Monday, March 28, 2011

The Art Of The Mixtape (well, CD/playlist)

One of my favorite things to do is make a mix. I have made countless mix CD's and playlists over the years, whether it be for someone else or myself (my last one was a mix of all my favorite 90's songs to listen on the commute to school). Mixes are a highly personal thing and can be used to share new artists with your friends or used to express feelings with someone close to you. As a total music nerd, I love making mixes and I will agonize over the most trivial little details and spend hours searching for a song that's lyrics and feel fit what I am trying to express. I also adhere to the unwritten rules of making mixtapes, though I will not even pretend that I know all of them or where they even originated from.

Some of the more popular rules are:
1. NEVER use an artist more than once
2. Try to take the songs you like and match them with the other persons interests. For example, if the person you are making the mix for likes poppier songs, it probably isn't best to throw on that obscure noise-rock song you love on there.
3. Try and create a balance to the mix. You don't want to many "upbeat" songs back to back, nor do you want to many slower songs back to back (unless that is the theme of your mix). Try and alternate as best you can, this keeps the listener guessing and also makes it feel balanced.

That is just a few of the rules that exist out there and I am sure some people would not agree with my choices, but I know a few people have similar criteria. Today I am sharing a mix CD I made for my fiancee for one of our anniversary's because it is something of a tradition we started with each other. Below is the tracklist, some descriptions and video of key tracks.

1. Damien Jurado "Apart" - A very slow and beautiful acoustic track by Damien Jurado. The lyrics repeat (and there are not many of them), but coupled with the music this is a track that pretty much sums up my feelings for my fiancee.

2. House and Parish "What Have I Been Waiting For?" - This one I snuck on mostly for my own enjoyment. An upbeat, breezy pop song, this is one of the best songs the band has written.Ex -The Promise Ring, Texas Is The Reason and The Gloria Record.

3. Landon Pigg "Falling In Love At A Coffee Shop" - One of our favorite songs to sing together, possibly because it was branded into our subconscious thanks to all the commercials that used this song. Good song though.

4. Tal Bachmann "Shes So High" - One of our all-time favorite 90's songs (It came out in '99, but who cares. It still counts). Probably the song my fiancee likes to play the most after "Get What You Give".

5. Dashboard Confessional "I Do"

6. Old 97's "Question" - About a couple's relationship and tells the story of our engagement. I made this mix shortly after we became engaged, and it has become the sort of unofficial song for our relationship. One of my favorites.

7. Spoon "The Way We Get By" - Another song I snuck on here that I had a feeling my fiancee would like (thank goodness she did). Pretty much just an upbeat song that I think sort of reflects our time going to parties when she was still in school.

8. Ben Folds "The Luckiest" - One of the saddest but most beautiful songs I have ever heard. Talks about finally finding that special person after going through a lot of bad relationships and mistakes to get there. Ben Folds can do no wrong in my eyes. YouTube won't let me embed the video, but check it out here.
9. New Radicals "Get What You Give" - One of my fiancee's all time favorite songs. Enough said.
10. The Postal Service "We Are Silhouettes"
11. The Starting Line "Island"
12. Rocky Votolato "The City Is Calling"
13.Kings Of Leon "Sex Is On Fire" - Our favorite Kings of Leon song. The only reason this made it on the playlist was for that reason and the fact I thought the mix was too short.

Do you have any mixtape rules? What is the best mix you have been given? As always, let me know in the replies!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Learning To Love Country

Most of my friends and people who have followed my writing at know that I love just about any form of independent music and many have read countless reviews of post-hardcore, emo and indie-rock bands that I have written over the years. But, today I have a confession to make. While I still love all those bands and still listen to them regularly, lately another genre has been gradually taking over a good share of plays on my radio and my iPod. That genre would Wow, it was odd for me to even type that. Despite having relatives from the south, I generally stayed away from country and I hated it growing up. I don't remember why I felt that way initially, but I would avoid it at all costs.

However, the past few years I have slowly been warming up to the genre. While I still dislike a majority of the songs that dominate country radio stations, I do enjoy some of the songs. I think the reason I started being drawn to the genre was just from exposure. My fiancee absolutely LOVES country music and when she is driving, which is almost all of the time, that is what we listen to. So after awhile, I really grew to like some of the songs. I also think that as I get older, some of the lyrical themes really start to relate more to my day to day life than songs that are more abstract and sound like the soundtrack to breaking shit. I am going to be getting married soon, living on my own and working and something about the lyrical themes in the lyrics of the country artists I listen to just fit into what I am experiencing.

However, one thing that hasn't changed about my listening habits is listening to bands that have a DIY spirit that initially drew me into the world of indie-rock and many other forms of alternative music. Below are some of the artists that I am listening to now and even if you aren't a fan of country music, check them out with an open mind and you might find something you enjoy.

The Only Sons - The Only Sons hail from Murfreesboro, Tennessee and I have been following for them for a few years now after stumbling across their album "Steel Hearts" which is available as a free download here. Here is what I said about them when I wrote about them for a feature on "Murfreesboro, Tennessee’s The Only Sons’ latest album, Steel Hearts, is a must-have album for any fan of alt-country music. The thing that makes Steel Hearts such a special album is its relative simplicity. In an age where autotune is used left and right, The Only Sons brand of no-frills alt-country is a breath of fresh air. The album is filled with raspy vocals, excellent musicianship, simple yet emotionally engaging lyrics, and almost never loses the momentum built by the opening tracks 'Lay Back Down' and 'Wise Up'. " I still stand by that assessment, but the band has since improved drastically with the release of their new album "American Stranger" which you can stream on their bandcamp page. Easily one of the best albums of 2011 so far and "Gone Down Swinging" is a hell of a song with incredible solos at the end. This band is going to be huge.

Here is frontman Kent Goolsby performing "Just My Luck"

The Only Sons - Just My Luck (Acoustic Promo) from theonlysons on Vimeo.

Glossary - Another band from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I found out about this band in pretty much the same way, by downloading their album The Better Angels of Our Nature for free on their website. They have been around for awhile, having recently released their 6th full-length. They are more of a rock band, but they still have qualities of country music in their songs. Singer Joey Kneiser also produced The Only Sons American Stranger.

Glossary - Save Your Money for the Weekend from Stewart Copeland on Vimeo.

Are there any genres of music that you initially didn't like but learned to enjoy over time?

120 Minutes Returns

After being out of town due to a family emergency, I returned home and learned that MTV is bringing back the highly influential 120 Minutes and Matt Pinfield will be hosting once again (Pinfield originally hosted the show from 1995-1999). 120 Minutes was a weekly show on MTV that aired popular alternative artist's music videos and videos by artists who were frequently getting airplay on college radio. The show first premiered in 1986, but the shows heyday was during the boom of alternative music in the 90's and Pinfield became one of the most popular hosts. The biggest moment of the shows history was when it aired the world premeire of Nirvana's "Smell Like Teen Spirit" music video.

I love the fact that 120 Minutes is returning to MTV, especially since Pinfield will be hosting it. Pinfield knows more about music than I could ever hope to and his interviews were always very informative. Even though I was super young during his original tenure with the show, I can always remember watching 120 Minutes and I have always associated him with the show, so I am glad they didn't try and restart the show with a new host.

I also give credit to MTV for reviving a great show that is solely about music. Growing up, music was a huge part of the channel and they generally played great music. But ever since 2000, MTV seemingly got rid off a vast majority of their music shows and focused solely on reality shows like Laguna Beach and The Hills, which was a shame.

In honor of the show's return, here is one of my favorite 120 Minutes performances and some of my favorite videos that appeared on the show

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rescued From The "Bargain Bin"

Ah, the Bargain Bin. Although almost any album you could ever want is now available on the Internet whether it be through Amazon, iTunes or any of the other digital music providers, nothing beats the feeling of digging through the bargain bin (or used bin if you prefer) at a brick and morter record store and finding a great album. I remember when I was younger I used to go with my dad to a store called Disc-Go-Round, at least I am pretty sure that was what it was called, and spend hours upon hours digging through the racks of CDs that lined the walls. Although the store was mostly used CDs, there was a few new releases toward the front of the store and some of the used CD's were pretty cheap, but still relatively expensive. However, if you got lucky, you would stumble across a great album that was literally only a few dollars. I miss the feeling of making these great discoveries and of going to a place that was all about music and talking to the people who worked there about what they thought of a record and asking them for recommendations.

In honor of record stores and the thrill of finding an album you love for dirt cheap, I present a list of my favorite "Bargain Bin" finds.

1. Harvey Danger "Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?" - Ah, good ol' Harvey Danger. I am sure most of you are vaguely familiar of the band and their one hit "Flagpole Sitta" which was in heavy rotation towards the tail end of the '90s. Unfortunately, most people bought the album for that song alone and copies began flooding into used record stores everywhere. I grabbed my copy for about $3 and it was one of the best purchases I have made. Sure, I still absolutely love blasting "Flagpole Sitta" from time to time, but the album as a whole is full of great, fuzzed out indie-rock from start to finish.

2. New Radicals "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too" - Another album that seemed to flood used bins across the country. The band had a few hits, but they are probably best known for their song "You Only Get What You Give" where singer Gregg Alexander name dropped a few celebrities at the time and calling them fakes, which did not sit well with those mentioned (though Alexander later said he only did it to see if that is the only part of the song the media would focus on and, surprise!, it was). You can sometimes find this album for like $2, which is a steal because this is one of the best pop-rock albums I have heard in a long time.

3. The Verve "Urban Hymns" - Another great purchase I have made after spending an eternity rifling through the used bin. Although "Urban Hymns" is an excellent album in it's own right, this album is worth whatever you pay for it based on the strength of "Bittersweet Symphony" alone. Although the song gained noterity due to the band being sued  over the use of a sample of an orchestra version of The Rolling Stones "The Last Time", the fact remains that is still one of the greatest songs I have ever heard and still sounds timeless 14 years after it first hit the airwaves.

What are some of your best "bargain bin" purchases? Do you miss going to record stores or do you prefer the convenience of shopping online?