So we’re rolling in to the second half of the year. Other than being hotter, hard to tell one month from the other this year. Same shit different month. After this could you imagine the idea of surviving in your basement for years if ‘the bomb’ dropped (Pretty bad when you reminisce fondly about the Cold War – the good old days when we were all in it together). So what does this have to do with this month’s selections? Nothing. Except that ‘quarantining’ gives me a lot of time to listen to new music. Yes, yes, I’m straining to find a silver lining……
First Up: Stephen Malkmus – ‘Xian Man’
Stephen Malkmus has been around a while. Originally known for the band Pavement (if you haven’t heard their ‘Slanted And Enchanted’ album, you should give it a listen) then for solo work and Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks. He’s covered a lot of ground. I always liked the ‘garage’ looseness of many of the songs. This song has that type of feel. Most of the foundation is acoustic and that part of the arrangement holds down the flow and feel of the song. There’s a great psychedelic guitar rambling through the whole song as well as slide guitar. The guitar solo in the middle of the song uses these multiple guitars to good effect for a loose jam feel. Even the vocals carry the psychedelic, loose feel. Also hits my favorite mixing style – everything is audible but has it’s own place in the overall mix. Great ‘creates a mood’ song.
Next Up: Public Practice – ‘Cities’
A lot of things connected with me as I listened to this song. Let’s start with the recording. Great snare sound: crisp, snappy and it really cuts through the mix. You can pick out the actual snares in the sound. The hi hat also has a big presence. The bass sound has plenty of top end – if you listen to it in the beginning of the song you can hear the great tone they get. The guitars then drop in. If you listen through headphones you can hear the different guitar parts split in to the right and left side of the stereo field. The tight, top end capture of the recording provides a lot of separation for all of the instruments including the vocals. Definitely captures the post punk funk feel. I’ve been listening to a lot of Talking Heads recently and this tune has that type of feel. There’s several ways you can go with vocals in a song. You can bury them a bit in the mix to use them more as an instrument and make them more ‘mysterious’. Or you can make them tight and out front so you can really understand the lyrics. This song uses the latter. Finally, the little synth and vocal background additions add variety to keep the interest up.
Finally: Mayflower Madame – ‘Vultures’
So let’s go a little darker for the finale this month. If you wanted to categorize, could be under ‘Goth’ (a term I might use to describe a wide variety of styles) maybe an off-shoot of ‘Industrial Dance’. Could fit under ‘Post Punk’ eighties style. I like the dynamics of this recording. The instruments in the song don’t sound computer generated. If you listen and pull it apart you can listen to the guitar line, hear the bass line as a separate piece etc. And for me, they sound like people actually playing instruments. A real clear place to hear this is at 1:59 where the song breaks down and is built up piece by piece. You’ll hear each instrument come in. In a style that’s usually deep in programming, that’s a nice change. And it all gets dunked in a deep vat of reverb and delay. I admittedly like that sound, but it could turn a song in to mush if not handled correctly. An example here is the kick drum. They got the tuning, mics and EQ set up to really capture the top end ‘slap’ so the kick cuts through all the reverb and drives the song along. The video continues that feel. And……….would it go on the dance CD for ‘Blacklight Nite’? Absolutely.
Retro: Blind Faith – ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’
No need to over analyze this song. I imagine most people have heard it. In certain emotional moods I go back to classics that have always touched me. There are a lot of great songs out there and they’re great for different reasons. This song has so much emotion and it’s created by the vocal melody. That’s one of the rarest feats to pull off in song writing. And it gets multiplied by Steve Winwood’s amazing vocals and lyrics. There’s many ways to interpret the lyrics, literal and spiritual. For me it touches the despair and sadness I feel about what’s happening now. Life is too short for anger, hatred and the people who promote it. The older you get, the more you realize it.
But I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home.
June has arrived. We’re in to the middle of the year 2020. And everything is still weird. I guess we’re all just trying to make the best of what is turning out to be one of the strangest years I can remember. Part of me just wants it to be over. Fast forward to January 2021. But there’s no way to tell if things will be any better by then. And I’m too old to be willing to give up six months of my time. So thank goodness we still have access to music and art. I miss the energy of seeing bands live, but I still have the ability to search out and find new (and sometimes old) music that can lift the spirits or make you think. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what’s cooking this month.
First Up: Six Organs Of Admittance – ‘The 101’
One of the main thoughts constantly going through my head right now is “I wish I was……..”. I wish I was hiking the edge of a cliff, going to view a glacier. I wish I was on a deep forest trail. This song is ‘I wish I were on a two lane road, cruising up the California coast’. Route 101 runs up the west coast from Los Angeles, California to northern Washington. The song captures that windows down, cruising feel. Nice mix of acoustic and electric sounds. The acoustic repeating riffs create that trance like repetition with bursts of electric jam noise rolling in and out of the mix. The vocals are buried in the mix and maintain the trance inducing effect, like singing words to a song when you don’t really know the lyrics (yup – do that all the time). I also like the video. The idea of hauling my guitar rig in to deserted woods and jamming away (yeah, I know, no electricity – remember, this is ‘I wish’). Great shots of the strange and beautiful sights you see on that road. Roll down your windows and smoke ’em if ya got ’em.
Next Up: Fire In The Radio – ‘Tulare’
Tulare is a great example of classic indie rock. The mix is exactly what I would want in a song. Instruments and vocals all hold their own clearly audible place in the mix. The guitars have a nice buzz but are crisp and sharp. Perfect snap on the snare drum, high enough in the mix to drive everything forward without over powering it. Changes in dynamics pull you in to the song. The band said they were trying to create a feel of nostalgia with the song and video and I think they absolutely achieved their goal. The video mix of band performance and old video scenes are a perfect background for the song, enhancing the feel of nostalgia the song is trying to deliver. There are many ways to enjoy a song. The movement and sound of each instrument, the sonic kick of a well placed chord or a change in dynamics. But one of the best is the emotion a song can make you feel. ‘Tulare’ certainly delivers that emotion.
Finally: Smoke Fairies – ‘Disconnect’
We’ll finish up with Smoke Fairies ‘Disconnect’ from their album ‘Darkness Brings The Wonders Home’. It seems that I’ve put in three songs this month that all carry some emotional weight. In this song the emotion really comes to the front in the vocals and lyrics. They are put out in front of the musical elements of the song. The main vocal has a sad minor key feel and is presented in a lower register. The harmonies drift behind the main vocal. The music is carried by a guitar riff in the verses that turns to a more distorted chord pattern in the chorus. The drum sound in the back is pretty dry without a lot of reverb that would usually make the snare sound bigger. The main vocals are also relatively dry, which puts them more ‘in your face’. It was a good choice for this song. Little mixing choices like that are really important in making a song ‘feel’ a certain way. I think they made all the right choices in ‘Disconnect’.
Retro: X – ‘The Have Nots’
X has to be one the most underappreciated bands to come out of the punk era. They put out a string of consistently amazing albums beginning with their debut album ‘Los Angeles’ (note – X just released a new album with the original line up). They mixed punk with rockabilly, indie rock, Americana and variety of other genres to create an amazing sound. On top was the always strange and interesting vocal mix of Exene and John Doe, with lyrics that ran more towards beat poetry than punk screaming. I’ve always felt that Billy Zoom’s guitar playing was far above what you would hear in most rock bands, especially for bands that were put in to the ‘punk’ category. If you’ve ever worked at a job that was just a ‘job’ and remember surviving the day so you could meet your friends at the local dive, this song was written for you. Truth in lyrics = “Dawn comes soon enough for the working class. It keeps getting sooner or later. This is the game that moves as you play”.
Welcome back to another Grapevine recent listening post. Like most cautious people we’ve been hunkered down in our houses as much as possible trying to ride out the storm. And like most people that cuts us off from some things we’d like to do. We have a number of new ‘Messin’ songs and other videos and tunes that are almost completed and we’d like to finish. But our families come first and we’re taking no chances so we do what we can through the internet and the rest will be completed when the time is right. For all our readers please stay safe.
So let’s see what we have for this month. I got to listen to a number of bands I haven’t heard before (along with some I have) and these are the ones that stuck with me the most.
First Up: The Haden Triplets – ‘Memories Of Will Rogers’
This song is from their recent album The Family Songbook. This is another instance where I would recommend listening to the whole album. The sister’s musical background is really interesting. Their father is well known jazz bass player Charlie Haden who played with Ornette Coleman and others. Their grandfather was Carl Haden whose Haden Family Band played with The Carter Family and other ‘backwoods’ country bands of the time. Quite a legacy to live up to. This album covers songs from that older era, many of them with spare instrumentation and beautiful three part harmony. I selected ‘Memories Of Will Rogers’ for it’s fuller band sound and the fact that it brings back memories of late 60’s, early 70’s country rock. Listen for the vocals flowing behind the slide guitar on the break.
Next Up: Sonny Landreth – ‘Mule’
The first reason I selected this tune is simply the absolutely awesome slide guitar. Landreth is one of the best and has some unique techniques like fretting chords and notes with his other left hand fingers behind the slide and really crisp right hand finger playing work, sometimes tapping and often using a thumb pick. So smooth. Landreth is from Louisiana and this song brings a New Orleans zydeco feel to the mix. The vocals are a great match for the song. If you listen there are some other cool instrumental parts in the mix like the organ after the lead break and a great accordion part at the end. Couldn’t stop tapping my feet.
Finally: Mush – ‘Alternative Facts’
This song would have been right at home during the mid to late 80s post punk era. Think in terms of bands like Wire, Television and Pavement. Crisp, stinging guitar share the spotlight with the spoken/sung vocals. Some twisted, gnarly guitar runs come in and out as the song progresses. Several times the guitars feel like they’re about to fall apart towards a song ending. Nope. Everything just cranks back up again. The song even has a nice dynamic change where the guitars drop out and the vocals are centered. At the 7:00 minute mark everything stops. But they’re just kidding – there’s more slamming guitar to be had.
Retro: Blue Oyster Cult – ‘I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep’
Here’s this month’s look in the rear view mirror. I’ve always loved Blue Oyster Cult. Never could figure out why they weren’t a bigger band than they were. This song is from their first album which I still play along to when I want some guitar finger exercise. Of course there’s the sterling guitar work of Buck Dharma. But everyone in this band could bring it. Check out the drum work. Not just straight with fills but intricate work through out the song that doesn’t stomp all over the song itself. The song title is classic. And lyrics about the Canadian Mounties? Gotta have some fun. The band was from Long Island NY and even mixed in with the punk crowd – Patti Smith wrote lyrics for several of their songs. Finally, listen to the riff and tempo change at the end of the song. The band actually took this riff and reworked it more up tempo on their second album and called it ‘The Red And The Black’. Awesome.
April is the month most people see as the start of spring. You know “April showers bring May flowers”. As has become the weather ‘custom’ in our area, April is just, well, weird. It’s 70 on Monday, it’s 45 on Tuesday, possible tornadoes on Wednesday, out cutting the grass on Thursday. And we’re still staying in. There’s a million things I want to do yet with my life, so no chances are being taken. Fortunately our access to music while stuck at home is almost limitless. On the internet you can start with one song, then decide how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. Here’s a few different entry points you may want to try.
First Up: Ghost Funk Orchestra – ‘Seven Eight’
So what musical ‘category’ does Ghost Funk Orchestra fall in to? The fact that you can ask that question is one of the reasons I like this band. The way all the separate instruments have their own little riffs that weave in and out of the song makes analyzing how this song was put together really interesting. I chose the live video version of this song because you can actually see all the players and instruments and what each of them is doing. It’s also pretty cool how all of them are crammed in that little room and still keep all the pieces tight yet separated. That many different instruments could easily turn a song in to a big ball of mush, but GFO pulls off something that is both snappy and smooth without missing a beat.
Next Up: Old Crow Medicine Show – ‘Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer – Live At The Ryman’
Old Crow Medicine Show has been around for quite a while, since the late 1990’s. They have some well known songs (Wagon Wheel) and have been at the forefront of the Americana movement for quite a while. Their music is a great combination of ‘old time’ sounds mixed with the raw edginess of more modern Americana, Folk and Country. The song is a few years old, but the band just released a ‘Live At The Ryman’ album so I wanted to put this version in. Why? Live. At. The. Ryman. I’d love to be dancing in the aisles during this show.
Finally: Psychedelic Porn Crumpets – ‘Cornflake’
So we’ll veer off in to different territory for the third song. How to catch someone’s attention as they’re reading through album reviews? Name your band Psychedelic Porn Crumpets. How could I see that and not pull up some songs? The song builds from fuzzy space guitar hooks to quieter interludes. Also has cool reverb swimming vocals, a nice change from some songs in this genre that rely on shouted vocals. I also liked the video. It fits in perfectly with the music: strange, colorful and mesmerizing visuals. It’s always good to go from floating in space to banging your head in one song.
Retro: Supersuckers – ‘The Evil Powers Of Rock N’ Roll’
So I think it’s a great idea when cooped up indoors to end with a bang. Straight forward, high energy, butt kicking rock n’ roll. This album and song came out in 1999. I’d often play it while driving, although it would give me a tendency to drive a bit too fast and a strong desire to throw the bird at anyone that got in my way. So much fun to play jamming along with the record, or better yet play live with a band. It has the guitar sound I like – crispy crunch. And it ends with a strange slowed down death metal type sound. Classic.
Welcome back to the Grapevine. This has been one of the strangest (or most frightening) months I’ve experienced in a long time. People hoarding toilet paper? Seriously bizarre. Since it’s best to stay in and avoid contact with people – OK, I do that a bit anyway – it’s a good time to sit back and catch some music. I’ve been listening to a lot of bands that are totally new to me. Here’s some songs that I’ve really enjoyed. A tip for discovering on your own: if you hear one of these you like, check out the other videos picked up by the algorithm. I’ve come across some great stuff that way.
First Up: House And Land – ‘Across The Field’
Talk about breaking a song down to it’s basics. This song starts with guitar and vocals (not even fretting with the left hand in the beginning). A violin carries what is basically another vocal line in the background. The drummer is working soft rhythms with felt mallets. Doesn’t seem like much. But the feeling from their version of Appalachian folk music is strong. Towards the middle of the song the guitar chords expand and the violin takes over the melody line. Changes in tempo (imagine that! – no quantizing) really add to the mood. Also love the recording in the kitchen video. If you want to really feel this, take a walk through a dark pine forest by yourself with this in your earbuds. You’ll hear the ghosts.
Next Up: Blackwater Holylight – ‘Lullabye’
While you’re walking through that dark pine forest, add this song to your list. Maybe our theme for this month is ‘spooky’. Quite appropriate. Vocals are at an instrumental level here. They blend in to the overall shoegaze feel. The sound builds as it progresses. Vocals are added over the wash of fuzzed out guitar. The drums add to this build, increasing as the song goes along. Great layering and mixing on the vocal harmonies. The sound is almost visual. Lean back against one of those pine trees and watch the ghosts float by.
Finally: Seratones – ”Gotta Get To know Ya’
Wouldn’t be a ‘Grapevine’ without a change of pace (can’t stay spooky forever). Give me a tight drum rhythm and funky bassline – I’m in heaven. I really enjoyed strapping on a bass and jamming along to this. With a rhythm this funky you could probably read a chocolate cake recipe (mmmmmm…..chocolate) over the groove and it would still make you want to dance. But Seratones put an ass-kicking vocal on top just to add to the bang. They were even nice enough to put a wonderful fuzzy lead guitar line in at about a minute and a half. If I could change this song in any way? Make it longer please!
Retro: Budgie – ‘Breaking All The House Rules’
….and coming in from left field – Budgie with ‘Breaking All The House Rules’. Budgie is one of the lesser known and much under appreciated lights of 1970’s British metal. A three piece band with a bass playing vocalist singing in the high end range. Sound familiar Rush fans? Sort of like Rush heading in to blues garage rock instead of prog. This song starts and builds on one of my all time favorite guitar riffs. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve cranked this up and played along. This song contains one of Budgie’s specialties – a great extended middle section before heading back to the first riff. Why weren’t they more well known? Hard to say. Could be because a lot of their songs hit the six or seven minute mark – not really radio friendly. Who needs radio anyway. Punch up the volume and bang along!
There’s so many Rolling Stones songs I’d love to tackle and mess with. We decided to start with ‘Dead Flowers’ from the Sticky Fingers album. The song checked off a couple of boxes for us. People have heard it, but it’s not one of their real famous commercially played songs. It was also one of their ventures in to ‘country’ or ‘country rock’ music. Since we’re doing a lot of acoustic work on the ‘Messin’ songs, that actually made it a bit more of a challenge to change. Although it was recorded with electric rock instrumentation, the country sound gave it a bit of an acoustic feel. And our point in doing these recordings is to do something a little different, not a straight on cover version.
So here’s what we did for our version of the song. We actually picked up the tempo to help enhance the changes. For this song the instruments are single tracked except for the vocals. The instrumentation is 12 string guitar, 6 string guitar, banjo and mandolin. Some of the instruments are playing repeating riffs and some are more straight forward chords. We didn’t add any direct percussion instruments to it, so to fill in the bottom end a fretless bass was added with multiple effects on it. It almost sounds like a keyboard or didgeridoo rolling underneath the other instruments. A second mandolin and banjo part were added in the third verse where the guitar solo was in the original. Where the instruments were panned in the stereo mix was real important. You might see an In The Studio video on stereo field in the near future.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play The Rolling Stones ‘Dead Flowers’
Even though it’s winter there are still lots of items growing on the Grapevine. As always, you have to keep searching, keep your ears open and you never know what you may find. There’s no real theme for this month’s music, just a variety of nuggets found on the winter ground. So let’s get going….(it’s much warmer if you keep moving and don’t stand still).
First Up: Money For Rope – ‘Actually’
This band from Melbourne, Australia, plays a beautiful swampy form of garage rock. Nice crisp drum sounds and enough space between the instruments where you can hear all of them. Great guitar sound, a bit ‘surf guitar’, love the reverb and tremolo that it’s bathed in. Sharp, simple bass has a prominent place in the mix. There’s a spooky keyboard lurking in the background for atmosphere. The vocals sit on top of the song, a little bit distorted and sometimes stacked for a graveyard effect. Listen for the guitar going totally fuzzed out at the end of the song.
Next Up: The Jackets – ‘Wasting My Time’
Well, maybe there is a thread in this month’s songs. International garage rock? The Jackets are from Switzerland. This has the elements I love in garage rock – simple, straight forward, in your face. Again, nice tremolo on some of the guitar parts. You listen to it and say ‘hey, I’d love to get up there and play that’. Simplicity. For me that’s meant as a compliment, not a put down. This band reminds me of The Hives (if you don’t remember them look up ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’). And I love the video. It’s like an fun-house mirror version of the Beatles ‘Help’. Matching outfits, running around fields with no purpose. Performance parts are a hoot. This is an older video, but they did put out a new album in 2019. For another great, fun video check out ‘Losers Lullaby’.
Finally: Sylvia Black – ‘Walking With Fire’
This is the slow down change of pace song. I’m a fan of David Lynch movies. And this tune is definitely being played in the Lynch Lounge. It’s the music you would hear in some underground black and red lounge bar at 3:00 in the morning. The music underneath is just the set up for the flaming vocals on top. It feels like the vocals could blow up at any time, but are kept totally under control, adding to the tension. The Lydia Lunch spoken word in the middle of the song is just bizarre – oh, how I love bizarre. Mood music for life’s strange trip.
Retro: Gang Of Four – ‘To Hell With Poverty’
Gang Of Four are one of my favorite bands from the post-punk time of the 80’s. We unfortunately lost GOF guitar player Andy Gill on February 1st at age 64. This band had a tremendous influence on the style of music I was writing at the time. Especially Dave Allen’s bass playing. The bass and drums lock in to this amazing funk groove. Then screeching, jagged guitar is dropped on top. The vocals are pretty jagged too, with a lot of fist in the air political content. Gang Of Four showed me that if the rhythm section is grooving, there’s a lot you can drop on top. GOF was the type of band that probably had more effect on other musicians than on the general public. Sure miss those shows. And – ‘to hell with poverty!’.
When I look at my YouTube or Google feeds I often wonder how so many sublimely boring posts get hundreds of thousands of views. Then I realized I have to get the hang of using ‘clickbait’ titles. How many items have you clicked in to due to a sensational title? Once you view one category of video/post you are inundated with hundreds of the same type. You know how many videos there are of Uber drivers kicking out drunk passengers trying to overload the ride with too many people? The excitement never ends!
So I’m not really in New Zealand and I don’t have a dog playing blues guitar (yet). Although Samantha is starting to take lessons. I’ll probably start her on classical guitar.
But there are a few things to talk about.
One of the goals of ‘Messin’ With The Music’ is to give it a ‘live’ feel by playing tracks straight through as much as possible. So if you listen through you’ll certainly find ‘mistakes’. Two of my favorite guitarists are Jimmy Page and Jack White. They both go for feel and spontaneity over the idea of ‘perfection’. For me personally that technique gives me goosebumps over perfectly quantized and punched in shredding. I found this article on Page on Cheatsheet.com:
For a meticulous producer like Page, these mistakes couldn’t have been an accident. In interviews over the years, he’s spoken of leaving in mistakes because he thought it sounded realer than heavily edited albums.
In a 1977 interview with Guitar World’s Steve Rosen, Page didn’t seem embarrassed at all by mistakes he’d left on record. This time, the issue came up with “I Can’t Quit You Babe,” another signature early Zep track (off the band’s 1969 debut).
After Rosen described Page’s solo as “sloppy but amazingly inventive,” Page noted that it didn’t bother him. “There are mistakes in it, but it doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “You’ve got to be reasonably honest about it.” Of course, part of it came down to Page’s habit of recording solos.
“I usually just limber up for a while and then maybe do three solos and take the best of three,” Page explained. He also compared it to his live performances. When the band released The Song Remains The Same, the material didn’t come close to Zeppelin’s best nights in concert.
But Page left it in nonetheless. “It’s a very honest film track,” he told Rosen. “Rather than just trailing around through a tour with a recording mobile truck waiting for the magic night, it was just, ‘There you are – take it or leave it.’”
Page has long considered his work as a composer, arranger, and producer to be his most important contribution.
“My vocation is more in composition, really, than in anything else,” he said in 1977. “Building up harmonies, orchestrating the guitar like an army – a guitar army – I think that’s where it’s at, really, for me.”
Page is also a king of ‘riffs’. Rather than chorded passages and then a guitar solo, the verses and choruses were built on guitar riffs throughout the song. Here’s one of my favorites:
Jack White has the same type of loose, open feel to his guitar playing (and all the other instruments he touches). A beautiful disdain for ‘perfection’.
“I love analog because of what it makes you do. Digital recording gives you all this freedom, all these options to change the sounds that you are putting down, and those are for the most part not good choices to have for an artist,” and “Mechanics are always going to provide inherent little flaws and tiny little specks and hisses that will add to the idea of something beautiful, something romantic. Perfection, making things perfectly in time and perfectly free of extraneous noise, is not something to aspire to! Why would anyone aspire to such a thing?”
And the riffs! Just think of ‘Seven Nation Army’, ‘I Think I Smell A Rat’ or the Raconteurs ‘Salute Your Solution’. The energy and feeling that comes with his playing makes me want to headbang and bounce off the walls. Jack White is one of those artists that keep guitar emotion and the pure energy of garage rock alive. Let’s indulge in ‘Icky Thump’:
When we saw Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band he had J.D. Wilkes open for him as a solo performer. I just read that Wilkes’ band The Legendary Shack Shakers are going out on tour. I haven’t seen any dates in our area yet (what a shock). But for the live total insanity they bring to the stage, here’s an older clip of the band doing ‘Shake Your Hips’. Can’t express how much I’d love to be on stage playing this.
The search for feel over ‘perfection’ continues!
It’s a new year, so what should we take a look at as far as new music? Sometimes in Grapevine we’ll take a look at music that falls in to a relatively specific style. Not that long ago ‘styles’ of music were relatively basic – music was lumped in to a few large categories: ‘rock’, ‘country’, ‘jazz’, ‘classical’ etc. As ‘underground’ music became more visible, especially with the onset of the internet, labeling music went in the opposite direction. Now you can probably find fifty different variations of thrash metal.
When you try to market your music, knowing where to group it can help reach your target audience. But it’s not that simple. Ten people can listen to the same song and categorize it ten different ways. So, what to do? With ERP we’ve been expanding (and will continue to expand) the instruments we use and the styles we incorporate. With the ‘Messin’ With The Music’ series so far we’ve been adding instrumentation that is probably most associated with Americana or Bluegrass. Except a lot of the songs we cover fall under different styles of ‘rock’. So we decided (definitely tongue in cheek) to try to come up with a music category and fit in to that. Soooo…… how about ‘Dark Americana Shoegaze’? I think we’ll work ERP style towards that. Absolutely serious, uh-huh.
So for January how about we look at some different shades of ‘shoegaze’? And yes, everyone can debate whether these songs actually fall in to shoegaze. Having a dialogue is the fun part.
First Up: DIIV – ‘Taker’
This song is from their newest album ‘Deceiver’. It has a lot of what you might consider basic shoegaze elements. Trippy, heavily effected guitars. Heavily reverbed vocals mixed in more as an instrument than in front of or on top of the music. I really like the guitar sound. Especially as they sometimes pull it back to somewhat clean and then double down with a second even more distorted guitar. Drums are also fairly deep in the mix in parts of the song and more upfront in other parts. They keep the tempo at a nice ‘sludge’ pace, so you can sit back and let the sound wash over you. I recommend listening to the entire album as they do touch on a bunch of styles throughout.
Next Up: Angel Olsen – ‘New Love Cassette’
Most people would probably not consider this shoegaze. The song is built on electronic keyboard and samplers, but adds strings to the mix. The drums sound electronic, although I believe it was recorded with a live drummer. Vocals and drums are relatively upfront in the mix. I added it for a couple of reasons. It keeps the spacey, slow burn, drone sonics. The vocals are heavy with reverb and effects, yet still sound crisp in the mix. And I just like the feel. I read a review that described this song as a tune from a David Lynch movie. I think that’s a pretty good description.
Finally: Bedroom Eyes – ‘Wire’
We’ll conclude with the song ‘Wire’ from Boston band Bedroom Eyes. It’s on their 2019 album ‘Nerves’. I wanted to add this to have a more uptempo version of the shoegaze aesthetic. I think this song falls more classically in to the genre. Ringing and effect heavy guitars. Drum track more in the background. Vocals embedded deep in the mix. Vocally it’s more about voice as an instrument. You’d probably have to look up most of the lyrics to know what they are. But the feel and impact of the song shines through the haze.
Retro: My Bloody Valentine – ‘Only Shallow’
If we’re discussing shoegaze, it would be hard not to include My Bloody Valentine, especially the album Loveless. This band and album are a huge touchstone if you’re discussing shoegaze. Loveless came out in 1991. Honestly, the first time I heard it I was blown away. The sound is almost something you feel more than hear. The emotional tone is amazing. You know I love melancholia, and this song is dripping with it. The guitar sounds created using volume sustain, effects and a whammy bar (in a technique labeled ‘glide guitar’) were pretty revolutionary at the time. The whammy makes the guitar fluctuate sounding in tune and somewhat out of tune. Very tight drum sound for live drums. I’ve also read that it was recorded mostly in mono to make sure the guitars were upfront and smacked you right in the face. So strap on some headphones, light some candles and sit back and enjoy.
December in the Northeast. Daily weather report: cloudy with a chance of more cloudy ending in rain.
So we need new music to listen to. Again, in another interesting coincidence I came across a style of music I hadn’t really listened to before in two different magazines (one was not even a music magazine). It’s often known as ‘desert blues’ and is associated with the Tuareg people of northern Africa. Think of combining blues music with African drumming and time signatures. I’ve included a couple of examples. And of course we also have……..other stuff.
First Up: Tinariwan – ‘Kel Tinawen’
This song is from their recent album ‘Amajdar’. A lot to love here. First, the majority of this album was recorded live. In the middle of the desert. Using a mobile studio in a camper van. The video has some great clips from the recording. The rhythm underpinning of the song is absolutely hypnotic. All the instruments flow through the song – almost like listening to a waterfall. The first song I listened to put me in a trance and I ended up spending the night on my tablet listening to song after song. You can feel the blues in the song’s vocals. It’s so strong language doesn’t matter.
Next: Mdou Moctor – ‘Tarhatazed’
Mdou Moctor has a bit more familiar blues sound. The band’s instrumental makeup is kit drums, guitars and bass. Again, what sets it apart for me is the rhythm. A lot of 4/4 blues is stomp (and I do love a good headbanger). This just flows. I wanted to show a live video for this band. The lead guitar by Moctar is amazing. On top of the hypnotic flow is absolute shredding. I’d rather hand play guitar than use a pick, so watching him hand blaze through notes was cool. Supersonic index finger. And since it’s live performance, no overdubs or punch-ins, just nailing it. Watch the whole video. About half way through they push up the tempo and really roll. So delighted.
Finally: Bodega – ‘Truth’
What’s a good ‘chaser’ for hypnotic trance? Sharp, angular new wave. This takes me back to the early days of ‘punk’ or ‘new wave’ (or whatever you wish to call it). Bands like Television, Wire, Talking Heads. An insistent, rolling drum line. Crispy guitar lines that cut though the mix. Listen to the lyrics – the joyful snap of a great sarcastic observation. Sing along with middle finger held high. A lot of people found the great part of ‘punk’ – the primal scream of singing along to bands like The Clash. Guess what – it’s still out there if you want to find it. Pull up the lyrics to ‘Truth’ and shout along.
Retro: Sly And The Family Stone – ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’
This song (and band) pulled me body and soul in to the joy of funk along with performers like James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, The Meters and Prince. It also made me pick up bass guitar. Spent hours trying to get the feel of players like Larry Graham, James Jamerson, Bootsy Collins and Victor Wooten. Playing bass let my turn off my brain and listen to my body. Sit back and enjoy the slap and pop on this song.