Monday, April 28, 2008

A long day.

I've been trying to update this every Monday.
It looks like that won't be the case this week.
I have a lot of work to take care of so I don't fail out of school.
I mean, technically, this is an update.
But, it isn't very good.
I think you would agree.
By the way, comments are your friend.
Request bands, songs, or albums, and I'll see what I can do.

In the meantime, here is a guy getting closelined by some Saran Wrap.

Monday, April 21, 2008

"May the jaws of life have cotton teeth."

This Monday morning met me with thunderstorms, heavy clouds, and a dreary wakeup. I stayed up late working on a paper for one of my seminars and had to get up early for class. That made for very minimal sleep, and when you wake up to drizzly conditions outside, you just want to hit the snooze button, roll back over, and let your dreams guide your way. But, I couldn't, so I stole off to a full day of learning.

Today, I was reminded of just how wonderful The Snake the Cross the Crown are as a band, and they simply fit my mood perfectly today. I discovered them when they opened a show in D.C. for mewithoutYou, one of my favorites artists. They were the first to go on, followed by Manchester Orchestra, and then mewithoutYou as the headliners. (At some point, I will write about those other two outfits because they are worth checking out, too. Trust me.)

But, getting back to the band at hand, which I'll shorthand as TSTCTC from now on, they commanded the stage at the show. Despite being an opener with the audience just starting to trickle through the doors of the club, they simply played their music. They performed song after song, note after note, with intensity and beauty, and after a few minutes, it struck me just how fluid they were and how much I felt they were enjoying what they were doing. I felt lucky for being able to catch them before all the local scenesters showed up and ruined the moment.

They released their second full-length disc titled "Cotton Teeth" on Equal Vision Records in May of 2007, and let me tell you, this album is a breath of fresh air among the bubble gum pop-rock or the cliche alternative crunch guitar nonsense heard on the airwaves these days. The album title came from a old southern toast that the band heard from fellow musician William Elliott Whitmore while on tour. He would raise his glass and say "May the jaws of life have cotton teeth."

And with that same mentality, TSTCTC comes at you with an album that captures a southern slice of Americana. They deviated from their first release, "Mander Salis" which is much more spacey indie rock. While promoting that album, the band decided to call the tour quits. They were tired and uninspired by the songs that they were playing every night and wanted to start at square one. After writing and recording for most of 2006, "Cotton Teeth" was produced and it finds these Alabama natives in full swing.

I guess I would describe their new sound as a fresh new take on folk-country rock with inspirations from Bob Dylan, The Band, and a more folk-infused version of Creedance Clearwater Revival. They do it all their own, pouring their heart and souls into the record, and it shows from beginning to end. If I put it on, hit play, and close my eyes, I am taken to a back porch of a house in the south, sitting in a rocking chair with my family close by, overlooking a field of swaying grass. I feel exhausted and gritty after a long day of work, and the sun is taking it's last bow beneath the trees in the distance, at the end of a summer day. It is a very small town feel, a throwback to a simpler and pleasant way of life. Through the lyrics and music, this records exudes maturity and a sense of timelessness.

The vocals swell from snarling power to a whisper, and you hang on every word as if a story is being told to just you, and you don't want to miss the ending. The musicianship is epic and diverse, ranging from the jangly saloon piano sounds of "The Great American Smokeout" to the seven minute opus "Electronic Dream Plant" (which reminds me of the Beatles "Hey Jude" because of the "na's" at the end). TSTCTC know just when to crescendo and build the band into full volume versus when to keep it relaxed and simple with a twangy acoustic guitar.

But don't take my word for it. If you like what you hear, go see them live, and they will blow you away.

Download: "Gypsy Melodies" (Right click, Save-as)
Download: "Behold the River" (Right click, Save-as)

Monday, April 14, 2008

This dizzy life is just a hanging tree.

Well, I was out of town all weekend, kayaking with some friends and generally just hanging out someplace that wasn't here. It is always refreshing and inspiring. After a full Saturday, I spent the night at my friend's apartment and woke up to a big breakfast and good conversation, then hit the road to come back home. Often, you need to just get away from the general normalcy of your day-to-day to experience some other place, some other city, some other friends. It gives you a better perspective for when you come back and feel like you're falling back into the drudgery and monotony of life.

For me, that was waking up early this morning after a rough night of sleep to go all the way across campus to my biometrics lab. I wish I could still be floating along the slow current, rowing when it feels necessary, relaxing when it doesn't, and simply listening to the wind brush the trees against each other and the birds sing their songs in response. So it is fitting to come back from a good escape of a weekend with an album called "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings."

In March of this year, Counting Crows recorded and released their first new album since 2002, following a greatest hits collection in 2003 (which is a wonderful sampling of their hits up to this point for anyone just starting to listen to Adam Duritz and the gang) and a live album tossed in there too.

The new album "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings" seems to be hitting the spot for me as of late. In a sense, it is two shorter records, aptly titled "Saturday Nights" and... drum roll please... "Sunday Mornings"! Each was recorded with a different producer and subsequently has a different feel, "Nights" covering the rock and pop palette, with songs for any longtime lover of the band, and "Mornings" allowing them to delve into a country folk side that is as stylish as it is enjoyable to listen to. I'm not much for country music (and "Mornings" is certainly not country as the radio defines it today!) but it does make the folk genre seem all the more accessible.

Without going into the details about each individual track, it is hard to discuss this album as a whole except to say that it is catchy where it needs to be ("Hanging Tree"), boisterously fun at points, clean polished and yet with that Counting Crows grit that I love. There is plenty of driving keys, classic rock guitar riffs, satisfying harmonica ("On Almost Any Sunday Morning"), all overlaid with beautiful introspective lyrics that draw you in with curiosity, wit, and occasionally some clever sarcasm (check the end of "Los Angeles"). It even takes several jabs at the current socio-questionable state of America as we try to define our age and generation ("Cowboys"). And what Counting Crows albums is complete without the stripped-down ballad with Duritz's quivering vocals crooning over an epic piano piece? (None.) "On A Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago" does just that.

The album swells with poetry and emotion, like a wave crashing far out but then carrying you safely back to shore.
Download "Insignificant"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Come in. Sit down.

Thus commences "Becoming a mirror," my personal music blog.
Where to begin?
I cannot pinpoint when I first got turned on to music. My father raised me on the best of the best (and also some of the most eclectic and strange of the strange). His generation had such revolutionary musical breakthroughs. To begin listing them would be a waste of time and energy, suffice it to say that these musicians helped defined the generation that was.
My dad tells me the story of when I was really young and helping him with some menial task around the house. He put on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and after a couple plays (it's a relatively short album, if you didn't know), I look up at him and tell him that I really his music and that Marvin Gaye is really good. I still do hold "What's Going On" as one of the best and most cohesive albums I've heard. But by no means are my musical likes limited to the R&B/soul field by any means.
I am a rock and roller, through and through. I definitely love a quality and talented jam band. I like progressive music, instrumental epics, post-alt, folk, and anyone who can put a thought, idea, or story into words that capture it and lay the lyrics on a backdrop of beauty and leads the listener on a journey.
I do not have any credentials to write this blog at all other than the fact that I love music.
And, it's a strange thing, too, that a particular pattern of notes and noises can influence emotion so much, how songs just latch into your psyche and do not let go, how your life can revolve around an anthem, some lyrics that you feel define you in some way. It is really just air vibrations and waves that make a thin layer of tissue in your ears buzz in a pattern ever so slightly different than any other noise.
And these seemingly simple vibrations have given us the vast array of audio that we have ever experienced, from the mundane (a dog barking), to the annoying (a finger rubbing on a balloon), to the moving and lush musicianship of the great classical composers such as Bach,
Vivaldi, and Beethoven up to the bands we enjoy today.
I suppose that is enough of an introduction for now. Each post, I will show you a slice of what I've been listening to, what has been getting me through my days in this life. Maybe a concert review after a show every now and then. We will see where this goes.
(By the way, today, I was enjoying "In Between Now and Then" by the local jam-rock outfit, O.A.R. Unless you've been living under a rock, you have heard of these Marylanders. I highly recommend this album, one of their best in my opinion. They will be playing a FREE acoustic set on April 20th on the National Mall for the Green Apple Festival. Check it out!)