Sound City Studios Helped Me Fall in Love with Music (with Trailer)

And I had no idea of its influence.

I’ve been hearing about Sound City, Dave Grohl’s new documentary about the famed recording studio in Van Nuys, Hollywood. Not having ever been a fan of Dave Grohl himself, I was mildly interested because I am a music nerd, but thought it might be self-absorbed and/or over the top. I upgraded my feelings to “sincere interest” upon seeing his keynote at SXSW this year. I thought “wow, he seems like more of a regular guy. And not a sellout. An actual fan of quality music.” See here:

But THEN I searched Sound City on Wikipedia (bored nerddom) and found their list of all the albums that have ever been recorded at Sound City. And I learned that so many albums of my adolescence that I totally loved are on that list. And it dawned on me that one thing that holds true for all of those albums is exceptional sound quality.

Nevermind, Rage Against the Machine (their first), Not Fragile, Undertow, Pinkerton, the Godzilla soundtrack,  The Empire Strikes First, Wolfmother. (Yes, please see the rest of this blog and notice how my interests have evolved considerably.)

But these are still GREAT albums that I was hooked on instantly. Great studios elevate quality music to incredible music. This documentary is a must-see.

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Best Albums of 2013 So Far

NPR always does their initial list right around June, so I thought, why wait another three months? Here are my predictions of what we’ll be seeing on those year-end lists of best albums. Only 2.5 months in, but so much has happened! And it’ll be a nerdy fun time to compare my list with the big boys (NPR, Paste, Pitchfork) come December.

10. Local Natives – Hummingbird

9. Foxygen – We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic

8. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

7. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – We the Common

6. Low – The Invisible Way

5. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

4. Atoms for Peace – Amok

3. Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God

2. The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

1. Josh Ritter – Beast in its Tracks

James Taylor and a Lenten Journey

If you’re a faithful reader, you know that my sister lost her full term baby back in February. I’ve written in depth about the first days of that experience. This past Monday was the one-month mark since that occurred, and I feel ready to write again.

When my sister announced that she’d be having a boy and his name would be James, curiously, I had just purchased a $1 record at Salvation Army of James Taylor songs which featured “Sweet Baby James.” I had never heard it before, but I fell head over heels in love with it and thought it would be a cool gift that I could send a video of myself singing and playing it on guitar, as a lullaby gift for James upon his birth. Well, when he died, the song became that much more important. I could have totally forced myself to forget about it and forever be saddened by what might have been. For a few days that was my plan. I never wanted to hear the song, play the song, hum the song again. Just too painful.

But the days went by, I got to see my sister and family in Arkansas for the funeral, and I realized that the song needed to be a part of my mourning process. And since we were in the midst of Lent, with an extremely raw and sad experience, I realized I had an opportunity to really live into the rhythm of these difficult times. I decided that throughout Lent i would wear only dark green, blue, and black. I decided that I would not purchase any new music, browse any record stores, or buy anything new at all (clothes, books, etc). I needed to strip down and just ride the emotional waves as they came without consumeristic passions cluttering up my psyche. We still have about 10 days until Easter, and I’ve been faithful to this mild ascetic discipline. It has been healthy and difficult.

But it wasn’t until I recorded the song a couple of nights ago that I really paid attention to the lyrics. What would have been a sweet, light-hearted lullaby is now a profound discussion of the nature of grief and recovery. Consider:

“Rockabye sweet Baby James”: A whole different meaning now.

“Wont’ you let me go down in my dreams” Here James sings to us. Can we let him go? Do we want to?

“Ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go” – The journey is pretty much almost impossible. BUT

“There’s a song that they sing as they take to the highway / A song that they sing as they take to the sea / A song that they sing of their home in the sky [wow] / Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep [through the worst nights of anguish] / But singing works just fine for me.”

And the chorus repeats. And Lent continues. And I wear my deep greens and blues. I kind of don’t want to stop, but I am so excited about the coming hope, cheer, and redemption of Easter. I might just wear nothing but white until Ascension Day. I have also just selected my two “Easter albums” (a new tradition) — The Lone Bellow and Yim Yames’ Tribute To (George Harrison)My affection for the Lone Bellow is well-known, as everything about them is couched in redemption. And as for Yim Yames, well, nothing says it better than “All Things Must Pass.”

So here’s the song. I can’t quite bring myself to share my own version, but here’s a great version. May it move you as it has me, and may we walk with humility and grace through all of life’s trials.

Josh Ritter Tonight

If tonight’s show at the Crystal is anything remotely close to this completely epic and gorgeous video, I will be one happy camper. (It is worth noting that this show in San Francisco with the EXTREMELY special guest surprise was happening pretty much exactly as my daughter was being born just a few hundred miles away. Only goes to show exactly how much Josh Ritter’s music is spiritually enmeshed in our family’s life.)

Foxygen.

Foxygen.

Psychedelic. Rolling Stones-ish. Maybe a little Velvet Underground in there with a splash of Syd Barrett. The point is not to pigeon hole a band like this that has an intentionally retro sound, but to think curious thoughts about our generation. Why is it that 20 and 30 year olds are now reaching for those sounds from 40 or 50 years ago? What is missing in our culture today that leads us to create in this way?  I think their sound is actually incredible though their videos are a bit over the top. (My wife disagrees).

Enough said. The coolest thing about them is that their whole album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic is on YouTube. Enjoy.

Best New Artists of 2013 (So Far)

Rated on the only criteria that matters – does it resonate with me? Do I enjoy this? And does it help me become the best version of myself?  Here is my list of best new artists so far. To be a new artist for me, you have to have either released your first EP or LP in 2013, or be very likely to “break through” to general intelligent-music-lover consciousness in 2013.

The Lone Bellow – I really think these guys are about to blow up. As much as it pains me to imagine that they may be headed to the same fate of radio ubiquity as the Lumineers and Mumford and Sons (seriously, “Ho Hey” on the hip hop station?), this does not take away from how soothing  and high-quality this music is.

http://www.thelonebellow.com/

Wake Owl –  I like how they solemnly plod through with a sound that echoes Amos Lee and Delta Spirit while maintaining their own integrity. And they’re Portland local, so that’s awesome. And if I hadn’t just seen the Gotye video for Somebody I Used to Know, this would be the most beautiful and interesting music video I have seen in months.

http://www.wakeowl.com/

Atoms for Peace – In the age of boundless technological possibilities, it only makes sense that we now have an IDM supergroup: Front man Thom Yorke (Radiohead), bassist Flea (RHCP), synth man and keyboardist Nigel Godrich (longtime Radiohead producer), drummer Joey Waronker (Beck and REM) and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco.  There has always been something otherworldly about Radiohead, and when you add in the influences of the others, you have three continents represented which adds both depth and eccentricity to the music. It is hard to describe what they do (they are post-modern to the nth degree), but they do it well.

http://atomsforpeace.info/

The Mowglis – In some ways it feels strange to follow up with these guys after Atoms for Peace, because they are so different, yet they represent the same thing: unbridled emotional expression. A Thom Yorke project will always drip with jadedness, philosophical angst, and maybe some despair. And we love him for it. The Mowglis on the other hand are incredibly innocent, full of love and hope for humanity, in a very unfiltered, uncritical way. They haven’t thought it through, they just want to feel the love. And we love them for it. I will keep posting this video as often as I can. It just makes me happy. This kind of innocence and joy is just infectious.

http://themowglis.bandcamp.com/

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – It’s bouncy, she’s playing a banjo, and there’s a synth layer in there. That is cool.  I guess this is more of a “new to me” artist since she’s had some albums before, but the new album We the Common  is really catchy and positive (yet a good degree more mellow than the Mowglis).  And the third installment of their 3 minute shorts  (on the website’s first page) is hilariously awkward and funny.

http://thaoandthegetdownstaydown.com/

Shakey Graves

It’s a one-man country band. You hear tambourine, drums, electric guitar, vocals – and yes, it’s all him. It’s a full body experience. The only thing he can’t do is harmonize with himself, though at about 2:30 in the video below he seems to try. Hailing from Lubbock, TX, he is redefining everything I know to be true about Lubbock, TX. One would expect that he’s coming out of the creative vortex of Austin, but no, he is pioneering an intense way of providing excellent country/roots music from a decidedly bland town. The new Buddy Holly? Maybe. Whatever the case, once people catch on to him, he’ll be huge.

http://shakeygraves.com/