Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Alanis Morissette: Live in Reading, PA

March 20, 2008

Some naysayers call her a man-hating, greasy, angry femi-Nazi, but that’s what I love about Alanis. I don’t mean that I am any of the above or that I think those qualities are always a good thing, but if that’s what makes her produce the music on the Jagged Little Pill tape that my dad no-so-randomly bought me just to spite my mom, then so be it. That tape changed my life at the impressionable age of thirteen. It changed the way I dressed, what I listened to and how I acted.

I drove four and a half hours and spent $70 on a ticket to see Alanis in Reading, Pa. Some people think that is too far and too much money to see a concert. But I say that it wasn’t far enough! It wasn’t expensive enough! I would take back any of the great concerts I’ve been to just to see Alanis. She founded my musical experience — how do you pay somebody back for that?

She opened perfectly with the powerful and haunting “Uninvited.” Her hour-long set hit every one of my favorite songs (except her hidden track on JLP; please listen to it), and she concentrated mainly on Jagged Little Pill with “Ironic,” “Hand in My Pocket” and “You Ought To Know.” She also pulled songs from some of her other albums, though. It was a beautiful performance, just like I knew it would be.

I thought I had missed the chance when I was young to see many great bands while they were in their prime. I guess that must be why this concert meant so much to me. I thought that I would miss Alanis perform live and experience that same feeling that I got as a grungy 13-year-old. If you think that is crazy or dumb, then I don’t want to be sane or smart because I know that you have a band that meant so much to you growing up that you would drive more than four-and-a-half hours and drop more than $70 to see.

-Megan Drew

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What Ever Happened to Handel?

February 25, 2008

Something happened to me over Christmas break. It happened shortly after I returned from a performance of selections from Handel’s “Messiah.” As I reflected on the performance at home, a question crystallized in the murky depths of my thought: “What ever happened to Handel?”

Or more accurately, what happened to the Christ-centered artist? The development of modern music owes much to the church. Most of the great composers were Christians, and found their primary outlet for artistic expression through their religion. Even when we look at theater, we see that its Greek origin, though not Christian, was overtly religious. Early plays during the middle ages were often passion plays sponsored by the church. Great artists were often commissioned by the church, which resulted in some of the most awe-inspiring masterpieces of our time.

So, where am I going with all of this? I point this out simply to show how different things are now. For better or worse, the church was once the center of culture. The expression of artists’ most essential and passionate emotions were distinctly religious. Now artists seem to avoid religion like the plague. It is almost impossible to find works with complex and compelling Christian heroes. Even when a work does have a Christian hero, it’s as if the hero must also be one of three things to maintain the integrity of the work: naive, exceptionally “open-minded,” or be against the establishment of the church at large. On the other hand, so-called “Christian works” seem largely incapable of addressing relevant issues, and a far stretch from being considered high art.

So what happened to Handel’s “Messiah,” Michelangelo’s Statue of David, the soaring poetry of Milton, Herbert and Donne? I believe that the modern Christian artist focuses too much on the unbeliever instead of Christ. They are so focused on bringing in the unbeliever that they dumb down their art. Instead, they should be focused on Christ. Art should raise people up, stretch them beyond what they were able to understand, and through that give them a glimpse of our creator. Art, as an expression of our most essential emotions, is a religious experience.

It is time for the Christ-centered artist to find new life. It is time for them to learn how to be direct and honest without being preachy, to be passionate without being schmaltzy, to be uncompromising without being ignorant. We must learn to not let any message take precedence over aesthetics, or to let the art be more important that what we are using it to express. We must allow them to come together as an expression of who we are: creatures made in the image of God, creative and religious.

-Andrew Wright

My Favorite Things by Bethany Wall

February 25, 2008

Sometimes all I need is music I can think to. Often, a single song is my weekly, incessantly repeated thought process. This song is not what helps me get through the week, nor do I think music should; but it is a way to think my own thoughts along with someone else’s words and music. In fact, it is mostly the music of this week’s song, “the World at Large” by Modest Mouse, that encourage my thoughts — but the words evoke their own response as well.Even when I’m not listening to this song, it still floats in my head, starting with a simple guitar pattern and a soft drum beat, adding a xylophone and then a flute; it’s simple, yet it causes an emotional, melancholy sense of yearning. Every time I listened to this song this week, I slowed down and thought with the music. After awhile, I started listening to the words. It could completely depress a person, interpreting lyrics like “I like songs about drifters … why does it always feel like I’m caught in an undertow?” as being misunderstood and struggling against the world. But to me, the lines “If the world’s at large, why should I remain?” and “Walked away to another plan. Gonna find another place, maybe one I can stand” are about seeking change — wanting more out of life, yearning to see the world and fighting against the undertow to do so. The beat of the song, along with the words “float on,” give it a consistency, like moving forward, moving away from normality. I often want to do more with my life, and as much as I tell people that I’m just fine, the mantra of this song spins in my head: “My thoughts were so loud I couldn’t hear my mouth.”

-Bethany Wall

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Justin McRoberts – Grace Must Wound (2005)

February 4, 2008

With an album title inspired by Flannery O’Connor’s haunting words “Grace must wound before it heals,” Justin McRoberts uses his musical platform to usher listeners into the far reaches of grace. He draws a needed distinction between our ways and the identity of Christ, since Christianity in itself fails to exhibit pure grace. Nothing makes this theme more clear than his cover of Pedro the Lion’s “Secret of an Easy Yoke,” a critique of the Church who reduces God to a distant figure accessed through feel-good rituals.

If there is going to be change in the world, McRoberts knows there must be “Change” that brings each individual life and then offers it to the broken. Such surrounding brokenness is illustrated powerfully in “When They Bring You Down,” a song from God’s perspective to those who have done injustice. Christ fights for a healing justice on behalf of the oppressed, enslaved and demeaned individuals described in this song, and it is because of God’s special interest in justice that we can join McRoberts in asking Him to “Be Not Far Off (Psalm 22).”

Grace Must Wound is a collection of honest songs that showcases McRobert’s unique acoustic-driven sound. His picture of grace paves the way for his upcoming work Deconstruction, scheduled to release this spring. This album will focus more specifically on issues of justice and mercy, as well as the God-given capacity for humans to respond.

-Tesni Searles

Listen to Justin McRoberts on Myspace

Paul McCartney – Memory Almost Full (2007)

November 30, 2007

Let’s get the Beatles name-dropping out of the way: Paul McCartney was in the Beatles. The Beatles were influential, and – depending on who you ask – possibly
one of the (if not the) most important band of the past 50 years. That said, the four members never really escaped the shadow of the band with their solo careers. George Harrison’s solo releases were generally well-regarded, but the rest are a mixed bag: John Lennon was the epitome of this, and Ringo – poor Ringo – has released albums that veered wildly between insanely awesome and insanely bad. And then there’s Paul.

Memory Almost Full is McCartney’s umpteenth post-Beatles release; some have been good, some haven’t. But honestly, there hasn’t been a great one in years. The guy can write great songs, though. Memory Almost Full has some solid songs (“Dance Tonight,” “Gratitude”), but the bulk of the tracks sound like, oh, something mildly distracting that plays over the end credits to a romantic comedy. And the lyrics are nostalgia-soaked, so much so that I was left with the impression that Sir Paul spends every waking hour pining away for the days of yore.

This doesn’t jive with the breezy, upbeat nature of the music. Paul plays all of the instruments, and sounds like he’s having great fun doing so. But that’s one of the album’s few saving graces. Again, nothing is bad here; but nothing really stands out. Much of my favorite music is “average” compared to what some critics love, but at least I can remember the songs. I wish I could say the same for the stuff on Memory Almost Full.

-Jason Panella

Carrie Underwood – Carnival Ride (2007)

November 28, 2007

American Idol sweetheart Carrie Underwood took some flak initially from country purists. Her debut Some Hearts, they said, was saddled with too many pop-clichés to really be a good country record.

Underwood settles into a more twangy mode for most of Carnival Ride, her second album. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate response to her naysayers, but whatever – it works. Her lyrics are sharper, the music better; Underwood has even penned some of her own tunes, as she has four co-songwriting credits. This isn’t Merle Haggard/rickety porch/backwoods country music, mind you; there are still plenty of pop moments. But the stronger emphasis on country instrumental and “traditional” songwriting really, really suits her well. This is best exemplified on “I Know You Won’t,” a great fusion of pop ballad and country torch burner. Man, the gal has a voice.

Underwood still hasn’t been around long enough to build up a rapport to challenge any legends in her genre, but Carnival Ride is a good start. If she keeps this up, she’ll be one of those legends soon enough.

-Jason Panella

Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block (2007)

November 14, 2007

After being captured by the deceivingly somber “Amsterdam” by Peter, Bjorn and John this past summer, I was thrilled to be able to listen to the Swedish pop band’s Writer’s Block, their third full-length release. 

The group has a humble, down-to-Europe demeanor in which they subtly insert interesting instrumentation in an ever-so-slightly experimental fashion (“instruments” include the thundersheet, the whip, and “oral sounds”). Sometimes fast, restless and rather insatiable drumming contrasts with mellow whistling, almost shoegazer-esque guitar and reverb-laden, resounding vocals to represent the possible conflict between subconscious anxiety amidst laid-back, usually nonchalant lyrics. Here’s a trio of guys yearning for ideal romanticism and thus come off as epicurean in their wariness to work through rough spots in their relationships: “When you decided to knock on my door did you remember what happened before? It just didn’t sparkle, it just didn’t grow; some things look better inside of the store” (“Let’s Call it Off”) or “let’s take the easy way out” (“Roll the Credits”).

However, the lyrics are not overly-weighty. They are often simplistically romantic: “While I’m sleeping, you paint a ring on my finger with your black marker-pen” (“Paris 2004”). Writer’s Block dwells and thrives upon fantastical ideals and the everyday situations which sometimes live up to them but so frequently do not, creating an ultimately dreary tone. 

Nevertheless, the album comes off as brilliant in its insidious gloom, especially if the listener is well-adapted to this sort of music in the first place. The musical highlights have to be the popular indie single “Young Folks” and the aforementioned “Amsterdam,” but the band might be trying to make its biggest lyrical statement in the album-closer “Poor Cow”: “I want to spend, in a never-ending story, but it always ends.”

-Jake Kauffman

Listen to Peter Bjorn and John on Myspace

The Fiery Furnaces – Widow City (2007)

November 12, 2007

Quirky brother-sister duo The Fiery Furnaces return with Widow City, their fifth album in as many years. Brace yourself with The Fiery Furnaces. Singer Eleanor Friedberger sounds like a Grace Slick throwback, but this is not your parents’ Jefferson Airplane.

Widow City‘s lyrics are excellently “abstract specific,” giving the most idiosyncratic of lyricists like Van Dyke Parks a run for their money: “…the new school bus assistant snuck in charge of leaving seven sleeping children in their seats, in a trance, induced by air-conditioning” (“More Automatic Husband”). Lyrics are also laced with Arabic references (“My Egyptian Grammar”), prone to wry humor (“save a glacier name for my daughter” from “Navy Nurse”) and speak of ambiguous relationships (“Japanese Slippers”).

Matthew Friedberger’s music is brashly eclectic, restlessly changing about as fast as a ninth grader’s relationship status, and is ultimately unique, if not innovative. Amidst it all, though, catchiness reigns in songs like “Ex-Guru” or “The Old Hag is Sleeping.”

Unfortunately, Widow City seems a bit too disconnected from one track to another to be a landmark album. But, it remains an odd treasure for anyone strange enough to acquire such a brilliantly funky taste in sound or anyone just desperately jaded from modern pop radio. The Fiery Furnaces’ cryptic style either requires rigorous philosophic prodding in order to find truth, or the Friedbergers are just as mixed up as their music implies. In any case, Widow City is for anyone wishing to listen to something they’re not normally hearing in music.

-Jake Kauffman

Listen to The Fiery Furnaces on Myspace

Dropkick Murphys – The Meanest of Times (2007)

November 9, 2007

The Dropkick Murphys are one of the most distinctly provincial bands I have ever encountered. They are from Boston and make no bones about this fact, integrating their home city into their music so thoroughly that past albums have included anthems for the Red Sox and Bruins. And yet, the Dropkicks have a flair for making the regional transcendent. Their songs, though peppered with references to people and places distinctly Bostonian, could happen in the slums and side streets of any major city.

The Meanest of Times continues the Dropkicks Murphys’ proud tradition of working class anthems that combine punk blister with traditional Irish instrumentation. The band has always found their greatest success reworking traditional tunes, and that holds true here. While the original songs make an enjoyable use of lead singer Al Barr’s snarl and ability to spin tales of rough people enduring tough times, the band really shines on the tracks “(F)Lannigans Ball” and “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya,” which are both traditional tunes reworked into the Dropkicks’ idiom.

The Meanest of Times is another excellent entry in Dropkick Murphy’s increasing catalog of albums that are equally accessible at barrooms and Irish folk festivals.

– Nate Campbell

Listen to the Dropkick Murphys on Myspace

Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog (2007)

October 29, 2007

Iron and Wine’s newest album finds Sam Beam straying from the time-worn formula listeners have come to expect of his songs–that they consist of little more than Beam’s sleepy-voiced vocals and acoustic guitar. Having been invigorated by the experience of recording with a full band during the making of his collaboration with Calexico (In the Reins), Beam has chosen to record his latest album with a fuller suite of instrumentation.

If this sounds alarming, never fear; the overall effect of the songs is still the understated, pastoral music. It’s the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon spent lounging beneath a tree with a tome of poetry, a loaf of bread and thou. In fact, the well-placed addition of varied musical elements–from banjo to sitar–adds to Beam’s cryptically poetic verse. Branching out from his previous, exclusively acoustic guitar approach allows Beam to stretch out and more fully inhabit the sonic spaces he creates. Motion is a sign of life, and it is good to see that Beam is not content to keep cranking out album after album of sound-alike songs. With a full band at his back, Sam Beam is stepping forward in an exciting new direction. All told, The Shepherd’s Dog is a pleasant addition to Iron and Wine’s oeuvre of drowsy music for sunny afternoons.

-Nate Campbell

Listen to Iron and Wine on Myspace