Records and 2011 Listening

Several notes from the frontier…

The Sleepover mixed our EP last weekend in Omaha with AJ, and I’ll be starting mastering this week.  We hope to have it out in digital and CD-R formats in October sometime.

I’ve picked up some great vinyl over the past couple weeks, including a pristine copy of Sabotage from Halcyon (Heaven & Hell as well) Duran Duran’s self-titled record, Nick the Knife by Nick Lowe, CSNY’s classic 4 Way Street, Pet Shop Boys’ Please (“West End Girls!”), and The Human League’s Dare (they were in town last night, but we were at Foo Fighters, of course!).

A lot of the new stuff I’ve checked out seems to be missing some spark.  Acclaimed albums by Washed Out, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, David Bazan, EMA, St. Vincent (Actor), Wolves in the Throne Room, and Gomez (and solo records by Ian Ball and Ben Ottewell), are fine records, but somehow just not knotty enough for me, or give me enough to bite into.  A couple songs on each have it, maybe, but nothing close to a front-to-back experience.  Liturgy’s Aesthethica, which I almost turned off halfway through, is the only thing that seemed to have it.*  (St. Vincent’s new Strange Mercy has the potential, too; I just haven’t listened to it enough, but I’m pretty psyched about it.)

This has me wondering if I’m getting old man ears, and the noise the kids are making these days just isn’t moving me.  (Though, these artists are my peers in age.  Hrm.)  I had another idea, though; maybe different people need different amounts of novel music in their life.  If you’re a casual listener, you probably find enough music to satisfy you by the time you’re in your teens or twenties, without really even trying.  If your appetite is bigger, you seek out more stuff, and still become satisfied by the time you’re 30 or so.  That’s not to say we don’t all love a sick new jam once in a while, but just that overall, we build up our libraries of what we know and like and need to a point that satisfies us, and then we curate more carefully, only adding the very best.  I wonder if I’m getting there.

This has all be a giant preamble to telling you about the one thing I’ve found in the past few months that deserves five stars: Keith Richards’ autobiography, “Life.”

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“Life” is everything you would want from it, like hanging out with Keef for a weekend while he tells his story, from birth to the present, focusing on the Stones, of course.  The war stories are fantastic, the guitar stuff is brilliant and insightful (though there’s not too much of it; non-musicians, don’t worry!), and I couldn’t have imagined beforehand how much I’d have in common with a guy like Keith, both musically and philosophically.  We’re incredibly different on the outside, but our inner lives have some surprising similarities.  I can’t thank Doc J and Dorie enough for loaning it to me.  That’s all – check it out!

* Liturgy has been freighted with a sort of black metal philosophical controversy; I’ve distilled it into two things you need to know, if you care:

  1. Liturgy makes life-affirming black metal, as a response to the genre’s more typical nihilism
  2. The “burst beat” is Liturgy’s characteristic rhythm; it’s a black metal blast beat played with expressive tempo changes.  It started as something the singer would do with a drum machine and manual tempo knob, but their live drummer learned how to do it now.
Some black metal people are really upset about these things.  I guess they don’t see how that pretty much makes Liturgy the black metal -of- black metal.

Shaker Demos

Over the past few weeks I’ve started a massive demo project, the Shaker Demos.  Basically caught up on Mars Lights and Sleepover stuff, I’ve been digging through my entire file of song ideas, deciding whether there’s enough there (or that I can re-figure from my old notes) to demo, and doing super-rough cuts into GarageBand with a backing shaker loop (which has a surprisingly good groove, after editing it to accent the off-beat!).

Some songs are finished (including “Lost” and “Cooky” from Furious Instance), others are just a couple of instrumental ideas strung together.  There’s stuff I’ve put down this summer, all the way back to ideas from ’02-’03-’04 and everything in between.  I think there will be about 40 pieces, total, all different kinds of things: rock songs, folky stuff, bass riffs, weirdo blues.

One thing I didn’t expect is that I’m re-writing some of the old ideas pretty significantly.  Many of the things in the song file are there, and not finished, because there was both something that worked and something that didn’t about the original idea.  I’ve re-visited some ideas several times, without getting a breakthrough, but this time I’m getting them.  The reason, I think, is experience gained working on Mars Lights stuff with Drew; I’m learning to hold those original ideas a little more loosely, play around with them, try more variations, or try cutting a bar or extending a chord to make a phrase both more interesting and more organic.  The result is a sound that sort of puts things I’ve done before (particular types of chord voicings or changes) with what I’m doing now; mixing them without necessarily blending them, if that makes sense.  They exist together in the song, but are still identifiable, at least to my ear.

Come to think of it, I wonder if Mom planted the idea to do this in my head; a couple weeks ago she asked what I’d been writing, and I answered “A little of this and that, some Mars Lights stuff.  I’ve been writing a bit more since I finished school.”  Maybe that question kind of worked in my subconscious, until I decided to find out, concretely.

I’m not sure exactly what will happen with the demos.  I’ll organize them somehow, group songs together, and finish them, I suppose.  I may send some ideas off for collaboration.  There might be albums, or EPs, or both, and I don’t know if I’ll end up grouping similar-sounding stuff together, or mixing it up.

Jill, perfectly, asked the natural question; what happens to Ventura?  I still think Ventura will get done before any of this stuff is finished.  I’ll probably update my Ventura demos now, too, and then tackle those first.  Arrangements and tempos have changed over the years (!) for them, and one song (“Green Christine”) hasn’t been demo’d at all.