COURTNEY CONTINUES

Ran into Courtney Yasmineh at church; she was chatting with John (works here – good friend), I saw them and joined the conversation. She said some things about her CD release show in November that echoed my thoughts; mostly, it’s hard to perform and be a bandleader at the same time. I know from leading Scott through some tunes we hadn’t rehearsed much, and she was trying to sing, play, and conduct four guys, not one.

Sidenote; I’ve done some heavy listening on Courtney’s record Sufi Line and love it more than when I first blogged about it, except I skip “Perfidious” always and “Billy Collins” sometimes.

Courtney said something that turned my ear about the ego-centric attitude of people who write/record music and don’t share it. She’s sensitive to a responsibility to be a voice out there and create an opportunity for her music and words to have their impact on others. It seemed counterintuitive; on the surface, it appears that a non-sharing kind of musician is humble about their work. But after thinking for a second, I see what she’s driving at; there does seem to be something selfish about creating, then hoarding one’s creation. Maybe a creation itself has a right to be released, to take a chance to achieve its potential and be allowed to live what life it may have.

MORE THAN YESTERDAY at KNICKERBOCKER'S, LINCOLN NE, 29 DEC 04

Rising from Blacklight Sunshine like a phoenix from Icarus’ own cremation, More Than Yesterday‘s aesthetic is still in-process. When it coheres, the band’s weighty contradictions give their music a kind of tensile strength. It is a new thing.

Seeing MTY at home, in Nebraska, revealed the foundation they are building on; melodic metal for the Midwestern bar set. It may seem obvious, but having followed the band from a distance I hadn’t remembered the frame in which they play; a frame where Harley-Davidson t-shirts, smoking onstage, and hardcore emoting resonate with big crowds. “We’ll Wake Tomorrow” and “Breakdown” crunch and burn in all the right places, like a Camaro driven through a chase scene. You know the moves, and their familiarity only greases your urge to rock.

But MTY aspires to higher things than endless shows for the greek boys & girls at the local dive. Revealed through the wearing of white belts, progressive playing from all 3 instrumentalists, snaky hip shakes, and in a hundred other ways this band’s horizons transcend the Missouri to the east and the Rockies the west. In Chris’ (BLS’s re-located guitarist) absence, Blake is blurring the line between playing rhythm and lead in his riffs. He’s also taken a page from the book of Edge, transforming the echo pedal from nifty trick into essential atmosphere – the very air MTY breathes at times. Dan (bass) and Jeremy (drums) combine hive-mind tightness with a sonically expanding, fluid orignality in the rhythm section. The chorus of “Somebody Saved” epitomizes this new angle; it blows up by becoming suddenly bigger and airier then the verse at the very second I expected thick metallic chords, the space between a guitar line and the rhythm occupied only by Russ’s vocal plea. Or, listen to everything about “Bodies,” a song that’s closer to grasping and expressing a kind of heaven than anything I’ve found in a Book.

Lest I sound like I’m pushing my friends’ band too hard, there are times when More Than Yesterday’s contradictions seem more like a train wreck in the pages of a slick magazine than the yin and yang achieved in “Somebody Saved.” Some of Russ’s lyrics are overly self-indulgent (“Savior”) and structural repetition takes the drive out of “Not Enough” (AB could be moving; ABAB is overkill).

Upshot; apply the 20% scalpel, and MTY is on the brink of fulfilling their chosen name.

THE YEAR IN MR FURIOUS' DIGITS

2 – Full-length Shacker albums released this year (The Dimly Lit Room / Knowing Her Best, Blackbeard Defends the Open Sea).

7 – Robots emotionally scarred during the making of Bike’s How Is That Possible.

2297.27 – Total megabytes served from http://mrfuriousrecords.com 21 Sept – 26 Dec 04.

628 – Songs downloaded from mrfuriousrecords.com ( [Total mb served x % served as .m4a files] / average .m4a file size: [2297.27mb x .965] / 3.53mb = 628. 628 is the upper ceiling; the real number is somewhat less, because this formula assumes that bandwidth used in aborted downloads is zero, which is not the case).

31 1/2 – Copies of signs.comets it would take to match the last 4 months of Mr. Furious downloads, song-for-song (or 63 copies of Knowing Her Best).

8 – Score on a scale of 1 to 10 of how big a math nerd howie is; between 7 (a delusional MIT applicant) and 9 (Mrs. Conrad).

? – Songs burned, copied, shared, and traded.

4:4 – Ratio of MFR releases to months since site launch.

5:24 – Average length of a howie&scott song.*

3:35 – Average length of an echoes song.

1998 – Distance in miles from Ventura, CA to Deephaven, MN – the two locations in which Beach-Puppy’s Creepy Eepy was recorded.

1 – Lonely, melancholy pirates gracing MFR album covers while fighting for the only home they have ever known (Blackbeard, on Shacker’s Knowing Her Best).

Mr. Furious Records will see you in the New Year!

*including signs.comets, b sides v2.0, and near and far (the 3 split tracks were timed together, and the hidden drum jam was not included)

CYCLING and SMALLEY MOLLUSK TOPOCENTRIC

When it comes to Bike, know that my thoughts are very subjective, because I worked on the mastering of How Is That Possible (Mr. Furious‘ release today – 23 December) and I like Nate’s album. The requirements of full disclosure satisfied, some thoughts on How Is That Possible:

– My favorite tracks: My Little Town (2), Bad Attitude (4), Out Of Control (9).
– Though opening track “He Came To Steal Your Children” gets me imagining playfully murderous toy mechas, don’t let it dominate your idea of the rest of Bike; it is an introduction, and the album is somewhat different. I know from watching mrfuriousrecords.com’s web stats that the first track of any album gets more downloads than others, so this is on my mind.
– Bike is quite listener-friendly in that the songs are a good length. Sometimes in beat- or atmosphere-oriented music, artists are tempted to stretch ideas out too much; Bike never falls into that trap.
– Bike’s artist photo and How Is That Possible‘s cover can tell you a lot about Bike. I’m attracted; I laugh, and recoil a bit, and finally composure fails – I’m on, hook, line, and sinker.
– “Smalley Mollusk Topocentric” was the subject heading of a piece of spam emailed to me a few days ago, and I like how it rolls off the tongue.*

* not even remotely Bike-related.

MCs (EPISODE h)

Cory’s post about MCs started me thinking… and thinking about how much hip-hop I’ve been listening to this fall. From my ears, commenting on / adding to his list:

Black Thought: Author of most of the Roots’ rhymes, I hold a high respect for Black Thought. That his flow ties together the Roots’ party vibe (especially live) and some thought-provoking, consciousness-raising metaphorical work – along with some great hooks (see “Adrenaline!”) – reveals a dedicated street poet. Plus, the Roots are highest in my hip-hop listening rotation; that tells me something.

Special J & J. Guevara: This team fronts 2 Skinnee J’s with verve and spice. Special brings his brains to bear on deep and deftly pronounced metaphorical material, turning lyrical tricks like you won’t believe until you hear them. If I was choosing sides for a sandlot battle-rhyme, I’d pick Special over Eminem any afternoon. J. Guevara is the funky party-starter. Together, they are the most underrated MCs I can think of.

Gift of Gab: Cory’s “Honorable Mention” from Blackalicious is definitely on my list; just listen to Blazing Arrow. His work (and that of partner Chief Xcel) speaks for itself. Imaginative, free, inspired, inspiring.

Felix & Muad’dib (Heiruspecs): Heiruspecs are a local (St. Paul) crew; Felix and Muad-dib handle the mic work on their record A Tiger Dancing. These are underdog cats who bring their A-game to the record, and to their shows, consistently. Highly recommended for everyone – not just heads.

Favorite MCs of all time

These are my favorite MCs ever and why:

Kanye West: although he doesn’t floor me with his rapping skills, I am a big big fan of his beat production and most importantly I enjoy that he doesn’t take himself too seriously or talk about killing people or anything. He’s somewhere in between KRS One and Dr. Dre, and I pretty much just really like his sense of humor and the way he can write a hook. “Jesus Walks” is one of my all-time favorite rap songs ever for this reason.

Blackstar (Mos Def/Talib Kweli): These two are the epitome of what hip-hop is supposed to be all about, a uniting force that focuses on equality and togetherness. Mos Def’s voice and delivery is frankly just badass, it just seems to pour out of him. Talib’s delivery is a little more herky-jerky but it gives him character and also he has some of these best wordplay and use of metaphors and similes I can think of. I enjoy them both as solo MCs but I love them best when they are together. The best alliance in hip-hop (whooa-oooh!)

Eminem: Although he doesn’t always rap about things I can relate to, the biggest reason I like Eminem is because he’s got the most sincere, honest and caustic style ever. I think he is arguably the best MC ever, and he’s one of the only MCs that gives me the chills when I am listening to him because of how harsh his lyrics are and how totally badass it sounds.

Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5: I like him a ton not only because of his voice and because of the fact that he always says “Yo” in a super deep voice right before he starts rapping, but most impressive is the way his words flow out in a constant stream and he hits the syllable right on, keeping a steady rhythm with the way he accents his rhyme. Awesome.

The Streets (Mike Skinner): I almost wouldn’t really call Mike a rapper, since his music is more like some sort of contemporary “geezer” poetry over some very very unique beats. However, he is an excellent storyteller and I always find myself paying close attention the plot he lays out in a song. Also, a lot of his songs are about the things that most guys my age go through: girlfriend stuff, getting too wasted all the time, hanging out with your best guy friends, trying to have as decadent of time as possible, etc. Plus, the music he composes is awesome.

Honorable mentions go to Jay-Z and Nas, but they kind of cancelled each other out nyuk nyuk nyuk and also Blackalicious although I don’t know them well enough to put them at the top quite yet

All for now-
Cory Alan

HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB In Your Garage

On the radio the other night I heard a second track from U2’s new album; “All Because of You.” Like “Vertigo,” it sounds like the band wanted a pseudo-garage-y, young, energetic sound – they roughed up their writing a bit, and played dirty but mixed it down slick (as necessary for radio play). It was OK, in an “I feel I should like it – it’s new U2, after all…” sort of way.

But the DJ followed it by spinning Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”, destroying whatever appreciation for “All Because of You” I’d accumulated pseudo-consciously. Faced with a band that made a truly great record out of their garages, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was revealed as an under-thought, overprocessed pop album; above-average radio fare but nothing more. If you are interested in a real “Vertigo”-named song, spin the Libertines’ Up The Bracket.

COURTNEY YASMINEH at the FINE LINE, MPLS, 23 NOV 04 and "SUFI LINE"

Local (as in Minnetonka-grown, Wayzata-living, lake-dwelling local) songwriter Courtney Yasmineh wrestles with two driving forces through her album “Sufi Line”: a colorful, brash personality, and an incredible backing band. Courtney grew up at WCC, and we met when she stopped in a few weeks ago to put up some posters for her CD release show. After the meeting, I wore a Sufi Line temporary tatoo on the inside of my wrist for a week; she must have made an impression on me. She speaks her thoughts unapologetically, in person and in music. There’s a playful but deep sensual presence, coupled with a complex spiritual history, and her voice tiptoes the line between being moving and discomforting, finally falling on the side of motion.

On and off, I’ve listened to “Sufi Line” for about a month. The geograpy of the album and of the show last Tuesday reinforce each other with similar themes and execution. When stretching outside of the self lyrically, exploring smoky gospel territory musically, Courtney is unstoppable. Slow-burners like “Nehemiah” and “Survival Time” find songwriter and band meshing over rich writing and playing, unified in a singular, distinctive aesthetic voice. At other times, in poppier and lyrically more self-absorbed moments, only the backing band saves Yasmineh from being a very average singer/songwriter – the kind found in coffeeshops everywhere at 8 on Saturday nights. The balance tips towards the former, and I count myself a Courtney fan, but I hope next time she’ll boil 1/4 of her material off, for a more concentrated mix.

Having mentioned the “boiling” process I see that it’s a maxim I’d stress for everybody; those who live it usually make the greatest art. I try to apply it to myself constantly.

Watching the band at Courtney’s CD release show was plain fun – Jeff on keys (from local heroes Honeydogs) plafully changing tent-revivalist chords into avant-garde explosions, drums comfortably rock-steady and textured like the devil, and guitar playing that reminded me of JV‘s Scott Solter and the new Wilco guy (Nels Klien). To hear these guys bleed the songs out in the luxurious tube tone of vintage amps and keys was a downtown, late-night, bar-closing blessing.

In the middle of her set, the band took a break and Courtney played one of her old tunes, a rambling “autobiographical” ballad about her tortured marriage to Bob Dylan in 1978. I caught myself thinking “This song is for Courtney what “Was I In Bon Jovi For A Second?” is to me”; beyond fact-or-fiction, how much of our past is imagined? And how much does it matter?

Fall and Winter Months

The next few weeks are going to be pretty intense.  They will include (in chronological order) these things:  resigning from my job, getting a visit from Jaimie Tucci, hanging out with Matt Wisecarver, going on a cruise, and packing up and heading back to Nebraska for real.  Musically, this means a couple different things (I am sure I could ramble on about this n’ that, but musical topics are what this blog is about…).  First, there will be a definite reunion between Jaimie and me.  Hopefully also between Annie, Jaimie and me.  Even better would be Annie, Jaimie, Eric and me.  All together playing music on keyboards, guitars, basses, cellos, and such.  The absolute best combo would also include Howie, but he told me he’s got a lot more snow-shoveling to do before he’s allowed to come back to Nebraska for good, whatever THAT means. 

And, I have a new goal when it comes to music.  I mean, relatively new, since this summer sometime I guess.  I used to want to make it big, or at least make it big enough to be able to have music as a low-paying job that I could live on, but now I have a better idea that involves a lot less stress about “the biz.”  Talking about “making it” in music sucks.  Side note, I know, but worrying about things like money and exposure and image and selling yourself is an awful but usually necessary thing to worry about when it comes to “making it.”  I digress, but my new goal in music is to make the most beautiful music possible.  “Duh,” you might be thinking, but I’m not talking about catchiness and sing-along-ability or anything like that, although of course if those things are included, that’s fine.  But I want the main goal to create a wonderful sound, and I want the sound to be so wonderful that if no one ever heard us play besides ourselves, we wouldn’t care because we’d be so into what we were doing, it would be more than good enough for us.  It may seem obvious, like “of course that’s what it’s all about,” but we’ve gotten so far away from that, it’s too bad.  I apologize if this overlaps with my first blog too much, but it was something on my mind.

Sick bro!

TRAVELLING MUSIC

Here’s a list of the music I listened to in the car over Thanksgiving weekend. Better than trying to think up an arbitrary top-10 list, it gives you a snapshot of some of the things I’m tuned in to. Identifiable trends: Minneapolis bands, jazz, New York-scene rock, hip-hop.

MPLS->Crete
Heiruspecs “A Tiger Dancing”
John Coltrane “Giant Steps”
John Vanderslice – mix
Bright Eyes “LIFTED or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground”
JV All*stars “Distance”
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
Olympic Hopefuls “The Fuses Refuse to Burn”
The Roots “Things Fall Apart”

Crete->MPLS
Dredg “el Cielo”
A Is Jump “My Ice-Fingered Ghost”
Buddy Holly – mix of early songs
Interpol “Turn on the Bright Lights”
Joel Raney “Celebrate the Season” (WCC’s Xmas Cantata – I am the orchestra drummer)
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
The Who “Who’s Next”
The Walkmen “Bows and Arrows”