Sunday, May 19, 2013

How I Got Here: A Musical Journey

Time in the barracks gives you plenty of time to think and ample time to write if that’s what you choose to do. It was while I was doing some thinking that I wondered how exactly I’d arrived at the musical tastes I have now. No one really ever told me what was good, and given what I listened to at a young age, I don’t really know why I listen to what I listen to. My mother is a classical fan and oboe player, and my father didn’t play a ton of music.

I invite you to read (this is a blog after all), but I do realize this post is self-serving and comes mostly as a result of having a sentimental day. But I think the concept is fun, and maybe you could do the same with your own life.

The Early Years

I was never the kid who was constantly surrounded by music. My earliest memories mostly involved Christmas road trips to California, where my dad played an Elton John Live in Australia, an orchestrated collection of his greatest hits. I still have a sentimental connection to this album and have many of the songs three-starred to this day.

The Contemporary Christian Years

For a while during junior high I essentially only listened to what the Christian station was playing. I don’t know if this was a hard and fast rule, but it was at least encouraged by my mom that I should only listen to this. For the most part, looking back, the music was not very good. But bands like Jars of Clay are still great and I didn’t know any better at the time.

Into the “Secular” World

I first branched out into so-called “secular” music in 1999, ending at 14 years old my exclusivity with Christian music, although Jars of Clay, Caedmon’s Call, Jeremy Camp, Relient K, Lifehouse, and others would stick with me through the years. My original choices were pop rock oriented, and in 1999 I tuned to stations I’d never turned before hoping to hear the Goo Goo Dolls sing “Black Balloon”.

Making Up for Lost Time

The funny thing about discovering music in 1999 is that there’s about a century of music to catch up on. Scrolling through my original download folder tells the story: Third Eye Blind, Sister Hazel, Blink 182, and whatever else was in vogue in those days. I stuck to the radio, and the world of indie music was unknown for years to come. For Christmas I got Green Day’s International Superhits, and I played it to death.

The California Years

After 9/11 I moved to California, and southern California had it’s own style and unique radio stations. I started listening to what would probably be punk pop down there. Most of that kind of music (Sugarcult, Good Charlotte, Story of the Year, etc.) has faded away into a semi-sentimental nightmare, but it’s all part of the journey. It’s certainly not all bad. I first found Something Corporate down there, and 12 years later this one is still a five-star and I bought the lead singer’s solo EP the other day.

The City Bus Year

For an insufferable period of time I rode the city bus to my community college for my high school after I moved back to Washington. Music became a priority. With all the bumps of the bus, having a cd player with skip protection was key. All-American Rejects, Linkin Park, and Blindside are the bands that immediately pop to mind when I think of the Olympic College years.

High School Ends

I had a lot of fun senior year, and most my memories of music revolve around driving around town with my best friend Dustin, and we always had the radio on. I discovered things ranging between Dishwalla and The Used. But my most concrete memory was my obsession with The Ataris’ album So Long, Astoria. We played it non-stop on our post-graduation road trip.

To College: The Freshman Year Transition

As is probably the case with most people, things began to transition a bit for me in college. Though 2005 would be the major year for discovering music as a hobby, things changed for me at college. I found The Verve and The Verve Pipe, curiously enough. A freshman year Eve 6 concert helped fuel a close relationship with their albums. My passion for Nickel Creek was in full bloom. Mostly though, it was driving back and forth to visit Holly (my future wife) that got me into music. I always had 6 hours of driving time to fill. And it was mostly filled by Something Corporate, who released an incredibly meaningful album during my first semester of my freshman year.

It Happens

My sophomore year is when it happened. Music became my thing. Music is where I spent my money. Organizing my collection became my hobby. Rating songs starting to happen. I found The Shins, I found Jimmy Eat World, I found Ben Folds. I made my first forays into the indie world, but I still teetered on the edge. I found Snow Patrol and I found Interpol. I found The Killers. But mostly, I found Muse.

Upper Classmen Music

My junior and senior years of college were a period of intense musical discovery. It was overwhelming and exhiliarating to catch up on so much music I’d missed over the years. I discovered Nirvana and Pearl Jam, caught up on the 80’s, fell in love with Radiohead, and everything else a guy should have done much earlier. I was now starting to get current on buzz bands of the day, and I played an awful lot of Bloc Party, My Chemical Romance, and early Kings of Leon.

Welcome to the Real World – The Mountain Home Years Begin

I moved off to Idaho alone (but engaged) in 2007. To this day hearing Band of Horses second album and Jimmy Eat World’s Chase This Light reminds me of that lonely stretch of road that leads to the Air Force base. Looking back, this was the beginning of a mellowing point in terms of music, where I often used music as a source of relaxation or reflection. I made my first annual top 50 list in 2007, topped by Band of Horses, The Shins, Jimmy Eat World, and Radiohead.

Starting a New Life

I got married in 2008 and brought her with me to Idaho. It was exciting to have someone to discover music with, and we started going to concerts with me. I’d make mixes and we’d go on long trips. I took a three month trip to Texas and discovered Spoon and The Hold Steady and MGMT.

The Festival Years

In 2009 and 2010 I discovered more music than I can list. I also attended my first festival, attending Sasquatch both years. What a life this was. LCD Soundsystem, Iron & Wine, Minus the Bear, The National, and Grizzly Bear just scratch the surface.


I moved to Ohio in 2010. At this point I had been blogging for some time. With my new laptop I began waking up on Saturdays, brewing coffee, and looking for new music. I had gotten to a point where I basically knew everything current, which was a long ways from where I was a few years earlier. My biggest discoveries were The Antlers and Young the Giant, and I soundtrack 2011 to Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes.

Where I Am Today

So here I am, age 27. Arizona resident by way of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Ohio. Soon-to-be temporary resident of Afghanistan. Currently sitting in a barracks in Louisiana. Music is nothing like what it used to be for me. I’ve found music that is probably progressively weirder, but I find myself retreating to more “normal” stuff (as I ranted about in my Foals review). I’ve also decidedly mellowed, preferring music as an escape from the stress. Which means one thing definitely holds true: I love Nickel Creek now as much as I ever did. Back in the day Nickel Creek was the anomaly amongst the punk pop and mainstream rock. Now it stacks up well pretty nicely next to my favorites, and it was there all along.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cold War Kids – “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts”



I think I’ve already written twice about how I feel about the new Cold War Kids track “Miracle Mile” and how it relates what their misstep of a third album. To recap, in brief: Cold War Kids’ first two albums are two of the best I own, and they hold a special place in my heart. I believe Cold War Kids, along with Spoon and Mutemath, to be one of the most underappreciated bands making music today. Their third album, whether it meant to or not, reeked of a band desperately clawing for a crossover hit, but in a way that felt compromising to their identity. I love it when my bands get popular. I want my bands to get popular. But that band barely sounded like the Cold War Kids. I wanted the band that once fit “I give a check to tax deductible charity organizations” over barroom piano romp and made it sound great.

“Miracle Mile”, which happens to actually to be the second best track on the album, signals a return for the band when right out of the chute they sing “I was supposed to do great things!” over that familiar old piano. I’m probably reading more into it than it deserves, but the line is all too appropriate in describing an attempt to find greatness, only to return to where they belong. On their 4th album, Cold War Kids get back to where they belong.

Cold War Kids have always sung with earnest and heart, and by the time the second track, “Lost that Easy” is over, I’m already declaring them “back”. Elsewhere, “Bottled Affection”, builds over handclaps to form a powerful chorus and “Tuxedo” features some of the more bluesy elements familiar to fans.

The best track of the bunch, and one that is getting a ton of play by me right now, is “Water & Power”. Soft reverbed vocals emerge over a much softer piano than usual. “Are you willing? Are you brave?”, they ask as the song grows in a way that adds power without compromising the song’s more delicate message. Here is a song that features a different side of Cold War Kids without feeling inauthentic.

Welcome back, guys. Now hopefully a few more people listen.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Phosphorescent – “Muchacho”


I know there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Phosphorescent before. Don’t let that stop you from reading this, since as of May 1st they’ve given me 2013’s first five star song, and I’d love it if you turned down the lights, closed your eyes, and took it in. I take that back. YOU would love if it if you turned down the lights, closed your eyes, and took it in.

This is an album review for the album “Muchacho”, but it’s just as well a review for “Song for Zula”, the album’s first proper song and the album’s centerpiece. The more sonically focused lead track is, by it’s very name (“Sun Arise! An Invocation, An Introduction), just a lead in for “Song for Zula”, which fades in on the back of sad strings and synths and a Johnny Cash-borrowed opening line. What follows is that perfect kind of song: lyrically captivating, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and heartfelt. Picking out a favorite line is possible, but almost seems wrong, so I’ll copy out the whole first verse:

Some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
Oh but I know love as a fading thing
Just as fickle as a feather in a stream
See, honey, I saw love. You see, it came to me
It put its face up to my face so I could see
Yeah then I saw love disfigure me
Into something I am not recognizing

It’s when Matthew Houck drops his voice and says, with his voice weary, “yeah then I saw love disfigure me, into something I am not recognizing”. His voice trails off and the strings swell in again, and the heartbreak has settled in.

“Song for Zula” is the highlight of this album, but it is hardly the end. “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)”, with its steel guitar, piano, and slight building tendency, is a star on its own. “Muchacho’s Tune”, which utilizes soft horns and piano and barely more, leads into “A New Anhedonia” another beautiful crossover between country, folk, and indie. The changeup happens on seven-minute-plus “The Quotidian Beast”, probably the second best track on the album, which turns into quite the romp of guitar and piano by the end.

I love albums like this being added to my collection, because this is one I didn’t see coming. This was a throw-in purchase between The Strokes and Cold War Kids. And it’s probably the best of the three. Reminds me of when I bought The National as a throw-in with Minus the Bear and The Hold Steady in 2010, and found one of my favorite all-time albums. “Muchacho” will certainly be on mine and many others’ year end lists, and if I’m right “Song for Zula” will be at the top of quite a few as well.