It was about the time that I was getting into classic punk that I also found myself liking bands like Green Day and Blink 182, that were considered at least punk-adjacent, and actually, right then I don't remember there being all the talk about whether or not anyone was punk enough. So at the time, that's where I was realizing with some dismay that I was a punk rocker, despite no desire to ever put a safety pin through my nose or a chicken. Obviously, there were some stereotypes. Once I found myself liking Rancid, I knew there was no going back, but I still don't care for the Sex Pistols.
Anyway, the first Green Day song that I remember being attracted to was "Basket Case", and it and "When I Come Around" are, I think, pretty strong guitar-wise, as is "Good Riddance" in its own way.
For Blink-182 it was absolutely "Dammit" that first drew me in, and again, you have a great riff there. That being said, I really love "Down", and lately I am listening to "Adam's Song" more, though it breaks me up pretty badly. I guess come for the guitar, stay for the heartbreak.
At some point Weezer came along. Yes, the initial attraction was "Buddy Holly" and my favorite is "Perfect Situation". Clearly, I am overly conventional, and not too punk rock for anything. However, my guitar selection, and I know this is counter-intuitive, is "Island In The Sun". It's not so much that they do anything flashy with it, and they did make the list on their own, with "Say It Aint So" coming in at 72. I know all that, and yet there is something about "Island" that is subtle and effective and I keep coming back to it.
For the All-American Rejects, Nick Wheeler and Mike Kennerty are another special duo to me, performance-wise, and they have a lot of good material out there to choose from. Also, they are always changing it up, and many of my favorite Rejects songs are less guitar-driven. I am tempted to go with "Dirty Little Secret" or "Swing, Swing", both of which are songs that I love, and which very much sound like them. However, I think "Top Of The World" may give a better idea of their range. And even with that, my favorite song is probably "Change Your Mind" or maybe "Kids In The Street". Actually, "Fast And Slow" is a great song for both guitar and non-guitar considerations. I'm going with "Fast And Slow".
And that brings us up to the watershed moment of finding My Chemical Romance. Everything changes after that, it terms of how I listen to music, and how I write about music, and how I write with music. It didn't exactly happen all at once, but there was some velocity.
Of the other bands I am going to mention, Fall Out Boy and Torche came specifically from listening to My Chemical Romance, Alkaline Trio came from listening to Reggie and the Full Effect, which came from listening to MCR, and while the Gaslight Anthem came from seeing something in the newspaper, their New Jersey origins carried extra weight because of MCR.
Truthfully, I am not that up on either Alkaline Trio or Torche yet. Currently there is more fixation on a couple of songs, "Mercy Me" and "Triumph of Venus" respectively, both of which are excellent guitar songs. I feel I need to mention them because those are good songs, but also, I think I am going to be listening and liking them more. I feel it coming on.
The Gaslight Anthem is great for guitars, over and over again. I love them for that. I think "great Expectations" is the best example of that, but it is also the song that I first fell for, and I am not exactly unsentimental. Anyway, it's a really good song. I might actually love "The '59 Sound" a little more, but for guitar it is "Great Expectations", followed by "Film Noir". I think.
For Fall Out Boy, I have to say that I don't think Joe Trohman gets enough attention. Maybe the band does not get enough attention for their quality in general. I'm glad they're back, but I'm glad that they had the hiatus because I think it made them better. Picking a strongest guitar song is difficult, but I lean towards "A Little Less Sixteen Candles A Little More Touch Me" or maybe "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs". My less expected favorite is "Hum Hallelujah.
So I can save My Chemical Romance for the last as my favorite, with this idea of building up towards the grand finale, or it could be something I do because then I am supposed to be narrowing down their songs, like that is even possible.
Of course I do need to call out "Summertime" because there is still that bridge, that is achingly beautiful and sticks with me in ways that I do not completely understand, though Dewees had some pretty good ideas on it, that maybe in that bridge you deconstruct and reconstruct everything good in the song. I can go with that. There is of course that building thing as we get into "I'm Not Okay", not to mention that bridge in the middle where the opportunity to head bang transforms it into my best karaoke number while also making me dizzy.
All of that, but I really need to mention "Headfirst For Halos" here, because it does something different, that really works. (I like to think that the "Think happy thoughts" comes from Gerard's turn as Peter Pan.)
Let me just mention one more time how brilliant the pairing of "Disenchanted" with "Famous Last Words" is, not only for combined meaning and emotional weight, but also for showing the variety of what the band can do and be. Even saying that, I think the song that I most want to play, and not the bass part, so what am I even thinking, would be "Bulletproof Heart".
Anything that doesn't make sense here, just blame it on love.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Greatest Guitar Songs: Bridges and Riffs

In the process of listening to these many songs, and wondering what else was out there, I came across a few videos that got me thinking about the riff:
100 Famous Guitar Riffs in one take:
100 Riffs: A brief history of Rock and Roll:
200 Greatest Rock Guitar Riffs - One Take!:
They all have their own approaches. Honestly, the last one is probably a bit show-offy, and he comes up against some technical issues, but also, he is doing something that I totally can't, and it is difficult - I'm not going to look down on him for that.
The history one does go in chronological order, and sometimes you can hear some correlation and evolution. Sometimes it is less obvious, and maybe what you would need is more than 100 and some notes to really make it great, but I like that someone did it that way, and is thinking about the history.
My favorite is the one by Brodie Cumming. I think the sound balances well, and I like listening to it. As a teacher, looking for students, I believe his approach is "Look what this guitar can do." That seems like a reasonable approach.
At the same time, there are really cool riffs that you can learn, but there is this work that goes into playing the whole song, which may not be as cool. I think this is why you get the disagreement on Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" and Boston's "More Than A Feeling". The riffs are better than the rest of the songs.
So with a song like Metallica's "Master Of Puppets", there is this composition that does all of these amazing things, and you know why it makes the list, but I'm not sure I could point out a hook in it.
I have been thinking about this, and if I were to create my own list, what would be on there. I don't believe it is possible to come up with anything definitive. Even in the video with 200 songs being sampled, there are things missing, and that is due partly to the subjectivity of the issue, but also due to the richness of the material available. The historical riffs started in 1953; that's 60 years of music in between.
As impossible as a finite answer is, it is not a useless undertaking because I keep listening to rock. Revisiting things has been fun, and there are two of those things that I wanted to cover today.
One is an observation I made shortly after college. It was that the most obnoxious bands had the best riffs. The specific bands behind that were Green Day, Blink 182, The Offspring, and The Warlock Pinchers, though I thought that the Warlock Pinchers might be The Offspring. My introduction to them was that someone in the dorms played their Morrissey song a lot. I didn't know who was playing it, or what band they were playing, and I didn't want to ask around too much because my roommate liked Morrissey and she did not like the song.
I actually kind of agreed with their sentiments, but I wouldn't state things in that way, and, you know, that was their thing. Once the internet caught up and I did learn more about them, they are not really my type of band, and they are obnoxious on a level that the other three did not even aspire too. Good guitar players though.
(For the others, I believe the key reasons for the thought were "Basket Case", "Dammit", and maybe the Americana album, but it's been a while.)
The other thing I was thinking about is my Best Bridges playlist. I should have picked a different name for it anyway. It started with "Desolation Row" by My Chemical Romance. At points it reminded me of Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner", due to the use of feedback, and it did not remind me at all of the Bob Dylan version of "Desolation Row" despite lyrics, but also, it reminded me a little of "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister, and that took me to "Cum On Feel The Noize" by Quiet Riot and "Run Runaway" by Slade, and those four ended up belonging together for me, except that Spotify did not "Run Runaway", leaving it incomplete.
Are those actually the best bridges out there? Probably not. If I were to truly do that list, it would need "Summertime". "Songs that go together but missing one" is a clumsy title though, so it has stayed. There are some pretty cool things going on in those songs though. There may be recognizable riffs, but it's beyond that. Honestly, "Cum On Feel The Noize" should have made the regular list, between the solo and the accompaniment. It is an excellent guitar song.
So, I said this post is about riffs, and that is kind of true, but it is also moving beyond that into the different parts of songs, and why we choose songs, and maybe this is when we address one more comment that has been bugging me.
One of the comments arguing against the inclusion of "Eruption" by Van Halen was really down on it, calling it something along the lines of a masturbatory ego trip. I see where he's coming from, but I disagree.
Listening to accounts of the impact it had on people who were into music, and got more into music, like Henry Rollins and Jim Abrahamian, and I have to feel like it is more along the lines of "Let's see what this thing can do!" There may be some ego in that, but there is also joy and wonder. There is appreciation of music and love for guitar, and it makes more sense to make that its own thing rather than tack it on to another more basic song.
Therefore, if I am going to call anything a masturbatory ego trip, it will be that guitar solo at the end of "Let's Go Crazy" by Prince and the Revolution.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Band Review: The Cornerstones

The Cornerstones is a four man band based in West London. They have the four same songs on ReverbNation and SoundCloud, but there is additional material available via Youtube. I have primarily been listening to SoundCloud.
What's interesting about that is the first song that comes up, "Smack Me In The Face" has a somewhat different sound than the other three, so you think you are getting into something a little more moody and almost psychedelic. It's not that it sounds drug-infused, but there is an otherworldly sound to it, where you start to feel a little untethered from the earth. Add to that the lyrics, which bring to mind space exploration and questions of what love and life means, and there is just kind of a sixties vibe, but modern. Then "My Mind" kicks in, and it's rock. Sometimes there is more of a classic rock, throwback to earlier days feel, but yes, basically rock.
I do recommend watching the video for my mind, because even though it's not particularly fancy, it gives an extra feel for the song, which is a pretty good song.
One of the things I like about The Cornerstones is that they build in these intricate little textures that aren't particularly showy, but they keep up the auditory interest.
Videos indicates that the songs are available through iTunes.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Band Review: Wildon Ash

The biggest criticism I am going to make about the band Wildon Ash is that they don't seem to be very good with technology. I know, it's not much of a bloodbath, but I think it's important.
One minor issue is that several of the tracks on Reverb Nation cut off abruptly, and it is jarring as you are listening. It is more of an issue that you can't find links really easily and that their tweets are boring and repetitive. Even the Twitter profile led me to think that it was one person named Wildon Ash, but it is not.
Their music is pretty excellent, and while that is the most important measure of a band, being good musically is not enough to get you heard. It never was, but that is even more true today.
In addition to that, they seem to inspire a lot of loyalty. Listening to one interview with the singer, and another interview about the band, the radio personalities responded very positively, wanting to promote the band and make it happen. Some of that could be showmanship, but if they do have the ability to win people over via their music, then it's sensible to work really hard on getting more people to hear that music, and social media can be a valuable tool for that.
Actually, their Facebook site is set up pretty well, so the first step may be to replace the link to Reverb Nation with a link to Facebook on the Twitter profile, so Facebook may be the best place to start. Also, this video was kind of helpful:
But other than that, yes of course you listen to the songs. Of the ten tracks on Reverb Nation, I would say there's not a bad one in the bunch. On is a more rock take on Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game", which is kind of a cool way to go with it, but they have enough solid material on their own; they don't need covers. "Crutch" is a good sample of the vocal range and a more upbeat feel, and then "Anti-Matter" takes it darker and more techno. There's a good variety among their songs.
I would like to see them succeed. Music is available via Amazon.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Greatest Guitar Songs: History Lesson

Sometime between making my way through the original 100 and getting into the comments, I decided that perhaps the most glaring omissions were Django Reinhardt and Robert Johnson. Some of that could have been that they are regarded for a larger body of work, without having particular songs stand out.
That reasoning kind of works, and actually Robert Johnson did make the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists if I recall correctly, but Reinhardt is still left out, and this is just wrong.
(That list is on the Rolling Stone site, but navigation is a chore:
With this post it is mainly that I want to pay some homage to them, but as it was turning in my mind it became more about the history. Thinking of the two lists, with "Johnny B. Goode" as the greatest song, and Jimi Hendrix as the greatest guitarist, I believe part of that is because of their impact. Hey, we didn't know a guitar could do that. There is an influence that comes not just because of being good, but of being new.
Part of the last go around, and I know I did mention is, was seeing via Wikipedia (which has been pretty helpful), that the intro to "Johnny B. Goode" was a note for note copy of the lead guitar riff on "Ain't That Just Like A Woman". The first time I listened, I did not hear it, but I tried again and I did.
It still sounds different when those notes are amplified and electrified. Chuck Berry heard something there and did something different with it, and it was something new. It was the lifted to open The Beach Boys' "Fun Fun Fun", which again is something I had not noticed on my own.
Knowing all that, maybe there also needs to be some credit given to Louis Jordan, or to Carl Hogan, who played the riff. Berry mentions both Jordan and Hogan when talking about it. It is also worth noting that a similar riff is used for "Roll Over Beethoven", leading to a larger pattern of taking music and innovating with it, learning from it, and remembering those who came before.
And you know, I do not know enough. I can't pick out which Django Reinhardt song should be added to the list. I lean towards "Djangology", because the name invites me to think of this as the class on him, and the way to get acquainted with him. Actually, the song does kind of work for that, but I don't think it's his best. Really, I don't know.
What I do know is that he saw something new. He created a new technique and a new sound, and it is really an intricate sound despite having two fingers that he could not use. Therefore he was not only an influence on his contemporaries, but is still an inspiration for various guitarists who have to overcome physical issues. And no, I don't listen to a lot of hot jazz, but it doesn't change the influence that he had, and as I want to understand music better, I can't ignore the history.
I also don't listen to a lot of blues, but that does not change the influence of Robert Johnson. You could argue that he was a bigger influence on rock than on blues, and Sam Dunn called him "the great grandfather to all things heavy metal" which sounds crazy to me, but I suspect if I start heading down that path, I'll discover that it's right.
There is innovation here too, with pulling a boogie bass line from the piano and playing it on the guitar for "Believe I'll Dust My Broom". You can do that? Why not? And sometimes all you need is someone to show the way.
I would like to be able to say something more profound here about them, and give them their due. Other people have, so maybe it's okay that I can't. What I do feel profoundly is this awe at how much can be done and has been done, and how there is always so much more to know and to hear.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Greatest Guitar Songs: Women Rock

Not all of the comments were suggestions of other groups or songs. Some were just criticism of the existing choices (lots of Cobain backlash). One that struck me was a criticism of the Sleater-Kinney offering, "Dig Me Out", placed at number 44 by Rolling Stone. The criticism is that it was merely an effort to include some females, though if I recall correctly, the inclusion of "I Love Rock N Roll" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, at 89, was considered legitimate.
I was inclined to agree at first. Sleater-Kinney does nothing for me, but I have to admit that it is a good guitar song, and probably not just pandering. However, I wondered if there might not be better choices. Perhaps women are underrepresented in rock, and you can see why the obstacles that they have to deal with would make talented women doubt whether it's worth it, but still, there are women in rock. There have been some really good ones. I wanted to spend some time on other contenders.
One early thought was Heart. I'm surprised no one suggested them. I thought it might be because Nancy Wilson was playing rhythm guitar instead of lead guitar, so perhaps if you were looking for a token female, that would not be the most obvious choice. Having recently read their book, those would be inadequate reasons. First of all, Ann and Nancy were just so important to the feel and ethos and sound of that band; other musicians came and went, and some stayed for a long time, but Heart really is the Wilson sisters.
(The collaboration between Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo is also interesting to read about, but while they are both a part of the overall sound, it is more obviously Neil for the guitar part of it.)
As far as who plays which part goes, when Nancy described her reasons for staying with rhythm guitar, it deepened my appreciation for that role. How many of the best guitar bands don't have both lead and rhythm going on? And maybe they trade on some songs, or maybe their roles are really clearly defined, but it is that ability to cover multiple levels that gives you the fuller, richer sound.
Perhaps no one considered any Heart songs to be worthy. Trying to think of powerful guitar songs, my first thought was "Alone", which kind of is slower but quite dramatic. However, I had actually called a friend on the Bowie question, and when I brought up this part she immediately suggested "Crazy On You". I have to agree. There is some good guitar playing in multiple Heart songs, but there is a sophistication and versatility going on with "Crazy On You" that really stands out. Good call Karen. That would be a very solid entry.
One of the other thoughts that I'd had was The Go-Go's, and then I kind of dismissed them because they are really more pop than rock, and the list was geared towards harder stuff. I did some listening anyway though, and while they don't necessarily stand out for guitar, there is a really good combination of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard. Their sound really works, and I appreciate that. Maybe they just needed to add a second guitar player.
(I did also briefly consider The Bangles here, but I don't remember any of their songs rocking that much, and half of the songs I remember were not written by them, so I didn't pull them up.)
The other obvious places to look were The Vixens and Lita Ford.
With The Vixens, the guitar didn't really stand out to me. I loved their drums though. Lita was better for guitars, but I'm not sure she would crack the list. As much as a sentimental favorite as "Kiss Me Deadly" is, we would be looking at "Playin' With Fire" or maybe "Shot of Poison" for this. They are fancier.
Then, realizing that Lita was in The Runaways with Joan, I remembered that was another female line up. First of all, let me say that I have no objection to the inclusion of Joan Jett or "I Love Rock N Roll" - they should be in there. So it could be a little repetitious to put The Runaways in there, but I am not necessarily against it. I am not as familiar with them. I had never heard of them before the movie, and I didn't go see it. That being said, "California Paradise" might be able to crack a top 100. "Cherry Bomb" is more vocal; I don't think it shows the same guitar strength.
(This is not relevant, but "Dead End Justice" is just weird.)
Let me just put two other random thoughts out there. One is that it did occur to me to look up Holly Knight, because as a songwriter she may have written some of these songs, even if she is not the one playing them. She has written some songs I love, though not necessarily for the guitar parts, but also, even if you had a blistering guitar solo on one, she might not have written that part, which could just be how the band arranges it.
Also, I am treating bass as separate from the guitar (or seriously, "Blister In The Sun" would need to be on the list), otherwise there would kind of be another inclusion with The Pixies and Kim Deal. If we were going that route, I would possibly want to throw in a Talking Heads song for Tina Weymouth, and it would probably be "Burning Down The House".