Monday, November 30, 2009

Heavy Handed Metaphor

Man, these blog posts are getting less and less frequent.


Here is a metaphor that I try to live by (the key word being try):

A human being is like a tree. A tree takes in large amounts of nutrients from other sources. Stuff like air, water, soil and sunlight. In turn, the tree provides oxygen for species around it as well as a habitat, shade or food.

Similarly, human beings are always taking in intellectual nutrients. We experience art in the form of literature, music, movies, visual art etc. We also gain knowledge and entertainment through an infinite amount of sources. Like the tree, we must provide as well. It is our responsibility to provide others with what we have received and are passionate about. Why do you think it is that the highest degree we offer in the educational system (doctorate) is given to those to aim to be professors?

What does this have to do with music? If one takes music seriously, he/she should always be giving as much as he/she is getting. This is part of the reason I write this blog. Every day, I listen to music for hours. I read random music-related Wikipedia articles, get private instruction in two musical mediums, and oh yeah, take several music classes. But because of this, there need to be many ways to give back. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not worried about a one to one ratio. In other words, I don’t believe that for every hour spent learning about music, I should spend an hour writing it/about it. College is the fledgling stage of intellectual growth. The whole point is to be learning as much as possible.

But...I believe the tree metaphor is true for just about anyone. If you have great knowledge and passion for law, you should become a lawyer and give back what was given to you in years past by protecting people from injustice. This is all quite idealistic but in the words of Wilco, “What would we be without wishful thinking?” Or in the words of Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, “If I make a mark in time, who’s to say the mark is mine? I am just the underline on the word.”

The purpose of this post is twofold. First, I’d like to share my philosophy. Second, I’m hoping it can motivate me to write here more and also write more music. I don’t know how many people read this but in the words of a Blue Scholars sample whose source I’m not familiar with (last quote, I promise), “‘Hey Pete, why do we even write songs like this, man? People ain’t gonna change.’
‘I don’t know Bill, you know, uh, there might be somebody out there, you never can tell.”’

*Last month's heading was from T. Rex's "The Slider"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Music Criticism…Today!

I haven’t written here in quite a while. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I’ve had nothing particularly important to say that I haven’t already said. Secondly, I’m in school and there’s lots of other stuff to think about. And thirdly, I’ve fallen into a rut of procrastination and laziness. Just doing enough to get by. Well, dammit, I’m going to update this bloody blog. It’s a Saturday and I’m at home. What else do I have to do?

A couple months ago, I subscribed to a magazine called Uncut. I’d bought one two summers ago and was intrigued by their coverage of old and new (mostly) rock music. Well, I bought another one this summer, saw an exciting offer for a subscription in the back pages, and bit the bullet and bought a year-long supply.

So far, so good. I got my first new issue earlier this month. It featured Jack White as well as “The 150 Greatest albums of the 21st Century…so far!” This was awesome as I could instantly gather their slant as a magazine, which seems to be toward more retro sounding stuff, as two Bob Dylan albums were in the top ten, along with Brian Wilson and Robert Plant/Alison Krauss. The only album in common between our respective top tens was Fleet Foxes.

To me, this viewpoint is sort of the opposite of indie juggernaut, Over on that golden beacon of independent music guidance, the newer and more radical sounding, the better the reaction. I personally really like Pitchfork, even if some of their reviews seem to be more about the reviewer’s imagination than the actual music. My friend Nate wrote about Pitchfork recently and you can check that out. I’m not going to divulge into the endless quirks of this site. Just say that I join the fraternity of hipsters taking mental notes of every album on their “Best New Music” list.

I read a book this summer about music criticism in the 19th century and all the dialogue that went on between critics and the influence of all of this on audiences and artists. While reading it, I thought, “Too bad that doesn’t happen very much anymore.” Well, it kind of does. After reading these different sources of musical criticism and other various top albums of the decade lists, I have come to realize how exciting the world of non-mainstream popular music is. In the past, I’d thought of myself as a historian of sorts, reading up on music of a bygone era. I still do that of course, but reading about Embryonic by the Flaming Lips or Merriweather Post Pavillion in current sources of criticism makes it thrilling to live here and now in 2009. New sounding stuff is happening now and always will be. That may be blatantly obvious but is also cause for rejoice!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Too Much Love to Hide

One thing I’ve been meaning to do here is write a post solely devoted to a single artist. That time has come. This Monday, I saw Crosby, Stills and Nash play at the Puyallup Fair for a solid two and a half hours. That was all I needed to decide to write this.

My relationship with this band is based on deep, unwavering love. Their debut was the first album I bought by a band other than the Beatles if you can believe that. Yes back in 2002, before Zeppelin, before Floyd and even before Bob Dylan, there was Crosby, Stills and Nash, staring at me on that faded pink couch. This planted the seed that has produced one of the most fruitful trees in my collection. After this album, I made the logical progression to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the sophomore album, Déjà vu, which is equally, if not more, incredible. And now, I have solo albums by each of the band’s members, albums by The Byrds, The Hollies, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby and Nash, and Manassas. As each of these groups have a C, S, N or Y in them that makes nearly twenty-five albums with some connection to the “holy trinity” as my friend Mark so heretically referred to them.

Okay. Enough. I like this group. And why this obsession, you may ask? First off, the vocal harmonies. If you know anything about CSN, you know that their harmonies give them their identity. The blend is impeccable, the precision unbeatable. These guys flat out sing better together than nearly anyone else has in rock and roll history.

But while the harmonies are the first thing that impresses about this band, the three unique songwriting styles in this group is the factor that keeps me coming back again and again. Much like Paul, John and George, Graham, Steven and David have three different skill sets for songwriting. Mr. Crosby is ever the dreamer, but always equips his songs with a bite. His songs are smooth but complex and drenched with passion. A perfect example of this is the song “Déjà vu” with its surging intro followed by the jazzy, slowed down second section. Not to mention, he probably has the best solo voice in the group.

And then there’s Graham Nash, the ever-charming Brit. He and David Crosby have collaborated for the majority of their lives despite being polar opposites as songwriters. While Crosby’s songs are dense, weaving pieces, Nash writes simple, charming songs like “Our House” and “Teach Your Children”. Of course, Graham shares Crosby’s left political leanings and has written songs that have nothing to do with romantic love though even these have an overarching message of positvity. Nothing like the dark opacity present in Crosby’s songs. Like for example, the Crosby and Nash song, “Page 43”. Ha! Now you know!

Lastly, I must discuss Stephen Stills. He may be an arrogant prick, he may have very little left of his voice and he may have taken a few too many drugs, but he is one of the finest songwriters of his generation. Not only that, he played just about all the instruments on the trio’s eponymous debut! That’s some serious talent. Honestly, his bass playing is more interesting than any of the session pros the hired on later albums, who were certainly more than adequate. That’s just how all-around gifted Stills is. As for songwriting, the guy wrote “Carry On”, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Rock & Roll Woman”, three of the best songs ever. Enough said.

Though I love Neil Young very very much, I wasn’t planning on writing anything about him. He just isn’t a pivotal part of the group, though when he was sporadically there, it was awesome.

Sadly, Crosby, Stills and Nash saw more than their fair share of problems with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and were never able to consistently churn out albums. Nonetheless, their momentary bursts of unified energy have been unforgettable. Seeing them live, I came to realize just how many fantastic songs these guys made despite only having a handful of true albums. Their first two records are like the Ruth and Gehrig of rock music. This is the stuff that legends are made of. Unbeatable.

*If you hadn’t read enough praise of this group, here’s a recent review,

*Last week’s subheading was “There There (The Boney King of Nowhere)” by Radiohead, correctly guessed by Sean Leonard.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Top 10 of the 2000s Complete!

Finally, I’m done. Here are my top ten albums of the decade. Before you skip to the actual list, let me explain a few quick things. First of all, the albums are not ranked in any intentional way. These ten have all reached the top tier of records in my collection and comparing them to one another is very difficult. The rankings could easily be different in a week, but I can almost guarantee these would still be the best of the best. Each and every album is more than enjoyable; they are all sublimely meaningful and original. They all make me stop what I’m doing and listen. That being said, I don’t recommend these as background music, though if you must, it’s better than Kenny G! As always, I’d love to hear what y’all think. Tell me what I’m missing and why!

Satanic Panic In The Attic (2004)

of Montreal

Every once in a while, I find an album I love on first listen that ends up only getting better and better. Satanic Panic in the Attic is one of those albums. The energetic hooks of this modern psychedelic pop record instantly grab you and don’t let you go until the satisfying gong finale of “Vegan In Furs”. of Montreal, a.k.a. Kevin Barnes’ masterpiece, one can honestly say that this album doesn’t have a dull moment. And of course, the cover and album art add to the delightfully colorful ambience of these fourteen bursts of well-crafted sonic excitement.

In Rainbows (2007)


Based on my Beatle worshipping tendencies, a band called “The Beatles of our generation” would seemingly elicit an avalanche of defensive anger from me. Well, in the case of this British beacon of perfection, the statement rings true. Listening to In Rainbows in my college dorm room upon the album’s release in October 2007 is probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the mind-boggling revolution created by albums like Revolver or Sgt. Pepper. Like the aforementioned albums, this one takes the listener to a utopia of sorts where flaws just don’t happen. Sounding completely new yet taking a cue from the group’s past work, In Rainbows is all I can ask for in an album.

Fleet Foxes (2008)

Fleet Foxes

This band is almost too good to be true. Unabashedly influenced by Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Beach Boys and My Morning Jacket, Fleet Foxes have a uniquely Americana sound that has reminded us all of why the world just can’t have enough vocal harmony. Robin Pecknold’s eleven songs are like one huge breath of fresh air. From the delightfully ragged “Sun It Rises” to the swan song “Oliver James”, the record paints pictures of the natural beauty of our country better than anything this side of Aaron Copland.

The Long March (2005)

Blue Scholars

Yes, this is an EP. Yes, I may be biased because I met the two members of the Blue Scholars. Yes, much of this is inspired by the Chinese communism of Mao Zedong. Nonetheless, I hardly had to think twice about including this incredible record on this list. Each song is an eye-opening anthem for the struggling middle class. Each song makes you want to get up and do something about the problems of the world. Each song keeps you listening to every passionate word from the mouth of MC Geologic and grooving to every beat courtesy DJ Sabzi. “I heard a few heads say that hip hop is dead. No it’s not. It’s just malnourished and underfed.”

Parachutes (2000)


Don’t blame Coldplay. It’s not their fault they got so popular. It’s hard to believe that it was nine years ago that this London quartet recorded their debut album. Back around the turn of the century, Martin, Buckland, Champion and Berryman and were “yapping at the heels of Radiohead” as frontman Martin so aptly said himself. But with Parachutes, Coldplay captured something very fresh; something they would never quite reach again. A song like “We Never Change” sounds so startlingly honest, the confession of a young dreaming Brit, unashamed of his naiveté, unaware of his paparazzi filled future. This record is a winner and no indie cynicism can change that.

The Crane Wife (2006)

The Decemberists

The Decemberists have five albums this decade and each one has glorious moments. But this album stands alone as the band’s greatest achievement thus far. With songs ranging from 3:48 to 12:26, The Crane Wife is a brilliant balance of ambitious rock and simple shimmering pop craft. There’s no clear thematic thread to the work (that would come later, on The Hazards of Love), but it somehow feels like the songs relate to each other, unlike the charming pastiche of tunes on the previous albums. The final song here is called “After the Bombs” which is ironic for there isn’t a single bomb of a song present. Nonetheless, The Crane Wife is an explosive record and I’ll never tire of lighting the fuse.

Hail to the Thief (2003)


Oh yeah. That other Radiohead album. The one with all the words on the cover. That’s what this album was to me for so long. What the hell was wrong with me? Hail to the Thief is one of those albums that takes awhile but gets better and better with every listen. Finally, I have learned the truth: that this is one of Radiohead’s finest moments. “There There (The Boney King of Nowhere)” is about as good as music gets and the same can be said for songs like “Go To Sleep (Little Man Being Erased)” or “I Will (No Man’s Land)”. This record is just another reason why we can all thank our lucky stars this band didn’t break up after OK Computer.

Figure 8 (2000)

Elliott Smith

Every bit of praise I can heap on Mr. Smith I do without hesitation. The guy can do no wrong in my book. Figure 8 is his first album with hi-fi production and he handles the change with elegance. It’s a daunting task to record sixteen songs with no filler but Elliott succeeded here beyond belief. Each track is drenched with that mysterious X-factor of Elliott Smith. They’re all so beautiful, emotional and painful all at once. I can hardly listen to them without melting. It just isn’t fair that he had to die, for I don’t know if anyone recording in the 2000s was blessed with quite the gifts that he had.

A Piece of Strange (2005)


Don’t judge a book by its cover. And for that matter, don’t judge an album by its cover. And for the matter, don’t judge an artist by its name. Lo and behold, a Christian themed hip-hop album by a group with a blatant sexual innuendo as a moniker finds a place on this list. A Piece of Strange is the story of a man, just out of jail, trying to get back on his feet. He finds himself tempted (see apple on cover) by women, crime and drugs and ends up sucked in to this world of sin and finds himself in Hell, only to eventually see The Light. The story is powerful but what really sets this record apart are the beats. This is just about the most musical hip-hop I’ve ever heard.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot


It’s hard to believe that the stars aligned for this one. The band was in turmoil, the record label situation was sketchy, the official release was delayed forever. But somehow, we have Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, with all its echoing pianos, strange industrial noises and poignant lyrics. On this release, Jeff Tweedy proves himself as one of the finest living songsmiths with tracks like “Jesus Etc.”, “Radio Cure”, and “Ashes of American Flags”. It’s lines like “Distance has no way of making love understandable” that resonate for so long after hearing them delivered by Tweedy’s husky baritone voice. With two towers on the cover and an intended release date of 9/11/01, this album is a frighteningly prophetic work of art.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


My composition project for the summer has been to write my fifth instrumental piece and as of this week, I have recorded this work and the first of three movements is now available on myspace. I played two movements of the piece at Bethany Lutheran Church on Bainbridge Island on August 23rd and now you can listen online as well.

Since I probably won’t perform this any time soon, I figured here would be a good place for the "program notes" or whatever I should call them. The composition is for trumpet and organ and is titled “Ruba’iyat”. It is based on three rubai (four line poems) by the 11th century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, with each movement is based on a different rubai. Since there are 235 of them in the collection I have, I decided on the chosen three thanks to a random number generator on my handy TI-83 calculator. It came up with 22, 211 and 5 so those are the rubai I used for inspiration. Miraculously, the three worked together very well in a logical progression.

Overall, the work is fairly minimalist. I felt that style suited the words best, not to mention, I wanted the performance to be accurate and doable. Hopefully after reading the words these three movements are based on, you’ll be able to enjoy the music more. I tried to think of the trumpet as the narrator and the organ as his/her environment. The piece runs about ten minutes total. Special thanks to Ryan Hume for helping with the recording.

Here are the rubai by Khayyam, translated into English of course.

Rubai 22:
If only there were occasion for repose
If only this long road had an end
And in the track of a hundred thousand years, out of the heart of the dust
Hope sprang again like greenness

Rubai 211:
It is we who are the source of our own happiness, the mine of our sorrow
The repository of justice and foundation of iniquity;
We who are cast down and exalted, perfect and defective
At once the rusted mirror and Jamshid’s all-seeing cup

Rubai 5:
If the heart could grasp the meaning of life,
In death, it would know the mystery of God;
Today when you are in possession of yourself, you know nothing
Tomorrow, when you leave yourself behind, what will you know?

*Jamshid was a Persian mythological figure who could look forward in time using a magical cup.

If you really want to listen to the rest, just send me an email. I’m not completely satisfied with the way they turned out, but if you solemnly swear not to judge my trumpet playing ability, you can take a listen to the work in its entirety.

*Last week’s subheading was from the Rolling Stones’ “Monkey Man”.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Myspace: A Place For Friends!

I finally gave in. After an inspired treadmill running session, I decided to create an account. I did this for the sole purpose of being able to share my music in the most convenient way possible.

Basically, I’m making a sister site to this one. Page 43 is for my writings on music, myspace is for music I’ve written. I’m going to try to put a mix of stuff on there. I’ll hopefully upload songs from the past and present that I’m not completely embarrassed by. Also, if I can figure it out, there will be classical compositions of mine as well.

This is more a notification than a blog post but I felt I needed to publicize it somewhere. It’s much easier to access music this way than rapidfire and if you really want to have a copy of any of the MP3s, just let me know. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Our Constantly Evolving Musical Fingerprints

I can’t believe it’s the middle of August already. I assume you all know what that means. It’s time for another somewhat philosophical essay on music! Hip hop hooray!

So here’s what I’ve been thinking. Each and every one of us has a brain filled with different music and different amounts of familiarity these works of music. We’ve been exposed to music in hundreds of different ways, often by complete coincidence. For example, John Doe grew up the child of parents who worshipped Neil Sedaka. By age eight, he could sing “Calendar Girl” forwards, backwards and sideways. As he grew up through the 1980s, he played percussion in the Millard Fillmore High School band and he heard about the Smiths from a fellow drummer and absolutely loved them. This led to all kinds of discoveries of his own (including the Stone Roses), developing a unique musical palette.

John Doe has a musical fingerprint like no one else. Because of this, when he hears a new song, he’ll have a different take than anybody else. He compares this song to what he’s heard and what he likes and develops an opinion based on this. But the cool part is, it’s always changing. For every bit of music one discovers, that opens the door to more and more possibilities. You might compare this to Pandora’s box, without all the evilness. Oh wait, crap, that metaphor’s already been taken.

This idea seems to make sense for any music lover but I recently started thinking about it from the perspective of a composer. No music is written out of thin air. Like a great cake, it requires many different ingredients mixed together. Each artist is equipped with years of stockpiled ingredients and the taste of the cake depends on what he/she chooses to mix together. For instance, today, I discovered I’d used part of the melody from Eels’ “World Of Shit” on my trumpet and organ piece, which was a rather odd sensation.

This is yet another reason why music is so magical. Each of us is on our own, lifelong, individual exploration for the best stuff we can find. Whether you are a 5th grade hillbilly or an 80-year-old erudite, there’s always something out there that will strike your fancy.

*Last week's sub-heading was from Crosby, Stills and Nash's "I Give You Give Blind"

Friday, August 7, 2009

All You Need Is Love

Recently, I’ve been inspired. The main reason for the inspiration is a concert that I’ll be performing in this upcoming weekend. All the proceeds will be going to a charity called Central Asia Institute, providing education to kids in Central Asia. I didn’t come up with idea to do this, merely agreed to it. Albeit, I wish I’d decided this myself, for the plan of playing music to raise money for a good cause feels so right! Much more than making a few bucks. I mean, I’ve done benefit concerts before but never have I gotten quite this excited about it. Maybe it’s because I’m older than last time I did a show like this. I don’t know. But more important than helping children in need, the concert inspired me to write this post!

If you haven’t heard the title of this post, you probably have been living under a rock your whole life, somehow got a hold of your first computer and were navigated to this site by mysterious circumstances. But just in case this is true, “All You Need Is Love” is a song by the Beatles released on their 1967 album, Magical Mystery Tour. The song has been hugely popular since the day it came out. Type it in on google, you get 362 million hits. However, even though I’ve heard the song many times, its message is more effective each time it enters the surrounding airwaves.

This, to me, is the ultimate use of music. It uses the medium to spread an unbelievably simple message in a way that is infinitely more powerful than speaking the words. Too often, music (and all art) is viewed as a form of expression in a very personal sense. In the pop world, this is where songwriter A writes a song about his/her troubled life only seeking sympathy and personal attention. In the classical world, this is where composer B writes an avant-garde piece simply for the sake of being weird or potentially one-upping his/her fellow haughty academics. If you write music only to make yourself happy, with no intention of reaching other people, sharing your thoughts on the human condition, or inspiring change, you shouldn't write it at all.

If I had a dollar for every minute I weighed art versus entertainment in reference to music, I would be a rich man. Is it more important to be enjoyable or meaningful? And what is my answer, after all these hours of thought? Umm…both. Sorry, even though it’s a yes or no question, that’s all I got.

It’s just about impossible to name the one thing that makes music good or not but I know for a fact that it won’t work if it isn’t honest. As I continue on and pursue a career, likely in music, the dream above all is to be successful by improving other people’s lives with music. The old cliché is that the pen is mightier than the sword but the piano is mightier than both. And using the pen to write about the piano is pretty mighty too!

*Last week's subheading was from Steely Dan's "Night By Night"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's Too Darn Hot

Musical theater is great!

Usually, I go into these blog posts with a specific point I’m trying to make. My original intention was to pack a weekly punch of well-articulated musical opinions. Well, at the moment, it’s upwards of 90 degrees and in the heat of the moment, I’m going to be completely spontaneous and extemporaneous. Plus, it will give all my thousands of faithful readers out there a little something different. And I promise there will be no more puns.

First of all, I’d like to make a plug. This book is an absolute gem. I’ve started calling it the Bible for in this collection of reviews, Mr. Tom Moon writes about music with the perfect combination of sophistication and user-friendliness. Not only is it fantastic writing, it is an invaluable resource for just about any level of music fan. The quote on the front cover just about says it all: “The more you love music, the more music you love.” Spend that $12.97 now. This man deserves to be a millionaire!

I think the one thing I love the most about that book however is the way Moon convincingly describes the greatness of any type of music you can think of. Dozens of world music recordings, hundreds of classical, and more soul than a sock with a hole, this masterpiece does so much more than your typical “Top 100” list. And it doesn’t give confusing explanations for what it is. 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. You don’t have to love all of them, you just have to hear them. And it’s a lifelong goal, not a demanding list that makes you feel ignorant if you hadn’t lived and died to each album. Not to mention, it’s recordings not albums. Believe it or not, the album format has not always been the standard for music making.

In other news, I just acquired a whole bunch of music making my goal of finishing a “Best of the 2000s” list even more daunting. Whatever, I put myself in this black hole of music to begin with and I’m content on never escaping.

So final words of wisdom, go out and listen to Steely Dan then jump headfirst into some Cat Stevens followed by a healthy dose of Buddy Holly. And here’s a nice summer playlist if that isn’t enough:

1. “Bummer In the Summer” by Love
2. “Summer Day” by Coconut Records
3. “Summer Teeth” by Wilco
4. “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” by Joni Mitchell = SO SEXY
5. “A Summer Wasting” by Belle and Sebastian
6. “Summer’s Cauldron” by XTC = GLORIOUS
7. “Summer Crane” by The Avalanches
8. “Summersong” by The Decemberists = I HEART MELOY
9. “Summer” from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”
10. “Summertime Blues” as performed by The Who
11. “It’s Summertime” by The Flaming Lips
12. “Summertime” as performed by many people but specifically John Coltrane
13. “Summertime Clothes” by Animal Collective
14. “Summer Babe [Winter Babe]” by Pavement
15. “Summer Skin” by Death Cab for Cutie
16. “Indian Summer” by Pedro The Lion
17. “Long Hot Summer Night” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience = ELECTRIFYING
18. “Summer’s Gone” by CunninLynguists
19. "Summer In the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful = TASTY
20. “Oslo In the Summertime” by of Montreal
21. “Summer Soft” by Stevie Wonder = GENIUS

Check these out (especially the ones with bold captions)

*Last week’s subheading was from John Cale’s “Paris 1919” which I just reviewed.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's Got a Back Beat, You Can't Lose It

After writing my last post about the current decade, I felt the need to clarify my brief comment about middle-age people angering me by questioning my music taste. Getting the good ol’ “Why are you listening to that?” actually never prompted me to start listening to music of “my time”, for I try to listen to music not according to era but according to quality. But this has not always been the case. Way back in the day, after I finally opened up to bands that weren’t the Beatles, I still was hesitant to listen to anything post 70s. Being the ignorant 14-year-old I was, I stayed away from the “current” music which, to me, consisted of Avril Lavigne and P. Diddy (as I believe he was known at the time). It was so easy to be a teenage curmudgeon and say that music just isn’t like what it used to be.

However, college has been an about face for me as I’ve more or less stopped listening to my old friends such as Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix in search of newer, lesser known artists. But as I’ve recently started going back again and dusting off the old MP3s, I must publicly reaffirm my convictions: the late 60s/early 70s are about as good as it will ever get for rock and roll.

It may seem odd to post this after heavily praising the work of current artists. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be plenty of goodness to go around. But 40 years ago seemed to be an aligning of the stars for so many gifted individuals. The year 1969 alone gave us Tommy, Abbey Road, Let It Bleed, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, The Band, The Velvet Underground and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Aaaaah! So many great albums! And all of them seem to come out just a heartbeat after the previous masterpiece!

So going back to the purpose of this post, it’s partly because I feel like I’m in the minority in being quite passionate about both old and new rock music. People I’ve met generally fall in one camp or the other. Well I want the Beatles and Radiohead playing at the pearly gates when I get there.

Another reason why this is relevant is that it seems like music critics focus on the present too much to be more in line with the journalistic side of their profession. It certainly makes sense. If you want readers, you write something people haven’t already read all about. However, this is my blog and I’ll write about the 60s if I want too!

P.S. This little family tree is highly amusing and seems to fill in some of the gaps between my last two posts.

*Last week's subheading was from Wilco’s "Kingpin."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ten Years Gone

It may be hard to believe but there are less than six months left in this decade. Soon, we’ll all be met with a barrage of lists. Everything from “The Top 100 Celebrity Marriages of the 2000s” to “The Top 50 Romantic Comedies of the 2000s” to “The Top 20 Fashion Mistakes of the 2000s!” Oh what we have to look forward to!!

But of course, we can also expect all kinds of interesting music lists as well. If there’s one thing that music journalists can’t live without, it’s “definitive” lists. I’ll be sure to see what Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Uncut, Metacritc etc. have to offer when these things are released in a little while but before I become biased by these publications, I plan to make a list of my own. Yes, my summer music project here on Page 43 will be going through all 112 albums I own from this decade and narrowing it down to the best ten. It may be too hard to rank this top echelon from 1 to 10, but I will decide as I get closer to finishing.

is the alphabetical list of the albums I own from the current millennium thus far. I’m sure I’ll add a few more on before the year is up but hopefully not too many as I have enough on my plate as it is. The one danger of doing something like this in the middle of the year is the possibility of the next Sgt. Pepper’s being released in October. If this happens, I will be painfully forced to edit the list. Nonetheless, I think this will be a fun project and the summer months suit such a conquest best.

Before I begin this, I guess I’ll try to briefly sum up the decade from a musical perspective. In terms of what artist instantly comes to mind associated with each decade, I’ll say the 60s=Beatles, the 70s=Zeppelin, the 80s=U2, the 90s=Nirvana and the 00s=Death Cab for Cutie. These aren't always my favorite artists from each decade but their image and style seems to best represent the decade as far as rock and roll is concerned. Why Death Cab for the zeroes? They define “indie” while being tremendously popular. As access to music has gotten easier for all thanks to technology, being universally popular has become even more difficult and hence, “indie” is the way to go. Maybe I’m not quite impartial being a Seattleite, but it seems to me that nobody screams “indie” better than Gibbard, Walla, Harmer and McGerr. Just my opinion though. Feel free not too get heated over this as there are probably as many ideas on "what artists define any given decade" as there are sand grains on the beach.

I didn’t intend this post to be all about Death Cab and what exactly indie is. That may be a good post for the future. But for now, I’d like to say something I never would’ve imagined saying five years ago: it has been truly a great decade for music! I will have a hard time narrowing down my favorites records but I’m really excited to go through and listen to music that my generation put out!! I’m ridiculously tired of middle age people saying “Oh wow, that takes me back! What are you doing listening to that?” when I mention who some of my favorite artists are (Beatles, Floyd, CSNY etc.). Well, I’m ready to take a headfirst plunge into the artists of Generation Y and I encourage you to do so as well. A lot has happened since Y2K and I’m sure that many of these records will be playing more in decades to come.

*Last week's heading was from Michael Jackson's "Off The Wall."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rest In Peace King of Pop

It seems that events having to do with music rarely make headlines. In other forms of entertainment, such as sports, we can always count on hearing about the World Series or Super Bowl champion when that time of year comes around. In music however, the only thing close to a major yearly event is the Grammy Awards, which seems to get less and less important/respected every year. Though music is a huge part of so many people’s lives, it affects us all in different times and different places. Furthermore, developments happen slowly and aren’t fully realized until years later. With the exception of the Beatles’ concert on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, I can’t think of single, specific music-making event that went down as truly significant in recent history. As you might have figured out by now, all this goes to say that music only makes news when people pass away. It’s just the nature of the partnership between music and the media.

Without a doubt, I can say that Michael Jackson is the most famous musician to die in my lifetime. I’m sure I can speak for many people to say this came as a shock. As unhealthy as he looked, that was the basically the norm and I never imagined that this giant would ever kick the bucket in the current decade, or even in the next one. His music, his oft-imitated dance moves, his tabloid appearances and all the jokes about him seemed to be as much a part of our culture as iPods and cell phones. Because of this, it will take us awhile to adjust to having the throne of pop sitting startlingly empty.

Shortly after hearing the news, I felt the need to pay my respects here on Page 43. To tell you the truth, I’m not that much more familiar with Jackson’s catalogue than the average 20-year-old. I’ve heard “Billie Jean” tons of times and attempted to do the moonwalk with little success. I’ve seen the music video for “Thriller,” grooved to the awesome bass of “I Want You Back” and sung along with “ABC” when it's been on the radio. I even bought a copy of Off the Wall a couple years ago and oddly enough, checked Thriller out from the library two days before MJ died. Nonetheless, I’m hardly an expert on the man’s career.

I can say this, however. Michael was tremendously talented and recorded some of the catchiest songs ever heard. It’s easy for music snobs like myself to scoff at people like Mr. Jackson while we listen to artsy bullshit all day long simply because that’s the route we’re supposed to take. Well you know what? Michael Jackson’s work is just too damn good to categorize as bubble gum music. Off The Wall is the only album I’m entirely familiar with but it’s instantly clear that this is a well-crafted record of substance AND style. I give the great producer Quincy Jones a huge credit for this, but if anyone out there this can listen Michael sing “Working Day and Night” and honestly not feel just a little bit inspired to bust a move, I pity you deeply.

A month ago, if I’d posted an homage to MJ, it might have been slightly weird. A common reaction might be, “Umm…yeah that’s nice and all but why are you throwing praise at a guy who spends his free time doing God knows what with small boys?” This is very sad. As we (myself included) got caught up in making fun of “Wacko Jacko,” we neglected how much life had screwed him over. The press, his own family, his management and just about everyone connected with him exploited his fame and the guy just wasn’t built to take it. I have no doubt he was an extreme oddball and certainly am not defending what he may or may not have done. Still, we’ll never know exactly what went on in Michael Jackson’s head and what he would have been like if he hadn’t become a global icon at 24. All that we have now is his music and I know I won’t stop listening to it till I’ve had enough. And trust me, that won’t be anytime soon.

P.S. Last week’s subheading was from Bob Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie.” Let’s see if anyone can guess the next one.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Back In the USA

After two weeks in China, I am back in the land of forks and knives. The trip was a true whirlwind of awesomeness. The group of 71 PLU students and faculty went to Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu and Shanghai to play concerts in each city and look at the scenery along the way. If you’d like to know about all the sightseeing I’d be happy to tell you but as this is a music blog, I’m going to keep this post limited to that aspect of the adventure.

As I was anticipating, sharing jazz with unfamiliar listeners was a blast. In Xi’an particularly, the audience went absolutely crazy. Probably the closest I’ll ever be to rock stardom and that’s okay. Despite my varied experience playing music, this is the first sort of tour I’ve gone on and what a first taste! Each facility we played at was different from the next and of course, the best of all was the Great Wall of China. Not only did we play on the 4,000 mile partition, we played during a windstorm of epic proportions. Apparently the ancestors didn’t approve of our modern sounds.

Musically, China is an interesting combination of Eastern and Western styles. This is true for just about everything there but I thought is was interesting hearing Pearl Jam in the hotel gift shop shortly after seeing a Chinese flute/pipe player perform live at a restaurant. Another example of this is the music shop in Shanghai where I purchased my liuqin or Chinese mandolin. One half of the store was filled with guitars and band instruments, the other with gongs, erhus (Chinese violin equivalent) and pipas (Chinese lute equivalent).

I’ve written a few times about the never-ending abyss that is Western music. Popular, classical, and all that fall in to this category make up a more vast set of sounds than we can imagine. But focusing on Western music is often like looking only at the Milky Way instead of the entire universe. There are so many other styles of music, built on entirely different sets of fundamental principles. This is a bit overwhelming and I don’t claim to ever become an expert on any other musical system. Still, it’s important to know what else is out there at the very least.

It would take more than two weeks abroad to really digest anything substantial about the Chinese musical tradition but still, I’m now very interested and hope to spend this summer picking up recordings and teaching myself the liuqin. Speaking of summer, after my month-long hiatus, I plan on writing here with consistency again. Also, I may do some contributions to this sports blog a friend of mine has set up recently.

Lastly, congrats to Luke Freedman on getting the last subheading which was from The Beatles' "Hello Goodbye." Who’s up to the next challenge? And here’s the latest music review. It’s of the New Pornographers Twin Cinema album.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wiegand EP ℗

Most of you have probably been guided to here by my little facebook message today. Without further ado, here are the MP3s, here are the lyrics, and here is the artwork. (edit: Apparently some of the lyrics aren't accurate. The Word document has a couple errors, not the recording. Now it's too late to change as I leave tomorrow, 5/25. I tried. Sorry!) Basically, this is my sustainable/cheapo way of releasing the original music I’ve been working on this semester. The following paragraphs are more or less the liner notes to this short album so hopefully you will read them after downloading the music. As far as downloading goes, it’s pretty straightforward and doesn’t take very long, despite the fact that RapidShare tries to get you to pay for faster service. If you have any problems, let me know.

This spring semester, I decided to take composition lessons from a guy named Aaron English who was asked to teach at PLU by my past composition teacher and longtime faculty member, Gregory Youtz. I started taking from Aaron because his focus is on songwriting and popular music as opposed to the more classical approach of Dr. Youtz. I’ve loved studying with Dr. Youtz and plan to continue next year but I wanted to reconnect with my songwriting roots that I have so long neglected.

My lesson scheduling was unconventional since Aaron was on tour with his band in the Midwest for the first half of the semester. Instead of having an hour lesson once a week, I started having two-hour lessons every week halfway through the semester. I wrote the songs in February and March and started recording them in April down in the Wiegand Multimedia Lab (hence the title), located in the Morken Center for Learning & Technology, PLU’s new, fancy-schmancy, computer savvy building. During these past couple months, the emphasis of my lessons was learning Pro Tools recording software. It was a crash course (closer to the literal meaning than usual) but I eventually transferred my GarageBand skills over to the real professional recording software and was fairly proficient by the end.

The whole process was stressful for a plethora of reasons. First and foremost, having an ambitious project that takes hours and hours doesn’t go conveniently with being a busy college student. And of course, I started quite late because of the lesson schedule. Along with being foreign to Pro Tools and the whole mixer setup, the room where I worked is a public place, quite available to people who find pleasure in mixing up various cables, which was just a bundle of joy.

After what seemed like hundreds of setbacks, in late April, I finally got into a solid schedule of going down to the lab with all my bells and whistles and recording for several hours every weekend. Even with all the equipment funtioning right, recording is an extremely tedious, painstaking process. My already enormous respect for bands like XTC or Steely Dan whose recordings sound pristine just went way up after struggling to make something that was adequate in terms of quality/mistakes. During the last few weeks, Aaron gave me lots of helpful advice on mixing and manipulating the tracks. This Monday, May 18th, I burned the final disk to finish for good.

Musically and lyrically, I hope the songs will speak for themselves so I won’t go into what they are about. Let’s just say that the narrator (whomever that may be) had some odd experiences this year and felt the need to make sense of them through music. It’s definitely a thematic work and I tried to be intentionally repetitive with certain images (light, time, thoughts etc.) However, it was completely unintentional that four of the five songs are 4:20 give or take a few seconds. No reefer was used in the time writing or recording the songs, I promise.

I recorded using just about all the instruments I can play or attempt to play: guitar, trumpet, keyboard, ukulele and bass. There’s also a shaker and one song with a drum loop. Since the songs are fairly serious, I decided to give the work an arbitrary name, as everything else I thought of seemed too pretentious. Plus the word Wiegand (pronounced Wig-ind) is entertaining for some reason. Maybe because it sounds like Wiccan. Also, the artwork is a photograph by my friend Jon Post. Hopefully, you’ll be able to drag it right into iTunes.

I hope you enjoy what I’ve made. Overall, I’m fairly happy with it considering the circumstances. I may have been able to make a better recording with more time but not all that much better. My experience is limited so I am just happy to have actually finished what I started. Thanks for reading this and I’d love to hear what you think!

Copyright 2009 Ben Tully

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The End of the Line

As the school year wraps up for me, I thought I’d write a brief summary of my musical education over the last eight months or so. I know I said these blog posts would focus on music above my own life but I’ve decided to bend the rules a little bit because this seems to make sense as it combines the two.

The main musical change that sticks out for this year is my appreciation of jazz. In September, I tried out on trumpet for the Wind Ensemble and University Jazz Ensemble because both groups were going to China in May. My first choice was the Wind Ensemble and the only reason I put down Jazz Ensemble was the potential of traveling. After butchering the jazz sight-reading exercise, I somehow got put in the group and will be off to Beijing on May 25th. I’ve played bass in a few jazz bands before but never trumpet. I’ve also never been in one this good and this serious. The immersion has been nothing short of incredible, as I’ve improved as a musician and expanded my horizons at least tenfold if these things can be measured.

I’m also about to finish up jazz theory class where Dr. David Joyner (also the jazz band director) has explained the basic concepts of improvisation and jazz harmony. The experience and formal music training has been invaluable and I’m excited beyond words to take one of the only truly American genres across the Pacific Ocean. Also, as luck would have it, I was recently assigned to write a review of a jazz album on I still wouldn’t consider myself a huge jazz fan but I appreciate it more than I ever thought possible.

Continuing with the academic side of my musical knowledge, I have taken piano, guitar, trumpet and composition lessons. In my composition lessons, I’ve written three brass quintet pieces and am almost done recording five songs (more to come about this…). There have also been music history and theory classes as mentioned earlier and I’m almost done with keyboarding and ear training forever, which is great! Basically, I take many music classes at school and I know more about it than I did a year ago. Insanity.

I’ve also gotten plenty of play counts logged on my trusty iTunes account. If there are three artists that I’ve fallen in love with over the past year, they would have to be Fleet Foxes, Elliott Smith and Grizzly Bear. I’m jealous of those of you who get to see the two current groups on that list at Sasquatch this year. As for Elliott, may he rest in peace and continue to make me believe that truly beautiful music can often come out of profound suffering.

Next week, I will be posting recordings of the EP I have been working on. I’ll go more into detail about it next week but for now, let me just say that I have spent a lot of time on these five songs. I should really be sleeping or studying right now so I’ll finish up. I am so ready for summer!!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Henry Purcell and Why He's Rad

Right now, in the spring semester of my sophomore year in college, I am taking Music History I. The course has covered Western music from Greek Antiquity up through the Baroque Era, which ended roughly in 1750. Part of the reason I have not posted here in so long is that I’ve been working on a paper about, you guessed it, English composer Henry Purcell. Unlike most of my peers, I enjoy this class. No, I do not love every second of digesting information about the ricercare and the toccata (if you care, these are two types of Baroque keyboard pieces). But the greater picture is fascinating. Slowly but surely, we sophomore PLU music majors are getting an idea of how music as we know it came to be.

My earlier post entitled “The Great Schism” delved into this, but learning about music of old is important for getting a grip on what are truly universal themes of great music. Take Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas for example. Don’t worry, I won’t spew out all nine pages of my paper on this topic but I do think we can learn from this 320-year-old work. In 1689, when this opera was first performed, the world was a completely different place. People dressed differently, lived by different laws, had different concepts of science, were governed by a different system, and certainly had different ideas of the purpose of art. The pure beauty of Purcell’s music is so remarkable when thinking that it was intended for the ears of people whose lives and upbringings could hardly be farther removed from ours. Nonetheless, Hammerin’ Hank Purcell (as he was known to his close friends) transcended time and place with his music. Call the pretentious police if you will, that’s how I feel.

This is a perfect example of why we study music from long ago. It is not simply out of tradition, to pay homage to the greats. It’s to strip away our topical preferences and listen carefully for what speaks to us. On the flip side, it’s also important not to praise music simply because it’s deemed high quality. It's quite easy to be concerned more about being in line with musical taste you respect and less about finding what you love. I fall victim to this quite often and I’ll be the first to admit it. I don’t particularly like Godspeed You Black Emperor! Is this because there’s something wrong with me? No! I say this but continue to listen to it, trying to decipher why people love this band so much.

Purcell is a different story. From the first snippet I heard of this opera that premiered 300 years before my birth, I was amazed. I’ve never liked opera before but this was different. It wasn’t about the diva, it was about the music and the heart-felt emotion put forth with every word (in English!). As I write music in an entirely changed world than that of the 17th century, I hope to remember the way Dido and Aeneas made me feel and attempt to recreate that. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in three centuries, it’s the way well crafted music can turn a person’s heart on a dime.

Oh and here’s my Blue Scholars article.

And if you haven’t noticed, I’m changing the blog’s subtitle to lyrics I like. Gold star to you if you can figure it out what it is from without google.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Heard a Few Heads Say that Hip-Hop Is Dead

“No it’s not. It’s just malnourished and underfed.”

This Saturday, I will be interviewing the gentlemen who wrote the song in which the above lyrics appear. Yes, I am sitting down and chilling with the one and only Blue Scholars. They are headlining at LollaPLUza which is an annual concert here at my school in Tacoma. I’m doing a feature article for The Mast, the student newspaper I work for, and I will post a link here sometime in a week or so. I’m really excited because the Blue Scholars transformed my outlook on hip-hop, and made quite an impact on my understanding of music in general. I probably won’t be interviewing Radiohead any time soon, but this is opportunity is close to being that thrilling for me.

Growing up as a white, middle class nerd, I believed I wasn’t supposed to like hip hop. From the snippets I heard on the radio or in stores I happened to be shopping in, I had no natural inclination towards the rapping but occasionally thought the grooves were pretty cool. But instead of believing it might be decent music, I felt like a married man eying other women; it just seemed wrong. It was my problem and I clearly needed to refine my taste to the point where I didn’t enjoy any part of this poor excuse for music. The "melody" wasn't even a tune and the background was all simple synthetic crap. Not to mention the common themes of sexism and violence. How could it be of any quality? Answer: it couldn’t.

By 2007, I’d read and learned enough about popular music to understand that a lot of hip hop was genuinely respected by the music community. I caved and bought The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest to give it a try. To the contrary of what I had previously imagined, the album was pretty good! Their words were highly entertaining (“Yo, microphone check one two what is this?/The five foot assassin with the ruffneck business/I float like gravity, never had a cavity/Got more rhymes than the Winans got family”) and their beats were jazzy and unlike what I’d previously heard in this genre of music. I dug it but I didn’t love it. It basically proved to me that some hip hop could be okay, not that it was a completely legit musical school. Enter the Blue Scholars.

Listening to them for the first time back in the summer of 2007, everything seemed to click. Their lyrics were profound and eloquent yet simple and direct and often about the northwest! Equally impressive was the musicality. The beats were not the same one measure repeated eight hundred times. The sounds were genuinely well-written music clearly made by a musician and not an exclusive mix-and-masher. They were perfect to complement and not distract from the message provided by the vocals. It's hard to describe but from the moment I heard "Solstice: Introduction," I knew this was something I wanted to listen to many times.

I now have seventeen hip-hop albums on my computer by thirteen artists (Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Cunninlynguists, Jurassic 5 etc.). Still the Blue Scholars take the cake. And it’s because of them that I acquired the other hip-hop that I did. The Blue Scholars represent the best of hip-hop in my mind; they bring poetry to life and inspire the listener to get up and do something! Hip hop is all about the rebel mentality, but so much of it has warped into the “I am a rebel because I commit crimes because it’s cool.” The Blue Scholars look at real problems in our society and use their urban sound to get the message home. And they don't glorify the pimpin' lifestyle in the least. When was the last time you heard a rapper say “Wanna be somebody? Better get yourself some discipline”? Tell that to freakin’ Fifty Cent.

Hip-hop, like any genre, has its share of rotten apples. Just like Good Charlotte doesn’t represent rock, Soulja Boy Tellem doesn’t represent hip-hop. But the very best hip-hoppers can stand up with the cream of any musical crop. When I interview Sabzi and Geologic (the members of the Blue Scholars for you poor ignorant souls who are unfamiliar), I hope to get their perspective on popular music today and some of the other questions I’ve pondered on this blog.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

All My Little Words

Man, the Magnetic Fields are so good!

But that isn’t what this week’s rambling is about. I’d like to address how I feel about lyrics. Umm…they are important.

In a nutshell, music with a voice as the melody has a huge advantage in terms of expressiveness. Not only is the voice the most naturally intriguing instrument, you add an entirely new dimension using words. You can marry the lyrics with the music and create a result that’s way better than the sum of its parts. It also gives a chance for the more thoughtful listener to analyze the verse like it was poetry (which many sets of lyrics undoubtedly are).

All of this is to say SONGS WITHOUT THOUGHTFUL LYRICS ARE WASTING A GREAT OPPORTUNITY. I’m not saying songs without thoughtful lyrics are bad. There are hundreds of songs I’ve enjoyed instantly without initially listening to the lyrics. But the reason that songwriting is such a glorious art form is because it combines the best of both worlds. The bone chilling power of music with the life-changing power of language can usually make something half-way decent.

It annoys me when people say they don’t really listen to lyrics. I pity them. They are missing out on so much. It’s like enjoying chips and salsa while never trying nachos. I understand it’s often difficult to understand and more enjoyable to be swept up in melody than straining ones ears for an understandable fragment. But there are countless times where I’ve looked up a song’s lyrics and it has completely changed my understanding of the song. For example, just today the song “Little Brother” by Grizzly Bear. Wow…

Two great tools to use:
-Harmonic by mindquirk software. Download it from If you have a mac, it adds a widget that will show lyrics when you use iTunes. Doesn’t work for every single song, but certainly works for the vast majority I’ve played. Is essentially a forum for people to discuss what they think songs are about. Lyrics are posted there of course.

I have two Decemberists album reviews I recently wrote. I thought it was appropriate as they are a band with ridiculously good lyrics. The Hazards of Love and The Crane Wife.

And on a completely unrelated note, Ichiro just hit a grand slam. My life is complete.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Popular Music...Today!

I thought that I would try to clarify what I’ve meant by popular music in my recent posts. I feel there are a good three accurate definitions. The one I’ve been using is the most general and that is: music in the style of a genre that has been popular and had its peak within the last hundred years or so. Essentially anything but classical, experimental/avante-garde and non-Western music. So even though kids these days might not be rockin’ to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman on their headphones, to me it falls under the umbrella of popular music.

Then there’s the much more specific definition of “pop,” which is short for popular music last time I checked. This popular music is Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, and perhaps The Shins (though they usually fall under the hilariously contradictory indie-pop label). This is the melody-friendly, radio-friendly, ear-friendly stuff, blah, blah, blah. You probably know what people mean when they say pop.

Then there is the most common definition of popular music: music that is currently popular. This is a pretty revolutionary post so far, you don’t have to tell me. But thinking about this made me realize how despite listening to tons and tons of music under my definition of popular music, I know very little about what the most people in the Western world listen to today.

There’s no way of measuring what music is most listened to these days, but I figured that iTunes would be a decent way to take a stab at it. It’s by and large the place most music listeners get their music these days, now up to over 6 billion songs sold. So without further transgression, here are the top ten songs on iTunes, as of April 8th, 2009.

1. “Boom Boom Pow” by Black Eyed Peas
2. “Poker Face” by Lady GaGa
3. “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus
4. “Day ‘n’ Nite” by Kid Cudi
5. “Right Round” by Flo Rida
6. “Kiss Me Thru the Phone (featuring Sammie)” by Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em.
7. “Blame It (featuring T-Pain)” by Jamie Foxx
8. “You Found Me” by The Fray
9. “Gives You Hell” by The All-American Rejects
10. “Love Sex Magic (featuring Justin Timberlake)” by Ciara

I listened to the 30-second samples of these songs. They are horrible. Horrible melodies (if you can call them that), horribly written lyrics, horrible messages, and horrible production. But to bash these songs is like preaching to the choir. If you are nerdy enough to read my blog (God bless you for it!), you probably don’t listen to Black Eyed Peas and company. So why am I writing about this music that is so popular today? Because I think it’s fascinating how contradictory the world of popular music is, that’s why.

I sometimes wonder if there is any correlation between what the media and general music critic population determines “high quality” and what people listen to. Case and point being Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em. His most recent album, iSouljaBoyTellem, which contains the song “Kiss Me Thru the Phone,” doesn’t appear to have a single good review from a reputable source. Wikipedia lists five major professional reviews ranging from 1/5 stars to 2.5/5 stars (Yeah, it’s Wikipedia but the music review websites are legit). Metacritic comes out at 40/100, with a user rating of 0.9/10. Nonetheless, the album has sold upwards of 200,000 copies with peaking at #2 on the U.S. rap charts and #43 overall.

I know this is only one example. I know there are critics’ darlings that have made it big, even in recent years. I know I put in a remarkably small amount of research into making a big point, and that’s partially because it hurts me to listen to or read about the success of these “artists.” Still, I am constantly seeing signs that our world is turning into an Idiocracy, aka the mainstream is getting less intelligent, probably because intelligence isn’t all that convenient. Oh well, I’m not too worried. Great music will always be produced no matter what and I’m willing to dig deep.

To quote a visionary of our time, the great Ciara (who writes her own music and lyrics!!!!):

“Your touch is so magic to me
The strangest things can happen
The way that you react to me
I wanna do something you can’t imagine
Imagine if there was a million me’s talking sexy to you like that
You think you can handle, boy
If I give you my squeeze and I need you to push it right back.”

Look out Bob Dylan…

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Great Schism: Part 2

I left my last post with two gigantic unanswered questions: What is the function of classical music today? and What are the similarities between popular and classical music, with the exception of both fitting in the bubble of Western music?

There’s no correct answer to either question. I hate it when teachers say that but the truth is most important questions don’t have easy answers. Regarding the second question, it’s important to remember that the best classical composers and popular songwriters both strived for the same result. Jimmy Page and Ludwig van Beethoven were both utter perfectionists, not stopping until their work was entirely satisfying. Sometimes we look at these two musicians like two aliens from different planets. But this is not so! Both Page and Beethoven grew up in societies that staunchly supported musical achievement, albeit 174 years apart. Page felt the mystique and aura of the Beatles, Beethoven of Mozart. Both listened carefully to what was around them but wanted to make something new. Well…Beethoven listened for as long as he could.

Within a 40 minute Led Zeppelin album or a 35 minute Beethoven symphony, we find the same rises, the same falls, the same meticulous layering of strings (violins or guitars), the same cohesive nature, and ultimately, we find something to get excited about. But what creates the schism is the sociological association. When we hear the unmistakable riff of “Black Dog,” we are transported to an enormous stadium, packed with screaming intoxicated teenagers and twenty-somethings, each with his/her hair down to the waist. When we hear the equally recognizable beginning to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, we think of a stuffy concert hall, filled with highbrow men in tuxedoes, accompanied by their elegant, sophisticated wives. There’s truth in these instant mental pictures, and hence people find no common ground between the two compositions. But in truth, both Page and Beethoven were only trying to push their craft a bit further, whether that may have been accomplished by using new modulation techniques or new distortion pedals.

I am quite aware of the differences as well, putting context aside. Beethoven was more gifted, hands down. It’s staggering that the man was deaf for a good part of his life yet prolific till the end, all the while suffering from other overwhelming health problems. Page was in a band with three other talented collaborators and only made significant musical contributions for about ten years, all while sleeping around and doing drugs like any good rock star should. Beethoven’s work stands 182 years later while Zeppelin’s does only about 29 years after the hammer of the gods fell for the last time. Still, both men were giants in their prime for good reason. They were able to find “it” with consistency, the goal of any artist. If you don’t know what “it” is, see my second post.

This goes back to the importance of classical music today. Beethoven (I’ll just keep using Ludwig because he’s a good example) lived in a time with no microphones, recording devices or notation software. Musical statements were made live, on the stage, by a bunch of people wielding odd-looking concoctions of wood or medal known as instruments. Yet despite these overwhelming limitations, art was made, art that is still admired today. Even after the Moog synthesizer and multi-track recording, we still marvel at the power of dozens and dozens of people on stage playing their part in the grand scheme of things. Orchestral music stands as a testament to human stubbornness. Some things we simply refuse to let become obsolete.

Not only does it stick around, classical music is the best example of why music is the “universal language.” People throughout the world have heard the music of the masters and keep coming back for more. Even those of us who couldn’t tell Bach from Stravinsky have watched the classic film Fantasia in awe, and not just because of the pretty colors and dinosaurs. Studying and enjoying this stuff is a way to connect us with the whole world. In the twenty-first century, we need to grasp at every opportunity to find common ground. Brahms, not bombs!

To summarize this lengthy piece of propaganda, don’t get fooled by having separate categories for classical music and popular music. The brilliant minds of both spheres are blessed with the same innate ability to communicate human emotions using sound and silence. In 1956, Chuck Berry released the song “Roll Over Beethoven” which was later covered by the Beatles. If you haven’t heard the song, the title pretty much says it all. But as revolutionary as Berry was, I have to disagree and say that Beethoven isn’t going to budge and he needn’t tell Tchaikovsky the news.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Classical and Pop: The Great Musical Schism (Part 1)

Yesterday, a couple of friends and I went to see the Seattle Symphony. They played excerpts from Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, Igor Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto and Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. I hadn’t seen the Seattle Symphony since I was a young tyke, being dragged by my parents from concert to concert, so this was the first time I had gone on my own accord. Well, it was certainly worth it. Using my “Campus Club” student discount card to get a $60 seat for only $10, I was reminded how truly incredible live music can be. I have listened to a recording of the Symphonie Fantastique many times, but seeing and hearing freakishly talented human beings perform it in a top-notch facility is completely different. But not only was this concert incredible; it made me think about the function of classical music today.

Of course, I think about this all the time but describing the concert seemed like a better intro than “I was sitting in my room, looking out the window, when I started thinking about the function of classical music today.” But seriously, there were more bald heads and wrinkles in that nearly full audience than I have seen in a long time. This was no surprise though. Classical music is synonymous with the word tradition and what demographic loves tradition more than senior citizens? There's the answer: classical music exists to keep old people happy.

Little joke...that isn't my opinion.

I am currently studying classical music at a liberal arts institution. Nearly everything is geared toward finding enrichment through performing and listening to the masters of the classical vein. And this is great! There’s a reason that Mozart is legendary more than 200 years after his death. But sometimes my fellow students can be a bit ridiculous. For example, the other day I was working on lyrics to a song in one of the practice rooms in the music building. A music education major came in and asked me what I was doing. I replied that I was writing a song. He then asked me if I was writing an art song in the tradition of Schubert or Brahms. I couldn’t help chuckling a little bit even though he was completely serious. Not every music student would assume I was writing lieder, but this really did happen. Some people are stuck in the 19th century.

I enjoy learning about sonata-allegro form and imitative counterpoint and all, but my musical foundation will always be in the popular music of the 1960s and beyond. I became the hopelessly obsessed person I am today back in November of 2001 when I was in 7th grade. This is when George Harrison died. Beatles’ music was being played on nearly every radio station and I was hooked. I’d liked the Beatles since I can remember but this renaissance made me think outside the “like” box a little bit. Over the next few years, the only music that mattered was “classic rock,” whatever that convenient idiom means. My musical taste buds grew more tolerant over time and I even started listening to classical music. But I’d always go about listening to classical in a different way than popular music. In some ways, I still do.

There are countless differences between the classical and pop. Of course, let me first warn you about some huge generalizations. Classical and popular music can’t be pinned down in a statement. They are mighty big animals. But classical is typically associated with careful attention to detail, refined subtlety and complex structure. Popular music, however, is often performed by people who don’t read music, and usually focuses on the catchiness above the overall form. In terms of audiences, many feel that classical is for the bourgeoisie, popular is for the proletariat.

But the two are so closely related!!!! This may be a recurring theme in this blog as I am currently flirting with the idea of writing my senior capstone project on this very subject. I've spent many hours wikipediaing both, so I feel like a true expert on this subject. Why are they closely related? Believe it or not, classical and popular music are based on the very same Western music system! Rock ’n’ roll was not invented like the printing press. Elvis Presley used major and minor keys in his music. Four is still the most common meter whether you are listening to J.S. Bach or Bachman Turner Overdrive. But the similarities go way deeper than that.

To be continued…

Monday, March 16, 2009

From Macro to Micro

For a few years now, I've been participating in a thread on called the "Go Review that Album Game." In this game, one person posts a review on the thread, then the next person looks at his/her predecessor's music collection and picks any album for that person to review. I like this system because it forces me to analyze albums I otherwise might ignore and not limit myself to what I know really well.

This review is a product of that game. I previously said that my goal was to expand from my familiar zone of writing reviews but that doesn't mean I'll stop writing them. I try to consistently type up a review once a month. Here's one of an album you probably haven't heard of!

And by the way, here is a list of my reviews through that game. Some of them suck but I'd rather write more reviews than go back and edit them. Plus, it's nice to see that I'm a better writer now that before.

There's something so wonderful about a band that can't pinned down but aren't trying to be particularly groundbreaking. Grand Archives come out of Seattle's indie scene and are led by Mat Brooke, former lead guitarist for Band of Horses. But this quintet’s general style sounds more like seventies soft rock a la America than anything else. Of course, the main difference between GA and the lush sound of England’s favorite Crosby, Stills, and Nash wannabe is in the lyrics. The verse here is essentially the anti-cliché. Originality (some might say opacity) hardly begins to describe the words penned by Mr. Brooke.

“Torn Foam Blue Couch” begins this self-titled album with “Hold on, the further waves are high, sleepless every night, lie down shading your eyes from everyone.” This is a rather odd beginning, but what really makes it out of the ordinary is the delivery. The lyrics and melody don’t mesh like one might expect them to. Lyrically, the album is one long, reflective, line after another. Yet each word is sung as part of the greater melody, with no inflection or emotion. Nearly all the vocals are doubled and drenched with reverb making this occasionally heart-wrenching poetry seem nonchalant, floating dreamily above the acoustic guitars and piano.

Another prime example of the paradoxical lyric/music relationship is in the third to last track, “Louis Riel.” The song seems to be about the narrator’s disdain for the title character and has a harmonized chorus of “Hung by a rope where the railroad will surely come by,” sung after a child-like refrain of “ba da dum, ba da dum, ba da da da dum.” The song could be a musical cousin of “Teach Your Children” or “Ventura Highway,” two tunes we might not associate with a hangman’s noose.

I saw Grand Archives play at the Sasquatch Festival in 2008. I was pleasantly surprised, eventually purchasing their first full-length release. Of course, hearing the group live, I wasn’t listening carefully to the words, but I knew I liked their sound. The songs were simple but quite catchy and all contained a certain charm. Also, the group could seamlessly switch from tender acoustic arrangements to full-on rockers without losing any clarity or allure. I hadn’t even heard of the group before seeing them live, so I was pleased to have discovered something worthwhile.

After really getting to know Grand Archives, I’m still a fan. The songs are cleverly written, and subtlety is the name of the game. As mentioned earlier, the vocals might appear to lack personality but that’s just part of the act. To quote the final song, “Orange Juice,” “You can’t conquer a world that’s always been good to you, but let’s go out and try anyway.” This confusing yet somehow understandable bit of advice is a perfect ending to this quirky debut.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

If music be the food of love...

It’s crazy to think that when Shakespeare wrote those words, J.S. Bach was over eighty years from being born. I mean, there’s certainly great music from the 17th century and earlier but it is hard to deny that music as we know it was in its infancy.

Most everyone has heard it said that music is the "universal language." This phrase gets thrown around so often that we often take it for granted. But it’s a fantastic and completely true concept. Is there anything else that can invoke emotions in such a wide range of people throughout history all over the world? It’s impossible to give an all-encompassing answer for why this is. One could try to psychologically explain the parts of the brain that are stimulated by certain vibrations in air molecules but that says nothing about the supernatural feeling we get after a certain note, chord, rhythm or whatever.

This surreal sensation is the absolute most important factor in studying or thinking about music. Everyone who has ever genuinely been moved by music is on the same plane. Someone who has experienced this when listening to Blink 182 or Britney Spears is no less musically enlightened than I am. On the flipside, a musical novice like myself is right up there with Beethoven, Paul Simon or Duke Ellington. Don’t get me wrong; these giants were/are infinitely more knowledgeable and gifted than I could imagine being. I’m simply saying that there is no such thing as elite musical appreciation.

You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who dislikes Britney and Blink as much as I do. I could follow up this post with all the ways I would rather be tortured than forced to listen to music by these “artists.” However, names are insignificant when you’re talking about an otherworldly experience between a person and the sounds that he/she is hearing. For this to occur when listening to “Toxic,” it would take a set of circumstances that may be inexplicable to me. However, once it does (and I’m sure it has), nothing else matters.

Of course, this doesn’t mean all music is equal. A recording of some kid playing the violin for the first time is not on the same level as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Like any form of art, in music, there is clearly a connection between craftsmanship and creating pleasing material (gasp!). And some musical qualities are, on average, more pleasing than others. It’s safe to say that people typically like sound of The Beatles more than Strawberry Alarm Clock, putting other factors such as fame aside. But explaining this is difficult and not the point.

Let this post serve as my lengthy disclaimer. Before I go on and tear certain artists apart limb from limb, let me just say that the ideal function of music is for people to experience what no words cannot describe. If it succeeds, then it is worthy. End of story. For every music listener, there is a different perspective based on countless factors. The general trends are meaningless when put up against the entire musical tradition. Leonard Bernstein once said that music can “name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” As his contemporary Ira Gershwin wrote in “I Got Rhythm,” “Who could ask for anything more?”

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Thank you so much for coming to this page. There are billions of sites you could have gone to instead so your cyber presence is appreciated. I’d imagine if you’re reading this, you probably know me but regardless, here is a bit of personal info as well as my aspirations for this blog

My name is Ben Tully and I am a twenty-year-old college student at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, USA where I plan to graduate in 2011. You can read my “About Me” page for a more detailed description of who I am, but in a nutshell, I am a music freak who loves writing about, composing, and playing music. Recently, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing about music for a living. I write album reviews for the PLU newspaper (The Mast) and have posted all my reviews on, but have recently wanted to expand my music writing horizons. There are a lot more opinions in my head than just what albums are good, bad or ugly. To me, this is the perfect place to write about anything music related. For example, someday you may read an article entitled “Why do people often say they like all genres except country?” or “Copying music: To burn or not to burn” or “Beethoven vs. Brian Wilson.” I’m not making any promises, but these are some things that I could hypothetically write about.

The blog’s title is a song by David Crosby released on Crosby and Nash’s first album in 1972. It’s a fantastic song but has no particular significance to me or to this site. It just seemed to be a good blog title. I hope to post here weekly or more often, despite my hectic schedule as a college student. The goal is for this to become more than just another blog. I don’t plan on gushing my feelings or divulging into my personal life. It’s arrogant enough to create an entire website of my own opinions so I might as well keep it focused on the music. Like I said on my “About Me,” any feedback is more than welcome. Since I’d like to get paid for this someday, pointing out flaws is helpful and not hurtful at all, as long as your criticism is backed up. Feedback that only says “You suck at writing” won’t be particularly beneficial.

I love expressing my thoughts about music, but often I do so upon deaf ears. Writing it in this fashion will A) be articulated better than if I had spoken on the subject, and B) be there for anyone who wants to read it, but if you’d rather not, that’s okay. I realize that a lot of people out there listen to what they like and leave it at that, and there is nothing wrong with this philosophy. As long as you’re interested in furthering your knowledge of something, you’re cool with me. Nonetheless, I’m really looking forward to this and I hope you check it every now and then for new posts. Thanks again and I hope you enjoy Page 43!