Friday, March 30, 2007

A Whirlwind Weekend of Music

There are several musical events this weekend that I wish I could attend, but unfortunately I haven’t mastered the art of being in three places at once.

First, and closest to home, two bands that I have really enjoyed are playing up the road at Messiah College tomorrow night. The main act is The Decemberists. Their latest album, The Crane Wife, is considered one of the best albums of 2006, and has been in heavy rotation in my MP3 player for some time. Opening for the band will be My Brightest Diamond, which is a project of Shara Worden. She has the uncanny ability to mix a lot of different musical genres and styles into a fresh new sound. If you happened to see the Sufjan Stevens Illinoise tour, Shara was one of the cheerleader/singer/musicians that was part of that show. If you are in the central PA area, check this concert out. This is what pop music should be about.

Meanwhile, out in Michigan it’s the annual Calvin College Festival of Faith & Music. This conference always does a great job of attracting a top-notch lineup. Featured speakers this weekend include some of my favorite writers, such as Lauren Winner, David Dark, Steve Stockman, Brian Walsh, my friend Josh Jackson (Paste Magazine), Andy Whitman, Andrew Beaujon (Body Piercing Saved My Life), Adam Smith (RELEVANT Magazine), among others. The conference will include performances by Sufjan Stevens, Anathallo, Sarah Masen, Liz Janes, Emmylou Harris, and Neko Case. An amazing lineup. There will also be a performance by bandspotting discovery Son Lux. I’ve listened to his music online and really like what I hear.

And then across the country in California, it’s Biola University’s Journalism Conference: Music and Media: Where Does Faith Fit? This conference will address the issue of what "Christian Music" means, and whether it still exists as a "genre." It features speakers such as Tim Taber, John Fischer, Jay Swartzendruber, Mark Joseph, Lou Carlozo, and more.

This would be a good time to use those frequent flyer points….

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Batter up!

I’ve been enjoying the warmer Spring weather these days, especially at 6:30 in the morning as my wife and I take our dog for a 2-mile walk. Much more enjoyable without a heavy coat and gloves!

But my favorite part of this weather, and this time of year, is the anticipation of another baseball season. When I start seeing more green on the ground I think about my beloved Phillies taking the field and starting another campaign…hoping that this year might just be “the year.” The last time Philadelphia saw a major sport champion was 1983 with the 76ers. The Phillies last won in 1980, the Flyers in 1975, and the Eagles? Well, in 1960 they won the NFL Championship (a precursor to the Super Bowl). So it’s been 24 years… which means my kids haven’t seen ANY championships. But this year, like every year, I begin the season with anticipation and hope. Baseball is my favorite sport, and despite all the problems the game faces these days, I still come back. If the Phils don’t make it…well, I’m used to it. We Philadelphians are good at losing. It’s what we do. For a nice treatise on this phenomenon, check out Joe Queenan’s book, True Believers.

And each year I think back to my baseball memories. Particularly the Phillies of the 70s and into that World Series year of 1980: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Greg Luzinski, and more. And now we have Howard, Utley, Rowand, Hamels, and the gang. On paper, a good team. I think back to the days and nights I spent glued to my radio, listening to Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn, and By Saam on WCAU (now WPHT, and once again the radio home of the Phillies.) Both Saam and Kalas are in the Hall of Fame as winners of the Ford Frick Award. Ashburn is in the Hall for his days as a player.

A few years ago I discovered I had a fellow fan (and sufferer) in musician Chuck Brodsky. I don’t know much about him, except that he is a folk singer who has written quite a few songs about baseball, and quite a few about Philadelphia sports (including a song about the now infamous “Great Santa Snowball Debacle of 1968” with the Eagles.) Check out a few of my favorites. These include “Lefty” (about Steve Carlton), “Letters in the Dirt” (Richie Allen), “Whitey and Harry” (about my favorite radio team), and of course “The Hockey Fight Song” (with a mention of Dave “The Hammer” Schultz). You may know Brodsky from his song “Radio” (from the movie of the same name, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.).

This time of year also makes me want to pull out some of my favorite baseball books, including the works of W.P. Kinsella, such as Shoeless Joe (the basis for the movie Field of Dreams) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Another favorite is Glove Affairs by Noah Liberman, which is a sociological history of the baseball glove. Sounds kinda dry, but it is actually very interesting. Other books I’ve enjoyed over the years include:

Summerland by Michael Chabon
Voices of the Game by Curt Smith
Bang the Drum Slowly by mark Harris
Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof
The Great American Novel by Philip Roth
For the Love of the Game by Michael Shaara

So baseball season begins this coming Sunday. The Phils have their first game on Monday. I’m not sure what it is, but I keep coming back. Despite its warts: the egos, the salaries, the steroid issues…there is still something about baseball that gets me excited. Or, in the words of the new Phillies promo campaign, gives me “goosebumps.”

Man, I love this time of year.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Digging for Musical Treasure on MySpace

I have a MySpace account with over 1000 friends. It has taken me quite some time to get there, and I could probably have more than ten times that amount if I accepted every random friend request from bands or individuals. But I'm picky. Very picky. First, I don't accept people as friends unless I already know them somehow. I have plenty of friends and don't need to find more artificially, thank you. I'm actually on MySpace for the music. And I love finding new bands. I get friend requests from a lot of bands, but will only accept them if I like what I hear. I probably reject about 95% of the requests I get. But I certainly have found a few gems. Here are a few of the bands I've been enjoying:

The Cinematics
This post-punk band from Scotland was a big hit at South by Southwest this year, and their album, Strange Education, on TVT Records, is very enjoyable. Musically the band is a bit of a throwback to some of the darker, more melancholy and brooding bands of the late 70s and early 80s like The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Joy Division. There are some similarities with current bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and, perhaps, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, and Arcade Fire, to name few. I like most of those bands, but I think The Cinematics might be the best of the bunch, as far as my ears are concerned.

Bosque Brown
There's a tiny indie label out of Philly called Burnt Toast Vinyl that has been putting out great music for years. One of their newer "bands" is Bosque Brown, which is actually the name Mara Lee Miller of Texas uses to put our her music. Miller was discovered by Damien Jurado a few years ago and has been involved in her music since then, and you can hear the similarities in their musical output. You'll want to check out her CD, Bosque Brown Plays Mara Lee Miller. Stylistically, Bosque Brown brings to mind the music of Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline, but with more of a souly-gospel sound, rather than pure country. Sparse arrangements help to highlight Miller's wonderful voice.

And finally, if you are looking for something a bit more upbeat and light...

The Brothers Martin
This is a new project from Jason Martin (Starflyer 59) and Ronnie Martin (Joy Electric) and it brings the best of their diverse musical worlds together. Personally, I have always been much more of a fan of Starflyer than Joy Electric, but this new project is a nice mix. The two actually had played together in a band more than a decade ago in Dance House Children, but this new project is far ahead of that earlier project.

Check 'em all out and there is sure to be something you like.

Monday, March 26, 2007

On the music radar...

I used to write a regular column for an online publication, The Phantom Tollbooth, highlighting the new CD releases for each week so everyone would know what was coming out and when the could expect new music from their favorite artists. Unfortunately, my life got so busy, and the task was rather time consuming, that I gave up writing for the Tollbooth, but I figured each week I could highlight a few new releases here without spending hours trying to compile a list. (By the way, The Phantom Tollbooth is a very good site to check out for music reviews, book reviews, movie reviews, interviews, articles, and more. A great place to find out about new music.)

This week I'd like to highlight the new DVD that came out last week from MuteMath called Flesh and Bones: Electric Fun. This is one of the hotter bands out there right now, and their self titled CD is amazing. If you haven't heard them, think very early-Police, with a bit of U2 or Coldplay thrown in, as well as some jazz and other influences. The resulting mix is quite an original sound, and if you get to see them live, they put on one of the best shows anywhere. The reason I bring up MuteMath this week is that tomorrow night at 7 p.m. is the "official" world premier of the video for "Typical," and it is a rather creative video. You can check it out on the band's YouTube site.

One new CD out this week that interests me is the latest disc from the Alan Lomax collection: Southern Prison Blues Songs. These are songs that Lomax recorded live at the Mississippi and Louisiana State Penitentiaries. Great music with a history lesson to boot! What more could you ask for? In my estimation, Lomax is one of the most important figures of the 20th Century in terms of cultural contributions. His recordings and oral histories are an important addition to the American oeuvre, if I can say it that way.

Bits and pieces
Other CD's I'm enjoying right now include the new Lovedrug CD, Everything Starts Where it Ends. This is a band I had the pleasure of seeing live a few months back and I expect big things from them. If you like what you hear, go on over to Yahoo! Music's Who's Next? and vote for the band, as they are one of this week's nominees.

Also enjoying the new music that The Myriad has up on their site in anticipation of their new album. Also saw them live (with Lovedrug) at the Chameleon in Lancaster. Great club that always has some great shows on tap.

Finally, my harder musical side has been enjoying the new Haste the Day CD, Pressure the Hinges. This is the first CD with new vocalist Stephen Keech. A solid CD with some really nice guitar work. The special edition of the CD comes with a nice DVD with tons of live concert footage, music videos, and interview segments.

So what are you listening to these days? Let me know what new music I should be checking out.

Friday, March 23, 2007

All That I Have Left Behind...a Musical Journey

I saw in the paper this morning that today is Ric Ocasek’s (of the Cars) birthday. He’s 58. And boy that seems old, because it feels like it wasn’t that long ago that the Cars were a young up-and-coming new wave band, popular at first with the “edgy” kids, and then hitting the mainstream. But time has passed and all of the old punks and new wavers are, well, older. We age. A basic fact of life.

But it got me thinking about the formative days of punk and new wave, first in the mid-to-late 70s and then into the 80s and the birth of MTV. The Sex Pistols are old. The Clash are old. I guess that means that at the age of 45, I am now old…or at least getting there.

I grew up in the 70s with two older brothers, so much of my musical tastes at the time were informed somewhat by what they were listening to. I spent a lot of time listening to Yes, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Chicago, Kansas, Jethro Tull, etc. In high school we had a group of kids listening to The Grateful Dead/Hot Tuna/Jefferson Airplane. Then there were the kids who lived for a young band named Aerosmith. And I remember a few kids being into some upstart by the name of Tom Petty. And since I grew up in the Philly area, there were quite a few kids who really thought there was a future for this guy named Springsteen.

But when I got to college in 1979, and began working at the college radio station, a whole new world of music was opened up to me. The music library was this small, windowless room with shelves and shelves of vinyl. And I discovered so many different artists. Bruce Cockburn, The Alpha Band (which gave us T-Bone Burnett), Andy Pratt, Mark Heard, Roxy Music, Television, The Velvet Underground and so many more. But at the time I had a friend back home who was a part of the Jersey surfer culture, and he had jumped headfirst into the whole punk/new wave thing. While they were different styles of music, they shared a few sensibilities, and by virtue of being new and edgy, they shared an audience. This kid, Adam, spent a lot of money on records from bands like Black Flag (featuring Henry Rollins), Husker Du, the Dead Kennedys, and dozens of other bands I can’t even remember. There were even early “ska” bands like The English Beat and The Specials. And I’ll never forget listening to the song “One Step Beyond” from Madness, over and over again, or "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. A lot of this music was “popularized” in the U.S. by a DJ with the unlikely name of Rodney Bingenheimer on KROQ in Los Angeles, where he was known as “Rodney on the Roq.” But a few of the records Adam played for me really hit home. He introduced me to The Clash, whose London Calling and Sandinista albums are on my MP3 player. Adam was also an early adopter of The Police, and Stewart Copeland’s side project, Klark Kent. (If anyone knows where I can get the Klark Kent album, preferably on CD, let me know!) And don’t forget The Buggles and their offspring, Bruce Wooley and the Camera Club. Oh,and I can't forget the band Minor Threat, which began the whole straight-edge movement and gave birth to the first wave of emo (nothing like what passes for emo today!)

The other day I hit on something about Devo while watching TV, and saw an early performance with the skinny, geeky electronic musicians from Ohio. That was followed by a concert performance a few decades later, and the guys had, well, shall we say, “filled out” a bit? A bit larger around the paunch, a little less hair, a few more wrinkles…and…Devo just didn’t look, or sound, all that great. I’d rather just have my fond memories, thank you.

But for all these bands that have disbanded, split apart, aged, or worse yet, stuck around to tour the county fair circuit, there is one band that seems to be doing something right. If you know me, you’ll have guessed that I’m talking about U2. One of the things that Adam was able to do through his connections was get a hold of a 7” disc from Ireland that was U2’s first recording: U2-3. It featured the songs “Out of Control,” “Stories for Boys,” (both of which would end up on the first album, Boy), and “Boy-Girl.” Adam let me make a copy of the disc and in early 1980 I was playing this raw, emotionally charged new sound to an audience of probably five people in Western Pennsylvania. He also got me copies of the vinyl singles “Another Day b/w Twilight” and “11 o’clock Tick Tock b/w Touch.” Who knows, I may actually have been the first person to play U2 on the radio in the U.S. because they really wouldn’t hit this side of the ocean for at least another year or so. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, because I just got lucky. As much as I liked U2 at that point, I would fall in and out of love with them a time or two over the years, and I never thought they would be a success, let alone become possibly the biggest band out there.

But to come full circle, here we are nearly three decades after the formation of the band, and they are still together with the original lineup, making music that is relevant, meaningful, and just plain “good.” The guys in the band are all just a year or two older than I am, and they show no signs of stopping. They are proving that it can be done...with grace. And socially they are extremely educated and proactive, not merely knee-jerk and reactive. I appreciate what they have done with the One Campaign, DATA, and Red.

With all the other bands I mentioned from the early punk/new wave scene, all I have are the memories, and few choice CDs to help bring those memories back. But boy there sure is some good music, and some good memories.

A side note: My friend Adam Antosh, whom I grew up with, eventually joined me at college and worked at the college radio station with me. In 1983 he was part of my wedding. We kept in touch a little bit over the years, but sadly he passed away at the age of 40 in November, 2003. I never got the chance to thank him, but I am very appreciative of how he introduced me to so much music and helped broaden my thinking about music. In fact, most of our phone conversations over the last ten years of his life usually began with one of us asking the other "Whatcha listening to these days? Any cool new bands?"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Noncommercial Commercial Music...?

I’m always on the lookout for new music, and sometimes I find some real gems in the strangest places. A prime example of this is my latest find. While watching TV I kept hearing this beautiful song…sparse melodies with whispery female vocals. It was from a JC Penney commercial, of all places, and so I went online to find out more about the song. You may have heard it. It begins:

I say, so say I
My morning thought
It knew itself just fine…

Turns out the song is from the unsigned Aussie band Forever Thursday and the song is called “How Can it Be,” and you can listen to the song, and watch the video, over at their MySpace.

I know very little about this band except what I read about them online. The band consists of Elliott Wheeler and Melanie Horsnell (who happens to have her own separate musical career that you can check out on her personal MySpace site.)

I was discussing this idea of songs being used in commercials with a friend, and she brought up how her family had gotten into the British experimental band Royksopp after hearing their song “Remind Me” in a Geico commercial, of all places (the one with the caveman in the airport.) And lately, I’ve been hearing the surprising inclusion of the Violent Femmes song “Blister in the Sun” on a Wendy’s commercial. Surprising because the Femmes have been one of the most noncommercial bands out there, and songwriter Gordon Gano is apparently a vegetarian. According to this blog by Andy Tarnoff, the sale of the song to Wendy’s has caused quite a bit of tension within the band.

Which begs the question…what are the implications of an artist allowing the use of their music in a commercial? This has been controversial for years, especially when songs from big name bands like The Beatles and U2 are used. I don’t know the ins and outs of this, but I would imagine that in most cases, at least someone within the band’s inner circle has had to make the decision. And I’m sure the band gets paid. But is it a good thing or a bad thing?

On the one hand, the band, songwriter, etc, can do what they please with their music. They own it. Though I’m sure there are probably a few instances where someone has purchased the song usage rights and then turns around and sells it again without band permission. And there are probably instances where management or record label people make the decision. In the case of small, relatively unknown bands like Forever Thursday or Royksopp, it can be a good thing. More and more commercials and television shows are giving American consumers exposure to new and interesting music. Yes, I shop at JC Penney. No, I don’t see JC Penney as having a “cutting edge” or “indie” image. But I’ve discovered new music from a new band, and it won’t make me shop any more, or less, at JC Penney. (Though I must say that someone over at JC Penney, or their ad agency, must have some degree of hip. In other commercials they have used the music of Supreme Beings of Leisure and The Apples in Stereo!)

On the other hand, I can understand the problems when a typically anti-corporate band like the Violent Femmes is used to hawk burgers from a fast-food chain. It will be interesting to see what this means to the future of that band. Or what about John Mellencamp’s song “Our Country” in a commercial for Chevy? I’m not a big fan of his, but I can’t help but scratch my head when a song filled with social commentary is used by a huge corporation to sell trucks. Somehow it just seems…mixed up, and not in line with the political and corporate stances that Mellencamp has taken in the past. Now, from the advertiser side of things it makes sense. Every time I hear that song on the radio, all I can do is think of the commercial and Chevy trucks! And I love Johnny Cash...but...Choice Hotels??

I guess the important point here is that the use of a song in a commercial can be problematic, especially when the product seems to be in direct variance with the actual philosophy of the song/artist. For instance, the use of U2 songs in the FIFA World Cup Soccer commercials seemed appropriate, particularly in light of the theme of global unity.

Your thoughts on the issue? And additionally, any uses of music in commercials that you absolutely hate? Or love? And like me, have you discovered any new bands as the result of a commercial (or even a TV show soundtrack)? Sell-out? Smart marketing? A bit of both?

To help you out, here are a few sites that keep track of this sort of thing:

Music From TV Commercials

What's That Called?



Have at it folks, and feel free to leave your thoughts and comments.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Music to Your Ears

As someone who is a fan of music, and who has worked on the periphery of the music industry for years, I'm often asked: "What are you listening to these days?" I know that for me, when I find a band I like, I often want to know what that band listens to. And if I meet someone whose musical tastes are similar to mine, I like to find out about all the different bands and artists they listen to...because that's how I discover new bands.

So what am I listening to these days? Well, there are a few bands who have really been turning my ear a bit lately. I think the one at the top of the heap these days is the band Lost Ocean out of Bakersfield, CA. This is a piano-driven indie rock band that features some beautiful, lush arrangements and soaring, atmospheric vocals. Intelligent lyrics and wonderful musicianship. Another similar band to check out is Credential Records label mate, Future of Forestry.

And since we are listening to piano-based rock these days, why not check out Bernard. I can't wait to hear what this Florida-based band does next. They've already become a club and festival favorite, winning over new friends everywhere they play. And don't forget Copeland. Their latest album is fantastic.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I'm dreaming of a white...St. Patrick's Day?

As I sit here, my family and I have just dug out from an 11" dumping of snow. Yes...with Spring just around the corner. 27-degrees. Don't get me started on our beloved Punxsutawney Phil and his prediction that Spring was "just around the corner." Here we are SEVEN weeks (not six) after Groundhog's Day, and it's very white outside. In fact, pretty much all of the snow we've gotten this Winter came after Feb. 2nd.

But enough of that. My real purpose here is to encourage you all to take a closer look at the man the world now knows as St. Patrick. While many Americans celebrate with green clothing, green beer, etc., the true story of St. Patrick is rather inspiring. The story of a young slave who, after escaping, returns to the land of his captors in order to forgive them and tell them about Christianity. A great story of grace and forgiveness that we all need to hear in this day and age. A story that I need to be reminded of on a daily basis. To read more about it, check out the entry at Wikipedia, or this fine site at the History Channel.

And, if you are looking for a good read on the subject, check out Stephen R. Lawhead's wonderful piece of historical fiction: Patrick: Son of Ireland. (For those of you who have never read Lawhead, he is a terrific writer, and this should whet your appetite for more. I am looking forward to reading his latest book, Hood, a retelling of the story of Robin Hood. I also highly recommend his series of Arthurian books.)

Anyway, happy St. Patrick's Day. And enjoy the snow. I'll be staying inside watching basketball and pre-season baseball.

Oh...and a late addition here. Just found this article, "The Challenge of St. Patrick" by Eric Hurtgen over at Relevant Magazine. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


This is the time of year when I always wish I could be in Austin. That's because now is the time when some of the best bands from around the world descend on the city that defines "Texas hip" to be part of the South by Southwest Music Festival (which I believe is now called the "South by Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Festival"...or something like that.

Anyway, each year's festival is a "happening" where all the great bands and musicians gather...from veteran bands to newer bands hoping to be discovered. In looking at this year's festival schedule I find myself drooling once again. Bands that interest me include (but are not limited to): The Watson Twins, Rickie Lee Jones, Apples in Stereo, Bloc Party, Cold War Kids, Cursive, Get Cape.Wear Cape.Fly, The Lionheart Brothers, Headlights, Sondre Lerche, Listener, Lovedrug, Midlake, Mute Math, Pigeon John, Andy Pratt ( that guy can write amazing pop songs!), Summer Hymns, David Vandervelde (from the Nooma soundtracks), and oh so many more.

In my last post I also mentioned Mute Math. If you haven't checked out this band, please do. Amazing musicianship and songwriting. Shades of very early Police with some Jazz undertones thrown in, and all blended into some serious in your face, yet laid back, rock. Check out the video of their performance last year on Jimmy Kimmel Live. For those of you in the Philly area, they are playing tomorrow night at The Theater of the Living Arts on South Street. Wish I could be there...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Long and Short of It

Each year a group of "listmakers" affiliated with the music industry puts together a "long list" of nominees which is eventually whittled down to a "short list" and then the Shortlist Music Prize is given out to one of those nominees. These are generally bands and artists that are flying under the other words they have a significant following without selling massive amounts of CDs.

Yesterday the Long List was announced and included were some really interesting bands. First off, the list is put together by a group of listmakers, which this time around includes last years Shortlist winner, Sufjan Stevens. Other listmakers for this year include members of Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Flaming Lips, as well as KT Tunstall and more. By the way, in case you missed it, Sufjan's album "Come on, Feel the Illinoise" was definitely one of the best albums of 2005, and his concert in support of that album was nothing short of genius.

As for the nominees, a few bigger name bands are present, including Beck, Neil Young, Belle & Sebastian, and Tom Waits. But I was particulary pleased to see Mute math on the list. Their latest album is phenomenal and I eagerly await their new DVD. I was most surprised that they were nominated by Panic at the Disco! ( a band I have NO interest in whatsoever). Other nominees of interest to me include Danielson (nominated, not surprisingly, by Sufjan), Midlake, Regina Spektor, The Roots, Jeremy Enigk, and The Decemberists. Albums from these last two were among my top albums of 2006, along with Mute math.

This is a great way to find some wonderful new music that you most likely won't be hearing on the radio. I plan on checking out a lot of the artists with whom I'm unfamiliar, and invite you to do the same.

Not sure when the winner will be announced, but I'll be sure to let you know. Personally, I'd love to see either Mute Math or Jeremy Enigk win, but I think they are longshots at best. Here's hoping!

The Arcade Fire

One of the bands I've been keeping an eye on for the past few years is The Arcade Fire. Early on there were a number of very respected critics who made comparisons to my favorite band, U2. Some were even boldly referring to them as the "next U2," and while that is a difficult assessment to make (not to mention a heavy burden to put on a relatively young band!), they are a band that is worth listening to and examining. Time Magazine even saw fit to put them on the cover two years ago, calling them "Canada's most intriguing rock band.

What makes them particularly interesting to me, aside from their music and musicianship, are the almost constant and very real mentions of matters of faith in their lyrics, particularly on their latest disc, Neon Bible. I have no clue whether any of the members profess any sort of faith, but there are many references to Christianity throughout. For the most part they have been silent in interviews, but when they DO talk about Christianity their words sound as if they are coming from someone who is "in the know" rather than from someone looking from the outside in. There's a difference. When someone is criticizing Christians, or the American version of the church, it is often easy to tell whether the person knows what they are talking about. And the assessments made by The Arcade Fire, both lyrically and in interviews, have a real ring of truth.

I need to digest the album a bit more before I talk more about the lyrics, but I think there are some interesting comments by the band about the whole concept of "church" in this interview at the Canadian music site Jam! Music. Some of the album was recorded in a church, and drummer Jeremy Gara notes:

"Us recording in a church, we had an idea for the pipe organ before that even happened. But Win and Regine, when I first met them, were always talking about if we could ever live in a church that'd be amazing. It's meant to be a place of community and of that special something that is intangible -- spirituality, openness -- and you're really just supposed to feel things, whether it be music, whether it be performance or your faith. I mean, it definitely penetrated the sound of the album."

Interesting stuff. And it certainly does have a U2-ish ring about it. It's no surprise that this band is attracting a huge crowd of listeners on college campuses, as well as among those in their 20s. I look forward to hearing more from this band in the years to come.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Hallelujah Holla Back!

One of my guilty pleasures over the past few weeks has been watching the train wreck known as "Ego Trip's The (white) Rapper Show." Yes, another bad reality show on VH-1 where a group of aspiring white rappers live together in "the White House" in hopes of becoming the next Eminem. Each week another contestant or two were asked to "step-off" by host and "hip-hop icon" MC Serch (from the 80's rap group 3rd Bass).

Besides the fact that none of these contestants has any real talent, it was sad to watch a group of white people trying so hard to act and sound like what they thought a rapper should sound like. And even when there were signs of hope in the show, they were quickly shot down. During one of the challenges the rappers were split up into two teams in order to write a song and shoot a rap video. Predictably, the videos tended to be...well...predictable. Cars, bling, and scantily clad women. During the evaluation, MC Serch chastised the groups for buying into those rap video conventions...yet in other episodes he chastised them for not embracing those same elements of hip-hop culture. What else are aspiring rappers supposed to do? This is what they have grown up on, and all they have seen. As far as they know, that's all there is. They needed to be educated by the guest rappers and others as to how conduct themselves, but that education wasn't there. On another episode the rappers were told to embrace the "thug" lifestyle and mentality. And even those contestants who had billed themselves as "positive rappers" found they had to stoop down to the least common denominator of hip hop culture in order to stay alive.

In the 5th episode, the losing team is given the challenge of writing raps that criticize each other in order to place blame for a lame video production. Two of the rappers, Sullee and Jon Boy, refuse to point fingers. Sullee removes himself from the show, while Jon Boy is asked to "step off" for not doing as he was told. The one time a few of the rappers actually show some character, and they are eliminated.

A big part of the show was the need for the rappers to "embrace" hip-hop culture. But which part of that culture are they to embrace? And does that mean they need to emulate it? Mixed signals were sent throughout, and sadly, the same old same old won out in the end.

All of the contestants were annoying and lacked talent...but one thing from the show will remain in our least as a joke. Contestant John Brown, self-proclaimed "King of the Burbs" and promoter of a "Ghetto Revival" would constantly shout out his catch-phrase: "Hallelujah Holla Back." In fact it got to be a joke, because every time he was cornered or was in a situation where he had no idea what to say, he would utter: "Hallelujah Holla Back!"

An interesting and valid assessment of the show is posted online by a student at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in this article.

But many questions remain...what is the responsibility of the music community to its listeners and fans? What is the responsibility of the elders of an art form to their followers? And is it really necessary for someone who wants to create rap music to immerse themselves in...and embrace...the hip-hop culture, especially when that culture is so fragmented? And if so, is that sense of history necessary in other musical genres or art forms? And maybe most importantly of all, what are the problems inherent in the existing music industry structure, where art is dictated by a select few, presumably in the name of the almighty dollar?

Answers anyone?

Yeesh. I pray for the future of rap.