Sunday, May 31, 2009

American History Rock

I imagine that Portland, Oregon based band THE DIMES had little to no idea that I used to teacher American History when they sent me a couple of songs to review. How in God's name could I give a poor review to a band that wrote an entire song about Clara Barton, famed Civil War Battlefield nurse and founder of the Red Cross? It certainly helps that the music has a nice country folk feel to it (kind of like THE JAYHAWKS mixed with THE DECEMBERISTS and DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE) that makes the lyrics go down that much easier. "Save Me Clara", the standout track from their new "New England EP", shuffles along with the help of a nice slide guitar and harmonica that screams Americana. "The Liberator" has a wonderful harmony chorus and a nice use of what I think is an accordion for the solo. This ep comes on the heels of their debut record which you can sample on the band's website.

The best tribute I can pay the band is that their music gets better with every listen. The slower, quieter songs grow on you much in the way a lazy Sunday just kind of take over your mood. The peppier songs show an edge that is most likely enhanced when they play live. This is definitely a band I will keep a keen eye on. Very well done boys.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Big, Bright, Heaping Gobs of American Pop Music

There are just those artists an self described "Indie" music lover such as myself are not supposed to like. These are artists that can come from a variety of genres but that when packed onto the ole' iPod would stick out lick a sore thumb. There is no rhyme or reason for them to be there. In some cases they are bands that I should be ashamed of but in other instances they are songs that have a beauty to them that transcends cool. Here is the first in my admissions of sins against the Indie Gods; I give you BRUCE HORNSBY AND THE RANGE!!!!

(waiting for a moment to you to pick yourself up off the floor and return to a normal breathing pattern...)

If I played Bruce's songs for you without knowing who he was, it is possible that you could see what I see. Here is a highly talented piano player who specializes in painting pictures with words and sounds that convey a sense of the American Spirit. You can almost here the train tracks in the back of the bass line and see the fields of the Midwest in his piano keystrokes. There are just those moments when you listen and get swept away in the feelings of the songs. There's the hopelessness and despair of "The Way It Is" (written at the height of the Reagan Era which was the last time we saw the dire economic straights we see in the US today) and the juxtaposition of that in the hope of the journey ahead with "The Valley Road". I understand how terminally uncool all this is but the emotion and the beauty of the songs make up for the very square nature of it all. Set aside your hipper than thou attitude and just listen...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hitting Shuffle (Episode 4)

As bands get older and put out records it's easy to dismiss them. I have previously addressed this subject before but it returns with the shuffle turning it's attention to a track off ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN's 2005 record "Siberia". This was a record that I found for free and downloaded more out of curiosity then anything I had actually heard off of it. To be frank I had stopped listening to Echo after their reunion album back in 1997, so I dismissed this record pretty quickly. This is often the case with formerly huge acts that have not aged very well (current case in point would be DEPECHE MODE) but Ian and Will seem to have quietly rediscovered their sound.

Now the record was no where near as good as their heyday but I could thing of worse stuff to listen to on a Thursday evening. This particular song, "Of A Life" has a nice retro feel to it (with a lyrical nod to "Songs to Learn and Sing") and has nice quick pace to it. Maybe I overlooked this album too quickly after all.

p.s. I feel like I need to explain the disjointed nature of this post. My original hope in writing was to take my mind off the atrocious performance the LAKERS put forth in the playoffs tonight. If you are not a sports fan it's hard to understand what it's like to be let down by your team. I can't focus on anything right now and have a sick feeling in my stomach. It's maddening and frustrating and yet I will be glued to my couch Sunday to see if they can win because that is what sports fans do...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Call To Action

I have tried for the life of this blog to keep it light and simple. I have tried to bring you good music that I feel people have either never heard or forgotten about. But sometimes I feel that it is important to veer away from all the frivolity and into more serious territory. With that in mind please indulge me a moment to speak to those living in California.

May 19th, 2009 is a very significant date in terms of the future of California education. With the budget cuts that have been enacted over the past year already destroying school districts throughout the state, we are now faced with the possibility of of a catastrophic meltdown of the state's education funding system. Simply put, the election on May 19th may very well be the beginning of the end of education in CA as we know it.

Now it may sound like I am being overly dramatic but consider this. If you have a child who is between the ages of 2-5 the odds on them being in a classroom with 30+ kids all with one teacher and no aides or other support are very real. One of the first things that most districts cut with the last round of budget reductions was the Class Sized Reduction numbers for K-3 classes. Under the old rules, class size was mandated at 25 students per teacher. Now, there are very little penalties in place for schools that do not adhere to these guidelines so it allows schools to reduce staff, save money and still service all it's students. This is by no means a good plan. Every teacher will tell you that fewer students is always better for the overall learning environment. But these are the realities that we face. And it's about to get worse. If the Props are not passed on May 19th we could be faced with another multi billion dollar cut to education funding. Large scale programs will be affected and basic services will become harder to give to all students.

Now no one likes taxes. Lord knows since I became a homeowner I cringe every time anyone starts talking about raising property taxes. But an increase in the Sales tax (as proposed by Prop 1A) will go directly to education funding (as proposed by Prop 1B). If 1A fails, the 1B fails as well. Props 1C, 1D, and 1E are also in line with shoring up the education funding system so that all students get what they need to succeed in life.

Think about where you would be without your education. We all had that teacher that inspired us and challenged us to reach our full potential. I was fortunate enough to have several outstanding teachers (Mr. Corigliano, Mrs. Ebey, Mr. Metternich, and Mr. Anderson to name a few) and I shudder to think what I might have turned out as if any of them had not been around when I got to their classroom door. I have watched my wife work miracles with groups of seven year olds teaching them how to read and write and become passionate about learning.

The questions before you on May 19th are simple. What kind of education should your child get? What is the price of that kind of education? Shouldn't we all share in the fiscal responsibility to give all children a chance to become what their potential says that can be? Are you okay with risking the next generation because you don't want to pay a little more for a candy bar?

Do the right thing and support education on May 19th. VOTE YES ON PROPS 1A-1E.

For more information visit here.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Busy Few Days

So the past couple of days have found a whole new group of people gravitating to my little space of the blogosphere for both positive and negative reasons.

First I have had the honor of guest posting on one of the best blogs running now: THE VINYL VILLAIN. To see what I had to write click here.

Second, a recent post on the new PASSION PIT album got snagged off the net by the DCMA folks who monitor copyright infringement. This is not the first post I have lost to the censors but it was the first that came with the dreaded legal notice that my behavior of praising a band for their work and trying to share my joy of the sounds they have created was a sort of crime against humanity. It used to be that this sort of thing happened when you posted large act songs, which lead to smaller acts to rally around the blogs who spent most of the energy championing them to greater success than they could possibly imagine. Personally, I understand the argument that posting songs is a form of piracy and that the writers receive no compensation for their work as a result. However, given the continued conglomeration of commercial radio and the fact that music television is all but non existent, then were do bands turn to get publicity for their albums?

Under the old construct this was the role of college radio. Non-commercial stations had the freedom that came with no format boundaries to play songs from lesser or unknown artists trying to find an audience for the music outside of the larger corporate music business. Bands such as NIRVANA and REM were born out of this. I would posit that the blogs have replaced the old college stations as that outlet. Some labels share music with the larger blogs as a form of detente and those blogs (such as STEREOGUM and MY OLD KENTUCKY BLOG to name a couple) have seen huge spikes in the audience traffic in a win-win situation. However, those of us who do this more for the joy of sharing music have no such aspirations for commercial success of our own venture. This means that we post things we like (either new or vintage in variety). I just wish bands would understand that our intent as bloggers is not malicious but supportive and we always recommend that readers buy the records and support the bands we love in concert so that they can continue to make music rather than taking a job at BEST BUY.

Does this mean I don't still love the PASSION PIT CD? Of course not (I'm listening to it now). It does mean I cannot share their music with you other than to say GO BUY THE FREAKING RECORD RIGHT AWAY...IT'S BRILLIANT!!!!