Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Abel-The Honest Love

One of the hardest things in writing about music is reviewing Cds that are neither great nor awful. It’s easy to get excited and write a glowing review when the artist is someone great like The Beatles or Queen. It’s also easy to cut to pieces a horrendous album with some well placed verbal knives. But to a review a CD that is good, but not great, puts a strain on the writer. If you don’t write the review well, the reader will come off thinking that it is either really good or really bad, which is not what you were aiming for in the first place.
Abel’s debut EP, The Honest Love, gives me such a problem. While I might not put it in the realm of amazing albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Brother, Sister, or The Essential Kenny G, I would not hesitate to recommend it to any of my friends.
Abel’s sound could best be described as Christian arena rock mixed in with some indie influences. While the sound of the band faintly echoes Coldplay or similar groups, the song structure of the band shows less mainstream influences. Kevin Kniefel’s voice doesn’t sound like many of the Chris Martin imitations out their. He has sort of a quavering, nasally voice, sometimes sounding a bit like a higher-pitched and rawer Counting Crows, sometimes more like an indie Five For Fighting, and he uses it to its full potential, going from whispering to falsetto to yelling. Musically, it spices up the arena rock genre with syncopated bass and drums, and more complex guitar parts than are usually absent in this sort of music. “Dressed Like a King” features a lilting beat of the kind that’s missing in this kind of music, and throws in a frantic bridge that amps up the tension, before culminating in a guitar solo (and not one of those repetitive, three-note motifs that Coldplay passes off as guitar solos.) “Song Of Simon” (I assume that means Simon Peter) begins like a song to raise up your lighters to, and then suddenly becomes fierce and intense, with the singer describing Christ’s crucifixion, and ends on a redemptive note.
It’s the last three songs on the EP that shine, though. “The Honest Love” starts out sounding like something that might sound like something you might hear on a cruise ship, and ends as something driving and catchy, a great song to listen to driving in a convertible. A bossa nova version would be one of the most awesome songs ever. “My Melody” sounds like the song that Coldplay was trying to copy when they wrote “Yellow”. And the finale, “The World Sings”, features a great bridge that will have you singing along, and closes in some calm piano. Coldplay is musical white bread compared with Abel’s wheat.
Lyrically, the band is pretty solid. There’s no amazing poetry here, but there’s less repetitive choruses, and vapid sweet nothings than on many other more famous Christian pop-rock artists. The lyrics have a bit more bite than what gets played on mainstream Christian radio-can you imagine Sanctus Real singing “Though I am trying/I’m not like Christ at all.” The only problem with the lyrics is that sometimes they are a little vague or confusing, such as “You have held my heart with truest eyes so blue” (talking about Jesus), or the story of a child waiting on his dad to come home from war in “Dressed Like a King”, which seems to be sort of randomly thrown in. Occasionally poetry shows up, as in “Song of Simon” which begins with “I went to the cross and crossed my heart and hoped to die.” It’s almost a mewithoutYou line, and hopefully is a preview of good song writing to come.
The biggest downside to this album is its production. The drums are mixed in too loud, in my opinion, so that when the drummer starts hitting on the cymbals it becomes hard to listen to The echo-y sounds can sound cool, and in the hands of a master they can be amazing, but they can also give the impression that the album was recorded in a cave. Less polished production works for groups like The White Stripes because their music is less polished, but when it comes to arena/pop-rock, more polished production gives it a more ethereal sound. However, it is their first EP, so this problem may be solved in the future.
Abel may not be a revolutionary band such as Queen or Nirvana, but in a few years and with some more experience in song writing they could easily become a first-among equals in their field. Their music is catchy, pop enough to be radio friendly, and better than anything on K-Love or Air1. If you find this EP in some Christian bookstore, pick it up, or better yet, go to one of Abel’s shows and show your support for a new band with the potential to be a force in Christian music.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Concert Review: Abel and some others

By Nick
In my town there is a serious deficit of musical entertainment. Besides the symphony orchestra, (which only plays that longhair roundmouth music, and doesn't play during the summer), the music venues mostly tend to be sleazy bars that book third rate country singers and rock bands whose claim to fame was that the singer of some eighties hair band was briefly a member before he went on to join [Insert Famous Eighties Hair Band Here]. However, for those of us who don't want to go see bands with names like Tragikly White or The Rednek Groov Team, there is hope. There is a Christian homeless ministry based downtown called I Love Evelyn, which is sort of a Jesus People outfit, albeit without incense, beads, or Keith Green. The way that this group raises money and "awareness", is through holding concerts featuring different Christian rock bands and local musicians who don't want to play "Pour Some Sugar On Me". This simultaneously helps solve Texarkana's homeless problem, and its lack of musical entertainment. Sort of.
I Love Evelyn concerts also have another good thing going for them-you get to see Texarkana's weird crowd come out of the woodwork. Whereas in a big city these circus-esque folk would be more ubiquitous, here in Texarkana it is rare for me to see them, probably because they never go to Wal-Mart. If you see anyone who doesn't have long hair, piercings, tatoos, blue hair, skinny jeans, or expensive looking clothes, it's probably either me or a musician's parent. I felt the same way at the House of Heroes concert that I went to last year. I think I'm too normal for this kind of music.

The first band, and the main reason I came, was Israel and For Dreams Alike. I have a personal motive in this, having been friends with Israel in junior high. I had seen him play an acoustic set opening for The Glorious Unseen (Better unseen.), but I had never seen a full band performance. He did not disappoint...much. After one of those super-long soundchecks, Israel and the band started off with one of those soaring power-chord drenched Coldplay-type songs. Only this was better than Coldplay or any similar arena rock, and (dare I say it?), almost as good as U2. OK, maybe not that good, but still. He played a song with a cool harmonics intro, incorporated one of the arias from Carmen into another, and incorporates tempo changes and stuff.

I have to give the downside though. This is musiccriticism, after all. I could not hear the vocals on most of the songs. I guess that's a given for small venues and this kind of music, but I like to hear the vocals and understand the words. Secondly, and more importantly, all of his songs seemed to drag on in the sort of slower arena rock way. His first song was decent enough, but it seemed to go on and on and on, and it wasn't the sort of fast driving song that you want to get audiences interested. All his songs seemed to have about the same beat, a flaw which seems to infect most Christian music, and there was almost no syncopation. I mean, isn't that what makes it rock?
The biggest flaw, though, was not in the band, but the audience. Through the whole set, and all of the rest of the bands, they either sat on picnic tables, or leaned up against the wall, and just blankly stared at the stage. That's it. There was no sort of enthusiasm whatsoever. It was not just this concert either. When I went to see House of Heroes there were people standing three feet away from the stage either stock-still or texting people on their phones. Is the Christian Rock community made up entirely of Baptists? I doubt it. So why doesn't anyone dance, clap, sway, hold up a lighter, smile, or anything else? This might answer the question: Then again it may not. Still, the site of people at a rock concert sitting still and staring glumly like it was the London Symphony Orchestra made me mad. Especially, because I'm a rhythmic guy, and I want to clap my hands, tap my feet, bang my head, etc., when I'm at a concert. Since no one else was doing anything remotely close to this, I felt like I would be drawing undue attention to myself if I busted out some sweet moves. So I didn't.

And I promise you, the bass player wearing the headband is not gay.
Israel's set ended and most of the teenage girls left, which was disapointing. The next band on tap was She's The Antagonist, which was a one man show featuring some guy on the guitar. First, I'll give the upsides. During this guy's entire set I sat at the same table as the guys in the headliner band. This was cool. The one musician who comprises She's The Antagonist, Keith Tubbs, is a pretty good acoustic guitar picker, and seems like a nice guy, so I don't mean to attack him personally, just musically.
To be honest, though, just seeing this guy made me mad. I felt like going onstage and beating him up. He was very small and pale to begin, and his large mess of hair (I imagine his mom calling it a "rat's nest") didn't help. Plus he was wearing some Daisy Dukes. Please, if you're a guy, dress in such a way that I can tell you're a guy if I see you from behind.
And then he started to sing. This guy's voice was simply awful. It sounded like Mushmouth mixed with a kid on crack. Bob Dylan could run circles around this guy. His modulation was terrible. Fans may say that he is "experimental", but I've heard two year olds experimenting with a pot and a wooden spoon. Doesn't mean it's good to listen to. Lyrically, he seemed to want to cram everything he could into a song. It sounded like the most pretentious Bob Dylan song to the nth power. The guy's lyrics seemed to betray a snarky and holier-than-thou. Most of his songs came back to the theme of "I'm an artist and no one understands me. People say they don't like my songs, but that's just because they don't listen to them." No, brother, people don't like your songs because they are awful. Play stuff like "Folsom Prison Blues" that people can understand and then they will like your music.
Many of the songs were also disturbing.Every song seems to be about death (and not in a Holy Sonnet X kind of way), and much of the theological content was creepy and unbiblical sounding. An example of this would be the one where in the song God says something to the effect of "I put you here, but then I'm going to leave you, but I'll come back when you die." I could (and probably will) do an expose' on Christian emo/alternative rock theology, much of which is weird, unsound, and depressing. And when I wasn't hearing depressing, wacked-out theology or meditations on death, I heard just plain lyrical tripe.You can't out-do songs with lines like "A grizzly bear walked up the stairs", (This guy must have a rhyming dictionary by his bedside) and "The President sits in his chair while homeless men die" (Last time I checked it wasn't the president's job to take care of homeless people, but obviously I know less than "the artist").
"I feel like puking!" he sung halfway through his performance, and I wanted to shout "So do I!" However, politeness prevented me.
His set lasted way too long, which probably led to Abel's set seeming kind of short. However, to his credit, he was a good guitar picker and a nice guy, and would probably be a good backup guitarist for some other singer. A solo career would not be good for him, or for the world's ears, unless there's some major change in his style.

Hey, but at least he's enthusiastic, which is more than I can say for the crowd.
After that execrable, and overly long performance from She's The Antagonist, which to be honest was the closest that music has ever gotten to causing me physical pain, (Maybe it's an emo wrist-slitting thing: Pain Music.),the headliner band, Abel, a group from NYC, took the stage. They were also sort of an arena rock band. (the buzzword for this is ambient.) Their sound was similar to Mutemath, although not close enough to be called copycat.They had more guitar solos than Mutemath, and their lyrics were more explicitly Christian, but Mutemath is the closest comparison. Other than one song where it seemed like they were getting off,(and I couldn't tell if that was on purpose or not), the musicianship seemed solid, the vocals were good, and the bass player was really getting into it. I found out after the concert that he usually has a mic, but since he didn't have one that night he just sang without one.

The group was good, but they weren't that good. Now don't get me wrong: they had some nice songs, and I bought their EP and T-shirt, but they don't seem to have anything special that set them apart from the pack of U2/Coldplay style Christian music, other than the fact that they were in Texarkana that night. I would have also hoped for some better onstage presence. The singer didn't talk much, mainly just saying "Thanks" after every song, and some band interaction would have made it seem much more real and nice. Good bands play, great bands steal the show. However, I shouldn't be too harsh on them, as they are a new band, and I haven't listened to their EP yet. Perhaps they are better in studio than onstage.

After Abel's set (of which I remember very little-it all sounded very similar.), The Ember Days, a supposedly amazing worship band, was supposed to play, but they weren't there. The story was that their bus had broken down. I personally think that they were really abducted by aliens, but that's just my theory. It was already late when they were supposed to play anyway, thanks to She's The Antagonist's mind-bogglingly long set, so I wasn't too disappointed. I talked with the singer from Abel, bought a CD, (which I will review later), and a T-shirt, and went home.

Summary: Israel and For Dreams Alike's set was the best of all (I've thought that both times I've seen him.) It must have been really disappointing to the other bands to see the first act draw the largest crowds. She's The Antagonist was horrendous, begging your pardon, Abel was good arena rock, and The Ember Days didn't even show up, so the best I can say was that they weren't bad. House of Heroes is coming to Texarkana July 11, so I'll probably be going to another I Love Evelyn Concert soon. I'll remember to dye my hair blue and put an earring in my tongue so I won't feel weird.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Introduction to Blue Grass Music

Ben's There:

The question was asked in a recent comment about how one could go about getting acquainted with bluegrass music. That is a hard question to answer. The best way to get acclimated to bluegrass music is to have ancestors who were eeking out a rugged existence around the locks and in the glens of Scotland. From their hard-scrabble lives, they would have found joy in the gatherings of the clans where music was heard and lads and lassies could dance to the tunes. The music was timeless or always old, as though it had originated with the very hills and dales of that mystical land. From there, those ancestors would have imbibed the Calvinism of John Knox and Andrew Melville, which blended psalm-like devotions to their jigs and reels. Then after a few decades of persecution, along with the pain of the defeat of the rising of 1745, those ancestors crossed the Atlantic, slid on past the settlements on the coast and taken up new lives in the hills of Appalachia, which bore faint resemblances to the old country. Lots of possessions might have been left behind, but the catechisms and the fiddles would have been packed along for the ocean crossing.

As Bill Monroe, and you have to know that name to even begin thinking of bluegrass music, once said (when gazing at the surrounding hills and valleys while the bluegrass boys repaired a flat tire on the Bluegrass Express), "Just listen to those ancient tones."

There's got to be "the fierce pull of blood" (to borrow from Bill Faulkner) that causes those combinations of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass, and high tenor to create the ache, the joy, and the deep emotional tie to bluegrass music. Of course, it is much more complicated. Monroe picked up syncopation patterns from an old Negro who played guitar. All Southern music forms are integrated.

(Remember the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?
Junior: "Pappy, they's integrated."
Gov. Pappy O'Daniel: "Folks don't seem to mind that they's integrated.")

In fact, I long to see a compilation CD called Black and Blue Grass--Roots Music of the South.

Is there hope for urban-dwelling Yankees, haters of Southerners, high brows who can't saw down on a fiddle, stuffy music snobs, green and purple haired freeks who would shock Flannery O'Connor, non-Celtic tribes, and folks whose ears have been warped by too much screaming and hollering? Probably not if you fit at least three of those categories. But in a time of cultural renewal, perhaps folks can still cultivate an appreciation of bluegrass music. Remember, it was not all that long ago (c. 1940) when the governor of Tennessee (a Democrat) said that country music was an embarassment to that state.

The best way to learn about bluegrass music is to attend a bluegrass festival. The festivals began in the 1960s. They grew out of the folk music revival of that time. People discovering folk music (and often opposing the Vietnam War for different reasons) discovered that there was a whole class of folks who played accustic string instruments and who learned old tunes from granpa's, uncles, local bands, traveling preachers, and from an old radio show on WSM called the Grand Ole Opry. Elvis had revved up music's volume and others had electrified the instruments, but there were those who still played the old styles. They had blame near starved, but they had not changed their music. The festivals were their re-entry port into American culture and success.

And many discovered Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, Flatt and Scruggs, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Martin, the Stanley Brothers and others.

Local festivals are still held all over the country. The quality of the relatively unknown bands is usually quite amazing. Bluegrass festivals are generally held outside with rows and rows of folding chairs surrounding the stage and with groups jamming all over the campgrounds.

But since this summer is unusually hot, even for the south, I would recommend a few albums/CDs to that contain various artists who exemplify the best of Bluegrass music.

High Lonesome is a CD that accompanies a wonderful documentary by the same name. The documentary is the best introduction to the roots and development of Bluegrass music. The CD contains some outstanding music by Monroe, Jim and Jesse, Mac Wiseman, and some more recent artists.

One of the earliest, most famous, and still defining bluegrass festivals is held yearly in Bean Blossom, Indiana. Monroe was a key figure in the establishment of this festival and his influence still weighs heavily on the performances there. This live recording includes the applause, yells, and screams of the audience. It is a fine collection of music.

Back in the early 70s, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band gathered together in a music studio with some of their heroes. These included Mother Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff, Jimmy Martin, Doc Watson, and Merle Travis. The result was a three record album collection called Will the Circle Be Unbroken?. In subsequent years, second and third compilations have been produced. While this collection is not strictly bluegrass, it contains lots of bluegrass music, instrumental accustic music, and music with deep roots. (I only own this on the old vinyl records, but I still value the collection.)

The movie O Brother Where Art Thou? introduced many people to the music that kept folks spirit's high while the nation's economic conditions were so low during the 1930s. Again, not all the music in the movie or on the soundtrack is strictly bluegrass. But it does contain some outstanding music.

Friday, June 18, 2010

In The Pines

By Nick.
Pop songs come and go, but truly good music sticks around in some form or another. Such is the case with American Folk (And I don't mean that wretched Pete Seeger stuff.) Folk songs were carried off from England and Scotland to the Appalachians. From there they stayed in the hills and musically fermented, until the invention of trains and electricity and coal mining hit the area. It was then that folk music morphed into country, with a little help from luminaries such as The Carter Family and Jimmy Rogers. From there, the songs became country and bluegrass standards, were mostly forgotten by all but the dedicated during country's lean years, and then revived by alternative/indie rockers such as Ryan Adams or Connor Oberst looking for something more authentic than the latest pop faddle.
The song "In The Pines" is an interesting case study in the way that folk songs trickle down through time. It is a gloomy appalachian ballad alternately known as "Black Gal", "The Longest Train" or "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" The best known early recording of it was by Leadbelly, who learned it from another person who learned it from two early phonograph recordings. Not having access to the Leadbelly version, I had to make do with the three versions I had.
The Earliest version I had on hand was that by J.E. Mainer and his Mountaineers
from the CD East Virginia Blues, part of the series When The Sun Goes Down, which bills itself as "The Secret History of Rock and Roll". The CD, which is the only one in the series we have as of now, not only contains many interesting old Appalachian songs, but also song explanations in the liner notes. J.E. Mainer was no stranger to dark songs- his nephew Wade Mainer and his Friend Zeke Morris, who play on "In The Pines", do another song on the album called "Down in The Willow", which is a classic murder ballad. This version may strike modern listeners as being a little too upbeat for such dark lyrics, but it was keeping up with the times. Back in the 20s and 30s, many murder ballads and sad songs were recorded and sung with more upbeat rhythms and melodies, both to keep up with the popular way of playing them, and to make them more suitable for live performances. No self-respecting Appalachian fiddler would have wanted his songs to be melodramatic, although he probably would not have used that word.
Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys recorded a version in their early days, even more upbeat than the Mountaineers'. This version is pure Bill Monroe, complete with yodeling. The lyrics here are much less sad, and talk about "The longest train that I ever saw". The only downside to this recording is the train whistle sound that one of the bandmembers makes during the chorus. It's interesting at first, but after hearing it every time the chorus comes around, it gets kind of annoying.
The final version that I listened to was Nirvana's rendition on their Unplugged CD. Despite Kurt Cobain's status as "The Father of Grunge", he played this old folk song as the coda to his performance. While researching for this post on the internet,the only thing I found on this song other than the same article repeated a thousand times was a songs meaning site which had a bunch of comments, most of which were something along the lines of "Kurt Cobain wrote this as a song about his wife's infidelities", and "He didn't write it, Dude. Courtney loved Kurt." Conclusion: The internet is useless. Therefore I have had to come up with my own interpretation.
To anyone who knows about Nirvana, it's obvious that Kurt Cobain was into dark and often creepy stuff. Grunge music (or whatever you want to call it) was almost all about depression, at least until the Stone Temple Pilots came out and made it somewhat fun. That's a whole 'nuther story. Kurt Cobain obviously had some sort of liking for this song, but it's what he did with it that's amazing.
For starters, he played it in a minor key, unlike the earlier versions played in major. A cello plays the bass notes, making the song take on a major key feel until halfway through each verse, when it goes down back into minor. Kurt's raspy voice, famously showcased on the unintelligible and oft-parodied chorus to "Smells Like Teen Spirit", gives this song a more raw edge, which is kicked into overdrive when he screams the final verses. The most amazing thing is what he does with the lyrics. In a typical Nirvana-esque twist, he takes the lyrics to the different versions and rearragnes them into a rage-filled song about pointlessness. This was not directed at Courtney Love, this was directed more toward everyone, with no special preferences to anyone. The Lyrics to the Nirvana Version are below

My girl, my girl, don't lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night

In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don't ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through

My girl, my girl, where will you go
I'm going where the cold wind blows

In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don't ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through

Her husband, was a hard working man
Just about a mile from here
His head was found in a driving wheel
But his body never was found

My girl, my girl, don't lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night

In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don't ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through

My girl, my girl, where will you go
I'm going where the cold wind blows

In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don't ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through

Super quick addendum: I just listened to a sample of the Leadbelly version on Amazon. The Nirvana uses the same chord progression.

New CDs-A very short post for ADHD readers.

From Nick.
Picked up some new CDs from some people who our family is going to have a garage sale with.
A Rush of Blood to The Head by Coldplay
The Greatest Hits of Mozart
The Soundtracks to The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers and
The Patriot
Music For Relaxation III
The last one sounds like some sort of Lifescapes-type elevator music, but it's actually a collection of some very good and less-well known classical music.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Worst Songs Ever Performed

By Nick
This is a personal list of the worst songs ever performed. It does not include rap music, which is almost uniformly horrible, and it does not include ditties from children’s TV shows. And I cannot attempt to be comprehensive, so this list only encompasses that little area of music that I’ve listened to.

“Hey, Soul, Sister” by Train.
There has never been, nor will ever be, a song as bad as this one. The song is so stupendously horrible that it lacks the comic value that other awful songs have. It transcends awfulness. There are no words to describe how nonsensical the lyrics are. If their singer had come up with anything more ridiculous, it would have been read at the Obama Inauguration. Lyrics aside, the singer sounds like he’s in pain while singing. How did Train go from “Drops of Jupiter” and “Calling All Angels” to this.

“The Hap-Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” by Donna Fargo
So hap-happy it’s sickening. Donna Fargo’s magical ability to ruin country music has amazed thousands. Unless you like songs with lines like “It’s a skipped-doo-dah day”, then avoid this treacle like the plague.

“Funny Face” by Donna Fargo.
Like the above, only worse. If the government really wants to torture terrorists, just make them listen to this.

“The Good Ship Lollipop” by who knows whom.
A staple of dance recitals, the song gives me a feeling in my stomach that would be the equivalent of eating a gallon of Jolly Ranchers. I’ll take “Yellow Submarine” any day.

“Over The Rainbow”
OK, so the Judy Garland version was good, and there were some other good versions of it, including one sung by my sister. But there have been so many awful, schmaltzy remakes of this song that I had to include it.

“Summer Nights” by the Grease Cast
Tell me less, tell me less. It has an obnoxious, repetitive riff, whiney gang vocals, that sentimental romancing of the 1950s as the best time ever, and something about making out under the dock. Family entertainment.

“It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls.
No one quite knows why there’s not a song called “It’s Raining Women”.

“The Disco Duck (Pt. 1) by Elmore Leornard or somebody.
Even worse than the above. The absolute worse disco song ever, it could have only happened during the Carter Administration.

“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.
If you haven’t already figured out that I hate disco…

“Tik Tok” by Ke$ha.
A sort of white trash version of Britney Spears (if that’s possible), who pulls of the amazing feat of sounding more drunk than Lady GaGa while singing lyrics about taking drugs. Awful.

“Your Love is My Drug” by Ke$ha
The Title says it all. The song sounds so much like “Tik Tok” that there’s no reason to say anything else. And why do people persist in pronouncing her name Keh-sha instead of Kee-sha?

“Oi! To The World” by The Vandals.
At first, the idea of having a punk rock Christmas song was funny. Then the radio station played it over and over again to the point where it was nauseating. Makes me want to hang myself by the chimney with care.

“Don’t Trust Me” by 30H!3 and “Good Girls Go Bad” by Cobra Starship.
Both of these songs are so similar I had to put them together. Snarky, Vulgar club-emo music. This is what government schools are producing.

“Addicted” by Saving Abel.
And speaking of Vulgar, here’s exhibit A. Absolutely disgusting. Makes Breaking Benjamin sound like Beethoven.

“If Everyone Cared”, “Rockstar”, “Somebody”, all the other radio hits by Nickelback.
Nihilistic, existentialist lyrics combined with Chad Kroeger’s strained, scratchy voice, and you’ve got a recipe for awfulness that the radio stations will play again and again and again. And again.

“This Afternoon” by Nickelback.
Even worse than all the other Nickelback songs. Sounds like the worst country music ever, coupled with Chad Kroeger’s strained scratchy voice, which I can’t overemphasize. Chad Kroeger sounds like he eats gravel for breakfast.

“I’m For You” by TobyMac.
Proof that awful music is not just for atheists. TobyMac is sort of a overblown youth pastor who thinks he’s cool. His name should be TobyWack.

“A City On Our Knees” by TobyMac.
Pretty much all this guy’s music is awful, but this one is slow, too.

“Wake Up, Wake Up” by KJ Five-Two.
I’m sure there are worse songs by KJ, who is sort of a budget TobyMac, but this is the only one that AirOne Plays. It’s sort of a rock/rap hybrid, and, trust me, it’s worse than it sounds. KJ is so 2000 and late.

“Sea Cruise” by somebody.
An oldies track in the world of awful music. It’s been years since I’ve heard it, and I don’t miss it a bit. Words do not describe how bad this is.

“Fireflies” by Owl City
The music world is so messed up that some loser who lives in his parents basement can record this song and become a celebrity. It sounds like the menu music for one of those lame video games that don’t have any blood in them coupled with whiney, girly, save the earth lyrics.

“Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi
Preferably Dead.

“Don’t You Want Me Baby” by some 80s band.
Another case of radio overkilling a song. It’s funny occasionally as a piece of 80s cheese, but one I’ve heard it 5763 times in one month…

“I Kissed A Girl” By Katy Perry
You know, there used to be a time when gay singers didn’t do songs about being gay. “Rocket Man” has nothing to do with Homosexuality, and most of Queen’s songs have nothing to do with it either. (I chalk their weird onstage spandex costumes up to classic rock flamboyance more than being gay. There were plenty of straight bands that wore tight clothes and sang weird stuff.) But now we have a non-lesbian singing this ridiculously stupid song that’s offensive to straights and gays alike. What is this world coming to?

“California Gurls” by Katy Perry.
You know, there used to be a time when singers didn’t steal their song titles from other people, and thay new how 2 spel.

“I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz.
OK, I’ll give him this: he does have a cool last name.

“This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race.” by Fallout Boy
Wimpy, snobby pop-emo from wimpy-snobby rich kids from New York. Ditch the strings and go back to punk.

“Sweethearts of America” by FalloutBoy
Is it Fallout Boy, FalloutBoy, or Fall Out Boy? Nobody seems to know. This song is even worse than the above, and it’s slow. What idiot came up with slow rock songs?

“Hey There Delilah” by The Plain White T’s
The Delilah who’s being “Hey-There’d” isn’t the singer’s girl. No it’s some random chick who barely even knows the singer. That and the corny rhymes put it on the list.

“Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls
“I Don’t Want the World to See this/Cos I don’t think that they’d understand./This song deserves to be broken/That would make me a happy man.”

“I Will Not Bow” by Breaking Benjamin.
The Slow, Boring Rock Song to kill all slow, boring rock songs.

“The Last Night”, “Savior”, and “Rebirthing” by Skillet.
Possibly the worst rock band of all time, (Calling Cobra Starship a rock band insults the genre), Skillet sounds like Chad Kroeger meets Breaking Benjamin produced by TobyMac and aimed at Christian Kids whose parents won’t let them listen to Disturbed.

“Everything You Ever Wanted” and “Zero” by Hawk Nelson.
Have you ever noticed that awful bands also have a tendency to make every song sound alike. I mean, couldn’t there be a band that was awful, but at least creative. I counted 35 first-person references in “Everything.” Now that’s me-centric.

“In My Head” by Jason Derulo.
Honestly, Jason, I don’t want to know what’s in your head.

“Just Dance”, “Poker Face”, “LoveGame”, “Bad Romance”, “Poparazzi” by Lady GaGa.
Club Music’s apogee. Repetitive, machinelike, just plain nasty. Lady GaGa has a talent for sounding drunk. You say you’re a lady, act like it.

“Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” By Beyonce’
Another dance recital staple, it has almost no music whatsoever, jejune lyrics, and a beat that’s so complex that Beyonce’ gets off beat. Put a Lid on it!

“It’s Only Rock And Roll (But I Like It)” by The Stones.
I don’t like it.

How can anybody take these guys seriously. While they are supposedly “Rock Gods”, they sound to me more like junior high boys trying to freak out their parents.

“All Around Me” by Flyleaf
A song that sounds like it’s about meeting up with a stalker, sung by a chick who sounds like she’s about to vomit. And why on earth is this played on the Christian pop/rock stations near me? There’s nothing remotely Christian about it.

“Misery Business” by Paramore
The Fake-Punk version of Flyleaf. Neon-red hair does not a punk make.

“Decode” by Paramore
A slow, slow, slow version of Misery Business, complete with a whiney, shrieking chorus. We can tell the red hair is fake. Just ditch it.

“Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
The ultimate lame, slow, Coldplay/U2 ripoff. Nothing is as bad as this. Nothing.

“Go All The Way (Into Twilight)” By Perry Farrell.
I think I turned this song off about two seconds into it.

“Amerika” by Rammstein.
Shut up, shut up, shut up, you German Freaks.

“Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne.
Let’s see how tacky we can get, guys.

“All The Small Things” by Blink-182
You know, they still make Moo-llennium Crunch ice cream even though the turn of the millennium is over.

“I Don‘t Need A Soul” by Relient K.
You know, this band used to be good. Now they just sound like a generic Owl City

“My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson
You know, back in the 70s this would have been banned from the radio on the grounds of obscenity. Just sayin’

“So What!” by P!nk
Back in the day, P!nk was that cute girl with the pink hair. Now, she’s just a mean, trashy, Britney Spears gone to seed. She has radio hits-so what?

“Womanizer”, “Gimme More”, “Circus” by Britney Spears.
The original white-trash girl celebrity, inspiring numerous copycats. Nothing quite beats the original.

“SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake.
Why can’t old boy band singers just fade away. *NSync was alright back in the early 2000s, but this guy is just sleepwalking toward his royalty check.

“I Ain’t as Good As I Once Was” by Toby Keith.
Had to include at least one country song in this list. Sounds like it was written while dead drunk, with lines like “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I was good once as I ever was.” This one weren’t never good at all.

“Imma Be” and “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas.
Lacking both basic elements of music and grammar, the Black Eyed Peas show us that Fergie can sound as much like a drunk white-trash chick as anyone.

“Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)” by Fergie
They do if they hear this song.

“Innocence” by Stellar Kart
Stellar Kart needs to float off into a black hole.

“Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin.
Erma Franklin’s rendition of this song is heartrending. Joplin’s is just ugly. Sorry. I know she’s supposed to be this great legend and all, but…it’s just no good. Bad music isn’t just new music.

“Ballroom Blitz” by The Sweet
Kill me, please.

“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day.
Slow, Depressing, and off-key. Anyone who could record a song this bad must be an American Idiot.

“You Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” By Pitbull
The fakest rapper ever, he is not even worthy to be called rap, and that alone is pretty sad. Pitbull is probably the wackest man in show business, and his non-talents include passing off a mixtape as an album, pretending to be gangsta when in fact he owned a bakery before he broke in to rap, and putting awful stuff like this on the radio.

“Shut Me Out”, “Soaring In The Sky”, “To Know That You’re Alive”, by Kutless
Sort of a Christian Breaking Benjamin, with the cursing replaced with sweet evangelical nothings. How come Christian Rock bands like to have misspelled names. I mean, there’s Relient K and Kutless, and…that other band.

This list is far from comprehensive. I could have included the entire musical works of Linkin Park (Excluding Shadow of a Day), Disturbed, Breaking Benjamin, Poison, Miley Cyrus, Nickelback, Justin Bieber, Anything from American Idol, Kenny Chesney, Sugarland, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Cobra Starship, 3OH!3, Beyonce, Rihanna, and almost every rap song since 1998. The opinions presented in this paper all are true and must not be questioned. Disagreement may result in fines, jail time, death, and your kids inability to go to the college of their choice. Listener discretion is advised. Please feel free to suggest your own worst songs. I welcome your comments.

UnderOath, Dude, Pt. 2

By Nick.
Having read these after finishing the article below, I think I might as well post the Lyrics to the most evil song ever, which was not written by Slayer, Marylin Manson, or Slipknot, but instead by a band which has been promoted as being Christian, and is sold in Christian bookstores.
I've been up at this all night
I've been drowning in my sleep
I've prayed for your safe place
And its time for us to leave

Time is running, its running on empty and the gas is running out
I've decided that tonight is the night
That I let love aside
Full speed ahead this seems to be the place
I've seen this once before
Planned perfection sought in my dreams
Hoping this could take you home

My knuckles have turned to white
There's no turning back tonight
Kiss me one last time

Around this turn where the cross will cast your shadow
The people will all gather
To remember such a day where the flames grew as high
as trees
And the world stopped just for you and me

My knuckles have turned to white
There's no turning back tonight (So hold on tight)
Kiss me one last time (Shut your eyes)

I will now bring new meaning to the word alone
Endless nights of dreaming of life
And the days we should have spent here

Drowning in my sleep, I'm drowning in my sleep

Glass shatters and comes to a hault
I thought we'd be there by now
I thought it would be so much quicker than this

Pain has never been so brilliant
I made sure you were buckled in
Now you can walk hand in hand with Him

Written by Underoath © 2004 814 Stops Today (ASCAP)/Thirsty Moon River Publishing (ASCAP)

This is about a real event, the death of Dallas Taylor's fiance' in a car wreck. Only in this version of the story, the driver of the car is trying to kill his fiance' so she can go to heaven and be with God. Is this creepy or what. I would almost rather listen to some blatantly vulgar AC/DC song rather than this creepy, death-obsessed track by a "Christian" band. My pity goes out to all the Christian kids who listen to this junk.

UnderOath, Dude

By Nick
It’s always fun to do a critical review. After all, there are only a few ways to say “Awesome riffs”, but an infinity of ways to describe your dislike of a band’s music.
UnderOath was a teenage infatuation of mine when I was going through my screamo phase. For those of you who don’t know, screamo is a portmanteau word meaning screaming emo, and loosely refers to any music with guttural screaming instead of/along with screamo. For those over 30, think of Roger Daltrey’s scream in the Middle of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and then imagine a song where the vocals all sounded like that. Yeah. Anyway, UnderOath is a hardcore (read: Metal without Talent) band from Florida, the same state that foisted Creed and Anberlin upon us. If it weren’t for Lynyrd Skynyrd, then I would declare Florida a musical dead zone.
UnderOath’s main attraction is it’s screamer/singer dynamic. Drummer Aaron Gillespie provides the “normal” singing. While it’s cool that he can sing and play drums at the same time, his singing brings nothing new to the table, only the same snarky voice and overdone enunciations common to emo/pop-punk/whatever. As for their screamer, Spencer Chamberlain, he sounds like Scooby-Doo with throat congestion. Seriously. You can’t understand half of what this guy is saying. His voice is so contorted that he makes the word “eyes” sound like “rice”, so on the song “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White”, it sounds like he’s saying “Rice, rice.” It’s funny until you realize that the band is taking this seriously. The screaming is so contorted, so unvarying, so downright awful, that it makes the album almost unlistenable. (And this coming from a guy who thinks that the scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is the best part of the song.)
As for their songs, well, I’m lucky I only have part of their album “They’re Only Chasing Safety” on my computer. Listening to the whole thing would be unbearable. The album opener, “Young and Aspiring” starts out with some electronic effects before going into the guitars, and then slowing way down. Why do emo bands feel like they have to slow down parts of their songs? It makes them feel like they drag on, as does the lack of song structure. Also, on this first track, Spencer does some sort of weird off-key talking, like The Sweet’s singer in “Ball Room Blitz”. Awful.
And it doesn’t get any better. “A Boy Brushed Red Living In Black And White” is about…something, and features lyrics like “Can you taste the fear in her sweat? You’ve done this wrong it’s too far gone the sheets tell of regret”, and “Well looks who’s dying now. Slit wrists sleeping with the girl next door. I always knew you were such a sucker for that.” And this coming from a group that’s been played up as a Christian band, and who’s Cds are sold at Lifeway. Parents of Christian Teenagers, take note.
“The Impact of Reason” is so scream-heavy that it’s unlistenable. And it’s got a corny, slow chorus. Why slow down the rock, guys. UnderOath aims for a sort of Pop single with “Reinventing Your Exit”, but the slow sections and the everpresent screaming keep it from becoming a catchy pop anthem.
And then comes the album’s set piece, “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door.”, a creepy song about the car wreck that killed the fiancĂ©’ of Dallas Taylor, the band’s former singer/screamer. Car/Train wreck songs have been around at least since “The Wreck of The Old 97”, but this one is just downright ghoulish. With lyrics like “Tonight is the night that I let love aside”, and I've seen this once before, planned perfection sought in my dreams, hoping this could take you home", the song sounds like it’s about a guy who is letting his girl die in a car wreck so that she can go to heaven. Just what I've always wanted to listen to. And as if that writing a song about a friend’s dead girlfriend from the viewpoint of that friend wasn’t creepy enough, midway through the song, a choir starts singing “I’m drowning in my sleep.” If it weren’t so twisted, it would be one of the perfect soundtrack to one of those blood-and-gore car wreck films that they show high school kids to keep them from drinking and driving. On the plus side, the video concept was pretty cool (Watch it on mute if you can’t stand the music), and the title of the song comes from The Lord of The Rings.
Then, at the end of the album, which drags on and on (and that’s without four of the tracks.), the band throws a total curveball, “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape”, a super-soft acoustic ballad that features the high-pitched Aaron Marsh of Copeland on vocals, and declaims “Hey unfaithful, I will teach you to be stronger. Hey Ungraceful, I will teach you to forgive one another.” And then the biggest surprise comes at the songs climax, where one of the Aaron’s (I don’t know which), sings “Jesus, I’m ready to come home.” Of course, after that Spencer gives one of his awful screams and ruins the moment entirely, but it’s the one moment when the “Christian” band actually gives some indication of their faith. Maybe they were doing penance for recording “A Boy Brushed Red…” or something. The rest of the song still has the typical undecipherable Christian-Emo lyrics, like “Here’s my kiss to betray, desperate to touch the lips of grace”, and it was their breakthrough album. I bet that on their newer records they have resorted to “subtly Christian” lyrics.
The music to the album is mostly good, shining in some parts. There are some cool flourishes, such as the choir in “It’s Dangerous Business” or a neat electronic percussion breakdown in “Reinventing Your Exit”, but more often than not the music sounds gimmicky. Even when it sounds good, the enjoyment of the guitars or the choruses is ruined by Spencer’s scream. The music is not nearly heavy enough for screaming, so it sounds out of place, and the lyrics are sketchy and depressing. And before anyone starts saying anything, I am not against dark lyrics, or Christian bands singing songs with dark lyrics. The mortality rate for women and children in bluegrass songs is ridiculously high, and bluegrass performers sing these songs right along with hymns and gospel songs.
Overall, you’re best skipping this CD. It’s not heavy enough for metal-heads, and the screams are enough to poison it for any normal person. If you’re a parent of a Christian Teenager who’s trying to convince you to let him/her listen to this, proceed with caution. It may be a cleaner alternative to The Black Dahlia Murder, or whatever’s out there that sounds like this, but there are better bands out there with better lyrics, such as House of Heroes, The Wedding, or The Send. I give UnderOath the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their sincerity on “Some Will Seek Forgiveness”, but their other songs are not placed in an overlying Christian context, and therefore are in some vague no man’s land; not quite Christian, not quite Atheist, searching in vast confusion.
If you’re into heavier stuff, you might want to check out Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, a southern rock band that Dallas Taylor formed when he left UnderOath. It’s got some screaming, but the southern rock riffs are enough to make me forget that.
And I really hope that someone other than David Leach is reading this, because if it's just him he'll probably be really bored with this article.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Music at a Steal

Music collectors and lovers have many personal criteria for the music they buy and the time they invest in listening to it. For some, it is a love for particular genres of music or particular artists. Some are motivated by nostalgia, for example, some people like the songs of the 60s because they grew up on them or they like Glenn Miller's music because they were dancing with pretty girls to those songs just before they shipped off to the Pacific. For some, music grows out of their deepest convictions, hence the popularity of Christian music which itself forks out into different branches and styles. For many, musical tastes are related to roots and culture. There are good reasons why a white boy growing up in Tennessee in the 1950s would gravitate toward Hank and Lefty while a black boy growing up in the same area would be drawn to B.B. or the Duke. And that also explains why a kid growing up in northern Mississippi would be drawn to both and more and become the greatest Southern music synthesizer of all times.

One of the main criteria for my musical interests is money. Rather, the lack of it. I would love to buy a new CD every week or even every month. Just can't find the cash right now to buy nearly all the CDs I want. (Side complaint: I thought that by the time I was 50, I would own one of those Bose Accustic Wave Machines that Paul Harvey always advertised.) And for some strange reason, I don't mind as much to spend $30 for a book I might not get read or would likely read only once as opposed to paying $18 for a CD I would listen to many times. I suppose it is related to the fact that books are my business and livlihood.

Today, I bought seven CDs. No, I did not join a music club where I buy a dozen albums for a dollar with the obligation to buy 3 more over the next two years. Nor did I break my bank account. I paid 50 cents a piece for them. The family loaded up the car this morning and went to an estate sale in the neighboring town of New Boston. The CDs were priced for $2 each, but the sale was nearing the end so the price was reduced by half. Carrying around a stack that I was almost willing to pay $1 each for, the manager of the sale walked by and said, "I'll let you have those CDs for 50 cents each." That certainly made my decision easier.

This post was actually supposed to be about eclectic listening habits, but I have strayed from my original intention. The listing of the CDs will illustrate my eclectic interests.

1. Showboat: Original MGM Soundtrack. I have long loved the movie and some of the songs, such as "Old Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." Stephanie also approves of this since she loves music from musicals.

2. Burl Ives: The Magic Balladeer. We always enjoy listening to Burl Ives during the Christmas season, so why not now? He was quite good at singing ballads and folk songs. I would never shell out big money for his recordings, but for a half dollar, can't go wrong.

3. Burl Ives: 30 beloved Songs of Faith. For the same reasons as given above, it sure cannot hurt to hear Ives' rendition of popular hymns. May be great Sunday morning playing.

4. 25 Guitar Favorites. This consists of two dozen plus classical pieces of music played on the guitar. The works are those of such artists as Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn, and others. Hopefully, this will be good music to accompany morning books and coffee. [For some reason, my favorite guitarists did not show much interest in this CD when I showed it to him.]

5. Johann Strauss: Waltzes, Polkas, and Marches. No surprises here: Includes "The Blue Danube," "Tales from the Vienna Woods," and "Voices of Spring." Everyone should own and sometimes listen to Strauss waltzes. It would be good to someday attend a formal dance where such music is being played.

6. Riders in the Sky: Cowboy Songs. This is the only one of the CDs I have actually already listened to. Riders in the Sky are a popular singing group who are members of the Grand Ole Opry and may be even better known for some songs they did for one of the Toy Story movies. These boys, Ranger Doug, Too Slim, and Woody Paul, perform true Western Music (the other end of the Country and Western tradition)in the tradition of the Sons of the Pioneers, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry and many others. This delightful recording includes such songs as "Cattle Call," "Back in the Saddle Again," and that great favorite from boyhood, "Rawhide." It also includes a strangely cheerful and upbeat version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky." (When Johnny Cash sings that song, it not only sends a bolt of fear through the lone cowboy, but through me as well. It has a powerful gospel message: Repent! Makes me questions the Riders in the Sky interpretation.) I should add that this CD includes some of the finest of that lost art of yodeling.

7. Mel Tillis and the Statesiders. I liked Mel Tillis back in the days when he was a major songwriter, but only a minor star. He was one of the regular acts on the Porter Wagoner Show. I don't like the way his style changed when he rose to fame--probably in the late 1970s. This CD features lots of Bob Wills music, such as "San Antonio Rose," "Faded Love," and "Take Me Back to Tulsa."

Writing this post and reviewing these CDs made me realize that I did not buy the two Big Band CDs. Well, hopefully, I will find some more bargains.

Posted by Ben

Monday, June 7, 2010

Recent iTunes purchases

By Nick
I recently had the joy of being given a gift card to iTunes. Downloading songs on the internet is more fun than I remember. I'm trying not to spend it all in one place. Here are the songs I've been buying with it.

"Your Cheatin' Heart" by Jon Foreman
Can't say I'm impressed with this one. I am a huge fan of both Jon Foreman (and Switchfoot) and Hank, but this version is slow, whispery and not at all country. Perhaps a few more listens will change my mind. I hope so.

"Amaranth" by Nightwish
I'm no metalhead, by any means, but Nightwish's combination of symphonic string arrangements, pop melodies, and metal riffs is music to my ears. The music and lyrics are a bit overdramamtic, but the piano intro and the choir in the song add depth and pathos.

"Brotherhood" by Flatfoot 56
Also in the category of blending older types of music with heavy guitars, Flatfoot 56 plays Christian Celtic Punk. You read that right. The song starts off with a bagpipe jig before the onslaught of guitars rolls out. John Knox would have loved it. OK, maybe not, but it's still pretty cool.

House of Heroes' stated goal is to perform so many Beatles songs that people eventually think that they are the Beatles. Don't judge the new versions by the originals-they're good songs in their own right, and House of Heroes manages to pull off "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" without a piano. It sounds much better live, though-especially if you're about three feet away from the lead singer.

And in a recent instance of Starbucks doing good to the universe, I was able to pick up a card there entitling me to a free download of the song "Modern Man" by the Watson Twins, a sort of indie act. The song is very minimalistic, featuring a hypnotic drumbeat. I look forward to listening to and discovering new artists thanks to Starbucks.

A Few Music Finds

Last Friday, early in the morning, I saw my wife, Stephanie, off on her airplane trip to New York to sing with the Texarkana Regional Chorale at Carnegie Hall. From our daily reports, the trip is going quite well. In fact, she is singing at the second concert at Carnegie Hall even as I write this blog.

Among the joys of being in New York, Stephanie has attended two Broadway musicals--"South Pacific" and "The Phantom of the Opera." She also enjoyed dining at the Russian Tea Room, pictured below. Sounds like a wonderful trip.

After Stephanie's plane left, Nick and I had some free time in Little Rock and the neighboring town of Benton. We asked ourselves, "What would be interesting to see?"
The answer was quick and obvious: Book stores and music stores.

We were able to locate a Hastings Books and Records in Benton. I found a few books at really cheap prices, and we also picked up a few discounted musical selections.
I was quite happy with discovering a CD of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson performing together. They do several of each other's songs, such as Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Unchained" and Nelson's "Family Bible," "Night Life," and "Crazy." I always enjoy hearing Nelson more than seeing him, and I always enjoy Johnny Cash.

Nick picked up a copy of Bob Dylan's "Unplugged." I was glad to see this CD added to our growing collection of Dylan's works. I have heard it in the past and liked it. I cannot listen to Dylan at all times, but there are occasions when his music is a perfect medicine. Nick also got a really good deal on a CD by a group called Carbon Leaf. I will have to leave it to him to comment on them.

Living in Texarkana, we have little access to good music stores. Anytime we happen across a good store, we have to spend at least a little time and hopefully a little money. We like Barnes and Noble stores because they have both books and music. Hastings stores can be a pleasure as well, especially since they carry cheaply priced used CDs. Personally, I like the Ernest Tubb Record Shops best of all. (Least favored for musical selections: Wal-Mart and Target.)