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Thursday, August 12, 2010

British Invasion: F-Bombing Banjos

"It was not your fault, but mine

And it was your heart on the line

I really fucked it up this time,

Didn't I, my dear?"

(Mumford & Sons, "Little Lion Man")

Christian folk rockers who indiscriminately drop F-bombs are my kinda people—and their live show at Lollapalooza last Sunday was as inspired as the best of sermons.

As I learned during my sojourn in Northern Ireland, Mumford & Sons has been delighting audiences and captivating listeners worldwide, since their debut album Sigh No More (their single “Little Lion Man” was #1 on Australia's 2009 Hottest 100 List). The London-based band, however, has enjoyed merely a cult following in the States, which is why I am compelled to spread the Mumford gospel to my fellow Yanks.

Mumford & Sons is impressive for a least two reasons. The first: Sigh No More is stirring enough to restore faith in folk rock to even the most banjo-weary Nashvillians. From the cascading trumpet riffs of “Winter Winds,” the unexpectedly rousing and rollicking banjo on “Roll Away Your Stone,” to the haunting vocal harmonies on “White Blank Page,” Mumford & Sons' album deserves every bit of the pandemic praise they have received.

The second reason, though, that Mumford & Sons is remarkable, is decidedly down-played in reviews. Mumford & Sons is a Christian band, which is much-evident from their lyrics. Dear reader, I am as jaded by Christian bands are you probably are—which is why it is so refreshing to find a band whose songs are not riddled with tired cliches, simplistic music, and those churchy “hot-words,” all which have long kept non-Christians from taking Christian music seriously.

Mumford & Sons, then, does everyone a huge service by not dumbing-down their music. The happy consequence of this, is that they draw fans from a wide spectrum of backgrounds. The mere fact that I saw them play at Lollapalooza (alongside the likes of Soundgarden and MGMT), rather than (insert names of Christian music festivals in Ohio that I avoid – dare I say? – like the plague), is a testimony to the band's versatility in their appeal to the greater population of music fans.

There are several instances of the British unsuccessfully appropriating American inventions. The tasteless, plastic-wrapped flapjacks sold as “American Pancakes?” Fail. The establishment of a fast-food restaurant chain that masquerades as “KFC” but does not sell biscuits?? Blasphemy. But with Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons truly does justice to the Americana music genre. A band whose enthusiasm is contagious, they now boast a reputation of being one of the best live bands in the U.K. – it would be nothing short of sinful to miss seeing them in concert.

Listen to: "Little Lion Man" (Sigh No More)

Great Video of Mumford & Sons live at the Academy (Dublin)!:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Punk for the Poetry Crowd

I have a confession:

I love Ani DiFranco. I have loved Ani DiFranco ever since my dad (blindly following a record store clerk's suggestion) gave me her live album, So Much Shouting So Much Laughter, for my fourteenth birthday.

Most of DiFranco's negative media attention has come from an unfair labelling of DiFranco as a “lesbian feminazi" -- in spite of her 1998 marriage to a man. One thing is for sure: you will have a strong reaction, in one way or another, to her provocative lyrics, powerfully percussive guitar-playing, and melange of old-school folk, punk, and rock. DiFranco's cult following has formed in spite of (or perhaps because of) her controversial left-wing political views and frankness about her (bi)sexuality. DiFranco has released more than twenty albums in her twenty-year career—which is impressive for its sheer volume, but even more impressive for the fact that she has done it all without the help of a major record company.

DiFranco's sound could be described as folk you can dance to, or maybe punk for the poetry crowd”

-Lori Leibovich (

Over the years, DiFranco's signature sound has evolved and thickened from experimentation with many different instruments. Her fast tempo, slap-tap-bend acoustic style of playing is frequently done with unusual tuning, which varies from song to song (Ouellette 34). As she says, The acoustic is more dynamic. . .The dynamics of an electric guitar is turning the volume knob from one to ten. . . [but] with the acoustic guitar, you can go from a whisper to a scream at the ends of your fingers” (Ouellette 35).

Although well-known for her distinct musical style, DiFranco's lyrics are infamous. Her songs are provocative in a wide range of controversial issues, including sexuality, commercialism, capitalism, abortion, sprawling suburbia, and social consciousness. Describing her agenda, she says,“I think political work comes in all sorts of forms, and one of the least impressive is that of the politician” (Havranek 98).

DiFranco is also well-known for the intimacy of her live performances. Her emotive singing style is every bit as present on the stage as on her albums, ranging from “biting the ends off all the words” to swaying through tender melodies (Stovall 133). In concert, DiFranco has a jocular stage persona, and her self-deprecating sense of humor conveys a humility that one wouldn't expect from such a highly-revered figure (Havranek 96).

It was not like she was an entertainer. She was a person who changed your life. And people really did feel empowered listening to her music”

rock critic Dale Anderson

Despite having seen very little mainstream success, DiFranco has long enjoyed a loyal following – listeners who follow the folksinger so religiously that she has acquired the nickname, the “Ani Lama” (Zimmerman 35). In spite of being reduced to a negative stereotype by the media, she has been innovative in regards to tuning, production, and the marriage of different musical genres. Her contribution, then, is a unique blend of folk, punk, and rock music, thoroughly laced with political discourse and a deeply-rooted philosophy of creativity over commercial exploitation. Love her or hate her, but don't make the mistake of discounting the prolific Ani DiFranco for being “girl music.”

Listen to: “Lag Time” - Ani DiFranco (Knuckle Down)

Ali, Lorraine. "Ani DiFranco." Rolling Stone. 753. (1995): 22. Print.

Havranek, Carrie. Women Icons of Popular Music: The Rebels, Rockers, and Renegades. Portsmouth, NH: Heinema Educational Books, 2008. Print.

Ouellette, Dan. "No Lag Time: Prolific Singer-Songwriter Ani DiFranco Deepens her Relationship with the Guitar." Acoustic Guitar. 15.11 (2005): 34-36, 40-43. Print.

Stovall, Natasha. "Private Babe." Village Voice. 43.8 (1998): 133. Print.

Zimmerman, Lee. "New Releases: Ani DiFranco - "Knuckle Down"." Goldmine. 31.15 (2005): 35. Print.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Kid Cudi Conversion

Irish trad music, house music, and the occasional club rendition of Flo-Rida songs are all great things in their own right; but this week, I needed something that was distinctly, unabashedly, unadulteratedly American. In this dark hour, I turned to my usual “Crunk-Up Jams” iTunes playlist, but it wasn't enough—I treated myself to browsing the iTunes store.

That's when I bought Kid Cudi's Man on the MoonThe End of Day, and my cold dorm room in Northern Ireland warmed up.

I realize that Cudi's debut studio album has been in circulation since September of last year, and I confess that his Lady Gaga-sampling, chart-topping single “Make Her Say” made me skeptical of Cudi's legitimacy. Sure, it was a great anthem for a Vanderbilt tailgate, but when I heard the line, “A stripper from the south lookin' for a payday/said b**** you should do it for the love like Ray-J,” I initially dismissed Cudi with the eye roll that I usually reserve for rims-and-hoes rappers.

Turns out Cudi is not even remotely related to the rims-and-hoes rappers. There is the occasional line (as above) that is reminiscent of Snoop Dogg lines, but within the context of the entirity of Man on the Moon, it becomes clear that these rhymes are probably meant to be more ironic than serious.

By the end of 2009, Cudi had a predictable appearance on many Top Albums lists. It's unfortunate (albeit not surprising) that his radio hits have been those perhaps least representative of the album as a whole, which tackles some mature themes. Cudi's songs reflect fears of abandonment, the use of drugs to “see the universe” (“Soundtrack 2 My Life”), the residue of the frustration of being a teenage loner; generally being someone who exists very much inside his head, while he exists physically in the most public sphere possible.

With all of rappers' talk about being “raw,” it seems like Cudi is one of the few who actually achieves this (no hard feelings, T.I. and Lil Wayne). This rawness, too, is realized not through talking about glocks and slingin' weed, but by giving voice to the “so many issues that nobody can see” (“Soundtrack 2 My Life”). Cudi may not be the first to put real emotional content into rap – but it is impressive that his music has attained such commercial success, considering some of the most respectable rappers wouldn't be able to touch the pop charts with a ten foot pole.

What sets Cudi apart is that he's Everyman. His self-effacing lyrics are in sharp contrast to the “bling-bling” culture of popular hip-hop. Millions of Top 40 listeners have heard “Make Her Say” or “Day 'n' Nite,” but only a small percentage of them realize that they're listening to one sample from an album that contains not only addictive beats, but also a heartbreakingly vulnerable invitation into the mind of Cudi.

In “Soundtrack 2 My Life” he laments, “'I am happy', that's just the saddest lie”--not that we wish misery on Cudi, but we hope he stays down-to-earth enough to continue to be able to to “show the kids they ain't the only ones who up at night.” Looking forward to his next album, Man on the Moon 2: The Legend of Mr Rager, due out later this year.

Listen To: "Simple As . . ." - Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon - The End of Day

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Blog Location

Hi, all! This is just to inform you that I've decided to join forces with a very talented, small group of college writers. We are working on expanding a really useful and diverse website that includes song recommendations, album reviews, and concert reviews. From now on, I'll also be posting on the Tomorrow's Just a Song Away website, which is:

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Adventures in Ghostland

Jan. 30, 2010
Add this to your list of things to do before you die.

When they come in town, I tell my friends that—even if they don't particularly like electronica music—they will not regret going to a Ghostland Observatory show. In the last calendar year, I have seen Ghostland three times (apparently they can't get enough of Nashville's Cannery Ballroom, and the feeling is mutual). The first time I saw them, I clearly remember turning to my roommate Margaret and declaring, “I could do this every night for the rest of my life, and never get tired of it.” It could be built into our nightly routine: we eat homework...brush teeth...go dance around with lasers/balloons/electronic riffs...go home to put our retainers in...then sleep. 8AM anthropology.

By November 2008, I'd happened across a few Ghostland songs on Myspace (, and I liked them enough to buy tickets for two friends to join me at their concert. I'd read very favorable online reviews of their concerts, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to see.

First, Thomas Turner (in his trademark blue cape) comes onstage inconspicuously and plays an intro on his synthesizer, full of dramatic electronic scales, which eventually slow down to a few brief, tense seconds of total silence. Suddenly, frontman Aaron Behrens (in his signature long braids and round, Hunter S. Thompson sunglasses) emerges from stage left, to the pounding beat of “Piano Man.” Also at this moment, stupefyingly powerful lasers shoot out from the stage, moving in perfect choreography with the song. Periodically, a full panel of colored lights stretches out and sweeps over the crowd. The lasers and colors envelope the smoke overhead, creating a visual effect that makes the air look like water hovering overhead. Then the crowd gets an eyeful of Behren's infamous stage moves: something between a belly dancer and Mick Jagger, they are every bit as captivating as the light show (see video below).

For the first 30 seconds of the opening song, my friends and I stand stock-still, looking upward at the spectacle, in supreme awe. Our gaze eventually slides downward to show each other identical expressions of total confusion and amazement – a look that reflected the fact that we were being shown things that we didn't know were possible. (That was when I had the epiphany that, for $18, you can either get (A) approximately one t-shirt from Target that will become worn-out in about six months' time, or you can get (B) your mind blown. )

We quickly regain consciousness and start to really enjoy ourselves. We dance for the next hour and a half, buoyant with happiness, in the inexplicable joy that can only come from bouncing around underneath a sea of changing colors and neon balloons.
All of this from just two men from Austin, Texas, who met through a newspaper ad (Austin Music & Entertainment). Turner creates the beats with his synthesizer and drums, while Behrens plays electric guitar and does vocals (the likes which have been compared to Freddie Mercury [Rhapsody] and Prince [Myspace]). On their Myspace website, it says that Ghostland's influences include Daft Punk, Green Velvet, and David Bowie (there's certainly a parallel between ol' Ziggy Stardust and Behren's own androgynous stage persona).

A Ghostland concert playlist moves fluidly from one song to the next, with only minimal commentary from the performers. The abundance of colorful stimulation coming from the stage makes this acceptable, and adds to the general feeling that Ghostland's aim is to give the audience an experience that is both visually and auditorily scrumptious, and not just to enhance their own egos. This slight detachment from the crowd also maintains a sense of mystery about the identity of these two quirky guys, which is an attractive concept in our world of over-exposed, Twitter-happy artists.

Now that I have seen Ghostland multiple times, I know what to expect -- the three shows I've seen have been essentially identical to each other. This predictability may be due to the fact that Ghostland has toured relentlessly since the release of their 2008 album Robotique Majestique, which means that their song repertoire hasn't been updated in a while. However: even though I know exactly the songs that they'll play, and exactly what the light show will be, I have yet to go to a Ghostland show without smiling for a solid 90 minutes. It may be predictable, but it is still nothing short of delightful.

Some songs are more melodic (e.g. "The Band Marches On"), while others showcase Behren's unique half-scream singing (e.g. "Move With Your Lover"). The lyrics are typically about relationships, love and lust—songs that are not particularly thought-provoking, but simple enough to catch onto, so that even if you're a Ghostland newbie, you'll be singing along with Behrens -- yet another reason why anyone can have fun at this show.

Primarily consisting of twenty-somethings, a typical Ghostland crowd is about 1/3 glowstick-wielding Bonnaroo veterans, and 1/3 non-descript college-aged kids—both categories which are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder up front, pulsating happily to the beat like a glowing amoeba, sweating furiously and unabashedly. The final 1/3 are people who you really don't expect to see – frat guys and over-dressed girls who stand towards the back, so as to not get too sweaty (did they wander over from the Asher Roth concert?). Remarkably, this eccentric electronica duo has begun to boast not only a cult following, but also popularity in more mainstream circles.

As Ghostland continues to take the electronica world by storm, be sure not to miss the opportunity to see them--regardless of whether you like their music on an album, you will not be disappointed by their live show. Their concert is virtually unparalleled, their charisma unstoppable; their songs demand to be danced to, and the experience is, as a whole, ineffably fabulous.

Listen to: “Silver City” (Delete.Delete.I.Eat.Meat)

Video from Dec. 10, 2010 at the Cannery Ballroom (Nashville, TN)

*Ghostland gets its lasers through Lightwave International.
For a GREAT video of Ghostland's laser light show & more info on them, check out

Boone, Lawrence. "Ghostland Observatory." Austin Music & Entertainment. 01 15 2010. Austin Music & Entertainment, Web. 2008. .

Sherburne, Philip. "Ghostland Observatory." Rhapsody Music. Web. .

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Night at the Exit/In with Bassnectar

Jan. 15, 2010

If you're in this band's audience, you're caught in a dance mob of hoodie-clad

twenty-somethings; you may or may not be wearing a costume, and chances are, at any given moment, you're wondering where the ganja smell's coming from. Even if you aren't under any sort of influence, you're definitely smiling uncontrollably, because you're in the middle of the most mind-boggling two hours you've ever spent (not counting the time you saw that movie Fight Club).

Enter Bassnectar, a team of visual artists and musicians. The collaboration's creative leader, Lorin Ashton, and his computers are the centerpiece of the stage, but the audience's attention is drawn to everything else around him – especially the lights that project laser beams over the crowd, and the gigantic LCD panels emitting a constant stream of dreamlike visuals.

At the Exit In for my first Bassnectar concert, I'm surprised to find a distinctly Woodstock-esque vibe in the crowd. In the corner, a bowl is passed around and shared amongst concertgoers. When I run into a former classmate, he introduces me to his giggling friends, and then whispers amusedly, “Don't mind them, they're all on acid.” Later, someone asks me if I'm on ecstasy; not waiting for an answer, he says benevolently, “I have some extra in my pocket, if you want any more!” As I start to politely decline, he disappears – only to return a few minutes later with a Dixie cup of water, explaining very seriously that it's important to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. I am not on any drugs at all, but all the same, I appreciate this general spirit of camaraderie. Thanks for lookin' out for me!

This sense of community is appropriate for a Bassnectar concert, since (as Ashton himself says), the group represents an endeavor to not only “merge music, art, and new media,” but also “social involvement and community values” (“”). This makes it difficult to place Bassnectar squarely in any one genre, but it is a form of dub music called “dubstep,” which carries on the Jamaican reggae and dub musicians' tradition of reflecting a belief in the importance of social community (in fact, Bassnectar makes an homage to dub music's origins with the song “Kingston”).

Bassnectar's songs are complicated and vary in their structure. They're melodic, but with such heavy bass that, as the Nashville Scene warned concertgoers before the October performance, "this double-dose of way-out EDM [Electronic Dance Music] is bound to rumble your lower GI in ways you never thought possible" (Maloney). There are usually no lyrics in Bassnectar songs, except those that are sampled.

As you might guess, technology is a major part of the Bassnectar experience. The music itself requires computer technology that welds together different genres, creating sounds that closely mimic those that might be heard during an acid trip. Aside from that, the light show uses powerful instruments that project the laser light show far into the crowd. And of course, there are the LCD panels that complete the Bassnectar concert, which generate non-stop visuals, of everything from Discovery Earth-like landscapes, to animated breakdancers, to giant floating bubbles in fluorescent colors (see video below). Bassnectar's ambitious pursuance of new media has produced results that are as intriguing as they are delightful.

On Bassnectar's Myspace website, Ashton cites his influences as ranging across Nirvana, Run DMC, Frank Zappa, and native American flute music. He explains that his music is “an amalgamation of every sound I've ever heard, mixed with ultra wicked basslines.” Bassnectar allows Ashton the flexibility to combine any and all genres, with the option of pulling music from every nook and cranny of musical history. His samples come from a wide range of older music (for example, his dub with the Pixies' “Where Is My Mind” got a huge reaction from the crowd at the Exit/In), yet he also incorporates original ideas which come from his many collaborators. Almost every genre has been represented in Bassnectar's repertoire, which now includes eight albums. Some of the instrumentation that this includes is acoustic guitar, keyboards, theremin, snare drum, bass, and sequencers that make any other sound possible. The combined usage of these different sounds creates a texture that is sometimes described as a “soundscape.”

There are certainly some parallels between Bassnectar and earlier acid rock – Bassnectar's concert is enough to make a completely sober person feel like they're on hallucinagens (without any risk of nausea or heart palpitations! *thumbs up*) With complicated structures and lengthy songs that are usually entirely instrumental, Bassnectar is a DJ sub-species of the jam band. Like other jam bands who are descendants of the fathers of acid rock, Bassnectar is dedicated to enhancing its live audience's experience, through visuals, light shows, and danceable music.

The appeal of a live Bassnectar show is huge today, at a time when people have a great appreciation for affordable ways of being uplifted. Go see Bassnectar and you'll be immersed in an environment where people believe in the possibility of positive change and human fellowship. And you needn't fret about what to wear to the show, since your dance partner will probably be wearing a dinosaur costume or a onesie—regardless, no one will care about your outfit, because everyone will be happily hypnotized by the spectacle on stage. This year, many of us were looking for an escape from term papers, the monotony of minimum wage jobs, the stresses of navigating a desolate economic climate. This is how I can justify spending all of my extra money on live music (that is to say, the money I don't spend at Smoothie King, which I could devote another entire blog to). The Bassnectar experience was beyond impressive, it was inspiring; which is why I've named this blog after a Bassnectar song.

Listen to: "Bomb Tha Blocks," Bassnectar (Underground Communication)

Video from Oct. 7, 2009 at the Exit In, Nashville, TN

"Bassnectar Profile." 2007., Web. 14 Nov 2009. <>.

Maloney, Sean L. "Bassnectar & DJ Vadim at Exit/In." Nashville Arts. 01 10 2009. The Nashville Scene, Web. 14 Nov 2009. < exit-in/>.