Capo 3 is a fun looking iOS application that takes a ‘song to note’ approach towards learning to play the music in your iTunes library. Pull in almost any kind of audio file, and let the app show you note by note how to play. You can even slow it down without sacrificing pitch. Looks fun!
All posts in music
Neil Young finds a gem record shopping in 1971 and talks to clerk who has no clue who he is. Thanks, YouTube!
“Neil finds a bootleg recording of a live CSNY show and confronts the store employee who has no idea who he is. At first, Neil is looking for the new Bob Dylan album “Greatest Hits Vol. 2″ but finds a bootleg Dylan album instead. He then discovers a Crosby & Nash and a CSNY bootleg as well.”
“I also believe, along with Keats, that the poetry of Earth is never dead, as long as spring succeeds winter and man is there to perceive it.”
I seriously can’t wait for Anxiety.
Sizzle reel created by Mark Selby promoting CBC Radio’s 75th anniversary and historic Gould box set, featuring 10 DVDs packed with rare material from the CBC vaults: performances, discussions, and interviews with the legendary figure, all broadcast on CBC Television. “From his earliest existing TV appearance on a 1954 kinescope to a series of programs on twentieth-century music from the late 1970s, it’s an unprecedented collection, made possible by Sony, CBC, and the Gould estate.” Read more at CBC’s Gould site.
Hundred Visions is one of my favorite local bands here in Austin. They’re friends too, so perhaps I’m biased, but their recently release LP Permanent Basement has been on heavy rotation lately. Think Modern Lovers, John Cale’s Fear, and at times even some Drive Like Jehu. They’re a band you really should see live, too, if you’re able. Not sure if they’ll be touring again soon but I’ll update you if they do.
Uncool’s first piece is up on their Tumblr, and it’s about Festivalcore, Mumford and Sons, and the evolution of the indie-leaning sound that occupies that strange space between modest inside venues and large outdoor events. It’s an interesting history, but I was particularly intrigued by the introduction of Arcade Fire to the piece towards the end.
David Greenwald says:
“The Arcade Fire’s music, performed with the volume and intensity of a stage-filling ensemble, driven by fearlessly passionate refrains, propelled by electric guitars, untouched by the cadre of mastering engineers that ruin every modern rock album, was the perfect fit for the festival. They grew together: the band’s played Coachella twice since, headlining in 2011 just weeks after winning indie’s greatest-ever mainstream honor, a Grammy for the album of the year. Their success, and their sound, did not go unnoticed.”
“A word of admission: Mumford & Sons’ music, as rousing as it’s engineered to be, leaves me cold. I hear Marcus Mumford as a Thanksgiving turkey given the sudden, liberating gift of flight, all pebbled throat and boundless gratitude. He can’t make me feel anything. I felt the same way about the Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, a record of distant tragedy that might’ve used more of the weird, intimate textures of Funeral. But those are criticisms for recordings, and ones I had to put aside in 2011, as Win Butler’s band rained Flaming Lips-style bubbles on the crowd and coaxed their career-spanning set into an undeniable flame.”
My urge to add a footnote here is essentially implied by Greenwald, but not directly stated. The comparison between Arcade Fire and Mumford and Sons as live acts capable of stopping a meandering festival crowd in their tracks, and occupying this so-called Festivalcore space, is a strange one. Greenwald himself intimates that Mumford’s music is engineered to be rousing … and he’s exactly right. This is a band that composes songs with a purpose in mind, a desired result (sing-alongs, heart swells, emotional climaxes) that exists both in the recording and in the live show. Their live show is an exercise in relating something they’ve already done again and again, in different venues wearing different plaid shirts. They’re not this sort of elusive band that performs on a level that brings something new to the recordings.
That’s something Arcade Fire has always excelled at, and a big part of the reason we can follow Greenwald’s history of Arcade Fire’s live influence and nod along is because the live shows supporting Funeral weren’t just revealing “Hey, these are great songs from this good record.” They were bringing something entirely new to the table, expanding on the experiential foundation they laid on the recording and making the live version more informative – there was a whole other layer of understanding that came from seeing it live. They’re a rare type of indie act if it’s 2005 or 2012: the live version of the published work is always something a little different, a little more magical, a performance that brings something new to the songs you might have already heard a hundred times. That’s wildly different from the band that sort of stands up, goes through the songs that sound a certain way, and maybe asks the crowd to join them in the chorus.
It’s incredibly difficult this early in the morning to describe what I mean (out of coffee, I’m just a blogger, etc.), but consider Stop Making Sense, almost any Fugazi show ever, Wayne Coyne in a bubble singing upside down, every great jazz player or indie rock outfit inspired by that world … the distinction between recording and album and then playing those songs live and recording an album then creating a new version in each performance that’s unique to the space, the crowd, the night before, the room, the field … that’s different. And not many indie rock bands do this: there’s too much at stake given the climate of the industry. The risk of experimenting or bringing some kind of new overlay to something you’re hoping people become familiar with is too great. Better to just show up, do what they expect, let them anticipate all your moves and get it right, feel like fans, take pictures at all the right moments.
It’s not that I disagree with anything Greenwald says, it’s just that the comparison to Arcade Fire isn’t really fair to either side, as one has always done something sort of next level. I should note that I don’t care for Mumford and Sons either, live or otherwise, but I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with saying that their performance philosophy is entirely different. Or at least the result is different and it’s not just because I don’t like them, it’s because they’re not approaching performance the same way Arcade Fire does, and that trend with many of these successful live bands might become a more interesting topic as fans flock more towards beer-fueled, live-show-as-background-music festival experiences.
Now to find some coffee.
Last week, Austin Kleon wrote this nice piece in response to a Grizzly Bear piece by Nitsuh Abebe. I highly encourage you to go read both things Austin wrote, as well as the Vulture piece on Grizzly Bear. Austin’s point was essentially that it seemed as though Grizzly Bear had a sort of ‘anti-pop’ approach to their songwriting, a purposeful avoidance of writing ‘hits’. Austin fairly pointed out that many of pop music’s most revered songwriters sat down to do just that (The Beatles are probably the best example, though they certainly didn’t always work this way), and that there’s nothing wrong with that. The thought was basically that writing for yourself is fine, but there’s a sweet spot between satisfying creative curiosity and writing tunes that the average person wants to hear. Things don’t have to be so black and white between “pop music” and “creative expression”. Please do read Austin’s piece, he discusses it quite well and has some quotes from other songwriters that really do expound on the different ways in which songwriters approach their craft (and their consideration of the audience).
That said, I just caught up with Austin’s follow up. Ed Droste was nice enough to reach out to Austin and give some perspective on Grizzly Bear’s approach and purpose when writing songs. Droste says, “I think you missed my point. I just don’t like to be clouded with grandiose notions when writing. I want it to come from… somewhere natural and organic and not with some “we gotta get a song on the radio” mentality bc I think that taints the song… we don’t deliberately sit around and try to be obtuse, but we do want to be honest with ourselves. If we don’t love it how are we supposed to stand behind it and tour it?”
It comes down to their rhythm as songwriters together, their interest in writing and playing songs that come from their own comfort zone (I don’t mean that negatively, I think that Droste’s ‘natural and organic’ place is the same thing), which they can stand behind and be proud of when playing for an audience. And I think that this consideration of how a song works both in the practice space, the studio, and on the stage is an incredibly important thing for all musicians to consider. As Austin points out, record sales are what they are (not great), and the live performance really does need to be something the band can rally around night after night … it’s the crux of the entire experience at this point.
But again, Droste’s comments seems unnaturally focused on their preferences, not their audience’s. He says, “In order for us to be able to perform a song over and over and stand behind it, it’s gotta come from a place that feels natural and honest to us and that excites us! (…) We aren’t willfully ignoring our audience but rather acknowledging we have to love the music in order to tour and release it.”
Of course they’re not ignoring their audience. Their live show is immaculate and incredible to experience, I’ve had the pleasure several times, but it sort of sounds like what Droste is saying is, “Writing pop songs is hard, I’ll give you that, but we don’t really try to, we want our music to come from someplace real inside of us so we can care about it as much the 200th time as the first.” This is completely fair, and makes perfect sense.
But let’s consider this process as we understand it now. A band (doesn’t have to be Grizzly Bear) writes a song, records that song and plans to perform that song hundreds of times over the course of a year. They play for no one, thousands, on TV and stripped down for radio, whatever. All along, the mission statement is, “Come from the heart, focus on what we can stand behind, realize the organic origins and love what we do.” This is a highly respectable approach for anyone creating anything, particularly music. And many times, this mission statement is in support of a song or piece of art that fulfills all those requirements and and ends up being a ‘hit’ or a cultural phenomenon in some other way. That’s great, that’s the ideal, right? Your natural instincts as a creator led you to something that was enjoyed on a huge scale, acknowledged by some kind of pop culture whitespace, respected by both exacting listeners and casual passersby. You create a sort of Warhol-esque soup can in your genre.
So there’s no real logical flaw in this process, and the success described above is this kind of Venn diagram “sweet spot” Austin mentions in his first piece. You might purposefully try to get there or not – this part of it almost doesn’t matter.
The part that bugs me is this: “We aren’t willfully ignoring our audience but rather acknowledging we have to love the music in order to tour and release it.” I don’t take issue with the statement itself but rather its subtle implication. He seems to be saying that their satisfaction comes first, ours second. In every step leading up to a live show, I can totally get behind the mission statement, but here I get worried.
If the live show isn’t for me (the audience) first, I’m not sure why I’m there. More so than any other digestion of the art, this part of it is explicitly for my enjoyment, my experience of it. Why perform anything live if the primary goal is for the performer to be happy? This has been true since the beginning of live performance. Does the king like it? Did the audience stay or go? Will your benefactor underwrite your next work? It all requires the audience’s enjoyment. Yes, some pieces become great after an audience misses the boat, but that requires time. In our time, the audience’s enjoyment and connection to each moment of a live performance seems to me to be the most important thing any performer can aspire to. No one wants an artist to neglect his or her own objectives, artistic credibility or desire to connect on the terms they prefer, but the audience’s experience should be in line here, should be a primary driving factor.
All this said, I think that Grizzly Bear in particular does attain this. As I mentioned, I consider their live show to be one of the best. And if my enjoyment is a secondary goal, I’d say they’ve done a great (commendable, even) job of living their mission statement while entertaining their listeners (both in headphones and on stage). Whether or not any song they play is ‘popular’ or ‘a hit’, however they (or anyone) share those songs in the live environment must include some kind of implicit contract: This is for you, fan, listener, participant in the experience of this creation: this is our real time sharing of our craft, and we hope you enjoy.
If that’s not why you’re touring, you should just stay home.
“And if I invest at all it will be because I, in some sado-masochistic way, want myself and others to feel the pain of exceptionally terrible or middling music. The goal being that Kickstarter’s music projects will reach such a critical mass of blandness and shite that investment dollars will simply dry up. That the money tree will suddenly vanish and the music trolls will retreat into their mountain lairs.”