Playlist of the Week: Color Of My Soul

You learn heaps about a person when you decide to live with them. In my case, you could have been friends with this individual for over a decade, but not yet know that they prefer to begin their mornings getting ready to the sweet sounds of dubstep and electronic music. Kirstie and my mornings getting ready for work have been spent blasting opposite musical stylings in each of our respective bedrooms, yet neither of us seems to mind the change as we traverse to the other side of our spacious apartment. I will walk over to the bathroom mirror and hear LCD Soundsystem or an eccentric remix from her favorite music website, Hype Machine, and retreat back to my bedroom to hear some JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound or Alabama Shakes.

I’ve always been a bit reluctant to immerse myself in the electronic side of music, unless it is blended in a way to make me think it’s a hybrid musical form, such as St. Vincent’s indie electronic music, or Phantogram’s big beats combined with soothing vocals. Maybe it stemmed from my stellar ability to shy away from artists such as Skrillex, whose musical profile I just don’t quite understand or am able to stomach more for the purposes of a running soundtrack. However, thanks to my diligent electronic-music-loving roommate, I am now able to say that there are facets of the genre that I do truly enjoy and seek out.

I’ve learned to fall in love with electronic remixes of some of my favorite songs, that shape-shift them from a languid ballad into a sonically-textured wonderland. I’ve branched out even further to begin enjoying purely electronic music, that conveys emotion through the beats, rhythms, and sounds projected and not necessarily the lyrics that would arrive with these elements. Each song is interesting due to its layered effects, compositional flourish and ways in which a sample, beat, or original piece of music is transformed into so much more.

This week, enjoy a playlist of some of my favorite remixes and electronic tracks. From Radiohead remixes, to my foray into enjoying the sounds of Pretty Lights, to some old school Moby and remix gurus RAC, unwind and give in to the electronic sounds that can stir your soul.

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Photo credit

-Sarah

Song of The (Hump) Day: Lowdown

It feels like summer today. I am spending my time sitting in my fraternity at Butler with no responsibilities besides spending time on my relationships and myself. Though I am experiencing it early, I am feeling the relief that every student deserves after a long, stressful year of studying at a University. The song today is meant to relax you and let you know that the finals, the job stress, or whatever is bringing you down WILL get better soon. Soon we will all have that relief and realization that the few months of comfortable weather, good friends, and better vibes is upon us. When I have that yearly realization, I like to turn to My Morning Jacket.

-Matt

A Celebration of Sharon Jones @ The Vic, 4/11

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The resurgence of soul music that emulates that of its 1960s predecessors can be frequently found with several stellar standout acts. From the wailing, impassioned Charles Bradley, to the emotional and funky sounds from Lee Fields & The Expressions, to the toe-tapping, energized rhythms from Raphael Saadiq, we have many options for quality soul music that is current and notable. However, there are few groups that are able to make us literally feel like we are in another decade. The possessors of this special gift present us with music that is indistinguishable from the style which they are emulating, as they are seemingly one in the same.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings are this kind of special soul outfit. They are able to make us feel like we have taken a ride in a time machine as we listen to them, featuring a seamless funk backing and Jones’s perfect vocals, akin to honey dripping from a spoon, slow and steady and never losing its sweetness. They go to great lengths to make their music and their live performances as exact and accurate as possible, however, when seeing them perform, it suddenly appears effortless.

As “Strangers In The Night” began to play and the lights dimmed, the crowd became elated on Friday evening at the Vic. Looking down from my vantage point, I saw the crowd adorned in a range of different outfits, including a sparkling sequin dress and headpiece, a vintage-looking pantsuit and sunglasses to match, and colored suits. It struck me that Sharon Jones and her Dap-Kings had amassed such a large following, and it’s no secret that this would happen, as they have been recording together for nearly a decade, enough to sell out their show completely.

In true soul fashion, the Dap-Kings played a lengthy intro of fifteen minutes of music, which showcased the two female backup singers that complement Jones’s illustrious vocals. The music was layered yet tight, and each piece of the musical puzzle fit together perfectly. They got the crowd dancing immediately and each band member onstage looked joyful and truly passionate about the music being created.

Sharon then emerged to an uproar of cheers. Donning a busy patterned dress featuring a light blue and silver hue, and shaved head due to her recent battle with cancer, Jones was glowing, radiant as she faced her audience. It was a triumphant moment for her, and we were happy to welcome her back onto the stage. Beginning with “Stranger to My Happiness,” Jones continued the streak of songs off of her new album by following with “You’ll Be Lonely.” I was instantly awestruck by her vocals, which in that space sounded pristine and glorious. Each member of the group throughout the evening was perfectly in sync with one another, vibing off of rhythm changes and shifts with complete ease. It was incredible to watch so many members of a band on stage with perfect synchronicity and literally never skipping a beat.

She proceeded with “Long Time, Wrong Time,” which becomes a sped up, more frenetic version of the original tune. However, the crowd doesn’t mind one bit as Jones emerged as captivating and energized.

The next song, also off of their 2014 release, Give The People What They Want, became the focus and turning point of this show for me. She began to sing “Get Up and Get Out,” before which she told the audience that she would like to sing the song in the style of Tina Turner.

“I just like saying the words…Tina Turner,” Jones stated, as she cracked up while engaging in this banter with the eager crowd. The song begins in an extremely lilting fashion, as the tempo slows down, even more than the original carefree tempo. The tune then began to shift its pace as it sped up enormously, as Jones suddenly kicked off her silver heels to the back of the stage and dances and steps, sweat beginning to glisten on her arms as she literally is running onstage, a sacred union between her and her music, and no one else.

“The reason because I shout, is because I got something to shout about,” Jones declared following her onstage routine, after which she begins a spoken word speech for the crowd. She discusses her battle with cancer, during which she mentions moments of sitting in a hospital bed, and wondering if she would make it through. She mentioned her worry regarding coming back and touring too soon, before she was ready.

“I said to cancer, get up, and get out,” Jones proudly said with gumption as the crowd cheered. It was a moment in which chills formed up my spine – it was an incredible moment of individuals coming together not only to listen to music from a band they respected and revered, but also to celebrate life, and specifically, the life of Sharon Jones. The crowd was overjoyed with her recovery and were delighted to see her back on stage, and she noted that it was the right choice to return at this very moment in time.

After this intimate moment spent delving into Sharon Jones’s personal thoughts, worries, fears, and successes, the concert took on a whole new personal level. Each song became more celebratory than the next and smiles stretched from ear to ear.

Jones then broke from her most recent material to slow the set after an emotional moment with “If You Call.” She then sang empowered ballad “Nobody’s Baby,” and then covered Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” during which she invited several audience members onstage to dance and groove with her and the Dap-Kings throughout the duration of the tune.

Jones & The Dap-Kings migrated back to the material from their newest release almost immediately, with “Retreat!” followed by slower “Making Up And Breaking Up (And Making Up And Breaking Up Over Again)” during which another audience member joined Jones as they serenaded each other onstage. “Money” shortly followed, which led into a dance demonstration through the ages from Jones herself, as she showed us how to do the mashed potato and the twist, among other steps.

Following the dance break, Jones continued the set with “Slow Down, Love” during which another special moment occurred. A member of the crowd stepped onstage and was chatting with Jones as the backing continued. He then took the mic, and yes, there was a marriage proposal, during which he spoke about his fiancee and how their first date had been to a Sharon Jones concert in 2009 (cue audience tears and nonstop clapping). The concert truly emerged as a celebration of life and love, as this couple chose to spend such a happy moment with Sharon Jones’s voice ringing out in the background.

The group continued with “I Learned The Hard Way” and “100 Days, 100 Nights,” two vintage crowd pleasers that longtime fans were yearning for, as she introduced each band member to the crowd. An encore swiftly proceeded, with “This Land Is Your Land,” and the group inviting crowd members onstage yet again, as this time they filled the stage completely and formed a colorful, dancing jumble.

All in all, the concert was refreshing and beautiful. Jones clearly cared about interacting with her fans and showing them the best time possible. After fighting a difficult fight, Jones emerged victorious and positively enamored with life, her music, and the attendees in that room. So much happiness abounded, and it was revitalizing to celebrate with Jones as she made her triumphant and welcomed return.

*Post originally created for Gapers Block.

-Sarah

Playlist of the Week: Feel It All Around

One fun thing about playlist making (as long as you don’t get sick of them and delete them) is revisiting them after time spent apart. I’ve been listening to some older playlists this week from the past three years that I’ve been a Spotify user, and I’ve rediscovered some old gems, and also recognized that there are some songs I cannot stomach anymore (why I put Pharrell’s “Get Lucky” on half my playlists in 2013 is unbeknownst to me).

Enjoy a playlist created on August 8, 2013, full of throwback songs such as crooner “Syrup & Honey” by songstress Duffy, soothing folk “Southern Girl” by Amos Lee, and one of two Dave Matthews Band songs that I will admit I actually enjoy, “What Would You Say.” Sometimes only in taking a step back, we can see how far we’ve come.

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Happy Saturday!

-Sarah

Listening Tools: The Backbone of Rock Bands

People listen to music in many ways. Some use it as background noise, others experience it and make it their life, others critically listen to it and pick it apart like a math equation. The list goes on, but I can say that I am often the third one there. This is a big reason for my interest in production. I have found many different ways to distort my interpretation of certain artist and songs, and I know I will continue to find more. “Listening Tools” will feature the obscure, abnormal realizations that I have for listening to music in different ways.

I would say it took a few years of being in a band and religiously listening to the Chili Peppers for me to understand the topic for today. As I progressed in my interests and eventually begun my production major, I learned a lot about the inner workings of music. I begun to really foster my curiosity for how music works and how so many little parts make up the whole that we experience in three minutes. I formed a near obsession with analyzing and picking apart songs to understand the musician dynamics, production tools, and so on.

In doing this, I found these new tools that now dominate how I listen to and analyze music. In consciously focusing on entire productions in different ways than the norm, I was able to uncover new tracks and learn about the backbone of songs. This backbone represents aspects of the music that are not often noticed, but incredibly necessary to create the whole. One really learns about these when recording in the studio. Most listeners would be surprised how many tracks have been recorded that can barely be picked out at the end. When thinking about the backbone, I had a realization a few years ago that forever changed how I listen to music.

I learned a lot about the relationship between a drummer and a bassist in my time playing with Ten and Counting. I learned how incredibly important those two players are to any successful music group, particularly their abilities to be synchronized with each other.  As a modern standard, the rhythmic backbone of a band is the bassist and the drummer, the two band members who are generally ignored the most too.  If those two are out of sync, this may be one reason why a listener notices that they aren’t as “tight” live. The sad thing is that, for the most part, people only really realize the importance of these two working together when they AREN’T working well together. Once one becomes conscious of this, it can make the difference between a great band and a spectacular band.

It’s no surprise that my keynote example of this is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Observing the musician relationship between Chad Smith and Flea was the first way in which I was able to begin understanding the importance. I begun to notice how often the bass drum and rhythm of bass notes lined up, accenting and emphasizing each other. I started to look for ways that the two musicians synchronized their instruments to create the ultimate backbone of the song. Though I could be overanalyzing at points, it is amazing how often I can clearly hear that relationship.

This is just one of the many tools I use to form my opinions on different groups. It is a way to critically listen and gain more (or less) appreciation for bands. The cool thing is that everyone can find his or her own way of doing this. I’m still uncovering new tricks like this every day as I strive to be the most effective critical listener I can be. I understand that not all listeners want to use these approaches, and that is fine. I want this post to be there as an option and possible inspiration for new ways of listening. You don’t have to be a music major or a musician to effectively do this, and in my opinion it is worth a try to enhance your appreciation for different styles of music and production styles.

Until next time,

-Matt

Song of The (Hump) Day: Humahuaqueño

I have reached the same conclusion here as I did in Chile and Argentina; Latin Americans love reggaeton music. Little did I know the world was filled with hundreds of Daddy Yankees. How wonderful. From what I can see, it seems that Puerto Rico is the biggest country as far as this genre of music goes. Chilean reggaeton was very odd, it honestly seemed like it was only listened to because it was local. I highly doubt I have heard Chilean reggaeton songs outside of Chile in these past eleven weeks. Argentina was better as far as domestic talent went, but I found a lot more interesting music in the genres of rock, folk, and jazz. Peru seems to heavily lean on Puerto Rico for their styles of music at clubs as well, but they have a very unique style of traditional music.

In light of the culture I have been able to experience in Peru, I elected to present one of those traditional songs today. The track represents the culture of Peru that is rooted around indigenous beliefs and the ancient Incan empire. I have heard a lot of really interesting styles of music, most of which were utilizing traditional instruments such as drums, flutes, and incredibly interesting stringed instruments. My group actually attended a demonstration of various indigenous instruments recently, which was incredibly interesting and explained a lot of the odd sounds I heard in the recordings (plus I bought a weird little whistle shaped like a bird).

I heard this song played live by a local group in a restaurant outside Machu Picchu. As if the entire experience of Aguas Calientes wasn’t already this weird, touristy yet comfortable paradise, the music really tied it all together. Traditional Andean music uses a lot of flutes that can be made from wood, bamboo, cane, bones, and more. One of them heard here is the incredibly common Zampoña flute, but one can hear that there are other types in the recording as well. Acoustic stringed instruments are used as well as much for rhythm as they are for harmonic structure. Overall, it is a very cool style of music and it really makes you think and relax. You can picture yourself sitting in the middle of some Incan ruins looking up at the sky and the world around you.  It is a pleasing genre and I was so impressed I grabbed one of their CDs, I hope you find it as interesting as I did!

Happy hump day, it’s been a while with this Peruvian internet,

-Matt

(Late) Album Review: Bankrupt!

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I understand it is a bit odd to review an album that was released in 2013, but I can honestly say it took that long for it to grow on me.  This collection full of dreamy synth, classic Phoenix sounds, and a healthy amount of experimentation has turned into one of my favorite albums of last year, though it took a long time to attain that.  I figured, with the tour that will hit many festivals and cities in the US this summer, this review would be helpful for anyone who is considering grabbing a ticket.

The beginning of the record surprised every listener, I’m sure. The feature of Asian sounding synth combined with an upbeat drum line and the classic Phoenix synth/vocals is sure to be new to listeners. “Entertainment” develops into that sound that everyone knows by the group of Frenchmen, embellished with powerful melodies and true leadership by vocalist Thomas Mars. To say the least, the song is aggressive in presenting the new style of the group. I can’t figure out what the second track reminds me of, but it makes me feel good and nostalgic about something. “The Real Thing” takes me on a little journey thinking about the passing of time in this life. The third and fourth tracks inherently take me to a past generation kind of mindset with the instrumentation and vocals. The repetitiveness of vocal lines during the chorus of “S.O.S. in Bel Air” makes me want to listen to Yellow Ostrich and the new Bombay Bicycle Club album over and over. “Trying To Be Cool” simply has that kind of groove I like to hear from Phoenix. These tracks are hands down the kind of songs I would want to listen to at festivals all summer. They give me that good kind of feeling I crave from summer music.

As a HUGE fan of both parts of “Love Like a Sunset” from the previous album, I was incredibly excited to see that the group decided to continue their trend of including one long (mostly) instrumental track. It gives one time in the middle of the album to reflect and think, allowing the album to guide one through their own thoughts to a certain point of realization and sometimes enlightenment. This song represents my distinction between listening to music and experiencing music that I have discussed before.  Before listening to the fifth track, create an isolated, calming environment for yourself and let the song take you away.

The second half delivers after feeling refreshed from the experience of “Bankrupt!” One can hear that Mars is taking more control over his confident lead man role. The instrumentation provides just enough similarities to that of Wolfgang Amadeus that I tend to crave while expanding into new styles and sounds.

I’m very curious as to why I enjoy this album so much. The reason I say that is because I saw Phoenix last summer and can remember saying I didn’t like the new songs very much. From the live perspective, I felt they were going in an older rock kind of direction and I didn’t think it was working well for them.  I will be very interested to see how I enjoy their show at Bonnaroo in June now that I have given the album a fair chance. The bottom line is, I love the record and am very happy with the direction the band is going.  Pick it up and try and catch a show while they are in the states this summer!

-Matt