Song of the Week (02.01.16-02.07.16)

I hold MGMT’s 2007 debut Oracular Spectacular in extremely high regard.  It’s a flawless album, and I think it’s a cornerstone for where music has gone since its release.  Everyone knows the magic of “Time to Pretend”, “Electric Feel”, and “Kids”, and as well they should, but here I would like to spotlight one of the lesser known deep cuts from the album.  Just as groovy, just as important, but be careful because when that outro kicks in because you might float away.

Cheers!

– MCG

Song of the Week (01.25.16-01.31.16)

Sometimes I get so caught up in my relentless pursuit of new music, both inside of my personal genre-sphere and out, that the music I love the most takes a backseat.  A good thing about that though is when I do get around to revisiting it, I fall in love all over again and I’ll go through an obsession period akin to when I first discovered the band where my appetite for their music is insatiable and anything else just won’t do the trick.  So, for this week’s song, I decided to highlight one of my all-time favorites again.

This week Trent Reznor released his eulogy to David Bowie.  Personally, I’m not a huge Bowie fan. I respect him and his influence to the utmost degree, but his music isn’t something that I visit with often, save a dozen or so songs. When he died, I was surprised how much it affected me. I was sad and depressed right along with people who have his discography memorized, and I couldn’t figure out why. It’s most likely attributed to the loss of a legend, the realization of mortality and fact that everybody dies, even the greatest of us. I also think some of it had to do with knowing how much Bowie had impacted Reznor being that Reznor is one of, if not the most, singular most influential musician thus far in my life in regards to how I listen to music, think about music, and most of all how I create my own music.   I don’t need to sit here and talk about Reznor’s compositional genius because it’s well documented.  So when Bowie died, I kept thinking that if I was feeling like that about his death then Reznor must be crushed by it, and that might also have added to my unsuspecting emotions I was/am feeling. It was great to read Trent’s thoughts and how Bowie was such a huge inspiration to him, just as Trent is to me, and also helped him through his alcohol and drug addiction just by being there for him and being himself.  Bowie really was a one-time-only soul.

First of all, here’s one of my many favorite Nine Inch Nails songs that might be unknown to casual fans:

Secondly, here’s one of the many collaborations between Bowie and Reznor:

Cheers!

– MCG.

Song of the Week (01.10.16-01.17.16)

The National are one of my favorite bands of the last ten years.  I was introduced to them at High Violet, then fell in love at Trouble Will Find Me, which caused me to search their back catalog and turned Boxer into my favorite.  Lately, it’s all about Alligator, which by most accounts is where they really started to find themselves.  So many great songs, just not as polished or as readily accessible as their following efforts.  This song took some warming up, but what a beautiful beast it is.

“We’re the heirs to the glimmering world
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world
We’re the heirs to the glimmering world

Oh, come, come be my waitress and serve me tonight
Serve me the sky tonight
Oh, come, come be my waitress and serve me tonight
Serve me the sky with a big slice of lemon”

They are the absolute best band to be melancholy and drink to, and also a really great band to be happy and drink to, and also a really great band to be pensive and drink to.  What I’m saying is, cheers.

– MCG.

 

 

The Legend of Nick Cave (told from one man’s heart)

I have been trying to accumulate my thoughts on Nick Cave for awhile now.  I feel the need to attempt to quantify the impact he’s had on me and express why I adore his music so much.  So many of his characteristics are unique; his songwriting, his musicianship, his delivery, his enigmatic persona, etc., and when I contemplate it all, it soon becomes overwhelming.  One thing is for sure; he is one of a kind, and a once in a lifetime, if not ever, artist.  This is my best shot at it.

This is not a greatest hits or top X best list, just some personal favorites.  I’m going to attempt to highlight the genius and versatility in his music, and while perhaps finally realizing that no amount of words can do the man any justice, I hope that this could possibly serve as a crash course for someone looking to discover Nick Cave but with no idea where to start.  For every song I give as an example here, there are a number more in his catalog along the same vein that may be just as good or better.  I won’t focus on the actual musicianship of his songs as much as I will the songwriting, lyrics, and all around aura he presents.  He has worked with dozens of talented musicians over the years whom I also have much admiration for (I named my pet bunny rabbit Warren Ellis) but to do them justice would require another thousand words at least.  His catalog is an extensive, deep, dark journey through a forest at night during a thunderstorm, and ten years after being a casual fan, three of which I was absolute fanatic, there is still uncharted territory for me, and I discover new gems every time I wonder off the path I have traced thus far.

 

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Abattoir Blues”

This is the song I go to first when I expose someone to Nick Cave for the first time.  I think the simplicity in the music (the drum beat, whole note piano chords) makes it readily accessible and forces Cave to the forefront where his voice and delivery shine.  There’s something easy going about it, something that makes this perfect for cruising on a sunny day with the windows down, however ‘Abattoir’ is French for ‘Slaughterhouse’, and in typical Nick Cave fashion, he finds a way to make the most beautiful, calming things a little bit dark and twisted.

Grinderman – “Palaces of Montezuma”

This is one of his most catchy tunes, and much like the previous song, it finds the perfect balance that Cave juggles so well.  Name another artist that can sing “Come on, baby, let’s get out of the cold/and give me your precious love for me to hold” with such a blissful melody right before citing a gift of “The spinal cord of JFK wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee”.  Perfection.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Red Right Hand”

I believe this qualifies as his most well known hit which is often used in movies, such as Dumb and Dumber, but that’s not why I chose to highlight this song.  This one is an example of how he can tell you so much by telling you so little.  “On a gathering storm comes a tall handsome man, in a dusty black coat, with a red right hand…”  Who is this guy he’s talking about?  What does he want?  Where is he from?  You never know, but what you do know is he is nothing good, and that hand didn’t get so red by accident.  “You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan, designed and directed by his red right hand…”

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Stagger Lee”

Here we have Cave’s take on the old American folk song about the murder of Billy Lyons by ‘Stag’ Lee Shelton.  I haven’t heard many other versions of it to be honest, but I’d venture to guess Cave put quite a twist on it.  This is Cave at his most demented and violent, but I won’t spoil it here by citing lyrics for those who haven’t heard it yet.  The bass line here is impeccable, providing an irreproachable backdrop to the tale about to be told.  The song here is about Stagger Lee, and how he’s unequivocally the baddest motherfucker around, but when I hear it I can’t help but think a bit of Cave is oozing out from the cracks here.  It makes me feel like if Cave was sitting in that bar (The Bucket of Blood) as well, he would give Lee a run for his money.

Grinderman – “Kitchenette”

This is the balls out,  no-fucks-given song, with hubris and hauteur dripping from every orifice.  How else could you possibly muster up the gall to steal an executioner’s woman?  The first four lines into that howl of “’cause I want you” might be the most boss thing ever recorded.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Into My Arms”

It’s not all dark alleys, rain and thunder, lost highways, murder, blood and cum though.  There is a plethora of gentle love songs in his canon, and in my experience talking with other Nick Cave fans, there is often a divide between those who like tracks like this and the previous five tracks.  I tend to lean toward the latter, but the beauty he is capable of is undeniable.  Some still lean towards the dark side of love of course, but some just are straightforward proclamations of adoration.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Mermaids”

This is one of my absolute favorite Nick Cave songs (the version on Live from KCRW with an extended Warren Ellis solo is also incredible).  The melody and clever lyrics need a spotlight:

“She was a catch, we were a match
I was the match that would fire up her snatch
There was a catch
I was no match
I was fired from her crotch
Now I sit around and watch…”

“I believe in God
I believe in mermaids too
I believe in 72 virgins on a chain; why not?  Why not?
I believe in the rapture, for I’ve seen your face
On the floor of the ocean, at the bottom of the rain”

And the flawless melody that carries the chorus make this a masterful piece of art.  If this song, which is a good representation of his most current album, is any indication of the direction he is headed then we have a lot to look forward to.

Grinderman – “Man In the Moon”

Perhaps one of his most simple songs musically with only a beautiful piano progression and a haunting looped noise track, this song has a sigh-inducing somberness to it that sits heavy on the soul.  I often catch myself staring into space as the opening line comes back around to finish it off and the music fades into the next song where the venomous bass line snaps me out of it.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Hold On to Yourself”

I included this song as an example of what I feel is the methodical approach Cave employs on so many songs.  Surely a lot of this is attributed to his band (Warren Ellis shines here with the screeching violin loop played throughout), but how Cave bobs and weaves, slips and counters his way through the lyrics using his mystic drawl to accentuate the melody is incredibly impressive and adroit.  Other tracks along this vein that I love are “Cannibal’s Hymn”, “Easy Money”, “We Real Cool”, among others.  It seems to me that this is a trait Cave has developed over the latter part of his career, and I couldn’t be more happy about it.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Higgs Boson Blues”

I chose this for the conclusion because it seems to be the most anomalous song in his canon.  Clocking in at just under eight minutes, and starting with just a guitar and a whisper, it broods and simmers as Cave sets the stage for this epic tale…

“Can’t remember anything at all
Flame trees line the streets
Can’t remember anything at all
But I’m driving my car down to Geneva
I been sitting in my basement patio
Ah, it was hot
Up above, the girls walk past, the roses all in bloom
Have you ever heard about the Higgs Boson Blues?
I’m going down to Geneva, baby
Gonna teach it to you
Who cares? Who cares what the future brings?” 

Can you see it?  Because I can.  Every single time I listen to it.  From there the music and vocals swell, crest, and shrink again like the moon pulling the tide while he cites interactions between Robert Johnson, the Devil, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, pigmys and monkeys, the Lorraine Motel (where he takes a room with a view, of course), and how it all intermingles and makes sense is where your guess becomes as good as mine.  Somehow I think that’s the point though.  It’s a whirlwind for so many reasons.  It culminates again back where it started:  “Can’t remember anything at all…” as the guitar chords resolve.  Maybe it was all just a dream.

 

As I’m sure it is for everyone, narrowing one of your favorite musician’s work into a favorite list is such a hard thing to do.  I feel ashamed and depressed for only including ten songs with this piece.  1800 words later I still feel like I shortchanged the man for everything he has given the world, especially me.  This certainly is not an all inclusive piece on Nick Cave, or even of my opinions of him, but just the tip of the iceberg as they so often say.   There’s his work with Warren Ellis on movie scores, his early bands, most notably The Birthday Party, his screenplays, his books; the universe Nick Cave has created is something to behold.  I would also recommend the artistic documentary 20,000 Days on Earth to anyone, as it is useful for a brief look into Cave’s mind.  In that documentary he explains how he treats being a musician just like we treat our jobs.  He has a small office space rented close to his home, and goes there every day, sitting in a room with not much else but a typewriter and his thoughts.  If that’s not dedication to your craft then I don’t know what is, and when you couple that with such a creative uniqueness, it’s not hard to see why he was able to transcend decades and genres with no sign of his relevance fading.

“He’s a ghost, he’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a guru…”

And he’s a legend.

– MCG

 

Song of the Week (12.27.15-01.02.16)

To keep the comeback rolling, here’s one of my favorite songs of the year off one of the albums that just barely missed my Top 10 list.  I love the simplicity of the drums and how they let them breathe at points throughout the song in order to accentuate the riff and the vocals.  Well done, sirs.

– MCG

The Top 10 Albums of 2015.

2015 was an incredible year for music.  I could easily do a Top 50 list if I had all the time in the world, and limiting it to 10 made me feel guilty because of all the great releases I had to cut out, but the ones talked about here are the albums that I listened to and enjoyed the most this year.  Without further adieu:

 

10.  Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

I’ve been a fan of hers for awhile and I believe this is her coming of age moment.  She took the step up to the level that I always knew she could be at with this album.  Snarling distortion in wave after wave, dark droning chords and arpeggios, with that siren howl riding on top of it.  I’d say this is without a doubt the most apropos title of any album released this year, because it feels like you’re staring into the Abyss for it’s duration, and by the end the Abyss is most assuredly staring back into you.

9. METZ – II

This is just pedal to the fucking metal from start to finish, and I, for one, need some of this in my life. I feel like I can chew up cinder blocks and bend steel beams with my face when this thing is on.  I’m pretty sure I drank gasoline, swallowed a grenade, and shit out a hell demon the first time I played this thing through.  I can’t say much more about this one.  It’s a bloodbath.

8. Miguel – Wildheart

I was surprised I like this album so much being that this type of thing isn’t really in my wheelhouse anymore.  Obviously his voice is the main attraction, and the sexy lyrics don’t hurt because everyone likes sex, but I think what really makes it stand out to me is the varying instrumentation and song structures from other musicians in this genre.  I suppose it’s some kind of progressive alt-R&B, it’s sexy, and it’s a very fun album to listen to.  A fresh change of pace from my typical listening material.

7. EL VY – Return to the Moon

I honestly don’t understand the poor reviews on this album.  It’s a side project of Matt Berninger (The National) and Brent Knopf of (Ramona Falls, Menomena), so I think a lot of the negativity comes from people comparing this to those other bands, albeit unfairly.  I love The National; they are probably my favorite “indie” (whatever that means) band.  I think Berninger is a genius songwriter and his delivery is incredible, so maybe I’m biased and would like anything he does.  I definitely think that’s the case, come to think of it.  It’s fun to hear him to different things with EL VY than he does with The National.  Return to the Moon is a concept album, and it feels like he’s having more fun, just shooting from the hip with no regard for conserving ammo, whereas with The National he’s a focused sniper at long range with one bullet to win the war.  There are some absolute gem lyrics (“I’m peaceful ’cause my dick’s in the sunlight, held up by kites”) and melodies here, and Knopf does a great job providing the music for this party.

6. Beach House – Depression Cherry

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I’ve always been on the outside looking in when it comes to Beach House.  I thought it might be that it’s because their songs take patience and develop so subtly over their duration that it never grabbed my attention, and that might make sense for a lot of people, but I love post-rock, and so if I can wait 10+ minutes almost regularly for those songs to hit the climax, why can’t I wait 3 or 4 minutes for Beach House’s songs?  I doesn’t make sense, however, this time around I didn’t have to give much effort.  The opening track “Levitation” hooked me and allowed me to let them in, and they went ahead and made themselves at home.  Victoria Legrand’s voice should be considered a national treasure as far as I’m concerned, and it’s the perfect vessel to deliver this ode to love and loss that is Depression Cherry.

5. Bjork – Vulnicura

Vulnicura is about the end of Bjork’s relationship with her long time partner and father of her child.  I think this is such a beautiful piece of music for a lot of reasons, yet I struggle to listen to it as often as I would like because of how emotionally devastating it is.  This is the heaviest, deepest, saddest album released this year, and it’s also one of the most beautiful.

4. Tame Impala – Currents

I’m not a seasoned Tame Impala fan so I don’t have a well formed opinion on how this fits in their catalog or what steps they have taken in any direction.  All I can say here is Currents is full of jams and it is incredibly fun to listen to. “Let It Happen” is my song of the year.

3. HEALTH – Death Magic

I hadn’t heard of HEALTH before this and I wasn’t prepared for what they bring.  It’s such a unique sound, with so many elements collaborating to make a whole far greater than the sum of it’s parts.  Short songs and hairpin turns in the landscape make this an exciting listen that’s halfway over before you can start to grasp what is actually going on.  The elegant vocals are a perfect contrast to the hard, cold metal and sharp edge feelings the music produces.

2. Deafheaven – New Bermuda

Deafheaven have been gaining a big head of steam since they began, and New Bermuda has continued the pace and upped the bar once again.  This is a relentless foray into new frontiers.  Top notch metal with beautiful, absolutely beautiful, post-rock scattered throughout.  Putting it all together in these song structures is a monumental achievement in music writing.  The lyrics are indiscernible, so I find it laughable that places such as Pitchfork focus on the lyrics to the extent they do in their review of this.   George Clarke’s howls and screams are an additional layer, an additional instrument, and are the driver of the aggression that is present, much in the way that Jonsi accentuates Sigur Ros’ sound with his atmospheric harmonies.  Whether he knows it or not, Clarke isn’t there to be poetic or prophetic, he’s there to put a stamp on the brutality.  There aren’t any standout songs here; each of the five is just as important as the others.  New Bermuda is something to behold, and I would venture to guess it will be the album released in 2015 that best stands the test of time.  On top of that, they are a force in a live setting and I definitely recommend catching them if you can.

1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Much in the way that Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds were my clear cut #1 back in the second month of 2013, I knew Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear had the crown about 5 listens through back in February once again.  For someone such as myself, nothing strikes a chord like a bunch of satire and cynicism.  Throw in some romantic hyperbole and tongue-in-cheek loathing of society as a whole as well as of oneself, and you’ve got a witches brew of thought provoking songs that are downright captivating.  You won’t find any incredible chord progressions, key changes, or master guitar work, it’s the lyrics that make this soar; quite the polar opposite of the aforementioned Deafheaven album, yet no less pertinent or epic.  Trying to pick one song is impossible, and each has a different reason to love it; “Holy Shit” because it’s genius, or “True Affection” because it’s so damn groovy, or “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt” because it’s hilarious, or “Chateau #4 (In C for Two Virgins)” because it’s the lightest, easy to listen to song in recent memory (I defy you to skip it), and so on.  It’s a master work, and I can’t wait to see what Josh Tillman has to say next.

 

Honorable mentions: The Dodos, Lord Huron, American Wrestlers, Hop Along, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Blur, Other Lives, Gang of Youths, Majical Cloudz, Coliseum, Vince Staples

Thanks for reading; thoughts and discussion are welcome, and please share if you enjoyed it.

– MCG.