Mike Knott at The Viper Room

Two things I’ve heard.

You should never meet your heroes in person and The Viper Room is crazy loud. Fortunately, meeting Mike Knott a couple times never once diminished my love for his incredible discography. The Viper Room is ridiculously loud for sure. Unfortunately, I didn’t get there to see Mike Knott with Andy Prickett, Eric Campuzano, Ed Benrock and Robert Meyer. Post-major label letdown with Aunt Bettys and pre-vagabond wandering, this show is pretty slick and controlled because it was a label showcase.

Rather than suck all the guts out, that makes for one of the best bootleg listens I’ve heard in ages. Recorded directly from the soundboard, this is a must for fans of Knott and The Prayer Chain, and everyone else tired of soulless auto-tuned radio drivel.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=4122991968/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/transparent=true/

 

With Draw

In the past few months, I have had the chance to see music from Australia, France, and Canada, in addition to the Texas, New York, and LA-based acts that typically come through. That’s been nice.

Gojira were very polite, which stood in contrast to their precise and pulverizing metal. Their French accents were cute. I don’t know if Courtney Barnett spoke or sang or mumbled or what, but whatever it was I couldn’t understand it but totally loved it (as always). Crystal Castles were Canadian, and I also saw Phantogram. Both were about as antiseptic as expected.

Along with Barnett, the Sound on Sound Fest one-day pass also provided close access to a rock legend (Bob Mould) and a local legend (Explosions in the Sky). The latter was the clear highlight of the fall for live music. These guys’ near-telepathic chemistry and their mastery of dynamics was put over the top by the coolest light show I have ever seen (thanks, weather).

Personally, it has been a crushing few months, but discovering new music and seeing old favorites is a helpful tonic. Listen to some of what I have been listening to, if you d/care.

Open Playlist (Google Play)

Brand New – single and tour

I actually believe that middle-aged angst is more genuine and immediate than the early-life variety that most of us leave behind sometime after college.

Brand New, a band well-versed in the disenchantment of Gen X nihilism, returned last year with a caustic new single “Mene” and dropped an official release of the long-circulated Leaked Demos 2006 earlier this year.

Now, on the verge of a tour with Modest Mouse, Brand New unleash “I Am A Nightmare” on an unsuspecting world busy debating about Donald Trump, Blake Lively and other innocuous entertainment drivel.

3:20 of romantic miscreantry.

“I am a nightmare and you are a miracle.”

“Shake your zen out and give me pure energy.”

Yes! Indeed.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/track=2622503459/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/transparent=true/

06-01-02 Vancouver, British Columbia – Vogue Theatre
06-04 Edmonton, Alberta – Union Hall
06-05 Calgary, Alberta – Macewan Hall Ballroom
06-06 Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – O’Brians Event Centre
06-09-10 Toronto, Ontario- Sound Academy
06-11 Montreal, Quebec – Olympia De Montreal
06-28 Magna, UT – Saltair *
06-29 Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre *
07-01 Bonner Springs, KS – Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre *
07-02 Chicago, IL Firstmerit Bank, Pavilion *
07-03 Clarkston, MI – DTE Energy Music Theatre *
07-05 Pittsburgh, PA – Stage AE *
07-06 Cary, NC – Koka Booth Amphitheater *
07-08 Miami, FL – Bayfront Park Amphitheater *
07-09 Tampa, FL – MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre *
07-10 Atlanta, GA – Chastain Park Amphitheater *
07-12 Columbia, MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion *
07-14 New York, NY – Madison Square Garden *
07-15 Mansfield, MA – Xfinity Center *
07-16 Philadelphia, PA – Mann Center for Performing Arts *
07-19 Nashville, TN – Ascend Amphitheater *
07-21 Tulsa, OK – Bok Center *
07-22 Grand Prairie, TX – Verizon Field *
07-23 Del Valle, TX – Austin360 Amphitheater *
07-25 Phoenix, AZ – Comerica Theater *
07-26 Chula Vista, CA – Sleep Train Amphitheatre *
07-27 Inglewood, CA – The Forum *
07-28 Berkeley, CA – Greek Theater *
07-30 Seattle, WA – Keyarena *
07-31 Portland, OR – Moda Center *

Hammock – Everything and Nothing

 

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I stumbled upon the meaning of adult life 9 years ago.

Not that I actually figured out much about what it all means. But my daughter, the one who’s unloading the dishwasher while I write this, was born and I was struck with the sudden epiphany of accountability.

hammock-600-4No excuses.

Lots of regrets.

Relentless pacing and emotional inventory.

Fierce belonging.

Explosive kindness.

Surprising mercy.

Hammock has spent the last 11 years soundtracking those kind of moments for thousands of completely unrelated stories from completely divergent individuals. J Edward Keyes writes “one of the most remarkable things about the Nashville duo Hammock has been their ability to almost uncannily translate the pulse and fiber of human emotion into actual chords and melodies.”

I couldn’t ever hope to improve on that sentence. http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=4067613091/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

I don’t want to go into the details… The music tells the story. Throughout our body of work, we’ve lived with ghosts, not disembodied spirits, but the ghost-like memories of those who disappeared.  We’ve composed and sung songs to the dearly departed, passed over into oblivion with hymns of finite longing.  All the while inhabiting our own impermanence… in endless distraction from the whole catastrophe… Until it all became too much.  It was time to face life on life’s terms. – Marc Byrd

 

Bazan's Trouble With Boys

David Bazan is back, he never really disappeared but the man has such a finely tuned pop culture calendar, that just when you start wondering if he’s going to come out with a proper LP, the announcement drops.

Since 2011’s excellent Strange Negotiations Bazan has been releasing music directly to fans through limited edition releases, now he’s compiling ten of his best compositions for the label-issued Blanco.

“Trouble With Boys” is the first single from the forthcoming Blanco, and it’s vintage Bazan. Observational, heartfelt and almost cute …. if it wasn’t so heartbreakingly damn sad.

More on the new record from the official website:

“Blanco” will be released world-wide on May 13, 2016 by the fine folks at Barsuk Records! Blanco is made up of songs that were previously available in a very limited edition 7” vinyl series called Bazan Monthly, Volume 1 and Volume 2. David picked ten of those songs to update, remix and flesh out into a cohesive album format that’s easier for fans to collect and bring home.

BARK163LP_Gatefold

SONGS
Both Hands (Over My Eyes)
Oblivion
Kept Secrets
With You
Trouble With Boys
Teardrops
Little Landslide
Someone Else’s Bet
Over Again
Little Motor

Best of 2015: Albums

BEST OF

Love and disappointment and success and miscalculations and friendship and the beach sand that gets stuck in the cuff of your raw selvedge denim. 2015 was both a reasonable year and totally insanely bonkers. Plus, I chose some albums that probably land me firmly in the adult contemporary-demo. Still, here’s my list …

10. Leon Bridges – Coming Home (Columbia)
9. Sleater Kinney – No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)
8. El-Vy – Return To The Moon (4AD)
7. Playdough – We Buy Gold
6. Ryan Adams – 1989 (Pax-AM)
5. Langhorne Slim – The Spirit Moves (Dualtone)
4. Twin Shadow – Eclipse (Warner)
3. Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect (Island)
2. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down (Matador)
1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)

Honorable mentions: Wilco – Star Wars, Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves, CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye, Eels – Royal Albert Hall, Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, Passion Pit – Kindred, Purity Ring – Another Eternity, John Foreman – The Wonderlands,

Best of 2014: Digging for Transcendence w/ Bill Mallonee

Bill Mallonee & The Darkling Planes – Winnowing is one of our favorite records of 2014. Remarkably concise, elegant and beautiful, the album is a master work from a master craftsman. To have an opportunity to hear directly from Mallonee is a privilege and an honor, so I figured we’d give you the whole exchange, only edited for typos. Also, if you aren’t familiar with Mallonee’s back catalog, let me encourage you to head over to his bandcamp page and buy the whole thing.

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Ryan: A lot of stories written about you focus (rightfully so) on your songwriting process but one aspect of your career that has always floored me are the amazing guitar tones you coax out of wire and tubes. This latest record is no exception, there are some fantastic electric guitar parts all over Winnowing. Do you get as much satisfaction from putting together the sonic elements of a song as you do crafting the lyrics and melodies?

 

Bill: Absolutely. I just go with what I have and use my ears a great deal. I love constructing guitar parts. Over the last few years, I think I’ve really learned, stumbled upon “how” to make melody lines and guitar harmonies “converse” with the vocal delivery. I think Winnowing is a good example of that sort of interplay tween electric, acoustic and vocal.

My gear is very simple, both the electric and the acoustic side of things.

 

I’m sure my old record collection informs what I think are great tones. 

 

As far as the song itself goes?

 

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3193294073/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

I think a good song is a good marriage between a bed-rock melodic chord structure, engaging lyrics, sonic textures and above all: the delivery of those lyrics.

The trick? Never over think it. That’s my angle anyway.

I’m 60 some albums into this songwriter’s life now. You learn to let one idea shine in a song and then support it with the proper filigree, you know?

There’s no one music that “for everybody.” As harsh as this sounds: The digital medium has pretty much insured that the pond is over-stocked; full of hacks, weekenders and dilatantes. Makes it harder to find the good stuff, I think. I’ve stopped listen to popular music years ago, mostly because I wanted what I bring to be as original as possible.

Me? I’m betting on “Tried & True.”

Hopefully, my classroom, over 25 years or recording and touring, has a Tried & True “take” on things.

That’s all I try and bring.

Are there specific guitars/amps that inspire certain songs? On a song like “Locust Years” from Slow Dark Train, you can hear the demo, which already sounds great on its own, take on a whole new life when you get to the album version as a result of those spiked-punch guitars and the fuzz bassline.

 

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1664814292/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=258957603/transparent=true/

 

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2635827004/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=1918706861/transparent=true/

I’m a huge Neil Young fan. Although his guitar sound is massive, his sound source is usually not.

Usually nothing more than some old Fender Deluxe tube amp, say 12-15 watts … Of course, when he’s playing “live,” he mic’s that small sound source and literally runs it into another PA on stage and then into the house PA.

But the origin of his tones is great guitars into old Fender tweed amps. That’s a sound I love to work with.

I think I get at that fairly regularly. Amber Waves (2013) and The Power & The Glory (2012) are both quite nice representations of that “sound.”

Amp world? Small Fender amps 10-35 watts. On occasion, I’ll use a VOX AC-30 or  a 100-watt Fender Twin for the cleaner sounds required from a jangle-y Rickenbacker or a Telecaster part, but 90% of the time it’s small Fender Tube amps.

Pedals? I know nothing about boutique pedals. I hear there are some fantastic ones out there. I really can’t afford them. I do have a few “go-to” pedals that do the job, but I’m surprisingly pedal-free.

To me it’s always about the song. Whatever serves the song and of course the delivery of good lyrics.

Is Winnowing the first time you’ve played all the drums and bass on an album?

Oh, no. I’ve played drums since I was 12 years old … Bass is newer, but even there I’ve played that over the last few WPA installments.

I played drums with a few early Athens, Ga bands. Keep it simple. Charlie Watts & Ringo, you know?

0000911878_36With everything about being an artist democratized, you have more direct access to fans, but there are no longer the same gatekeepers filtering the good from the mediocre (or even the terrible). So, in a way the digital medium is both blessing and curse? Do you think the record labels, at least conceptually, did a good job of providing the deserving musicians access to a wider audience?

Yes, it is a blessing and a curse. I am grateful that I have such access to folk’s ears.

And there are some incredibly talented artists “out there” these days.

I suspect that they’d be “discovered” no matter what.

But, there are also many artists who seem to have nothing much to say. And musically they so “paint-by-numbers’ that it holds no interest for me. That means the pond is quite over-stocked. It’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed on the road. There’s no substitute for that intimate “live” show…it’s how I’ve managed to make new friends and fans.

Still, every generation will champion “their” particular artists as they should.

That’s all part of pop cultural identity.

Still, I’ll offer 3 somewhat forgotten thoughts to your readership:

1. Bad bands and artists rarely made it to a 2nd of 3rd album. The people knew crap when they heard it. This is pre-digital. One had to be able to play in the studio, deliver the take and play it “live” without the aid of tracks being flown in to bolster a band’s sound. Also there was no such thing as auto-tune in real time…You either hit the notes or you didn’t.

If you or band weren’t able to deliver then you were quickly shown to the sidelines.

2. Gone is the role of the A&R man (It stands for Artist & Repertoire);

It was he or she who typically brought an artist to a major label when he or she thought that artist was ready to go big. Being “ready”  usually meant years of hard work, constant touring and song crafting by the artist well before they were in a position to turn any heads.

That A&R role is gone now, abolished. In it’s place is the “anyone can do this” attitude that the digital age has “bestowed” upon us. I think that’s a fallacy.

And it results ( I believe) in a general lack of creativity….

3. There has also been the death of that gatekeeper known as the educated rock journalist.

Knowledgeable people who more or less guaranteed that “good” music was at least noted. That was the point of the informed rock journalist.

Follow me here: We live in a day and age where anyone with a computer has the technology that allows one to fashion something he/she thinks is a real record in his/her bedroom. It “corrects” mistakes, it auto-tunes bad pitch in real time.

It even gives you all the sonic “discoveries” that took producers like George Martin years to perfect … all within easy access within a chip.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s not a thing in the world wrong with making records in one’s bedroom.

But with the loss of real journalists who knew rock and roll, we’re left with no one informed to listen to, scrutinize and render a judgement on the value of such offerings; there is no one to judge the value of the art.

That aspect is gone now.

It has often been replaced by self-appointed hipster bloggers who’s musical roots and references run about as deep as REM’s first album. (And I love REM); It’s often, it seems to me, to be no longer grounded in the streams and nuances that rock & roll drew from.

The journalistic “excavating” (which is what a real journalist ought to do for his/her public) is absent b/c it is without reference points in the past. I am very sorry this sounds harsh. But, today’s “journalism” often strikes me as an uneducated enclave of writers with a keyboard in front of them. Now, when I read someone’s blog/review, all I know is who his friend’s bands are.

On the new record, you continue to delve into themes of surrender and loss, finding hope in the midst of despair. Do you find, 20 years and 50 plus releases in, that you are more or less at peace with your humanity than when you started the journey?

I suppose so. Peace is a funny word, though. Peace is never a static thing.

I’d say there’s been something more like a resignation … punctuated with glimpses into something bigger than ourselves that make life beautiful, meaningful.

I think, underneath it all that Man is a mystic.

All great art seems to acknowledge that, strive to name it and reveal it I think.

On the personal level, I write to save myself. That’s it. No agendas here.

Sure, there are things I’d “bet the farm on.”

Peace & Joy … those things are fleeting, aren’t they? One has to go beyond & grasp the thing they point to. And I think that’s where all the great theologians, poets and writers go.They struggle to employ a nomenclature to describe this thing we call Life.

And so I think Faith and Courage are required to make sense of it all.

Everyday.It seems to me (at least as far as my journey has gone) that when we reach out for answers or mercy, opening our hearts to God (or whatever you understand Him/Her to be) it seems that we’ve been reached out to in advance.

We awaken to this thing called Grace. No displacing the need for faith, even if it’s a wavering faith.

As a writer, I’m never completely at peace with my humanity.

Like I said, when we speak of this mystery called “Life,” we know it is not static thing. We’re forced to grow, wrestle and strive to believe and make sense of it all…

The themes on Winnowing, just like all the records really, are about one person’s struggle to believe and affirm that Love (whether God’s Love of human love) has the last word when it comes to describing the reality we live in. That may not sound like the stuff of an engaging pop record, but I think it’s the only thing worth delving into.

Conclusions vacillate. And they vacillate because we’re all a curious mixture of faith, doubt, belief and unbelief. Learning to recognize this unfolding, moment-by-moment thing called Grace is what my work is about, I guess.

It comes wrapped up in that glorious Americana genre. It’s fractured, dusty, worn and I like to believe, “authentic.”

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I find it really inspiring that you are still on the road, both literally and metaphorically, searching out the mysteries of existence, relationships and faith. Have you ever felt any pressure, internally or externally, to write a “certain” type of song? Like a protest song or a love song or a “hit” song?
No, I never have …

I don’t think you can’t be all things to all people. I’ve had huge pop oriented albums, but never had the right label superstructures surrounding them to “break the band” to the next level … C’est la Vie, eh?

But, I’m still at it. I didn’t need some chart or labels “permission” to be an artist.

That makes me something of a “best kept secret.” Phrases like “cult following” start showing up when I’m written about.

It’s ok. I can live with that …

One just finds their voice and their particular strengths…and then stays at the plow; keeps writing, experimenting and creating work …

The road has been a teacher to me … It can be hard. My wife and I live in poverty, to tell the truth.

It’s a big club, though …

The road puts you in touch with the deepest heartaches and wildest joys that people can feel …

It’s why the next album I’m recording is something closer to a real folk album.

 

Was “Dover Beach” the first song you wrote for this project?

Yes, I think it was, actually … the lead off track … It sort of defines the terrain of the whole album.

 

You wrote about Winnowing being an Autumn record, can you expand on what you mean by that?

A few ideas here. 

The earth is going into her dormancy. Autumn of life is generally associated with wisdom that only time brings.
Winnowing feels like a record born of such hard won wizen-ness.
This record was a time for re-assessing, of holding things up to the light. Perhaps even letting go of certain thing you once believed were truths, but now seem to be flawed or at least incomplete.
The record is quite lush and beautiful, I think.
I spent a lot of time on the arrangements and mixes, sometimes doing 20-30 mixes of particular songs …
I still think the guitars are gorgeous on this. And also they have “teeth” where they’re suppose to.
But it still operates with a certain sparse-ness. Autumnal.
The basic instruments of rock & roll: guitars, bass drums, keyboards and voice…
Can never go wrong there.