dave's music log

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Final thoughts.

As far as music is concerned, I'll take classic rock to anything coming out today, with the exception of some underground rap . That's one of the few styles of music I consider innovative, along with a little bit of indie rock that's around. The people who are good in modern music are really good, but unfortunately they go unnoticed, or they have a pretty small underground following with exception of a few bands and artists.
There are a few artists today who I think have potential or are actaully pretty good, but according my standards they're good becuase they follow some of the older ideas in music and sound more like the bands of the past, rather than new commercialized radio. One artist out today who I consider excellent and innovative is Ben Folds. This is because his music is simple, yet he's extremly skilled, he tells good stories with his songs, and he incorporates great harmonies like some of the better acts of the past like the beatles, the beach boys, and crosby stills and nash. He produces what some would call classic pop music. It's not heavy at all but yet it has a distinctly alternative feel. This is what the radio is lacking today and popular music in general. In order to find sounds like this you have to dig into the underground and independent scene. To be frank, music like this isn't all that popular, that's probably why its hard to categorize as pop because it certainly isnt main stream.
My advice to bands coming out today is define your influences. Study the classics and put your music together based on what they have done, while adding something that's unique to your act. Be experimental but stay true to what has worked in the past and keep pop sensibilities in mind.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Back to basics

Following a few rants on the state of modern music, I find myself treading on familiar grounds with a review of a classic Neil Young album, "After the Goldrush". This may be my favorite album of all time. If you're not a fan of Neil Young, you still might like this album. It's pretty much a singer-songwriter album with piano and acoustic guitar-heavy compositions. That being said the album is extremely mellow and appeals to pop sensibilities, while also including a lot of country and folk sound.
There are some pretty notable Neil Young songs on here. Songs like Tell Me Why, Southern Man, After the Goldrush, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and When You Dance You Can Really Love. The best thing about this album is its simplicity. There's a pretty simple 4 piece arrangement with guitar, piano, bass, and drums; all capped off by Neil's infamous high-pitched whine. This album came about during Neil's run with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and its pretty easy to see a few similarities. CSNY tends to rock a little harder on their album out at the same time, DEJA VU, but Neil puts his personal stamp on the music of Goldrush and keeps it mellow like certain points on Deja Vu. There are great lyrics on this album, and they are encapsulated in love songs, protest songs, and country tales. Some of Neil's lyrics come off as strange, especially on songs like After the Goldrush, which is bizarre in itself, but great. If I could have picked two people to present in my Pop-Icon speech my second would have been Neil Young, without question. He is one of the most consistent legends of rock n roll and his music is classic and is up there with the likes of the Beatles.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Country?... yea

There's been a lot of discussion about country music in our class lately, whether its neo-country by the likes of Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney or old school country by people like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, or Willie Nelson. In my opinion, and this probably won't surprise anybody, I like the old stuff better, but this isn't unsupported. It's not purely opinion, there's definitely some basis behind this.
Once again we're talking about pop culture ruining a class of music that can be considered classic and many ways. Country music stars today are less like their folksy forefathers and more like the terrible hairbands of the 80s. These new country stars are so overproduced and willing to define their sound by want the public wants to hear rather than being true to their art. That's why you see a team-up like Tim McGraw and Nelly. Not that I'm saying collaborations of different styles are bad, but they need to be credible artists. I mean, Nelly's not even a good rapper, but he's popular and he sells, hence the collaboration. I comes down to dollars. Now if you had someone like Willie Nelson and Mos Def team up, I'd be extremely interested because I respect both artists a lot. The music they would create would be something incredibly new and original, unlike the pre packaged popular garbage that Tim McGraw and Nelly would produce. The Nelson/Mos team up would be for artistic purpuses rather than "Hey, let's put these two huge selling artists together and see how people respond." The names and images alone sell for these artists. It honestly wouldn't matter what the music sounds like. Country musicians should stop trying to make their way into the mainstream and build upon the sounds of old school country. Theres a reason people like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard are so well respected. Many like the rustic twang of songs about their woman leaving them and taking everything, or going on road trips, or songs about a dad naming his son Sue. I want the kind of country singer that killed a man in a bar fight, or at least acts like he did(like Johnny Cash). Country music isn't supposed to be shiny and overproduced. It's gritty and its the great instrumentation and stories that make it legitamite and great. Listen to a song like "I'm so Lonesome I could die" by Hank Williams. That is truly original and it sounds like he recorded it in his basement. Was Hank Williams thinking about record sales and how he can make the most money, maybe, but there's musical merit to his songs. There's no question what today's country music stars are focused on.
Often times I come down hard on things that are considered popular, and that's not fair. I'm not one of these people who think everything in the mainstream is garbage. eventhough it comes of that way sometimes. It just so happens i write about this a lot because one area I am against the mainstream in is music. I don't have any tolerance for music without susbstance. Sure it's good to hear a fun song and music that makes you feel good, but songs that are legititmate can do this as well. It doesnt have to be crap , or maybe in today's society it does.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

One hand washes the other.

Kori and I have been going back in forth, in a good way, about more and more modern music. She said that a band I mentioned made her want to write a blog on them. Well pretty much the same is going on here. She brought up a band derrived from metal/funk band At the Drive-In, known as the Mars Volta, who I consider one of the best bands out today, becuase of great skill, intelligent lyrics, and a willingness to experiment. Their willingness to experiment is what really interests me about this band because they're pretty far out. They can be compared to bands of the 70s like Pink Floyd who really played around with styles, but at the same time the Mars Volta has their own distinct sound which sounds like a fusion of Led Zeppelin, Parliament Funkadelic, metal, and even jazz.
The band is fronted by Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez who are both of Puerto Rican descent and infuse latin styles into many of their rhythms and instrumentation. Bixler-Zavala writes the lyrics and Rodriguez-Lopez writes the music, and as bizarre as both can seem at times, they come together in a way in which no other band can duplicate. It is obvious that Rodriguez-Lopez draws a lot of inspiration from George Clinton's band Funkadelic, in that the guitar has a distinct funk sound at many points and funk rhythms and basslines are added. Bixler-Zavala's voice and phrasing is similiar to that of Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and at times the band does have a big Led Zeppelin feel. Then the metal comes in, Mars Volta does not mind experimenting with sounds and the mixing of styles, and while sometimes their songs tend to drag on as the musicians play around with sound, it pays off in the end because their experimentations come together in the meat of their songs, and when that happens few modern bands can compare.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I'd like to see a change.

I've commented on the state of modern music many times before, but I've noticed something that is really different now than in the music of the 60s and 70s. A lot of popular music of that time was country based. Not that there is not a lot of country music out today, but in the past many groups involved with the southern rock sound and light country were very popular. It's pretty rare to find a group you'd consider a rock group to experiment with country sounds that really enhance music and have good sounds. I understand that the country music of today is not very good, case and point any Toby Keith song, but mixing country and rock is an underused technique these days.
Think of bands like The Eagles, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, the Doobie Brothers, and the Band. These were all great groups who combined country music with their rock n' roll sound. The mixture of these genres can produce a great sound. It can be extremly laid back and mellow, or uptempo and fast paced. The sound is pretty unique and adds an aspect of musical knowledge that many bands of today don't think to use. Incorporating country music really enhances a bands sound and shows great range. Country music these days has become too distinct from the popular rock music of the past. Honestly, if I were making music today I couldn't refer to the country acts of today to draw a sound, but musicians as students of music should be able to refer to classics and be able to put aspects into their music that enhance it. Acts today should look at the likes of the bands listed above and put out music that is truly original and great.
The lack of country music in pop/rock today is probably related to the lack of willingness of musical experimentation in pop music these days, but I'd like to see this music come back because its excellent and deserves to be listened to.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Music, better now or worse?

Just to get away from the same old reviews, I want to take a look at the quality of music coming out today in comparison to the quality of music being produced in the 60s and 70s, what most people would consider classic rock. In my opinion, music today does not compare to the music of the past. The title of classic rock does not mean that the music is automatically great, but the state of popular music in the past is far better than it is today. There are several reasons I feel this way.
First of all, what is considered the alternative today sounds more like the popular music of the 60s and 70s. Just to compare, groups in the mainstream today bring about very few innovations to music. Look at boy bands, corporate rock and a lot of R and B and hip hop thats out today. Very little of this music is experiental or improves music as we understand it. Compare mainstream music to the mainstream music of the past. Bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, and Motown groups were mainstream music. All of these acts were innovative and pushed the creative boundaries of music, and they were considered "pop" at the time. If you think about it, they shaped the sound of today, but it seems like very few popular groups today are trying to expand the musical scene. The music pushing the boundaries today are independent, underground, and alternative types of music. Pop music of today has very little value, musically. I think this is due to the fact that less people play their own instruments, and those that do play their own instruments are no where as near as good as the acts of the past. You won't see another Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, or Jimmy Page anytime soon, and if there are people out there as good as these guys, you'll never hear about them because they would never be popular by todays standards. Music that requires skill is not in the mainstram nowadays. Thats why the popular music of the past was better without comparison.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Wearing it out.

I know I write about the Beatles too much, so this is the final Beatles review for the semester. I am motivated to review them one last time because of the album Abbey Road. Abbey Road was the last studio recording of the Beatles and their last official effort as a group. By this time the band was falling apart and everyone was going in their own directions. Supposedly being in the studio together was painful at times, which is pretty sad if you watch John, Paul, George, and Ringo through about 1966-67 when they're at the peak of their game. So in an effort to close out their run as a band, The Beatles decided to walk away, but not without leaving one last master effort, a heartfelt farewell.
Abbey Road is that effort. It's an extremely interesting album in that it combines aspects of their previous recording. The first half of the album includes singles, meant to be listened to a song at a time. Classics like "Come Together," "Something," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Octopus's Garden" are included. These songs are great but they pale in comparison to the second half of the album which is pretty odd, in that it blends all of the songs together into one or two 15 min songs. The different portions on the second half of the album are called "suites" and each suite is bookended by similar pieces of music. So while you might hear 2 or 3 different sounding songs, it is just various parts within the framework of the same suite. It's amazing how the music flows so seamlessly into each portion. For this reason alone, the album is considered a masterpiece.
The Beatles wanted to go out with a bang, and on Abbey Road, they do. Eventhough, they're life as a band was coming to an end, they were still innovating and making some of the best music of all time, as is reflected on both parts of Abbey Road.

Wearing it out.