Tag 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.

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A Boy Makes a Mix CD; You’ll Never Imagine What Happens Next [Hint – It’s a CD Give Away]

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I can’t fire them. I hired these guys for three days a week and they just started showing up, every day. That was four years ago. – Photo Via World and Film

Have you ever seen Blue Valentine?

You ever see Blue Valentine on Valentine’s Day weekend with a significant other?

Well I have. Not my movie choice. It’s the type of experience that leaves you shaken. That movie is dark. And sad. And if you’re anything like me, you want to be left alone, standing in grassy valley with a light breeze and the sun shining on you – for a week after leaving the theater. Not the bitter cold icy-wind tunnels that northeastern US cities double as in February.

Valentine’s Day is the time of year when schlocky films like Serendipity, Notting Hill, and other rom-coms find their way onto cable channels in even greater frequency than normal. Blue Valentine is the pinnacle of counter programming to those lovely films. 

In a similar, though less “so this is what it’s like to be in a dead end relationship in a formerly industrial Pennsylvania small city” way, this year’s Composite Mix CD – Not Your Typical February Mix Tape – is counter programming to all the  love songs one would hear around this time of year. Or any day of the year. 

The inspiration came from a thought that popped into my head in the shower nearly two years.

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So that is what I bring you this year. A tale of falling out of love. The stories in the song aren’t as important as the sentiments they convey and how, when pieced together, it provides the arc of a sputtering relationship, the end, and the feelings afterward. Having listened to it incessantly the last few weeks it’s less sad than one would assume. It’s just honest.

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 the last two years):

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.

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.

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.

Boston Book Blitz – Pt. 23: An Encounter with Milan Kundera

Even before the first page of “Encounter,” Czech-French author/critic Milan Kundera lays out his book’s roadmap. These signposts come in the fragment of a larger line. Kundera writes:

“…an encounter with my reflections and my recollections, my old themes (existential and asethetic) and my old lives…”

What follows the quotation is exactly that. Some segments are pieces he wrote several decades ago. Others were written in the present. One splices his old work, not with revisions, but instead with his current thoughts on the same topic. A few chapters are more long form essays, sometimes broken up thematically, sometimes not. Throughout it all, we, the reader are encountering great works of art, iconic artists, historic social movements, and European history spanning several centuries through through Kundera’s perspective.

Encounter by Milan Kundera

Its not until nearly page 100 of “Encounter,” when writing about Martinique and the island’s literary community’s response to movements in the 1940’s does Kundera explicitly state what an encounter is. He writes, “Not a social relation, not a friendship, not even an alliance: an encounter which is to say a spark, a lightning flash; random chance.”

“Encounter” shares similarities with the previously reviewed “Changing My Mind” by Zadie Smith and “The Possessed…” by Elif Batuman in that all three books examine the meaning of literary works and writers who have influenced each author. With Kundera, however, most of these works get a few pages at most. It is the rare book to have a fully fleshed out chapter. Smith and Batuman give us the plot and all the characters before jumping into the analysis. Kundera is giving us “a lightning flash” with each work instead of a “friendship.” Kundera is interested in telling us his opinion of the work and artist.

The flipside of these brief encounters with writers, books, artists, paintings, political movements, composers, and the whole lot of folks and ideas that are crammed into the book is that Kundera presumes his readers know whom and what he is writing about. This goes back to a subject Zadie Smith discussed: the roles of the reader and writer. Being uneducated in the ways of Roland Barthes, who gets name dropped as part of an erudite joke in “Encounter,” I came away from this book feeling as if Kundera’s intention wasn’t to educate the uninformed, but instead to, at the age of 80 at the time of publication, let the world know where he stands on these matters.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being....Milan Kundera

As much as Kundera is presumably addressing a more educated and enlightened circle, his political mindset, as liberal as it may be, ends up being so very wrong when writing about NATO’s actions in Serbia. In the book’s final character, where Kundera addresses Malaparte’s two novels on World War II in Italy, he mentions NATO’s military action in Serbia and Kosovo. Kundera’s argument is that the Europe of the second half of 20th Century is a “New Europe.” It is a place born out of the defeat of an entire continent as it was both liberated and occupied at the same time. Kundera notes that there is one exception. He writes, ” Which is why Serb cities had to be bombarded for many long weeks in 1999: in order to impose, a posteriori, the “vanquished’ status on even that part of Europe.”

I could write how Kundera seems silly when describing NATO’s horribly late reaction to the actions of Milosevic and the Serbian government as an effort to finish off the vanquishing of Europe some fifty years after it began. The funny thing is I don’t have to since Kundera himself did it earlier in the book. In an earlier “encounter,” he writes about Phillip Roth’s use of sex in the novel as a development in our history. Kundera’s analysis is the counterpoint to his bombing claim.

“The acceleration of history has profoundly transformed individual lives that, in centuries past, used to proceed from birth to death within a single historical period; today a life straddles two such periods, sometimes more. Whereas history used to advance far more slowly than human life, nowadays, it is history that moves fast, it tears ahead, it slips from a man’s grasp, and the continuity , the identity, of a life is in danger of cracking apart.”

Kundera’s wrongness stems less from a disregard for the lives of those in Kosovo, but from the fact that today’s history has slipped from his grasp. It is an irony that a critic like Kundera would appreciate, if he could see it.

How The Article Claiming The Decemberists Ruined Indie Rock Ruined Music Journalism

It was Meloy who killed indie rock -In the recording studio with the authenticity

At last Saturday’s Decemeberist’s show at the House of Blues in Boston, lead singer Colin Meloy apologized to the crowd in between songs. A few day’s before, Boston’s alt-weekly, The Phoenix, ran a cover story entitled, “How the Decemberists Ruined Indie Rock.” Meloy apologized for killing the genre. He added, “it really was no good.”

Sure I’m a fan of the band’s music, but if they had released a bad album, I wouldn’t be blinded to that fact by my fandom. This is important because the cover story, written by Luke O’Neil, is unadulterated crap. O’Neil never establishes a real thesis and even if he did, it seems he is far more interested in taking pot shots at music – music he hates to admit he actually kind of likes.

In building a case against the Decemberists, O’Neil tries to establish what “indie rock” is. That is pretty tough task anyway, and it is clear he isn’t interested in even really trying. You would be forgiven at the outset of his article if you came away thinking O’Neil doesn’t even like the idea of “indie.” Apparently, being indie in Britain is about being on the dole, but over here in the US of A, it was about maladjusted kids sharing hairspray tips. It is times like this when I knew I missed out on so much by not getting into Wilco until Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

White Folks Desperately Trying to Keep It Real By Going Folk

Just as you think Luke has set up this straw man, or better yet, straw man-child, of an edifice to knock it down, O’Neil says this public indifference was a good thing. Maybe this indifference and world view makes sense when you are seventeen and you hang out at Denny’s and drive aimlessly around your exurban county, but it gets old fast. You want something more, something with substance.

O’Neil attributes the rise of the Decemberists and their desire for authenticity as a response to grunge, emo, and the aforementioned indie indifference.  And once the Decemberists started making music, white folk decided, hey lets keep it real by enrolling in MFA programs, buying mandolins, and wearing charming folksy hats. Kept real!

It is around this point in the article where you start to ask yourself if the editors at The Phoenix took the week off or maybe somebody owed this guy a favor because the writing turns from sloppy to inane. O’Neil bemoans how indie music was no longer about “rocking out, f***ing around, and having fun…” Thanks to The Decemberists, it was about caring about shit. Unless you are a Tucker Max acolyte, how can caring about “shit” be worse than “f***ing around?” I suppose if the women you are just hooking up with are dispensable, why shouldn’t the music be too.

We really should feel for Luke and his bros because an 18 minute single based on a Celtic folk tale is a total downer when you just want to go the club and get trashed. I’d suggest just renting “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” and saving the rest of us from your Ed Hardy collection.

It is tough for these bros who have to deal with NPR rock, which is the perfect soundtrack for the folks shopping organic at their local co-op. Maybe it is my mistake to dig too deep in an article that screams like it was written minutes before a deadline, but O’Neil’s diatribe against NPR and co-op shopping indicates some latent anti-intellectualism.

But here is why the Decemberists ruined indie rock: it isn’t just NPR and co-ops now, it is bars and the radio. No bar is free of the earnestness that is Bon Iver because of Colin Meloy and his gang of twee-sters.  Who can’t sympathize with someone who just wants to sip their Bud Lime without having to hear a guy sing songs he wrote while holed up in a cabin during a Wisconsin Winter. Turn down the Iver, turn up the house music, and fist pump your way through the flannel!

And then, O’Neil acknowledges the songs on the new Decemberists’ album are good! After sloppily trashing Meloy & Co., the author can’t resist one last sophomoric slam at bands like The Decemberists, The National, Tallest Man on Earth, and others. According to O’Neil, the problem with these bands is that they care really hard about caring really hard. And music like that means nothing.

O’Neil dreams of a future where the music that mean something actually means nothing. I’ll give you a second to collect the pieces of your brain that just exploded. If that is what he wants, somebody should get Luke and his bros front row seats to the New Kids On The Block/Backstreet Boys concert at Fenway Park this summer.