Closure in the Chords

31 Mar

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Sufjan Stevens is the son of Rasjid and Carrie, though he was also a child of divorce. Most of his childhood was spent with his father, after Carrie left when Stevens was barely a year old. He spent a handful of summers with Carrie and her husband Lowell in Oregon, which he speaks of in cryptic references throughout the record (such as the mention of blue buckets of gold in the final track, which references a legend about a lost gold mine in present-day Beer Creek). Stevens has always dug into his past to add to the folktales in his music- which is most obvious on Michigan, an album about the very state where he grew up- but permeates all his music in its own right.  One of my favorites includes “Decatur, or Round of Applause for your Stepmother!” from Illinois, where he doesn’t hide his own childhood pettiness: “Our stepmom, we did everything to hate her.” Stevens is prone to bitterness, but he is open to forgiveness (“Appreciate her! Stand up and thank her!”). Forgiving his stepmom for having to deal with him and his siblings at that age was easier than coming to terms with his biological mother’s abandonment. Stevens didn’t (couldn’t) understand this until Carrie was on her deathbed. Then his perspective changed. Arguably, Carrie left for the right reasons, but now that she is permanently gone, she can no longer justify her actions. Sufjan fashioned his reflections on their relationship into the tightly wound Carrie & Lowell, an ode to unconditional love.

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Blues Traveler Is Well Beyond the Hook

30 Mar

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It’s hard to believe that “Hook” and “Run-around” by Blues Traveler are two decades old, but face it Millennials, you are aging at an alarming rate. However, while I may have just depressed you, remember that a fine wine gets better with age, and after millions of records sold and countless hours on the road, folk/jam-band aficionados Blues Traveler are exploring some new territory with their first release in three years and 12th studio album. Yes, this influential and creative rock band from Princeton, New Jersey, paired its immense music skill and sweet, sweet harmonica with other talented musicians to form Blow up The Moon, a unique collaboration of Blues Traveler and several different artists. The genres covered in this melodic synthesis? Is endless an option?

Want some electronic influence? How about 3OH!3? In the mood for some Ska/Reggae/Hip-hop? Let’s add Dirty Heads & Rome Ramirez to the mix. Country? Why not. Thompson Square, Secondhand Serenade, and Jewel. How about some straight rock? Bowling for Soup, New Hollow, and Plain White T’s. And, in the why the heck not category, Hanson and Thomas Ian Nicholas (of “American Pie” fame) round up this eclectic mix of musicians who, with Blues Traveler, combine to form 14 tracks – each individual song representing a collaboration of some kind.

The idea, which was developed during Blues Traveler’s celebration of its 20th anniversary of the release of Four, is now a reality, and on April 7, you will be able to get your hands on this diverse release. I have had the opportunity to take a sneak listen to the album, and I am a full proponent of you going out and purchasing it. There is something so infectiously cool about the album; let’s talk about a few songs.

“Castaway” is the third track on the album, and it is not particularly difficult to guess this collaboration. The reggae sound ostensibly seems like it might clash with John Popper’s folksy vocals and harmonica; however, it pairs oddly well. There is this strange chill that develops with harmonica and reggae. The song goes down like a Corona enjoyed in New Orleans – a little particularly but refreshing all the same.

When you have a chance to listen to the full album in early April, check out “Hurricane,” “Blow Up The Moon,” and “Nikkia’s Prom,” which, with “Castaway” are the top tracks on the album.

Find out more about the album on the band’s website.

The Moody Blues Transcend Years – Concert Review

29 Mar

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When I went to go see the Moody Blues for the first time this past Friday, I quickly learned two important things about the band. One, as the dearth of parking at the NYCB Theater at Westbury – a theater that one does not often have difficulty finding parking at – suggested, the Moody Blues are pretty popular. Perhaps this speaks to the shows I usually see at the former tent in Westbury, but I have never seen the house more crowded than it was on Friday. Second, and most importantly, the Moody Blues effortlessly demonstrates the adage that you’re only as old as you feel; the band is lithe and youthful featuring potent instrumentation and billowy vocals. A product of additional band members? Sure, that does not hurt; however, Graeme Edge, John Lodge, Justin Hayward are just as ardent and inspired by music as I assume they were in 1967 when the uber-successful, gold record Days of Future Passed was released. And isn’t that just amazing? The band, which is celebrating its 51st anniversary this year, is still running on high and does not show any signs of stopping.

So, as stated in the last paragraph, my father and I stepped into a jam-packed theater with a mixed crowd of mostly older women and men, who, when the Moody Blues walked down onto the revolving stage, all erupted and transformed into their younger selves. Sometimes when you see a classic band – and trust me I’ve seen a whole lot – the crowd of older individuals who grew up with the band, well, kind-of reflect their age. Terrible for me to say, but true. On the contrary in this show, the crowd reflected the Moody Blues, who played each song with intensity and soaked up the applause like a sponge, growing in size until almost spilling out with joy on songs like “Question,” “Nights in White Satin” and “Ride My See-Saw,” which the band concluded the night with. This was almost magical, a weird ethereal ambiance that lasted for the entire show and then faded as people left – if only for one brief concert, people were able to transform into their youthful selves and party with the Moody Blues – dancing with the tunes, yelling laudations at the band, and, in general, having fun, which the Moody Blues was doing as well!

The Moody Blues are a forerunner of the classical music blend of progressive rock, a style in-part pioneered by the Blues, mixed with contemporaries like The Beatles, Procol Harum, and The Beach Boys (not too shabby). The airy, spacey sounds of “Nights in White Satin,” which blends orchestral sounds (part Mellotron, part London Festival Orchestra) with rock – and a wonderful poem (“Late Lament”), which was penned by Edge and read by keyboardist Mike Pinder, inspired so many progressive rock bands – Pink Floyd and King Crimson to name two. The band’s seminal 1967 album is always cited as one of the most influential albums of the 60s. The Moody Blues’ musical success ranges throughout the 70s and the 80s, where the band released “Your Wildest Dreams” in 1986 and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” in 1988. It is pretty impressive that the Moody Blues had hits in three decades, as not many bands can say that they had this success.

All in all, the concert was a lot of fun and it was a joy experiencing The Moody Blues’ transcendent music with a jam-packed theater of fans of great music!

Hey Now – Matt and Kim’s New Glow

21 Mar

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Matt and Kim has always been known for wacky antics and effervescent pop music. New Glow, Matt and Kim’s fifth full-length will not be any different; the Brooklyn duo who met while attending Pratt Institute is keeping power pop alive.

“Hey Now”,  which features a minimalistic video of the duo dancing maniacally with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, is a testament to the genre of percussion-laden, horn-heavy pop. Matt and Kim has a penchant for creating opening notes that latch on to a listener’s ears like super glue. If you are a fan of vocal-heavy pop, you just cannot turn the song off and before you know it the song has already repeated 4-5 times. The tracks are short and effective.

Is Matt and Kim for everyone. No, no band is for everyone. However, an attribute I have always respected about the band is its knowledge of who it is. Matt and Kim may change up the notes, but the duo is never going to explore the unfamiliar realm of not creating fun, jocular tracks that listeners can sing along to easily.

The video is just … so … happy! It’s tough to watch it without smiling. That innate joyousness in the music is infectious. Do I love all power poppy music? No. But Matt and Kim has some special quality to the music that makes me want to listen constantly. In “Hey Now,” it is a mix between the segmented vocal chanting, clickity percussion, and the chanted lyric. The song is anthemic, a piece that could easily be the concluding track of a Broadway play or movie … where everything ends well of course. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the new album, which I’m sure will be muy divertido.

“Believe” by Mumford & Sons – 3 million views and disappointing

15 Mar

It’s important we get this point out of the way early: I do like Mumford & Sons. Sigh No More was a folk-rock revelation; an ode to crescendoing banjos and acoustic guitars that was paired so nicely with powerful lead vocals that it was similar to a fine wine and food pairing. Every song went down smoothly. Was there inherent self-style repetition in the tunes? Of course. It is no secret that Mumford & Sons change some chords around and follow the same exact pattern in mostly every song: slowly rising power fit with a climactic crash of all instruments at the end of a piece. But that was OK. The music was rich in sound and ebullient. It was the pinnacle of the newer folk/rock movement. And, 5 years later and tremendous success behind them, the band has dropped the banjo, added an electric guitar, and have abandoned the folky sound in favor of mainstream Coldplay-like tunes, which works for Coldplay, of course, but sounds mightily contrived for a band that once yelled “I really f*cked it up” in a fast-paced angry folk song.

But evolution is good in music, Matt. Doesn’t this just show that the band is not willing to follow the same pattern in its songs. This would be true if it were indeed reflective of the song. Listen to it. Instead of slow acoustic instrumentation, the song starts with an ethereal piano that basically replaces the string instrumentation. It is a 2-minute “Fix You”-like piece that lulls the listener to musical sleep. Then, a weird out-of-place electric guitar solos over some drums, and the song turns to a mainstream pop/rock song, a trope overdone by SO many bands. Mumford & Sons has abandoned its originality in favor of a type of music and the band is clearly not adept with it.

Maybe I just don’t get it, and remember this is just one person’s opinion. However, I’m not loving it, and if this is the direction of the new album, it’s a real shame.

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