Archive for September, 2008
The Boettcher Concert Hall roared with the applause of adoring fans. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra had just finished its performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, and although the concert-goers were dressed to the nines, their whoops and hollers were as deafening as those heard at rock concerts. After the ovation died down, and the crowd began to disperse from the hall, one middle-aged man intoned to anyone who could hear him, “that was quite possibly the best concert I’ve ever been to, in any genre of music.”
This year (like years in the past), students at Mines have a unique opportunity to attend concerts just like the one described above. Because of a deal between Mines and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, students are able to get $5 tickets to a show, to almost any seat in the house. A student merely has to show up at the Boettcher Concert Hall the night of a concert, display his or her Blastercard to a ticket vendor, and ask for the best seat they can get. It is a wonderful deal; Mines students can receive $70 tickets for $5.
The CSO has a spectacular schedule for the rest of the year. Performances range from traditional Mozart Symphonies to world premieres. There are many highlights throughout the season, appealing to a wide range of people. Some of the key performances are the following.
January 30th and 31st, Principle Guest Conductor Douglas Boyd will lead the CSO in a performance of Haydn’s 6th Symphony and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.
Principle Conductor Jeffery Kahane will lead violinist Chee-Yun and the CSO in a performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, with pieces by Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky, on February 27th and 28th.
March 20th through 22th, Associate Conductor Scott O’Neil will lead pianist Barry Douglas and the CSO in performances of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto, and a prelude by Puccini.
June 5th through 7th, Jeffery Kahane will lead the CSO in a performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony.
It’s an exciting time for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, with a cycle of all of Mahler’s major orchestral works being performed over the next five or six years and a new concert hall in the works. Because of the deal with Mines, it is extremely accessible to students, and provides a wonderful boost of culture to supplement students’ studies of math and science.
The Boettcher Concert Hall is located in the Denver Performing Arts Complex at 1000 14th Street, Denver, CO. Concerts usually take place at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday nights and 2:30 on Sundays. For a complete listing of times and events, see http://www.coloradosymphony.org/.
When Elliott Smith was found dead in his Los Angeles home in 2003, a great songwriter and extremely influential musician was lost to the world. The singer/songwriter, who was born in Omaha, NE and raised in Texas and Portland, released seven studio albums (the last two of which were released posthumously). His singing, which was ghost-like and subtle, and tendency to play merely acoustic guitar in his songs, helped to pave the way for modern singer-songwriters, such as ConorOberst of Bright Eyes. His fifth studio album, Figure 8, was released in 2000, and was his final album release before his death.
Overall, Figure 8 is more uplifting than any of Smith’s other albums. The chord changes and lyrics arewarmer than his previous works. There are certainly exceptions to this trend, such as the aptly titled “Everything Means Nothing to Me.”However, even in this song, a Beatle-esque psychedelic feeling is created, which is hardly moribund.
The first track on the album, “Son of Sam,” is a showcase for the dream-like and imagist lyrical quality that permeates throughout the rest of the album. Phrases jump from one thought to another, while still maintaining an overall consistency of idea. According to Smith, the song is about creation and destruction. This can be understood, as the song references the serial killer Son of Sam, as well as Shiva, a Hindu God of destruction, who “opens her arms now/ To make sure I don’t get too far.”
Throughout Figure 8, Smith showed an ability to write about dark and morose things, without being needlessly confessional. He demonstratedthathe could write about serious topics while distancing himself from many of today’s musicians, who are forced to document their own glum thoughts in a clichéd and often unappealing way. He did this in the context of rich and beautiful orchestration, complete with piercing and poignant melodies.
Figure 8 was the last album Smith made which was released while he was alive. It was the result of years of studying songwriting by an intelligent musician.Individual tracks on the album swing wildly from moribund apathy to warmth, a qualitythat is hard to find in other musicians. These transitions came from a musician who made music the way he thought it should be made, while those around him followed the preferences of the public and made music to make money. Smith was an innovative thinker, combining each layer of his songs so as to create a perfect mood, all the while making albums which create a lasting, and important, catalogue. Although all of Smith’s albums are excellent (particularly Either/Or, Elliot Smith, and XO), Figure 8 is a culmination of styles and ideas Smith accumulated through his short life. It is a masterwork of songwriting, with each instrument and each warble in Smith’s voice matching perfectly in what may be considered his best work, and one of the best albums released in the last twenty years.
Occasionally there are records that come along and stand above other albums. In an attempt to cover some of the best music ever recorded, I will review albums that I consider to be “essential listening.” This week marks the first of such articles, and will be followed throughout the year by others. The album this week, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, can only be described as prolific. It has become the fundamental indie record and has influenced the likes of Arcade Fire, Brand New, matt pond PA, Manchester Orchestra, and RiloKiley, to name a few.
Ten years ago, in a home recording studio in Denver, the members of Atlanta-based indie-rock band Neutral Milk Hotel gathered to create In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. The group itself was the invention of singer-songwriter Jeff Mangum, who tapped in to the resources of The Elephant 6 Collective roster to fill out his band. Other members included Laura Carter of Elf Power, Robert Schneider of Apples In Stereo, and Julian Koster, who played singing saw for the album.
Magnum’s use of lyrical imagery, non-traditional instrumentation, and intense delivery caused Neutral Milk Hotel to gain popularity on the lo-fi college radio scene during the 1990′s. However, soon after the release of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel went on permanent hiatus. Jeff Mangum has not performed since 2001.
The entire disc should be taken in as one work, but there are a couple high points. “Holland, 1945″ is a catchy number, and one of the great Neutral Milk Hotel songs. Over-the-top guitars and deeply poetic lyrics convey the thematic storyline of the album.Conversely, “Oh Comely” is a slow-burner, but showcases the deeper side of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.
Song To Skip:
Do not skip any songs on this record. Continuity is incredibly important for this record, especially since several songs have multiple parts. Each track flows seamlessly into the next, sending the listener on an auditory journey.
This is an essential record for the indie-music geek, although some of the intricacy of it may be lost to the everyday listener. Neutral Milk Hotel was not a band that was heard on mainstream radio, and their style is definitely something that needs a bit of dissection. However, since this album has served as an inspiration for a rather broad group of modern musicians, it is worth a listen.
In 2005, at the age of 16, Krystal Meyers released a self-titled debut album that combined rock music with some acoustic flavoring. A year later she released Dying for a Heart, which had a much harder rock feel to it but also had many memorable anthems. Most recently, in 2008, Meyers released Make Some Noise, a record that created quite a stir on the pop/dance scene. Essential Records, under the production of Dubledutch (Mat Kearney, Toby Mac), ha found a very talented young artist, who began shaking up things up when Make Some Noise debuted at #20 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
There is a tie between “Make Some Noise” and “My Freedom” for the best song on this album. The title track is widely popular and is a superbly catchy tune. It has been used to promote the 2008 Olympic Games, as well as the fall lineups for both ABC and NBC. By calling the youth to rise up and make their voice heard and employing a fast and in-your-face beat, it is a tune that is hard to ignore. “My Freedom” is the only true ballad on album which serves to set it apart from the other songs. The change of pace can be felt immediately as the piano sets a beautiful backdrop for Meyers’s heavenly voice.
“Up to You” is slightly slower than most of the record, but is not nearly as captivating as “My Freedom.” Some of the vocals seem a little strained at times and the tune falls between the cracks of the highlight tracks of the album. This puts the song in a bad place, because most of the album comes across as stronger than “Up to You.”
A huge shift in style appears to have suited Krystal Meyers well, proving that she is a versatile artist with a large fan base and a voice that grabs attention. Is she better at rock or the pop/dance genre? That question is nearly impossible to answer, simply leaving judgment to a matter of taste. This album is a vibrant and interesting addition to the collection of albums released by this ever-popular 20-year old. The future is full of promise for Meyers and fans will undoubtedly be eagerly awaiting her next album.
Two weeks ago we ran a music review about an up-and-coming music act from Syracuse, New York, named Ra Ra Riot.
Coincidentally, Ra Ra Riot happened to be playing in Denver this last week. Their new album The Rhumb Line, recently released on Barsuk Records, has received excellent reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone and Spin Magazine and has potential to make this band the next big thing.
The Hi-Dive, a self-proclaimed “Indie Rock Bar,” is a cozy venue buried in the heart of southern Denver. What the venue lacked in size, it made up for in sound. Not only was the show well mixed, but also comfortably loud.
The first opening act, Pepi Ginsberg, was smooth and original. Her songs told stories about a variety of topics, including tides and escaped convicts. Inventive lyrics, coupled with Ginsberg’s distinct voice, made for an enjoyable opener.
Following Ginsberg was the experimental-electro-pop group Walter Meego. Armed with a plethora of vintage synthesizers, effects pedals, and drum machines, Walter Meego got the entire venue moving and dancing. They played with intensity and did not stop between songs.
Finally it was time for the headliner: Ra Ra Riot. Somehow the entire six-member band fit on the small stage and did not injure each other during the course of the night. As soon as their set started, they jumped right in to some of their most upbeat numbers. After playing through about three songs, they finally stopped to introduce themselves and then continued right on through their set.
Ra Ra Riot is still a fairly new band on the indie-pop music scene, and this was evident in the choice of set list. While most bands could go back years into their repertoire, Ra Ra Riot only has an EP and a newly released album of material. This fact, however, did not hamper the group as they played through almost every song they have released. Some of the highlights included a stunning rendition of “Winter ’05,” “Dying Is Fine,” “Ghost Under Rocks,” and my personal favorite “Too Too Too Fast” (which was performed with a good mix of synthesizer). Their recordings really do not do them justice, because the heavy hitting dance-beat drumming was really more prominent during their live set.
As their set came to a close, the crowd would not stop cheering. “Alright, we’ll save you the trouble of going off stage then coming back on again,” said singer Wes Miles. After a quick encore the night was over.
This review marks the first time that I started using a more straightforward format for reviews.
Last spring, as the days began to grow longer and thoughts of warmer days occupied students’ minds, an album was released. Even before its release, Narrow Stairs had generated a decent amount of publicity. When the disc finally dropped, it was not quite what many people expected.
Death Cab for Cutie, a Seattle band that has been creating music for the better part of the last ten years, began small, but has since grown in standing and sound. The first mainstream success Death Cab for Cutie saw was their 2003 album Transatlanticism, followed two years later by the even more popular album Plans.
Those records did more for the band than simply providing extra money or even allowing them to sell out venues across the globe. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie front man and lyricist, became the indie-rock equivalent of Jack Kerouvac. At the same time, Chris Walla, Death Cab’s lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, branched out into the world of production and has been behind the scenes on some of the top indie records produced in the last five years.
“Cath” is the best representation of the current Death Cab sound. Catchy guitar riffs and a good dose of percussion keep this song from dragging. The track has a warm feel and an excellent music video which helps play out the lyrical imagery and storyline.
Song to Skip:
The first four minutes of “I Will Possess Your Heart.” Building toward something epic is great, but after two minutes of listening to the same bass riff the song becomes dry. The lyrics are catchy, but depend too much on repetition. By the end of the song the listener is ready for the next track.
The first time listening to this record, do not expect it to be Plans 2: The Electric Boogaloo. While Plans had an almost perfect and surgical attention to detail, Narrow Stairs is more of an exploration of sound. The lyrics are poetic and the overall sound is warm and deep. On some tracks (“Grapevine Fires” and “Your New Twin Sized Bed”), Narrow Stairs will cause the listener to think of a dreamy, warm summertime afternoon while other tracks (“The Ice Is Getting Thinner” and “Talking Bird”) are slightly more chilling. Fortunately for Death Cab, they have not let their mainstream successes dictate their sound, so they still have credibility as musical artists. Overall, it is not the type of record that can be taken in pieces, but must be listened to as an entire composition.
Most bands take years to develop. The guitarist needs to learn how to play with the bassist. The vocalist needs to write lyrics appropriate to the music style. The drummer needs to bring it all together with the beat. Throwing in a violin and cello usually makes the balance even harder to achieve. However, a band from Syracuse, New York, seems to have pulled off the mix in less than two years.
Ra Ra Riot’s first album, The Rhumb Line, proves that upbeat music can still be relaxing. Although a violin and cello can be easily lost with most bands, Ra Ra Riot promises that this will not be the case for their group. The opening track, “Ghost Under Rocks,” begins with the cello and continues to be string-driven through the rest of the song.
This trend continues throughout the album as the strings continue to be the centerpiece. Pop string arrangements appear especially strong on “Winter ’05,” a song reminiscent of the Beatles classic “Eleanor Rigby.” However, Ra Ra Riot’s style shifts throughout the album, starting the album with the easy listening tracks “Ghost Under Rocks” and “Each Year.” The Rhumb Line becomes dance-worthy on “Dying is Fine” and a cover of Kate Bush’s “Suspended in Gaffa” while it takes on an 80′s power pop sound on “Too Too Too Fast.”
For lyrics, Ra Ra Riot aims for poetry. As a result, some songs are difficult to pull a meaning out of. Sentences often run together, giving the songs a sense of continuity, but occasionally sacrificing meaning to do so. Despite this lyrical structure, some songs do have evident meaning. An example of this is apparent on “Can You Tell,” wherein singer Wes Miles wonders if a girl knows the way he feels about her. The general theme throughout though is focused on poetry. One song, “Dying is Fine,” is based extensively on a poem by E. E. Cummings.
Over all, The Rhumb Line combines an upbeat tempo with a laid back, relaxing sound and poetic lyrics. The three songs in the middle of the album, “Winter ’05,” “Dying is Fine,” and “Can You Tell” seem to set themselves above the rest. However, the entire album complements itself and ties together through all the different styles. This record is a must-own for fans of Vampire Weekend and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.
Of all the things I did in 2008, this was by far my favorite. When the DNC rolled into town some big names came out to support Obama. A long-time Death Cab for Cutie fan I was ecstatic when I scored a VIP/Press pass to the Concert for a Cool Climate. Not only was it an amazing show, but it also lead into one of the craziest bus rides I’ve ever been on (RTD at 1 am is interesting, ask me about it some time)
Some big names came to town last week as the Democratic National Convention turned the Mile High City into one of the biggest parties of the year. Denver became like Austin during SXSW; almost non-stop live entertainment and music filled downtown until the odd hours of the morning. The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy lobbyist group, hosted an exclusive invite-only shindig with a musical performance by special guests Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie.
Downtown Denver is home to a number of beautiful old buildings that have been renovated into music venues and dance halls. The 102 year old Sherman Center, where this particular concert was held, provided incredible acoustics and an attractive vintage facade.
The concert began with Graham Colton, a singer-songwriter from Oklahoma. “I normally play with a full band,” explained Colton as he transitioned between songs. Even without a backup band, Colton’s smooth vocals and acoustic guitar helped set the mood for the night. As he finished his set, the crowd began to gather in and anticipate the headline act.
However, no DNC party would be complete without a little political preaching. LCV’s president Gene Karpinski took the stage and introduced a number of politicians with environmental agendas. The crowd became excited as Democratic congressmen and senators from across the country voiced their support for renewable energies, and disdain for the current administration. “Obama” was the keyword that night, as it always managed to garner applause and cheering from concertgoers. Finally, Washington state governor Christine Gregorie took the stage to introduce the guests of honor.
Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla took the stage and embarked on a musical exploration of some of Death Cab’s best songs, performed with simple arrangements and acoustic instruments. Even though their newest album Narrow Stairs was released only a few months ago, they did not focus entirely on playing new material.
In fact, one of the first songs was “Photobooth,” which originally appeared on their 2000 EP Forbidden Love. From “Talking Bird” to “Brothers On A Hotel Bed,” every song had a beautiful simplicity. The natural sound, coupled with the warm August air, made the evening play through like a dream.
As the set ended, the crowd cheered loudly and continued until Death Cab For Cutie came back for an encore. The first of their final two songs was a shaky rendition of The Decemberists’ “Engine Driver.” “Colin [Meloy] is going to kill us,” remarked Gibbard as he stumbled over the lyrics. Laughter and cheering filled the auditorium as they finished the song and went right into “The Sound of Settling.” By the time the show was over, every person in the venue was standing, singing along and cheering.
Whether you appreciate their politics or not, Death Cab For Cutie does put on one of the best live shows out there. Even with a stripped down set, they still managed to evoke emotion and excitement from a venue full of politicians, delegates, and other suit-wearing guests.