Music Thoughts, A Quiet Place

A quote to live by, or strive to help lead you to the life you desire can be inspirational. This motivation to reach for better is all around us if we stop and look. On MusicThoughts, there is a grand collection of quotes attributed to musicians on the medium that drives so much of our day: music. In these times of addictive scrolling and lifeless phone gazing, a site with the power to push moves me.

Derek Sivers is a Renaissance Man, an inspirational figure for his past and current endeavors. As a musician, and a proponent of the arts, he created MusicThoughts – A quiet place to think about music. Before Amazon was the behemoth it is today, he founded a music-specific e-commerce site, CD Baby. It was a go-to spot for many enthusiasts on the hunt for lesser known, independent acts. Post the sale of his online company, Derek dabbled and explored. He’s a thinker, writer, and generous intellectual.

A minimalistic site consisting of phrases sometimes so simple, yet profound, my instinct is to stop and contemplate.

Practice makes perfect. But on-the-fly makes art.

It is the very act of “concentrating” on writing music which makes it difficult to do, since ideas normally arise when one is not focused but when one is “open” in some way.

I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one. Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down.

Take a minute to explore, and see what words move you to reach for something differently better than yesterday.


El El’s 40 Watt (Draft Resurrection)

A draft started in 2015 after Heypenny incarnated into ELEL and debuted their initial single, “40 Watt”. When the former frontman of chaotic, more fun than your go-to pop band initiates a new band, you listen.

Heypenny, out of pop breeding ground Nashville, had all the essential ingredients I crave in a pop/rock outfit; unpredictability, boundless energy, a passion for carefree tomfoolery, mathematical lyrical randomness, and a penchant for crafting quirky, infectiously danceable numbers. A brand of music self-described as 14-year-olds with fireworks, deserved to become a verb for when someone asks you to create some fun shit: Go ahead and Heypenny that real quick.

ELEL is a group effort, one larger than most acts I trend towards. More collaborators mean richer layers for their immersive, worldly sound. “40 Watt” is a feel-good, let’s come together and dance the doldrums away piece. Ben Elkins, with the assistance of his songster and songstress entourage, inhale enough helium to create a strobe-like club where the light pulses through your body and the energy strikes you to come alive:

That 40 Watt light bulb/If we turn it on & off, and on, and off & on/It’ll make it like we’re dancin’ in a big city club that’s flashin’/I jump and you spin again and again

If Heypenny was a quick lighting wick that leads to a riotous party, ELEL is the more mature group of boys and girls igniting bright and expansive arrangements via their eclectic backgrounds and influences.


Prince’s Cosmic Day

Walking into Prince’s vault must be the equivalent of peering into the world’s most powerful telescope: the vastness and exciting unknown are unfathomable. His estate has announced a re-issue of his 1987 double-LP Sign O’ The Times. This gift will unveil an intimidating 63 previously unreleased tracks with 45 being studio cuts. With one being “Cosmic Day”, a track performed by Camille with a guest appearance from Prince’s formidable, unmistakable shredding.

In 1986 Prince recorded an unreleased record under the pseudonym Camille. She is the virtuoso’s alter-ego; with a higher than normal pitch and androgynous vocals his intention was to hide behind this unknown artist. When Warner Bros. decided a record without Prince’s name lacked commercial potential, it was shelved. A few tracks intended for Camille appeared on Sign O’ The Times, minus “Cosmic Day”; a bubbly feminine teenage-sounding voice yearns throughout for an otherworldly reality as we’re taken on a roaring psych-pop race lasting nearly six minutes.


Hawksley Workman’s What Would You Say to Me, Lord (Draft Resurrection)

A draft from January of 2014. At this point, life had evolved, musically I was more open. I was invested in an intimate relationship. My girl and I shared a vital musical interest. This six-year-old draft’s topic makes me proud. Hawksley Workman has pushed my wife and me through these surreal, sometimes doldrum-inducing times. But now that I’ve meditated on how his influence impacted my trajectory, I couldn’t stomach most of what I said when this draft began.

Like a great book, the timing of its appearance into your life matters. This often referenced artist means more to me today, and when listening, I see him through an updated lens.

There was a time where a somber, not cranked tune was embarrassing to my ears. The sad truth, it was a concern for what others thought of my listening habits. Who was even going to hear it? Hawksley Workman has proven through various albums, artistic endeavors, and virtual shows, he’s an artist to proudly showcase. No shame in an artist with the wherewithal to create virtuosic unique pop, but it’s his simplicity and heartfelt songwriting that helps him to stand alone amongst my collection.

The song I was sharing back in 2014 was the opposite of what I thought this blog was: hype worthy, adrenaline inducing music meant to jumpstart an evening. A sound appropriate for a place of worship didn’t fit this blog’s agenda. My original writing screamed of someone sharing a weak, shame inducing song; upon the post, I’d have to duck and hide from the inevitable onslaught of criticism.

“What Would You Say to Me, Lord?” blends seamlessly on Between the Beautifuls; a delicately blessed 12 track record full of intricately woven instruments played with light dynamics to let Workman’s expressive and quirky vocals shine.

A fitting closing track where the tempo is scaled back and the feeling it creates is one of uplifting joy. Light piano accompaniment runs throughout; the hushed delivery of the angelic harmonies complement this rapture inducing hymn. Simply, I find this song peaceful. It’s accessible for most, a song I wouldn’t hesitate to place into a playlist if my Mom and I were on a cross-country road trip where when not deep in conversation, the music is the topic at hand.

Hawksley Workman :: What Would You Say to Me, Lord?


Local H’s 8:46

Local H continue to smash through barriers. The Chicago-based duo do not idle, they shift the shit of their transmission and get it outta neutral the second they can make themselves useful. Using their instrumental weaponry, a propulsive tribute has been penned, “8:46”, an artistic piece to draw attention to police brutality.

This duration is associated with George Floyd and the police officer who knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Chicago’s most important rock purveyors possess a loyal following, something I do not equally have but that doesn’t excuse in-action.

We all have the ability to be artists. Yes, an artist, one with the ability to change how someone other than us feels. We can improve the status quo, work to humanize the daily experience for all.

We can go out of our way to be different and challenge the norm. Perhaps zig instead of zag, choose to speak up when you’re in a situation of injustice and cruelty towards another. These heightened times have brought light to how chaotic today is. I’m attempting to be better. It’s a daily journey, one that does not have a finish line.

When we sit back and passively accept what is transpiring around us, it’s not others who are the problem, we are equal contributors. Run the Jewel’s Killer Mike eloquently raps on “Walking in the Snow”,

And everyday on evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me
And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, “I can’t breathe”
And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV
The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy
But truly the travesty, you’ve been robbed of your empathy
Replaced it with apathy…

Creating and sharing a racially-inspired tribute post isn’t making change. It’s the equivalent of a Twitter rant. This pushes me to explore how I can impact change. Maybe you’re equally motivated by this ferocious, awe-inspiring barrage of sound Local H smashes us over the head with. Its intensity forces us to wake up and take a deep, comprehensive self-examination.

This isn’t an obligatory response to protecting the band’s image and insincerely saying they care, too. Local H have survived in this fickle industry by being artists, creators that change how we feel and how we interact with our surroundings. Their “8:46” is now an essential piece of the inspirational playlist canon.


Ela Minus’ Megapunk

The gradual release of a record whets my appetite. Anticipation towards a grand collection of thematically and musically in sync songs is what still draws me into full-length albums.

Ela Minus, the Colombiana-born NYC-based producer haunted my thoughts with her eerie, yet lyrically optimistic slow-burner, “they told us it was hard, but they were wrong.” single. An absolute headbanger of a cut with its throbbing beat underlying all six minutes as Ela in a weightless, methodical tone conveys the necessity of optimism.

She’s returned with her latest, “Megapunk”, a formidable anthem aimed at incompetent politicians dragged through the gritty, strobe-heavy club. Ela doesn’t hesitate to share her agitated state as she rallies the troops:

you don’t want to understand/ you’re choosing to lead us apart/ but against all odds/ you still won’t make us stop.

Here she accelerates to a dangerous velocity following a driving beat interwoven with techno-heavy Zeros and Ones; throughout she chants, “You can’t make us stop!” as the pulsing and racing hits hard from start to finish.

Surprisingly penned last year:

When I wrote this song last year, I was worried it would lose context if not released immediately. I could not have been more wrong. This is the perfect time to put this out. We have to keep going. Ánimo y fuerza.


Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition)

Strong records from debut artists hooked me in 2019 while on a multi-year blog break. One was Black Pumas, a sensual, soulful duo out of Austin, TX. With a dynamic frontman in Eric Burton, with enough charismatic smoothness of an Otis Redding with plenty of young volcanic James Brown energy. Live, he’s there to perform, put on a theatrical-like production through movement, running his voice through various registers, and complementing Adrian Quesada’s neo-soul beauty.

“Black Pumas made you something special.” was in my inbox this morning.

“Fans First”, is Spotify’s feature where listeners of specific artists get first dibs on various offerings; gig access, t-shirts, and pre-sales of upcoming record releases.

“11 bonus tracks including unreleased originals, live recordings, and four cover songs” jumped out in a “Fans First” email. I’m a completist for artists that move me. Their debut consisted of 10 tracks. Every song is warm and inviting, possesses the ability to make you feel and move through poetic lyricism advocating for love and unity; and perfect dinner music. Additional Black Pumas excited me. A sense of urgency came over me as the scarcity of this release was highlighted:

“This Fan’s First pressing is limited to 1000 copies worldwide, pressed on an exclusive color and only available while supplies last.”

Sold, Spotify. Artists have no idea how important their art has been to push us through these troubling, unknown times. I know that a vinyl release is a piece of art. This purchase is an enhancement to my listening experience, and more importantly, a small token of appreciation for all Black Pumas do.


A Gravity-Free Dream Through Hollywood

What if you were in charge of scoring movies with your masterly curated soundscapes? A dream job for most. I would have to steal other artists’ creations. Those who can receive a script, or even view footage to be scored, and then sit down to create a composition evoking what one wants the viewer/listener to experience is other-worldly. So I will take Gold & Thorns “Hollywood” creation and stockpile it when Anthony Gonzalez of M83 and Stranger Things come together in a new found underworld and require an aural accompaniment.

Perhaps it’s the minor synths, the backing beat accentuated by pulses of shimmering light with androgynous vocals floating over this dream-pop novella that make me wants to close my eyes and drift off to an alternate reality. Or the 80s tones invoke what we would envision for an emotional rollercoaster of heartbreak descents and precipitous ascents where we are on the verge of losing all control while experiencing a terror-inducing chase where the scene quickly cuts to darkness.


Chicago Got Lucky (Draft Resurrection)

A draft created in 2013. Even though its contents were about two former 90s Chicago acts, I found connections to them this year. Loud Lucy, a bright and powerfully expressive trio, created a cohesively formidable debut record in 1995 and vanished almost as quickly as they stepped onto the scene. Earlier this year, I discovered their one and only record was on Spotify after believing MP3s were my only listening source. Then Fig Dish, a witty power-pop quartet fronted by Blake Smith, a serial band founder who has given me countless listens over two plus decades. Smith contributed to “High, Wide, and Stupid” off Local H’s latest record Lifers.

A lost tribute album re-emerged this month: Wikipedia reminded me of its existence while researching oddities. You Got Lucky is a collection of Tom Petty songs reimagined from various artists of the 90s. Two former staples in my Chicago rotation were enlisted for this covers record.

Loud Lucy, a trio signed to Geffen Records was a one and done act. Their debut Breathe was a collection of 12 tracks that showcased the bands ability to rock, create tracks with sudden acceleration around Christian Lane’s excitable vocal range, and made me question why this melodic guitar-heavy act disappeared. Cover or not, this is an additional Loud Lucy track; and one with Veruca Salt’s Louise Post on backing vocals.

Loud Lucy :: Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

The alt-power pop quartet Fig Dish showcased their high-energy Chicago sound over the course of two whip smart, consistent full-lengths. On this rendition, the quartet remove the brightness of Petty’s original for a slow-burn care of chugging guitars, a formulaic 90s crunch, and sludgy feedback that when at its apex is ready to burst out of the gates with the furious pop propulsion Fig Dish excelled at.

Fig Dish :: Don’t Come Around Here No More


Workman’s Sound Check!

Hawksley Workman is doing a sound check of sorts for tomorrow’s 3rd installment of Hawksley Night in Canada EP 3. The local Victoria radio station, Zone 91-3, understands we miss live music. Thanks to their Micro Virtual Zone Show, a unique live performance of Hawksley’s latest single, “Just a Dream” has been shared.

Thanks to video wizardy, Workman showcases this song’s multi-layered ingredients that create this whimsical, throwback four on the floor single:

Hawksley Workman :: Just a Dream (Micro Virtual Zone Show)

On Sunday, 7/26, at 3 PM ET, the one-man jam is bringing his theatrical-like pop exuberance to us. It’s a basement show, one where deep cuts and fan favorites will be performed. He’s so confident in his chosen set-list that he’s already shared it:

Purchase your entrance into this intimate basement extravaganza here.

Upcoming Shows:


August 2020