Something Like Sound

Archive for February, 2009

The Joys of Vinyl

by on Feb.23, 2009, under Blogs

vinyl

Recent times have seen interesting trends in the music world. As the CD continues to die and the rise of the DRM-Free MP3 continues, music fans now have increasing options for formats. There’s no need to go into the details of the phenomenon here, so I’ll provide some links:

“Vinyl Goes from Throwback to Comeback” – boston.com

“Vinyl May Be Final Nail in CD’s Coffin” – wired.com

“Putting a New Spin on Vinyl Records” – NPR

“Vinyl Returns in the Age of MP3″ – Rolling Stone

“Vinyl Records Make a Return” – L.A. Times

This is by no means an exhaustive list of news reports on the vinyl craze, for more info just Google it.

However, the real purpose of this article is to provide some insight into why this all might be happening. As a kid raised on a steady diet of 90′s pop-culture, bad mainstream radio, low quality MP3s (an ode to the days of P2P networks), and an absence of live music, it’s no wonder that I’d be inclined to rebel against the current state of the music business. I remember listening to 96 kbps MP3 rips of blink-182 songs, thinking “I love computers and technology, but honestly, this is terrible sound quality.” Further than that was the lack of art. In my recent years I’ve become an amateur gig poster aficionado and appreciator of all things music-art related. Even the mighty CD lacked any real art (4″ x 4″ is a mighty small canvas, just ask anyone who’s ever done anything remotely creative). An LP jacket, on the other hand, is big enough to enjoy the album art.

And so, within the last couple of years I’ve procured a turntable (yes old people, us youngins know what those are) and more processed petroleum than I have time to listen to. In the end, the following factors made me fall in love with vinyl:

1. Price: I got my turntable for free when they tore down the old Golden High School building. Most classic records are cheap (I picked up a copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Prince’s Purple Rain for $7 each on eBay.) I’ve bought many other great records for pennies, it’s all about spotting the potential sources of good vinyl. Places to look: Goodwill (or any thrift store), independent record stores (check out thinkindie.com), and eBay.

2. Selection: Not only are some of the greatest albums of all time on vinyl, but so are most modern releases. Usually newer releases play up the novelty of buying wax, so there are bonuses such as stickers, posters, and occasionally bonus “vinyl only” tracks. Plus, you can find vinyl in any genre you like.

3. Sound: Most people will tell you that vinyl sounds “warm,” and this is true. The key to getting the most out of your vinyl experience is to not skimp on your stereo. Personally I use one of those Bose bookshelf units, but anything better than your average Wal-mart boom box should be good. [Important note: most older turntables require some sort of pre-amp, get one, I think they still sell them at RadioShack]

4. Pure Hipsterness: Right now this trend is cool, sexy and fairly organic. So hop on the bandwagon and be hip.

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Concert Review: The Appleseed Cast at the Hi-Dive

by on Feb.22, 2009, under Concert Reviews

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The Appleseed Cast, a progressive post-rock band from Lawrence, Kansas, started out over 10 years ago. During the late 90′s The Appleseed Cast found themselves a part of the historic mid-west emo scene, grouped with the likes of The Get Up Kids and Sunny Day Real Estate. However, they are no longer even vaguely emo. Those familiar with the current national indie scene would not be far off to compare the group’s current sound to that of Explosions In The Sky. For those who don’t speak hipster, that means “heavily instrumental music with cutting edge rhythms, melodies, and harmonies.”
Expectations ran high last Saturday as The Appleseed Cast came to Denver to play at the Hi-Dive. A preview of the show ran in both Westword and The Onion, and was lauded as a highly recommended concert from both newspapers. Needless to say, there was an air of anticipation as things got underway at the Hi-Dive.

The Appleseed Cast

Now for the concert itself. Up first was a local group, Rabbit Is A Sphere. Their pop sound was catchy and tinged with occasional experimentation. The highlight of their set came when the group’s lead guitarist began using two slides to achieve a unique sound.

Following Rabbit Is A Sphere was the 1090 Club, a pop-indie group from Billings, Montana. The best way to describe 1090 Club is intense. Their piano and guitar driven songs were complimented by violin and a good mix of vocals.

Finally it was time for what everyone was waiting for: The Appleseed Cast. By this point in the night, the venue was packed (and I’m fairly certain that it was sold out). Ripping through song after song, they played for over an hour and a half, only stopping for five minutes to take a quick break. Focusing primarily on their newer material, The Appleseed Cast played songs from their 2006 release Peregrine and the newly released record Sagarmatha. The group’s intense and skillful delivery of “Here We Are (Family In The Hallway),” “The Summer Before,” and “Fight Song” stood out in a strong set.

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2009 E-Days Headliner: The Flobots

by on Feb.17, 2009, under Blogs

“There is a war going on for your mind” are the socially-conscious lyrics that open the Flobots debut album Fight With Tools. While most bands are content to simply play music, Denver’s own Flobots have used their breakthrough national success and unique sound to entertain and challenge listeners. The Flobots formed in 2005. In the midst of the previous year’s election frenzy, childhood friends James Laurie (aka Jonny 5) and Brer Rabbit teamed up with Mackenzie Roberts, integrating live hip hop with a passion for voter engagement. Andy Guerrero, then the front man for local funk band Bop Skizzum, convinced the trio to add live instrumentation, and the current incarnation of Flobots was born.

In the years since, Flobots managed to connect the Denver music scene with non-profit organizations and promote social issues. However, not all of the Flobots fame has been due to their message; they also possess a unique and fresh sound. Building on a mixture of hip-hop and rock, the Flobots infused their sound with viola and horns, achieving something truly original.

For the reader who is still saying “Flo-who?” simply turn on the radio. Their single “Handlebars” hit the Denver scene in 2005, has since seen airplay in all major U.S. markets, and done incredibly well on the Billboard music charts. The Flobots have even performed this tune on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. While recent years of E-Days concerts have seen the likes of Flogging Molly and Goldfinger, this year’s show will appeal to anyone who wants to hear “the next big thing.” Even if hip-hop isn’t your thing, Flobots will surely put on an entertaining and thought-provoking show that should appeal to any Mines student.

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2009 E-Days Opener: Filthy T

by on Feb.17, 2009, under Blogs

Filthy T is the combined work of rapper/producer Ben Hedman and songwriter/guitarist Joe Barnholt. The sound of the band is often compared to Gym Class Heroes, Atmosphere, and Denver’s own Flobots. As a rap-rock duo, the two have been creating music together for four years.

In December 2008, 93.3 KTCL declared Filthy T one of the top ten bands in Colorado, and picked up the band’s first single “Soular System” for regular rotation. The song received a positive response from both listeners and critics, and earned the #11 spot on KTCL’s “Most Wanted.”

Originally united by their passion for slacking off in math class, this dynamic duo met at Denver East High School in 2002. Ben spent the next few years rocking stages as a hip-hop emcee, and honing his skills as a producer. While playing over 20 shows throughout his college tenure at the University of Colorado, he managed to stay focused on academics and graduated with honors. In the fall of 2008, he began classes at Harvard Law School.

“Sloppy” Joe Barnholt graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in May 2008 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, where he spent long hours playing guitar instead of doing homework. If you recognize him, it may be because he was a Resident Assistant and heavily involved in numerous student activities, including intramural sports, MAC events, and Coors Lab. After completing a course on music technology, he began songwriting and recording. Joe remains an avid guitar player, sports enthusiast, and the only punk rocker to complete a cover of “It’s Raining Men.”

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Album Review: Innocence and Instinct

by on Feb.17, 2009, under Album Reviews

Background
In a time when memorable rock albums are hard to come by and bands that break the mold of mainstream appeal are ever scarcer, an album has appeared that redefines the traditional bounds of modern rock. Innocence and Instinct, released February 10, emphatically brought forth a style of passionate, instrumental rock that combined forceful screaming, memorable anthems, and driving guitar riffs accentuated by the epic feel obtained by the strings in the background. Red released their first album, End of Silence, in 2006; it was criticized as being too similar to Linkin Park. After extensive touring with bands Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Chevelle, Seether, Shinedown, Sevendust, Kutless, and Flyleaf, the band formulated its own unique sound while not straying too far from the style found on its debut album.

Memorable Song
“Shadows” is a song that captures the entire essence of the band. The track starts with a head thumping guitar riff that blends effortlessly into a mellow opening verse. The lyrics portray the struggles of a man faced with trials and calamity. His need for his lover is the answer that pulls the protagonist through the “shadows.” The chorus is perhaps the catchiest on the album and is followed by more of the heavy guitar and occasional passionate screaming. The song ends as abruptly as it began, paralleling the theme of the album: life is burdensome yet brief. A solid chorus, a perfect mix of hard and soft elements, and the occasional release found in the screams of lead singer Michael Barnes make this track one that embodies Red as a band.

Least Favorite Song
The album has only one true ballad, “Take it all Away,” which offers an odd ending to an album that embraces a much harder rock style. As is true for many great albums, the worst song is not particularly bad, simply one that gets set aside among more memorable ones. Even though the track seems somewhat out of place, it does offer a fitting finale to the album upon further investigation. The mellow instrumentation embraces the lyrics, pleading for the chaos of the world to be taken away. Much of the album centers on facing problems with force, symbolized by the driving guitar riffs. This track offers a glimpse behind the surface-level persona, which is portrayed by the softer sound and the vulnerable feel that the strings and piano provide. However, the intensity that is found on the rest of the album is not sacrificed with the mood change.

In Closing
Red’s sophomore album brings to the table so many elements that are lacking in most of the other rock albums. Passion is evident in Barnes’s vocals and the lyrics tackle difficult issues surrounding modern culture; this automatically raises the album above normalcy. The ingenious blend of rock and strings is nearly perfected on Innocence and Instinct, incorporating the strings into the middle of more songs would be the only area of improvement. Another slight problem with the album is that it is somewhat repetitive, there is not much variety of sound or style with the strings; however, the rock portions of the album are more diversified. Overall, this album is a pleasing anomaly in the world of modern rock.

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Album Review: Appeal to Reason

by on Feb.17, 2009, under Album Reviews

Note: This album should appeal to fans of Black Flag, Billy Talent, Gaslight Anthem, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.

Since their formation in 1999, Rise Against has produced unstoppable anthems full of musical and lyrical brilliance. Appeal to Reason is no exception. Over their first four albums, the sound of Rise Against has shifted from hardcore punk to, most recently, mainstream rock. No matter what genre Rise Against has fallen in, they remain unique in sound and style, despite excessive numbers of bands copying them. When they released their fifth studio album in October of last year, Rise Against proved that despite their sound moving into a region of radio-friendliness, they can still retain those who simply want to rock out to solid guitar riffs and no-nonsense lyrics.

Musically, Rise Against can nearly be defined as post-hardcore punk. Every song is driven along by fast drums, fast guitars, and fast, powerful vocals. The chord progression in songs is predictable to say the least. Few songs pass without a pick slide. Despite repetition, no song becomes dull. The formula for every song on Appeal to Reason rarely changes. Nevertheless, things still are shaken up occasionally, such as a random breakout into a waltz time in the middle of the song “Entertainment” or the nearly all acoustic song “Hero of War.” However, consistency is not bad here.

Lyrically, Rise Against is in the same league as Flobots and Rage Against the Machine: every song has a political message somewhere. The album starts with the song “Collapse (Post-Amerika),” containing the chorus “This is cardiac arrest/Of a world too proud to admit our mistakes/We’re crashing into the ground as we all fall from grace.” Hopelessness permeates most of the album. The first single released from Appeal to Reason, “Re-Education (Through Labor),” references unskilled laborers who cannot put up with being taken advantage of any longer. “Hero of War” paints a powerful image of a soldier and the atrocities of war. Some songs like “Strength to Go On” and “Dirt Whispered” focus on how much information is unknown. Often, the lyrics are intended to incite the listener to action. The song “Kotov Syndrome” contains an excellent example: “Ten foot walls built around us/White picket death, so quiet, so safe/But if we fall, there will be nothing and no one to catch/So sit back and watch as we/Spin out of control.” The message Rise Against wants to portray is neatly summed up in the song “Entertainment”: “But can’t you see the end is coming soon?”

The major mark against Appeal to Reason is that there is not as much originality as in previous albums. There is very little that can be heard on Appeal to Reason that could not be heard on The Sufferer & the Witness. In fact, it is quite easy to mistake the opening riff of “Kotov Syndrome” of off Appeal to Reason to “The First Drop” from Siren Song of the Counter Culture, Rise Against’s third album. Despite having nearly the same sound as previous albums, The Sufferer & the Witness had dramatic tempo changes and breaks in the middle of songs that kept things unpredictable. Appeal to Reason cannot claim anything as ground-breaking as any previous album. Perhaps it is because this is the first album with new guitarist Zach Blair that makes this album seems to have traveled nowhere from The Sufferer & the Witness. Regardless, fans of Rise Against should remain fans after Appeal to Reason since it is exactly the same as what they have known.

Rise Against has broken away from their origin and joined the much more generic sound of post-grunge, mainstream rock. Driven entirely by speedy guitars and heart-felt lyrics, Rise Against’s formula has produced a successful album that deserves a listen from fans of the many forms of rock: punk, mainstream, hardcore, and grunge. Although Appeal to Reason is the least innovative release from the Chicago-based group, at least they pulled their sources from good places.

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Feeling Nostalgic

by on Feb.12, 2009, under Blogs

Lately it seems as though we’ve gone through a time machine: Jimmy Eat World is touring in support of their 1999 breakthrough album Clarity, Blink 182 is back together, and just announced today, Limp Bizkit is reuniting for a world tour. This has gotten me feeling quite nostalgic, remembering a time before I did things like read music blogs, listen to electro-pop from Europe, wear way-too-tight jeans and hang out at hipster bars. They were simpler times. It was long before I had to worry about rent or passing differential equations, it brings back fond memories of listening to music with my middle-school buddies and playing noisy covers of Green Day songs in my friend’s basement.

But what does this all mean? First and foremost, it means that these bands are probably feeling the economic crunch. You can’t live the rockstar lifestyle if the last time you did anything memorable was 2001. Furthermore, I think it will be interesting to see how bands from before the time of MySpace and Facebook hold up in the Internet age.

The one bit of unfortunate news to come with the recent wave of music-related gossip, is the merger between ticketing giant Ticketmaster and productions company LiveNation. Already, Ticketmaster and LiveNation have had bad reputations as notorious consumer-haters. Most recently, when purchasing tickets for the 3OH!3 show at the Ogden (that occured a few weeks ago), I was faced with a choice: do I bite my tongue and buy the $16.50 ticket for nearly $25 or do I miss the show, stay at home, and cry myself to sleep? I chose the former, and so did everyone else that night at the sold out show. Don’t think this merger business has gone unnoticed, even the government wants to get involved (there are things called antitrust laws) and more information on that can be found here. In the end, if this does go through, consumers will likely see increased ticket prices at all major venues and for all major tours throughout the U.S. That, coupled with the poor state of the economy, could lead to the death of music in America as we know it. My suggestion: go local. Support local acts and clubs, and avoid Ticketmonster whenever possible.

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Album Review: Tell It to the Volcano

by on Feb.09, 2009, under Album Reviews

Background

Phoenix band Miniature Tigers released two EP albums in 2008, White Magic and Black Magic, which were followed by the digital release of their full length album Tell it to the Volcano in late 2008 (February 17 is the projected hard copy release). Rolling Stone praised the band as “One of the best 25 bands on Myspace,” and Spin Magazine recognized the band as one of “The 9 Hottest New Bands Playing CMJ 2008.” Signed with Modern Art Records, Miniature Tigers, led by singer Charlie Brand, resemble The Beach Boys or The Beatles. Their sound embraces Hawaiian surf-pop and their lyrics are about longing for love and the pain and disappointment of love gone awry.

Forgettable Song

Rock bottom on this CD is “The Wolf,” a song that simply screams of absolute musical incompetence. The lyrics are mundane, repeating the same phrase, “Everybody’s looking at you/ everybody’s looking at you like they want to go home with you,” over and over and over again. The rest of the album remains in this vein, consistently disappointing with far too much repetition. Repeated lyrics are fine a couple of times but when they make up ninety percent of the song, it makes the track a complete disaster. The simplicity of the guitar and drums is comparable to any high school band’s capability with no more than three or four different chords played on guitar, and no more than the same number of different heads played on the drums.

Memorable Song

With very few bright spots on the album, the final track “Last Night’s Fake Blood” gives a glimmer of hope and offers a song that leaves the album with a somewhat less bitter taste. The track strays from the format of the previous few songs that had the chorus repeated ad nauseum, which turns out to be the only highlight of the track. The instrumentation stays the same with the acoustic playing the same three or so chords in the background and the same light hearted feel lends another repetitive element to the album.

In Closing

Tell it to the Volcano is an album that can appeal to certain listeners, but only a rare few. Fans of great bands like The Beach Boys and The Beatles will find this album absolutely appalling. While the legendary bands incorporated catchy tunes, memorable and more diverse lyrics with the same simple guitar and percussion in the background, their vocal talent and breath-taking harmonies were the focal point. People who do not like the surf style of music will absolutely abhor this album. Miniature Tigers has no better than mediocre vocals that often get drowned out by the less than interesting instrument lines in the background. This band lacks depth, musical talent, and any reason to listen to them. With many favorable reviews of the album, it might be a temptation to buy or even listen to this album. Don’t – it would be a devastating waste of time.

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Welcome to the Sound

by on Feb.02, 2009, under Blogs

When Spencer first came up with the idea of doing a music blog I first thought, “No, that’s not a good idea.” But then I realized that this could be a creative outlet for bringing you some of the more obscure and interesting music content, as well as pointing readers toward pertinent links and downloads. Welcome to the blog, Jake, Spencer and myself will be updating this thing on a regular basis and will soon be uploading back-stories of music and concert reviews. Stay tuned for Something Like Sound
-Tim

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Album Review: Mine

by on Feb.02, 2009, under Album Reviews

Background

January 20, 2009, saw the release of a refreshing album by a relatively new Canadian artist, Matt York. Under the Streetlights was released in 2006 as York’s first album, Wedding Day with Grace (2008) was a fair sophomore effort accentuating his busy tour schedule, but Mine should attract even more attention to this very talented artist. With his acoustic/funk/jazz style and a voice reminiscent of John Mayer, widespread popularity should not be far off. Fans of Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, John Mayer, and Dave Matthew’s Band will thoroughly enjoy listening to this album and will remember a style that has nearly been forgotten in modern music.

Memorable Song

Reflecting on times of difficulty and trial. “Hard Days” shines even though it is one of the slower songs on the album. The lyrics transport the listener to a time when jobs were not guaranteed, when one had to struggle to make a living, when perseverance was lauded. He likens that time to the current economic hardships and implores the current generation to remember the trials of previous generations and to push through until better days. A children’s choir heard in the background aids York in capturing a feeling of desire for a better life which almost sounds like a mournful, but passionate, African spiritual.

Forgettable Song

“Give Me Love” is not necessarily a forgettable song, but one that might be ignored or seem slightly out of place on the album. The track starts off with an upbeat, funk-style intro which is only found on one other song. The rest of the song strays from the style of the intro which turns out to help the song but leads to more questions of why that intro was there in the first place. Most of the album is a slower tempo which makes the whole song seem somewhat distant from the rest of the record. York’s singing saves the odd start and the song winds up not being a terrible tune, but simply unmemorable.

In Closing

Starting with “Death Came a Knockin’,” a captivating a cappella tune, the album’s tone was set. Full of catchy tunes and stylistic changes, Mine is a great album for those who enjoy anything from acoustic to jazz to pop. This album is a collection of pleasing tunes from an under-recognized artist who has great musical ability and a love for grooving. Many appearances on a variety of tours around the country give fans the ability to see him live and York can also still be found playing in those clubs up in the northeast where he resides. Although Canada was the first to acknowledge the talent of Matt York, look for the America to catch on soon.

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