This week, I’m featuring one of my favorite Sonic Youth songs, “Chapel Hill,” from the band’s 1992 album, Dirty. The song is based on the city of – wait for it – Chapel Hill in North Carolina. There are also references to people and places related to the state, such as late bookstore owner and activist Bob Sheldon, the famed venue Cat’s Cradle, the city of Durham, the Char-Grill restaurant, and politician Jesse Helms.
This Tuesday, I’m enjoying a snow day off thanks to Winter Storm Octavia. I’m also enjoying some music from Sloan, a favorite band of mine. Hailing from Canada, Sloan is known for their unchanged lineup throughout their 20+ year career and their unique approach to making music – each member shares songwriting duties. “The Life of a Working Girl,” written by bassist Chris Murphy, appears on the band’s 2001 album, Pretty Together.
Whether or not you watched the Grammys on Sunday, if you’ve visited any social media websites since then, you’ve probably read about Beck Hansen’s Morning Phase earning three Grammys for Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical), Best Rock Album, and Album of the Year. You may have also seen celebrities’ reactions to his Album of the Year win or heard Kanye West’s comments about Beck “disrespecting artistry” – comments I find rather nonsensical and ironic.
On January 30, Mad Season joined the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall in Seattle for a one-time reunion concert. Titled Sonic Evolution, the show featured original compositions by former Mad Season member Mike McCready, along with several guest appearances. “River of Deceit” featured McCready, Barrett Martin, Duff McKagan, and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell filling in for the late Layne Staley on vocals.
“River of Deceit” was one of three singles from Mad Season’s sole album, Above (1995). I think this arrangement of the song is absolutely beautiful and moving, and I would have loved to see this live. I’m crossing my fingers for a live CD/DVD release in the future.
Today’s song is from Soundgarden’s frontman, Chris Cornell. Cornell wrote “The Keeper” for the 2011 film, Machine Gun Preacher. The song appears on the film’s soundtrack and on Cornell’s 2011 live solo album, Songbook. Though it has a different mood than the film, “The Keeper” has well-crafted, meaningful lyrics that tie in closely with the film’s story. It’s simply a beautiful song.
Cornell discussed his songwriting process for the film in this 2011 Hitfix interview.
And before I let one more fire go out / Understand that I won’t give one inch of ground / From beneath yours and my feet / Whatever the price happens to be
Before I look at some of this year’s upcoming releases, I want to revisit the music and movies that made my 2014. Since ranking favorites is a moderate form of torture for a music/film enthusiast, they’re not listed in a particular order. You can click each picture to enlarge it and read the captions.
“Fading West” brings fresh energy and experimentation to Switchfoot’s catalog while retaining their familiar sound. It’s an energetic, inspiring album that works well with the accompanying film of the same name. It’s rounded out with the EP, “The Edge of the Earth” which contains unreleased songs from the film.
“Morning Phase” is Beck’s best album in years. The album creates a deep, introspective mood through thoughtful lyrics and beautiful instrumentation. This album has a similar feel to 2002’s “Sea Change.”
In typical Sloan fashion, “Commonwealth” gives each of the band’s four members a chance to shine with his own set of songs. While this could prove messy for most bands, “Commonwealth” showcases each member’s different songwriting and musical styles to create a well-rounded album without becoming incoherent.
Recorded in eight different U.S. cities, “Sonic Highways” is a great concept album from the Foo Fighters. I feel the album is best appreciated alongside its accompanying HBO mini-series of the same title, as the show provides context for many of the lyrics. This album is more about the Foo Fighters’ journey and the people they met along the way, and Sonic Highways reflects that. The entire album is full of heart.
“Vagabond” has very moving, thought-provoking lyrics that capture the spirit of an individual on a journey through life, relationships, and discovery of what’s truly important in life, and what one can do without.
“Whoop Dee Doo” is the band’s first album in ten years. The Muffs are back and just as good as ever. Kim’s vocals have slightly deepened with age, but she’s still got her trademark scream and youthful energy. It’s a solid album, and even though it doesn’t break a lot of new ground, it’s a satisfying addition to the band’s catalog, especially for longtime fans.
It took a while for me to completely wrap my mind around this film, and I still think I need a second viewing, but what really sells “Birdman” for me are the stunning performances from its cast.
The fact that this film exists is mindblowing to me. It was filmed over a twelve year period and is one of the most moving films I have seen in a long time. This is another film with standout acting performances.
“Hellion” is a realistic, sometimes gritty, portrayal of the life of Texas brothers and their father’s attempts to hold it together. The characters feel very real and it’s been interesting to see the film expand from a Sundance short into feature length. Child actor Josh Wiggins gives a standout performance in his first role, and I hope to see him in more films in the future.
I’ll admit that initially, I had low expectations for this movie, but was pleasantly surprised by how great it was. It was funny, smartly written, and was designed to appeal to viewers of all ages. The awesome animation deserves a nod as well.
“Whiplash” was the most stress-inducing film I saw this year, but in a good way. It’s an intense film that poses some intriguing questions. Is greatness innate or does it have to be pushed and extracted from someone? For those striving for greatness, how far is too far? This film has an amazing soundtrack, and a career-best performance from J.K. Simmons. At many points in this film, I found myself holding my breath and gripping my seat from the intensity.
This week’s tune comes from Colorado-based math-rock band Aspen Hourglass. I stumbled across their music last fall and became an instant fan after watching “Veil of Anxiety” on YouTube. One thing was immediately clear: members Grayson Erhard (lead vocals/guitar), Elvin Holderfield (piano/synthesizers), and Sean Hanson (drums/backing vocals) are all extremely talented musicians. (more…)
The first Tuesday Tune of 2015 comes from one of my favorite bands, The Posies. “You Avoid Parties” appears on the band’s second album, Dear 23, released by DGC Records in 1990.
Dear 23 is one of my favorite albums and since the first listen, I’ve considered “You Avoid Parties” a standout track, largely due to its great vocal harmonies and well-crafted lyrics. Its story is told in second person and every verse reveals a new layer of the narrative. I’ve always thought this song described someone’s struggle with depression as they gradually pull away from the people and things they once enjoyed. Each thing this person avoids – parties, fathers, and thinking – remind them of who they used to be. In particular, the following lyrics stand out to me: