Category Archives: Music

It’s All Happening….Again

AmtrakA few months ago, I came across the track listing for the first of The Composite CDs sent all the way back in 2012. Over the course of a day’s commuting, I listened to the soundtracks for the past three years. It was an eye-opening sonic experience.

Outside of last year’s admittedly relationship-centric mix, I’d figured the mixes were just my efforts at compiling music I wanted to share with people I know with a track order that makes the listening experience enjoyable. Revisiting these mixes one day, back-to-back-to-back, it dawned on me that within the choruses, bass lines, and handclaps that populate these songs are stories. Other people’s stories being tweaked and massaged to tell my own story to you.

It was with one eye on that and another eye on that approaching thirtieth birthday that I realized, it’s all happening. I had kicked around the idea of doing a CD of just songs about places. Or of names. Or women’s names. Or just about New York City. But that isn’t how life works. Nothing is in a vacuum. The people I know and care about, the places I live, work, and visit all combine to create something larger than silo’ed apart lists.

There’s no theme this year, just music that speaks to me and reminds me of a time and place. I hope it speaks to you as well. Maybe not immediately. Maybe not all at once. But at some point, at some place, maybe it will.

Want a CD? E-mail thecompositeblog@gmail.com by 11:59 pm on February 15 with your address and we’ll send you that CD.

The Composite CD Give Away: A Tradition Like No Other

Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do's and don'ts. First of all, you 're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel.
Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you ‘re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel.

I was sitting at a bar last fall on a date and we ended up talking about music. The conversation eventually landed on the fact that I had been making a bunch of mix CDs for the five hour drives I had been making to Vermont in the summer.

It was at this point that my date was shocked that people still made mix CDs. Now, I have had friends give me grief for calling them mix tapes instead of mix CDs, but this was the first time anyone thought they lived in a world where mix CDs were a thing of the past like moderate Republicans in Congress and the Montreal Expos.

Coming just a few months after I’d been asked to resend a mix CD in mp3 form because the girl owned a computer that lacked a disc drive, it got me thinking what comes next. Your typical 80s kid made mix tapes by recording songs off the radio. In college, I burned mp3s off my Windows Media Player!! But what about in 10 years or 20? Will mix CDs be relegated to the sonic dustbin that is home to eight-tracks and the walkmen.

But until that day, I’ll be buying blank CDs and burning music onto them for a whole range of reasons: road trips, party mixes, CDs for girls I’m trying to impress, and once a year, a CD for you!

We’ve put together a mix of 11 of songs that have been methodically selected, arranged in just the right order, listened to and then re-listened to just to make sure the CD is pitch perfect.

Want a CD? E-mail thecompositeblog@gmail.com by 11:59 pm on February 14 with your address and we’ll send you that CD.

A few things to keep in mind (like last year):

  • To my European friends who find this blog because they are still searching for photos of the Titanic, your request will be honored.
  • Limit first 100 requests. We came so close last year!

All you need to do to be part of this fledgling tradition is to e-mail thecompositeblog@gmail.com.

Sonic Monday: Heartbreaker by The Walkmen [Video]

By the time your second semester of freshmen year at college rolls around, you known both your limitations – that sixth can of Natty Light in the last 90 minutes was one too many – and how far you can push the envelope – waiting till the night before a ten-page paper is due to start writing: yes; waiting to study for a mid-term till the night before said exam: not so much.

All suited up and it’s a school inservice day – Via Pitchfork

Routines also become easier to fall into. Once a week during the spring semester  of my freshmen year at Seton Hall, one of my roommates and I had the same hour-and-a-half block of time in the afternoon free. Invariably, we would play Grand Theft Auto and listen to whatever new CD I’d purchased in Hoboken. One of those felonious afternoons, we listened to Electric Version by The New Pornographers. For some reason, while unleashing utter destruction in GTA, we unknowingly sketched out a very intricate mumblecore movie about the folks living in our dorm suite, using each song in the album as a plot point. This cinematic crafting hadn’t happened before and never happened again, but it gave me an appreciation for songs that sound like they should be in a movie.

From the opening chords of “Heartbreaker,” one of the songs off The Walkmen’s forthcoming album Heaven, to the lyrics and the pacing of the drums, this song sounds like it should play during the opening credits of a good movie.

I’ve been listening to The Walkmen since 2004. Every one of their albums that consists of original material has explored similar sonic terrain while highlighting the variety of sounds that exist in that space. “Heartbreaker” signals a change to that method. Compared to songs off of Bows + Arrows and You and Me, “Heartbreaker” is downright upbeat. Lyrics like, “I’m not your heartbreaker/ Some tender ballad player,” have a vitality and energy to them. Hamilton Leithauser’s vocals have always been powerful and emotional, but in an angry, somber or resigned way. When Leithauser sings “These are the good years/ Ahh the best, we’ll never know,” it’s call to embrace the present, enjoy what we’ve got in front of us and who we’ve got around us. Much the same way, the heartbreaker/ballad player lyrics are both a promise of what he won’t do and also a quick acknowledgment of what he won’t be.

The unique thing for me about this song is that the order in which I heard it is totally backwards. Typically, I listen to the album (and song) ad nauseam leading up to a show, hearing the way the band’s studio intentions before seeing how the tune lives in an open space, performed by folks who’ve really only got one take to get it right. I heard “Heartbreaker” for the first time sitting in the front row of the balcony at BAM. This and other songs off of the upcoming album were totally new to me. I had no preconceived notions of what the lyrics meant or how the vocals would interplay with the instruments in a live setting. Maybe, most important, these songs had yet to make or leave their mark on me emotionally. Sitting in the breathtaking Gilman Opera House at BAM for The Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Festival, I was a blank canvas when these songs played.

The Walkmen, Circa 2004 – Via Clashmusic.com

Even when it was just Hamilton on stage with an acoustic guitar singing “Southern Heart,” a song about a guy who has bourbon in his blood and other Southern characteristics, there was an unexpected peacefulness in the band’s sound. I recently read an interview in Pitchfork where Leithauser discussed the new album. It came up that ten years in, all the guys in The Walkmen are now married and have kids. Is there any possibility that these new sentiments appearing on Heaven come from those changes in the band members’ lives? The utter despondency of “Thinking of a Dream I Had” – lyrically and sonically – has been replaced by a mindset that isn’t teetering on morbid depression and has a far healthier grasp of the world.

One last thing about this song is the still image The Walkmen put on the YouTube video. The photo is of Pete Bower, the band’s bassist, and his wife and two children. As someone who lives in Park Slope, I see elementary school students wearing geek chic on weekends and toddlers who probably think my green chucks are so high school. Maybe so, but the kid in the picture, all suited up, looks like he is on his way to the best 1920s-themed pre-teen birthday party ever.

Sonic Monday: Shout Out Louds and Billy Joel

Ferris: Tonight I Have To Leave It by Shout Out Louds

Shout Out Louds - Via Awmusic.ca

The Shout Out Louds have a special place in my heart. Not only was their debut album, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, on constant repeat during the summer of 2005, but when I saw them in person in July 2008 at the Brooklyn venue Warsaw, it was and still is the best concert I’ve been to in person.

With Saturday Looks Good To Me opening, the two-band billed were pitch perfect. The Shout Out Louds owned the room from the first chord. They mixed in songs from the album they were supporting at the time, Our Ill Wills, with songs from their first album. There is no one particular moment at the concert that stands out for me. Instead, it was after the show, when the crowd seemed to be walking in a caravan to the subway. In the moment, it was almost as if none of us wanted the evening to end.

The first single off of Our Ill Wills was “Tonight I Have to Leave It.” When Our Ill Wills came out, I remember one review saying it had a more autumnal, chillier feel than Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, which despite several sad songs, was more of a spring album.

With lead singer Adam Olenius singing about leaving and searching for something real, it’s fitting that the music video takes place on an ocean-faring freighter. With nods to the ships port of call and life on the open seas, the video feels cold and welcoming at the same time. Kind of how I imagine life in Scandinavia to be.

Rusty: Worst Comes to Worse by Billy Joel

When Billy Joel released Piano Man in 1973, it was a triumphant return to music that would resonate for decades to come.  Fed up with his old record label, William Martin adopted his middle name and hit the LA music scene and piano bars.  It was there, along with some of his greatest hits, that he penned “New Mexico.”  Released on Piano Man with the new monicker “Worst Comes to Worst”, the song encapsulated the the album.  Weaving between friendly yet mysterious women, life on the road, and an introspective evaluation of life in the present, the song remains one of Joel’s most underrated (in my opinion).

Billy Joel has aged considerably but still delivers the goods- Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jeaneeem

In the summer of 2009, I was sitting on my front step and surfing the web when I noticed that Joel was hosting a show in Hersey Park that night.  I immediately contacted my mother and asked if she would like to go (Joel is one of the few bonds we share).  It was well-worth the phone call.  Traveling for hours to see an aged but unmatched performer, my experience that day was the epitome of freedom and traveling for all the right reasons.  Even as we waited in traffic for an hour to leave the venue, knowing that we would be home close to dawn, my mother and myself lived in the moment and enjoyed the impromptu road trip.  After all, we had just watched a legend.

As Joel sings in “Worst Comes to Worse”,

Lightning and thunder
Flashed across the roads we drove upon
Oh, but it’s clear skies we’re under
When I am together, when I sing the song.

I hope that you all have had those moments, and plan more for this summer.  No matter the hassle or weight upon your mind, sometimes a simple trip or activity can change your whole perspective- at the very least, for one night.  Years later, I savor the trip and plan on many more this year.  Sure, sometimes it takes planning and resources.  What’s more important, though, is that you make the decision in the first place.  As Joel would put it, “It doesn’t matter which direction.”

Sonic Monday – The Low Anthem’s Apothecary Love

The appeal of the iPod is in it’s portability. The ability to listen to one’s entire music catalogue makes the CD player seem like a Model T. Despite this ease, my favorite feature on the iPod is the movie moments it creates where the song and your location mesh perfectly.

Of all the locations in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is the one where I’ve had the most movie moments. With its marble floors, the low ceiling hallways feeding into the Main Hall, people criss-crossing the terminal en route to their destinations and the constellations on the ceiling, the crown jewel of the old New York Central system is majestic.

The Low Anthem - Via CoverMeSongs.com

That is what makes the video of  The Low Anthem’s “Take Away Show” in Grand Central Terminal particularly fitting. Playing the song “Apothecary Love,” the four-piece band that met at Brown University hold court in the early afternoon of a pre-Thanksgiving weekday and provide an unexpected soundtrack to the early winter Grand Central Terminal.

As the camera waltzes around the band members, it catches moments in the life of the city. Tourists wandering around a landmark, Metro-North workers pausing from their work to enjoy the music, and children taking it all in. And then there are the New York commuters who ignore the four musicians, either because they have a train to catch or they just don’t acknowledge anything out of the ordinary during their commutes.

As The Low Anthem sing, “I’ve got the cure for the shape that you’re in,” I couldn’t help but think back to moments in my life where I’ve been on my way back to New York, typically by train, and met at the grandeur lacking Penn Station, typically by the girl in my life. And as much as I love to travel and as much I enjoy riding the rails, at the end of a trip, there is nothing better than stepping off the train, ascending the stairs, passing folks who are just beginning their voyages and finding the cure for being on the road and away from home.

The Grammys Don’t Get What “New Artist” Means

Those will look good on the cabin shelf - Via Idolator

On Sunday night, Bon Iver won the Grammy for Best New Artist. Monday morning, Gawker posted the video of Bon Iver’s acceptance speech, noting his “ironic detachment.

I was really hoping that Justin Vernon would get up there and thank folks for the award and then tell everyone in the auditorium and those sitting at home about to start the internet meme of asking Who is Bon Iver, that he wasn’t a new artist. This was his second full album.

I don’t take the Grammys all that seriously. I actually went to sleep on Sunday night at 9 pm. I still strongly believe that if an artist performs and is backstage when an award they’ve been nominated for is being announced, they are the winner. Despite this lack of interest, the one thing about the Grammys that always angers is me is how they handle the Best New Artist category. This has been a thorn in my side since Fountains of Wayne was nominated in 2004 for Welcome Interstate Managers. It wasn’t that the album wasn’t good – it was. And it wasn’t that Fountains of Wayne didn’t deserve recognition – they did. It was that this was their third album. Their first had been released in 1996.

In fairness to the Grammys, the rules for Best New Artist don’t really require the artist to be new. Their rules state: “For a new artist who releases, during the Eligibility Year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist.”

Maybe this is nothing more than semantics, but does that guideline need the word “new” if  it also covers the first recording “which establishes the public identity of that artist”? Either the artist is new or they’re not. If the Grammys are going to include artists who have released albums before, they need to change the name of the award.

Take a look at some of the Best New Artists winners since 2000. Some of the artists or groups were recognized for their first album, like Christina Aguilera or Norah Jones or Evanescence. However, in 2001, Shelby Lynne won after spending 13 years in the music industry and releasing six albums. Far worse is the example of Maroon 5. They won in 2005 after one of the songs from their 2002 album was released as a single.

I want a cabin just like that - Via MPR

None of this is to take away from the hard work and accomplishments of the bands and singers who are nominated or those who win. I just want to know how the Grammys can justify giving the Best New Artist award to a guy whose 2007 debut made it on Rolling Stones’ Top 100 Albums of the 2000s. Sure sounds like a guy who established his public identity.

But it’s time for the Grammys to make up their mind. Every year in this category, the Grammys compare apples and oranges. They’ve got to make a decision. Either it’s only artists who have released their debut album in the past year or remove the word “new” from the guidelines and the title. Make it the “rising star” award or some other title the Grammy folks could come up with.  Because right now they sound like your friend who starts liking indie bands after they are played during some CW show. And until the Grammys figure it out, I’m secluding myself in a cabin in northwestern Wisconsin.

Sonic Monday: The Civil Wars and I’m From Barcelona

Rusty – “Billie Jean” by The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars (Photo via Flickr user Shane Adams)

I know I’ve been promising new music and anticipating nicer weather, but this was too good to pass up.  For those of you who skipped the glorified concert known as the Grammys last night, you missed sixty seconds of great music by The Civil Wars.  Unfortunately they were cut short for Taylor Swift, but the duo’s two awards (including Best Folk Album) more than made up for the shortened performance.

The video below is the group covering “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, and it reaffirms everything we know about the group: stunning vocal ranges and harmonies, a little bit of attitude, simple guitar-only instrumentation, and a refreshing take on age-old genres.  
I’d like to think that The Civil Wars have a lot of good music ahead of them, but in the meantime they deserve all the attention they’ve gotten.  Enjoy the song, and be sure to keep the album Barton Hollowin your regular rotation.  It’s well worth it, and is the perfect soundtrack for Valentine’s (lovers and singles alike!)

Ferris – “We’re From Barcelona” by I’m From Barcelona

By the time you get to be 27, you most likely have found your hangover cure. For me it has always been deli chicken cutlet sub with pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo with a Yoo-Hoo and bag of Doritos.

Does I'm From Barcelona have room for one more? - Via FairlyCoherent.com

In a similar vein, there are some songs that you immediately turn to when you are down in the dumps and don’t really want to deal with the world around you. These songs are the go-to cure for the blues. For me, it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been listening to them, they always put a smile on my face when I hear them. So, imagine what it’s like to have the music video for one of those songs be so damn upbeat you imagine it’s the progeny of one of those late January days we had last month where not only is was it in the 60s, but it even smelled like spring and all you can think is happy thoughts.

Let Me Introduce My Friends, the debut album from the Swedish band, I’m From Barcelona is chock full of up-beat, eager to please songs that warm even the hardest, coldest Scandinavian heart. The cheeriest, most heartwarming song on the whole CD is “We’re From Barcelona.” From start to the finish, the song is like a sonic ray of sunshine that leaves you feeling warm and cozy with no saccharine aftertaste. So imagine, my amazement when I caught the music video for this song. Highlighting all 29 members of the band, it makes you wish you could play a slightly eclectic instrument and hitch up with the band. From the map flyover to the leg hand claps, this video fits the song’s vibe perfectly. Four more than five years, the song and video has helped me when I’m feeling down. I hope it does the same for you.