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A Song Will Lift As The Mainsail Shifts – When the Ship Comes In

29 Jan


I started this blog back in college as a conduit for my musomania. It continues to live, albeit somewhat infrequently on my end – continued thanks to Toria whose posts truly carry the blog, and I anticipate the blog existing in whatever shape and form continually. I hope the content continues to be fresh and original, no matter its frequency, and that you get as much enjoyment reading as I do writing.

That said, in all of my years writing for the blog, I never (at least to my knowledge) comprehensively brought politics or current events (outside of music) onto these pages. This was, and still is, purely intentional; this is a music blog through and through, and I want to keep it that way. That said, I would be averse not to mention the current transformations in the U.S., and the vitriolic reactions on both sides of the coin responding to these changes. I will not use this blog as a platform to lecture on my political beliefs, but I will say I do maintain a shaken temperament as a witness to these changes. Instead, I will do what I always promised to do on this blog, and use music to convey my thoughts.

Bob Dylan’s “When The Ship Comes In” appeared on his third studio album, the politically charged The Times They Are A-Changin’, which Dylan released in 1964, buttressing his participation in the civil rights movement of the time. Yes, Dylan’s clear protest song on the album, the eponymous title track, may be more apropros for this post, but the third track on Side 2, “When the Ship Comes In” always held deeper significance for me, although the song was, according to Dylan’s biographer Clinton Heylin and musician Joan Baez, about how a hotel clerk refused Dylan admission to a hotel room because of his unkempt appearance. Dylan, who modeled the song after “Pirate Jenny”from Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera (a big inspiration for The Doors as well), wrote about how he envisaged his enemies, “like Goliath” conquered.

For me, though, the song always held some added metaphorical significance, the “foes” representing the forces of jacobin injustice and antiquated policy.  The ship, who are pirates in Brecht’s lyric, are more benevolent conquerers in Dylan’s piece, as the fishes “laugh”, seagulls “smile”, and rocks “proudly stand” when “the ship comes in”. Heck, even the “sun” respects those on the ship, indicating that the most essential forces of nature shine upon this ship – a bit prescient considering our current situation. The ship comes in on a song, and then Dylan finishes the piece with two potent verses, which I will copy below:

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour that the ship comes in.

Then they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharaoh’s tribe
They’ll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered.

The ship finds the foes sleeping and in a soporific stupor, and despite the foes’ attempted rapprochement, they are “drownded in the tide” and conquered. That they are sleeping is fascinating, as it was Socrates (through Plato) who evinced that society needs a gadfly to pester it when it falls into a somnific and obstinate state so society will wake up and notice that the times are changing. When I look out to the horizon I can hear the slightest melody as it lingers in the ocean waiting once again for the sands to “roll out a carpet of gold” because the “whole wide world is watchin'” and waiting for the hour that the ship comes in.

The Top 10 Songs of 2016 – 3, 2, 1 … Happy New Year

31 Dec

#3: “All We Ever Knew” by The Head and The Heart


Seattle is hotbed of musical talent, The Head and the Heart is just another success story from the Emerald Story. That said, The Head and the Heart do not all originate from Seattle; instead, many of the band’s members are Seattle transplants who found a home performing at a local open mic. The band quickly took off from there, and have come a long way from selling handmade denim sleeves of self-burned copies of its first album at local shows. Now, the band has toured extensively with several Indie outlets like Vampire Weekend, Iron & Wine, and Death Cab for Cutie. The year 2016 saw the release of the band’s third LP Signs of Light and the title track is the #3 song of 2016.

It is no surprise that “All We Ever Knew” found immediate alt/rock chart success. It’s anthemic, featuring strong percussion, jubilant vocal harmonies, diverse keys, and a string-laden bridge. The song features the same melodic structure, but it transforms several times with instrumental and rhythm. It is the upper echelon of alt/rock and representative of a band at the top of its game.

#2: “Genghis Khan” by Miike Snow


“Genghis Khan” by Swedish Indie Pop trio Miike Snow was officially released as a single in December of 2015, but found its way on the band’s third studio album, iii, which was released in March of this year. Thus, the #2 song of 2016 is the aforementioned “Genghis Khan,” and if not for an impassioned release from Radiohead, the song would be #1

Miike Snow, a three piece made up of a duo of childhood friends who became consummate producers and a strong session vocalist from the U.S., came to prominence in 2009 with the release of “Animal,” a tremendously catchy song that demonstrated the skill of the band.

“Genghis Khan” just indicates the continued musical maturity of the band. The song is almost unspeakably infectious and dance-inducing. A true ear-worm, the song is carried by swinging synth and percussion and a vocal riff that sticks to a listener’s vocal cords; try listening to the song and not at least humming along to the riff. There is a bit of an insatiable quality to the song, a craving to listen to it on repeat. That is the mark of a successful producing. Paired with a video that is a twist on a classic James Bond scene, the song is a marvel.

#1: “Daydreaming” by Radiohead


I mean this as no disrespect to the other bands on the 2016 list, but Radiohead is in a class of its own. “Daydreaming,” the Music Court’s choice for best song of 2016, was released on the band’s ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, the first release from the band in five years. In a few words A Moon Shaped Pool depicts Radiohead’s malleable adeptness and Thom Yorke’s lyrical sophistication. “Daydreaming” evidences why Radiohead is one of the best bands releasing music today; while most bands find a niche and stick to it intransigently, Radiohead is constantly finding ways to push the boundaries of music.

The song is like modern art. There is so much to it even though one only ostensibly hears an ambient, melancholic piano motif. And when I mention complexity I am not even talking about the behind-the-scenes electronic elements, spooky vocal effects, and bookended pitch-warping. There is pain in the lyric, Yorke’s effortless voice tinged with inherent sadness and eerie airiness. The video, which was directed by renowned film director Paul Thomas Anderson, features Yorke walking through several doors to disconnected areas, seems to suggest the inevitable passing of time, and the somewhat desultory rhythm of the progression of one’s life. At around the four minute mark, the song begins to crescendo, each element becoming crisper and more defined. Yorke’s vocal becomes more strained and fragmented until the song concludes with Yorke, in the video, walking through snow to a cave and then lying by a fire while low-tuned cellos growl and Yorke repeats an incoherent, warped vocal, which is a apt; in the end, does anything make sense?

Top 10 Songs of 2016: The Lumineers (#4 and 5)

28 Dec



Track 2 and 3 on The Lumineers’ second LP Cleopatra are #5 and #4 on the Top 10 Songs of 2016 countdown. How convenient! Which song is #5 and#4? No matter. All I want to make sure I get across in this singular post is that The Lumineers are the big winners of this year in music and “Ophelia” and “Cleopatra” are song that demonstrate this adulation.

The Lumineers hit initial fame in 2012 with infectious folk/rock hit “Ho Hey” and since then have been staples on the folk/rock circuit. The band, which formed out of grief – percussionist Jeremiah Fraites’ brother died of a drug overdose at 19 years old and inspired Fraites and lead vocalist and best friend to Fraites’ brother Wesley Schultz to make music – spent a great deal of the time between albums touring. The Lumineers, who also feature cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek, demonstrate a more mature musical style on Cleopatra, and this is on display in both songs below.


Let’s talk about “Ophelia” first. The song starts with a somber piano riff that is akin to a country saloon (but perhaps I’m just watching too much “Westworld) and is carried by the lead vocal and subsequent harmonies. The strength of the song may lie in its brevity, pertinent considering the title character is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and it was Shakespeare who advised that brevity is the soul of wit. The song bounces with the piano and finds its way snugly into your head, which “Cleopatra” does as well but in a different manner. “Cleopatra” is quicker, a swingy guitar instead of melancholic piano leading the rhythm. The consistent beat is toe-tapping and similarly infectious.

Both songs feature The Lumineers’ distinct sound – a clear folk/rock style with their unique brand of ditty-like catchiness and concise potency. The band has been quite omnipresent this year, and thus 2016 can be considered their year (in their genre of course). That said, they do not have the number one song, which we are nearing. #3 comes tomorrow.

Top 10 Songs of 2016 – #7: “Heathens” by twenty one pilots and #6: “I Wanna Prove to You” by The Lemon Twigs

27 Dec

#7: “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots


Enough cannot be said about the duo that has taken the music world by storm over the last few years. twenty one pilots, a 2-person musical juggernaut, has put the alternative in hip hop and the eclectic rock in rap rock. The band, which features multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Tyler Joseph and percussionist Josh Dun, is uniquely successful. I won’t lie and say this brand of rap rock has not been done before, but I will say that twenty one pilots does it better than anyone. The music is dexterous and infectious, a brilliant combination that allows the duo to bend musical barriers with each piece, avoiding trite foundations and instead revolutionizing their genre. That is impressive.

“Heathens,” which was featured on the Suicide Squad soundtrack, finds it way to #7 on our list because of its inventiveness. The song is a quintessential example of Twenty One Pilot’s aptitude for their burgeoning style; I do not hyperbolize when I call Joseph and Dun virtuosos. Some often fall into the trap of avoiding all music that even touches the supposed mainstream, but do not let twenty one pilot’s exponential rise to stardom deter you from this band; face it, sometimes the mainstream recognizes hip tunes.

The song is perhaps best analogized as a construction site. It begins with a melancholy piano riff set behind the double vocal – one Joseph and the other some juxtaposed electronic version of the lyric (alien-like). The drums pick up in the second play of the chorus and with it comes some growing keys, noticeable synth, and the creepy background noise of what seems like a distant frog ribbiting. The vocal continues with a few raps and then the song crescendoes into full synth and the ribbiting, a crunchy guitar, turned up to 11, albeit temporarily. Each part builds onto the song, and by the end there is an elegant, grungy structure.

#6: “I Wanna Prove To You” by The Lemon Twigs

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Ok. I am sure that Michael and Brian D’Addario are tired of people telling them that they must have traveled by time machine to the present, taking and transforming the best parts of each decade from the 1960s in their music and style, but I just have to harp on this blatant topic for a moment. Holy Shmoly, The Lemon Twigs, the outlet for these uber-talented phenoms, is a band much like Kurt Vonnegut’s bug stuck in amber – time clearly is relative and can be experienced at one moment in 1966 with Pet Sounds, in another moment in 1979 with Breakfast in America, and in another moment in 2010 with Jukebox the Ghost, and in, well, now with The Lemon Twigs.

Let’s back up for a moment. The Lemon Twigs, as I stated, is the creation of two wunderkind brothers from my hometown of Long Island, NY. Spawned from a musical family, the brothers have been playing music all of their lives and released their official first album Do Hollywood earlier this year. On that album is our #6 song of the year, “I Wanna Prove to You,” a piece that features Danny Ayala and Megan Zeankowski, two musicians who play with the brothers when they are live. Just listen.

Immediately I think Queen, The Left Banke, Jethro Tull, Supertramp, Beach Boys – and then I stop. And you should too. It’s just so tempting, right? Whenever I hear a modern band, especially one made up of such young kids (let’s just say they were born in the heart of Bill Clinton’s presidency), play music tinged with old-school sentiment, I become giddy. However, just stop making comparisons and listen to the song. There is something special about it, is there not. The song is multifaceted and theatrical, featuring several stops and starts that are skillful. There is no simple structure like one finds with most young bands; instead, The Lemon Twigs embraces the complex and takes the listener on a journey of harmony and melody.

Top 10 Songs of 2016 – #9 (“Sweet Disaster” by DREAMERS and #8 (“Way Down We Go” by Kaleo)

26 Dec

And the list continues … We are in a bit of a time crunch, so until we reach the crux of the list, I am counting down two songs at a time. Outside of the fact that both the #9 and #8 songs of the year are considered alternative rock, there cannot be more different about DREAMERS and Kaleo – although Iceland, the hometown of Kaleo, is starting to seem more and more like Los Angeles, where DREAMERS is originally from, with all of the creative musicians spawning from the country of fire and ice. That said, I will take them for the way different musicians and we will start with #9.

#9 – “Sweet Disaster” by DREAMERS


DREAMERS – I don’t suggest you click that link if you are prone to epileptic fits – is a 3-piece eccentric psychedelic pop band who released their first LP in August of this year, and is thus a burgeoning artist on the scene. The album title, This Album Does Not Exist, is a perfect representation of DREAMERS – a band that almost wasn’t whose demeanor is now one of inclusive existentialism. This message is conveyed through a blend of several musical influences – a little Grouplove mixed with Miike Snow mixed with the psychedelic pop of the late 1960s. Add in a little good humor and take out all musical inhibition, and you have DREAMERS.

“Sweet Disaster” begins with a strung-out California-inspired guitar riff that carries over wispy percussion that provides subtle power to the vocal. At the choral crash, the instrumental turns more electronic, depending on astral synth under the pounding percussion. For a song on the early side of three minutes, DREAMERS packs in some noticeable complexity including a power-pop pre-chorus, key-driven bridge, and technically-impressive drumming towards the end. The song is just the beginning for this exciting band, and totally worthy of a spot on our countdown.

#8 – “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo


Kaleo is the next big thing from Iceland, a country that has brought us Of Monsters and Men, Seabear, and Bjork. Iceland is a hotbed of new music, and this oxymoronic introductory clause is an excellent symbolic representation of the music scene in the country, one that is setting the world ablaze while remaining true to its icy, dark roots. Kaleo does just that.

Kaleo, a 4-piece carried by the powerful vocals of JJ Julius Son, was founded in 2012 and released an eponymous first LP in 2013. By 2014, the band received heavy play from Spotify and it didn’t take long before Atlantic Records came knocking. While 2015 saw the release of the single listed here is the #8 song of the year, “Way Down We Go” was a track off Kaleo’s second LP A/B (released in June of 2016), and it was released as a single in the U.S. in October of 2016, so it is eligible for best song of the year consideration. Here it is on our list at #8.

JJ Julius Son’s voice is so soothing, is it not? It just effortlessly draws the listener in and then blows the listener back with its raw grittiness. The song is clearly carried by this tremendous vocal, but I would be averse not to mention the band’s haunting harmonies, heavy, toe-tapping percussion, and equally impressive guitar. The song finishes with a granular moan, and this reflects the entire piece, one of untested fervor, a song from a band that is willing to take risks and rock.

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