Archive for May, 2020


Benjamin Gibbard’s Space Exploration and Filler…

How many favorite albums never grace your ears anymore? Without physical media in front of me full-time, artists and albums are forgotten. But at the right time, when my head is empty, a mention of an act triggers a coveted recollection. Earlier this week, a friend referenced Death Cab for Cutie, this mention instantaneously brought to mind Home, Vol. 5 with Benjamin Gibbard: a forgotten eight song split EP with Andrew Kenny – the creative force behind now-defunct American Analog Set. The EP is a tender collection of home themed unplugged songs, each soulfully represented by Benjamin and Andrew. A stripped-down acoustic approach to storytelling makes the listener home in on the few elements presented: the strength and sincerity of that artist’s voice, his/her message they wish to convey, and nothing unnecessary to distract you.

Excellent timing for that sparked memory because New Music Friday brought us “Proxima B” from Gibbard with the b-side housing “Filler”, a Minor Threat reinterpretation.

Gibbard has been another generous artist entertaining us with live streams. “Proxima B” was initially heard virtually, but in studio form comes alive with full instrumentation. It’s a mid-tempo, bright journey where the final destination is the unknown

Gibbard’s inspiration for “Proxima B”:

“It’s about a planet that was discovered deep, deep in the cosmos, called Proxima B. The three things you need to know about Proxima B to understand the song are: One, there’s a planet called Proxima B that they think has water on it. It’s somewhat Earth-like. Secondly, it orbits the star called Centauri. And three, there’s been a lot of talk of ‘Ooh, maybe we can get there at some point.’ So I wrote this song in response to that.”

Minor Threat’s “Filler” is 93 seconds of fast-paced thrashing potentially erupting in chaos and resentment; Benjamin’s cover is practically double the length and trades fuzzy rage for minor piano chords creating a somber ballad. Where the original is a fast-burning wick of a track, Gibbard stomps out the fiery madness and creates something suitable for a dinner party.

Gibbard’s historical output is worth returning to. Thankfully he is now at the forefront of my musical repertoire, like a worn-out record in your crate reminding you of its glory.


Hawksley’s (Virtual) Night in Canada

My body has caught up to life’s 4th decade. That quick step is nowhere near as light, priorities have changed, and experiencing live music impedes my ability to have a full night’s rest. Yes, a great night’s rest takes precedence over a show. In another life, I’d attend upwards of 40 shows per year, today that number can be tallied on a hand. The younger version of myself is embarrassed, shamefully shaking his head and inevitably asking, How could this be?

It’s a matter of priorities and the logistical challenge of disappearing for an evening. The opportunity costs of experiencing live music are not what they once were. As surreal as that is to my younger self, attending a live show isn’t an option today.

Enter the virtual show. It’s something I have come to appreciate, dare I say, prefer. Online gigs provide simple access, clear sightlines, flexibility on where you watch, and creative segments the live experience does not.

Hawksley Workman, the singer/songwriter with chameleon-like artistry and the power to alter trajectories, put on a show from his father-in-law’s basement. He billed it as 75 minutes, beginning at 8 PM EST, and required a ticket; ideal duration, amazing set time, and Hawksley’s done me a few solids, so the chance to support him was a privilege. His set included recent winners like “Battlefords”, a nostalgic, uplifting trip down rural Canadian roads; 2001’s melodically catchy “Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off”, an intense vocal exercise proclaiming the beauty in a loved one; and thankfully, “Safe and Sound”, Workman’s delicate folk creation assuring his lover she chose wisely. 75 minutes gave Hawksley time to pull songs from many albums and showcase what one can do with a virtual gig.

Workman’s trailer for his gig spoke of “Pet Songs” and “Hawk Talk” as special segments. The latter took me back to a previous period any music fan remembers. You’re listening to the radio, the DJ is whetting your appetite with tickets to an upcoming sold-out gig. “After the break…at the top of the hour…” Then all of a sudden, it’s go time, and the listener with the fastest fingers is now on the air! You might be the lucky caller who’s two tickets richer to this coveted show! That caller who got on the air was absolutely floored, sometimes speechless, and their enthusiasm was contagious – jealously became your middle name. This gig recreated that momentous moment.

At a small club, it’s not unusual to have the opportunity to be face-to-face with an artist; merch table, their journey to the stage, crossing paths with them on the sidewalk, etc. Today’s equivalent of that experience is “Hawk Talk”, a chance to speed dial your way into Hawksley’s Workman’s studio and converse with him via his landline phone. A legitimate Peterborough, Ontario, Canada number flashed across our screen and the race began. My mobile shows 13 failed calls to break into Hawksley’s basement. Numerous lucky fans, as other salivating, jealous fans watched on, conversed directly with Hawksley. My wife and I didn’t need an intermission, and certainly wouldn’t have requested the music to stop. But this unexpected moment made us smile, discuss what we would have said, and appreciate his creativity even more.

Through these times, a slightly nuanced day, an upcoming experience you place on the calendar, and an opportunity to witness a highly coveted artist when other musicians might be lying dormant is special. The virtual gig will play on during this period, and my hope is that the potential has been showcased for it to extend beyond this quarantined era. When venue doors open, and your favorite band rolls into town, attend, enjoy every moment of it. In the meantime, artists making unconventional moves to entertain you deserve your support. It’s this support today that will bring them back tomorrow.

Live music is an experience, it’s one that we can attest to be life-affirming, and now it’s been taken away. Sadly, the power to see live music can be fleeting as life evolves. This period has me striving to be more present and bask in all moments of joy. Regardless of the medium, wax, streaming, a dirty rock club’s PA, or in the intimacy of my home, comfortably seated next to my wife as Hawksley Workman’s powerful voice and imaginative pop creations virtually strike us, it’s music that continues to be the consistent joy.


Disclosure’s “Energy”

“If you are alive, I know you ain’t reach your best yet!”

Many want a quick fix for what ails them. Hard work is a thing of the past. A magic pill seems to be the preferred method for self-improvement. Dr. Eric Thomas, the hip-hop preacher of kickin’ your life outta neutral, asks you to respect the process. Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, better known as Disclosure, the production and club banger duo, unleashed “Energy” with Dr. Thomas on inspirational vocals. His formidable voice makes you jump up, stand at attention, and question your purpose as he shouts, “Where your focus goes, your energy flows – are you hearing me?”

It’s four minutes and 54 seconds of a kick in the ass with rhythms straight out of Brazil’s Carnival, where ass shakin’ dancarina de samba invite you to let the riddim’ hit you and allow the powerful pulse to unleash the power within. If you seek the less arduous path in self-optimization, Disclosure nonchalantly steps over Tony Robbins with “Energy” and places that quick fix pill in your hand and hips.

The Lawrences know a catalyst for change when they hear one:

“When we found Eric many years ago, he was like a goldmine of inspirational quotes and motivational speeches,” the house duo stated. “Even if he was speaking to a room of five it was like he was addressing a stadium. He has an immense presence and energy about him that translates so well into music – especially house music.”


Hawksley Night in Canada

I believe any artist I spin has a great imagination. They’re creators, people who bring ideas to life via musical compositions. Hawksley Workman, the one-man jam outta Ontario, has kept me guessing for over a decade. The man conjures up idea after idea and consistently re-imagines his sonic signature.

Hawksley Workman headlines shows in Canada. Sadly, few know of him in the States. His ability to create energy in an artful, I’m going to do it my way draws me in. It’s his unique musical footprint that caught someone else’s ear, too.

Queueing up songs to set a mood and create energy brings me joy. Sometimes it’s an independent endeavor, other times, it’s for an audience of two. The setting was my girlfriend’s kitchen as we collaborated on our first joint dinner. I was plugged in, playing who knows what and was asked to consult the recipe. I inputted her password to access the app – trust had been established – and Spotify appeared on her device. At this moment, we as a couple are a month in. Deep musical conversations hadn’t transpired yet; I only knew so much of what she gravitated towards. If name dropping had happened, it wouldn’t have been anything obscure.

I do a double-take, and I ask myself whose phone I’m clutching. My hand is wrapped tightly around her pink cassette cased mobile and the screen is displaying Treeful of Starling, Workman’s 2006 ballad-heavy, nice on the toy piano record. How is this possible? At this point, I’m well versed in his catalog, aware of his lack of presence nationally, and absolutely floored my girlfriend recently spun him. Standing in a girl’s kitchen I barely know, blankly staring at a screen, with a mind already stumbling over my next set of words, whatever action I follow with is crucial. An epiphany strikes me: this girl is whip- smart and crazy cute, she knows of this quirky lost Canadian, what’s my move?

We joke this moment defined our relationship: Any girl who knew and listened to Hawksley Workman was special. Picture something you value, anything that has brought you repeated pleasure, and then create an alternate reality where you meet a person who shares this interest.

Fast forward eight years and that girlfriend is now my wife, and we are sharing “Hawksley Night in Canada” intimately this evening. A 75-minute virtual show of “your favourite songs”, “Hawk Talk”, and “Pet Songs” broadcast from Hawksley’s father-in-law’s basement.

We make decisions every day. Some affect us immediately, others don’t show their effect until later in life. If I remove a few simple variables from life’s complex equation, I have to ask myself, How different is today if her phone didn’t open to Treeful of Starling?


Spielbergs’ “Go”…

Unbeknownst rock bands out of particular cities used to warrant immediate investigation. The era of 90s Chicago spawned act after act that still brings me joy through the power of guitar rock. Norway was traveled to consistently on this blog a decade ago – the objective was the dancefloor. Now, the nordic country is offering an explosion of sound care of Oslo trio Spielbergs. “Go” lets you know it’s time to rage, is anthemic upon the first blistering note, and challenges you to hold pace with the sonic sprint Spielbergs erupt with.

The driving guitars and panic-inducing drumming within “Go” jolts me alive and forces me to hit something with a Herculean-like blast; its one of joy though as I bang the shit out of anything within striking distance; or my old self reappears and I’m jumping on your back and letting Spielbergs control me as lead singer Mads Baklien shouts, “Pull yourself together..” . Either way, rock never died.


Rhye’s “Beautiful”…

Rhye has been creating sensual bedroom soundscapes and inevitable tingles since 2013. Take one part “Wicked Games” from Chris Isaak, lay down a sexy, get you in the mood beat like “No Diggity” from Blackstreet, and add an orchestral sprinkling from Labelle to give you the mood enhancing signature of Rhye.

Mike Milosh, the LA-based by way of Toronto seamstress of all things foreplay-inducing R&B, is Rhye. His voice is light, one that was initially mistaken for a female’s; the delivery puts you and a partner at ease with his tenderness, like a sweet nothing whispered into your lover’s ear. Rhye’s latest one off-single, “Beautiful”, immediately catches me with its urgent strings, downtempo back and forth sway, and inviting message to assess the beauty at your disposal. “Oh I feel so good inside/Oh I feel so free/With you by my side/Beautiful woman, oh babe/Spend some time with me” I continue to take solace in music. Now more than ever, I appreciate my surroundings, look for inspiration in the simple, and lean longingly on my loved ones.

Milosh on “Beautiful”:

As we all share in this collective crazy moment that is quarantine, there are many ways to deal with the isolation, many ways we can truly fall into ourselves. For me, celebrating the beauty that is my partner has been a huge inspiration for me and a saving grace. Beauty is something we truly need to be open to in this moment. Find it in music, art, your loved ones, or yourself.


We need to get old, old fashioned….

Music possesses the power to transport us into an alternate reality. I consider it an aural escape drug. Your conscious forgets about the present, the journey is initiated with a drop of the needle on a specific album or song. This drug has never been more vital and potent than today. My dosage hasn’t changed, it’s the careful selection of what I want coursing through my veins that has.

“I’ll turn off the TV, it’s killing us, we never speak/there’s a radio in the corner, it’s dying to make a scene”, pleads Scott Hutchison on Frightened Rabbit’s “Old, Old Fashioned”. A stomp your feet, dance floor filler of a lament to return to yesterday off Midnight Organ Fight. It’s a keen reminder of First World living: this formidable, life-altering technology can crush us if not careful. I hear this song and think how devices were a contributing factor to this severed relationship. You slip into a routine: return from your day, exchange robotic pleasantries, and let technology drive the remainder of your evening without being present with the people around you.

And now, many of us are required to spend endless hours in front of a screen; learning, working, hosting social hours, etc. If you’re not mindful of your time, the screen has monopolized your day. A time of quarantine has silver linings, though on the b-side, it has been a challenge to keep things fresh, maintain sanity with dependents, and complete daily tasks. In times of calm and moments of chaos, my great motivator has always been an aural drug: music.

Midnight Organ Fight is an ode to a past relationship, one that lyrically alerts us to its brutality. Stylistically this is a folk-pop record thanks to interwoven electric and acoustic guitars over propulsive drumming. A meditative masterpiece of a break-up album, one that makes me demonstrate gratitude towards my relationships, realize everything is okay at the moment, and reflect on how life’s best moments needn’t much more than social connection, a radio, and a willingness to be present.

“Old, Old Fashioned” turns me into the best barn storming line dancer. It might have you pause for a minute, think about what matters, and if you’re moving towards or further away from your principles. Please grab a loved one, put away the silly screens, queue up some riveting numbers, and get old, old fashioned.


Jets to Brazil Part Two

Electric Six plays their riotous, over the top surf rock “Gay Bar” more than once in a live set. They bill it as “Part Two”. Hitting repeat is an under appreciated move today. Most press play on a digital playlist and walk away to multi-task. I’m taking a cue from Electric Six and upping a Part Two of a forgotten gem.

I’m reading a book on extinction and while engrossed in the Great Auk chapter, guillemot birds swoop in. This mention sparked a synapse in my tiny brain highlighting “Jets to Brazil” from the London-based quartet Guillemots. An act noted here 12 years prior – and barely spun since.

Streaming is too much at my fingertips. It’s one of the best problems to have. If you wanna spin it, most likely you can within seconds. But for those times that I draw a blank, I yearn for the pre-Spotify era, a time where I could peruse my CD shelf or flip through my wax collection; everything was right there, forgotten artists and albums didn’t exist. There were inactive periods on MiS. But this page has existed for 14 years, with countless posts on artists worth returning to; sadly, they are pushed aside if a favorite artist unleashes new material or something unique catches my ears. Like a browse of my collection for inspiration, I should return to previous posts when stuck on what to place “Next Up” in my queue.

A frolicking drumbeat initiates the playful sounding “Jets to Brazil”, an uplifting, lyrically emotional track. Fyfe Dangerfield’s vocals passionately soar; his lyrics are on a roller coaster of despair, nostalgia, and a plea for gratitude. Death is dark, it’s sad and a challenge to contend with. Focusing on a life lived is what I envision for myself and any loved one. Let’s have a celebration, forget a somber tone. Guillemots do exactly that: create an atmosphere of rejoice with colorful melody, precision-like saxophone stabs, and a momentous rhythm to remind you you’re still here. Pay your respects as you bask in the glorious “Jets to Brazil”.


Count Bass D’s Welcome Back

Simplicity needs to be a virtue of mine. A song stripped of everything but heart, keys, and positivity always wins. Dwight Conroy Farrell, the multi-instrumentalist, MF Doom collaborator, and name dropper extraordinaire, better known as Count Bass D, takes on John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back”. Sebastian’s version appeared in the intro and outro to 70s TV show Welcome Back, Kotter. A familiar tune is more digestible when enveloped in madness.

This take is a nod to the light at the end of this Coronavirus tunnel. It’s a peaceful piano rendition aimed to help with the stress of these times. 

An uplifting Mr. Rogers vibe radiates outta D’s “Welcome Back”. Dwight’s languid delivery soothes and melds seamlessly over the keys. The 808 sounding handclaps and squeaky synth create an it’s all good atmosphere. It’s Friday, shit is awry, and you could use a smile.

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May 2020