How Much Art Can You Take?

Nothing is free in this world. You get what you pay for. Everything is subjective. All are cliche sayings used to justify the purchase or non-purchase of something. It’s always bothered me that people complain about how much things cost. I didn’t come from a rich background, nor do I live a lavish lifestyle now, but I think about everything I buy.

Is it worth it? Does this product enrich my life? Why am I buying it? All questions I ask myself when I buy something. Yes, I still buy things that don’t enrich my life, aren’t worth it, or don’t have a justifiable reason as to why I bought it, but I feel if we start thinking about why we buy things we will be better off.

This conversation started over recent policy changes to where I work and an album I pre-ordered being leaked early. People seem to have a sense of entitlement. Art whether it’s written with musical notes, paint brushes, or ink is all subjective. When something is subjective, it’s worth is up to those who value it. When something is presented to you, it is at that point you decide whether the price and your value match up close enough to make a purchase. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t buy it. Just don’t deface the product because you don’t value it as others do.

Support what you enjoy, and don’t support things you don’t enjoy. It’s simple. I buy things from companies and people that offer products I like and/or have good business practices. There are enough places to buy things at, and enough alternatives to products to support people doing the right thing.

Think Apple is too expensive. Don’t like Windows? That’s okay, try one of the hundreds of distributions of Linux that are maintained and created for free. Like one band but hate another? Buy from the one you enjoy so they hopefully can continue making music you like, and hope the band you hate slowly fades into the shadows forever. *Cough* Nickleback *Cough* Don’t like the price of the newspaper? Search for other ways to stay informed on things you are interested in.

We have more choices in this world now, than we ever have. Utilizes this freedom. Some places in the world are not so lucky to have this freedom. Take from this what you will, but it was more of a rant than anything else.

Youngblood

Sometimes an album comes along that just makes sense. The right place, the right time. I knew “Youngblood” by Divided Heaven was coming out. I had pre-ordered it awhile ago, but somehow was still surprised when I happened to swing by my apartment on my lunch break to find it gently leaning against my door. I finished up my work day and other responsibilities. It was a long, rainy, and dreary day. I’m relieved that it was over. I was going to wait to spin the record until tomorrow, but I’m glad I glad I decided to finish out my night listening to it.

Like I said in an earlier blog, I met the man that is Divided Heaven, Jeff Berman, last October at Fest in Florida. He was a genuine nice guy, and it comes through on the album. I want to start off by saying that this album sounds so good. His acoustic guitar sounds so warm, and his voice has only gotten stronger over time. The opening track, “Youngblood”, speaks of the indecision that is life in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or any age for that matter. This blog is titled The Sound of Ideals Clashing. The struggle of where you are, where you want to be, and the paths to get there. The closing track, “Gin” talks of the struggle with one of my favorite lines to end an album with, “Too young to plan, too old to fail.”

Jeff finally has some band accompaniment on songs like, “Melissa Militia” and “The Worst”, which only serve to accent the song. Not needed, but it’s enough variety to keep the ear interested in what Jeff has to say. Jeff’s lyrics have always been great, but you can tell he had some time with this album to create what he wanted. When the artist believes in his work as you can tell Jeff does on “Youngblood” makes for a better listening experience.

My dad, being in bands all of his life, always told me that you have to play what the audience wants. I always asked him why don’t you play what you want? He said there’s no money in it. I always felt that wasn’t true, and even if it was, I didn’t want it to be true. I’m happy to support Jeff in creating the art he wants to. Support the musicians you enjoy, there may not be a lot of money in it, but that’s not why the good ones do it anyway.

Order the record at: http://dividedheaven.com/music/

Youngblood Cover

Upward, Not Northward

As much as I enjoy a challenging listen like the topic of my last blog, “Frances the Mute” by The Mars Volta, sometimes I just want to hear a band kick out the jams. I recently had the pleasure of seeing some shows in Cleveland. While I went there to see some bands I knew well, I’m always excited to see the opening acts that I haven’t had a chance to see before. Opening acts are hit or miss, except when you’re in Cleveland apparently. The city’s slow decline has led to a tension that lends itself as inspiration for artists.

Harvey Pekar, named after the famous comic of the same name, are one of those bands that blew me away. Not hearing anything from them beforehand, I watched them walk on stage and proceed to tear up the small stage that is Now That’s Class. No gimmicks, no stage banter, just a no nonsense hardcore band that is more interested in philosophy than typical hardcore values. I was sold.

Their album, “Upward, Not Northward” opens with the song “Are We Not Mammals?”. It’s a good precursor to the rest of the album. Heavy distorted bass, intricate guitar lines, and driving rhythms. “God Damn All Gentlemen” is a rager of a song about their hometown.

“This bus ride downtown is perfectly paired with that sullen Paul Simon song.
Static streets: the veins of that frozen lake.
Cleveland winters are the greyest shade of bleak…
Chips rain down on the shoulders of bitter inhabitants
an ever-present reminder that opportunity lies elsewhere”

The band’s energy never really lets up. As much as the band excels at creating interesting rhythms, their lyrics make them stand out from their contemporaries. The genre needs a band like Harvey Pekar, like the world needed comic Harvey Pekar to shake things up. The band sounds fresh, not because it was recently recorded, but rather because they are doing something not a lot of bands are doing. If you like rock, punk, or hardcore music, you will find something to like about this band. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite verses on the album.

“Nothing but to-dos and wish lists and dusty dreams that prove
I’ve always been more Cameron than Ferris.
What good is a labor of love locked under glass?
Even a hopeful future tense has nothing on the active present.
will smash my ceramic pig until I have spent every cent of my efforts.”
- “Rot on the Vine”

Frances the Mute

Bands don’t make albums like this anymore. The Mars Volta created a genius recording or the most pretentious album ever recorded. One or both of those statements could be correct depending on your view of the band. I remember vividly when the album came out there seemed to be so much mystery around it, which probably drew me to it in the first place.

Around the time “Frances the Mute” was slated for release there were rumblings of an epic concept album about filling in the missing parts of a diary a band member found. Intriguing to say the least. I picked it the album up when it came out and it blew me away. Equal parts jazz, Latin, rock, and ambient music, the album commands the listener to take notice. There is so much going on, to even attempt to understand the album, it requires your full attention. You will either like this or you won’t.

Lending both ears lets you actually enjoy the musicianship that is on display. The entire album is up to interpretation, and is open ended in many places to let your mind wander with the music. “Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus” starts the album and opens with the following verse that what I believe alludes to the album’s theme of soul searching.

“The ocean floor is hidden
From your viewing lens
A depth perception
Languished in the night
All my life,I’ve been
Sowing the wounds
But the seeds sprout
A lachrymal cloud”

The album, as bloated as it is, knows when your ears can only take so much. “Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” opens up with about four minutes of nature sounds that would normally seem to be filler, but only immerse the listener. Singer/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala has a voice that can on par with Geddy Lee in terms of range, but is also bilingual. Guitarist/songwriter Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s ability to create a soundscape is unparalleled. Sure, the band creates music, but more importantly, they create an experience. This album is worth a listen if you’re looking for something different. I can assure you there’s nobody quite like this band making music today.

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Copper and Stars

Anyone that has been in the vicinity of Western New York knows the painful cold we’ve been experiencing lately. Polar Vortex sounds like some Sci-Fi movie, but nevertheless, this snow and cold is exhausting. It is every year, so you’d think we’d be used to it. The tense feeling of walking to your car and/or job in single to negative digits is something tough to put into words, but Planes Mistaken For Stars first self-titled album gives me that feeling.

Planes Mistaken For Stars were a post-hardcore band from Illinois that had a good little run in the early 00′s. Taking equal parts hardcore, rock, metal, and melody they created a unique sound that has kept their legacy intact largely by word of mouth of their fans. They developed their sound over time to a powerhouse of sound, but on their first album they were clearly still searching for their sound. This is not a deterrent as the chaotic mash of sounds is part of what has made the album stay with me over the years.

“Copper and Stars” is one of my favorite songs anyone from my generation has written. So with that out of the way,  the album with this song the listener is treated with a one minute jam session before the band kicks into full gear and guitarist/singer Gared O’Donnell takes over. His gravely, raspy voice repeats the opening lines, “And I don’t want to say that I wasted my days chasing instead of catching keeping. Wasting wishes on copper and stars”. It takes some time to get used to his voice, but it is as vital an instrument as the guitar. The song builds up before slowing to a halt at the end, only to allow “Division” to pick up where “Copper and Stars” left off. It’s intense, chaotic, and rhythmically all over the place for just under two minutes before abruptly stopping and spilling over a quiet minute long ballad.

The band perfects the push and pull technique. Never quite letting the listener get comfortable. The band is a locomotive going down the tracks pulling you along. You know the scenery is lovely because they slow down to let you see once and awhile, but they also let you know they are the captain of the train and you are just the passenger.

“The Past Two” ends with the the lines, “Cuz I’m afraid when the snow clears there won’t be much left of me. December killed the best of me”, effectively summing up the winters in Western New York. Any fan of rock or heavy music in general can find something to love about this band. If anything it’s something different to listen to while your car defrosts tomorrow.

Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts

Sometimes getting older is depressing in which we can no longer do things we enjoy. Sometimes, it allows us to look at life askew to appreciate something we never really paid attention to. This can be something as benign as nature you normally carelessly pass by on the way to work or finally watching that movie that your friends keep talking about. It can of course be much more life changing, but it’s important to remember that doesn’t have to be. However, it can be.

American Steel is a band that have been around since I was a toddler. Growing up, I heard magazines talk about them. I saw people wearing their t-shirts and adorning their clothes with their logo. I finally gave in and listened in my earlier youth, and they didn’t do anything for me. I just wasn’t ready for them yet. I hadn’t experienced enough of life to understand. You can’t force life experience.

No movie can make you feel love. No punk song can teach you how to do a kickflip on your skateboard. However, those things can remind you of those experiences. We all look for something to feel familiar when we encounter something new. We need to know that things make sense, or find a way to make them make sense to us.

“Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts” by American Steel is their latest album released in 2009. I was 22. I had been through college, found and lost love, and worked a handful of jobs that I may or may not have enjoyed. The album made and continues to make sense to me. I’m not saying their older albums don’t make sense to me listening to them now, but I can tell you that this one hits the spot for those who feel weary. Some music has the power to stand the test of time and feel new and nostalgic all at once. Albums that do that? Any that make you feel young and come to the realization of your age. My list is different than yours. This album may or may not be on that list, but I will tell you that it’s worth listening to in order to decide for yourself.

A Thousand New Conclusions

As the end of the year closes and a new one approaches, it’s a time to reflect. Not just on what has happened over the past year, but what has become of us as a whole over a lifetime. Lofty words, but sometimes it’s necessary to slow down in this non stop world, even if it’s just for a moment.

Jeff Berman’s project Divided Heaven provides me with the hope that the actions I’ve made with my life haven’t been in vain, and that I have a purpose. Regardless of religious beliefs, we all have dreams and goals. We all want to live long, successful, and happy lives among the people we care about. We all get motivation from different places.

Jeff writes acoustic songs of self-doubt, self-empowerment, and the road to get there, He’s a humble, genuine human being just trying to figure it out like the rest of us. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a powerful voice, it leaves the songs exposed for scrutiny. Like in life, what you see is what you get. If you like acoustic pop music, and have an open mind, Divided Heaven’s album “A Rival City” is for you. If you listen to it, and can’t get enough, fear not, he will have a new album in the spring called “Youngblood”.

Part II or Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You

With albums ten through six I had to think about how to narrow the list down, these albums are hands down my top five. There’s plenty that I didn’t include, but to my ears, these stood out above the rest.

5. Red City Radio – Titles. A powerhouse of an album written by some rad dudes from Oklahoma. Who knew? I knew when this album was announced it would be one of my favorites of the year. “Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You” has not only has one of the best titles of the year, it is probably my favorite song of the year as well. This was the first band I saw at Fest this year. By the end of the first song I was covered in beer, my glasses were broken, sang so hard my voice hurt with people I’ve never met and at the same time felt completely at home. This is a rock album the way they should be made. Red City Radio are leading the way for a new breed of bands to play rock music. Take notice. Choice tracks: Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You and Two Notes Shy of an Octave

4. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners. The only alt-country band you need to be listening to right now. Don’t get me wrong Lucero is great and all, but Arliss Nancy are just coming into their prime and need to be recognized for the work they’ve put out. The warmth this album exudes is why it’s on this list. It’s something to be listened to thoroughly and savored. The more I’ve listened to it, the more I fall in love with it. It’s equal parts rock, country, and ballad. If you the words country music makes you cringe, don’t worry I feel the same way. Trust me, this will change your mind as to what country music can and should be. I might actually consider listening to my local “country station” if they played Arliss Nancy, Drag the River, Lucero, Two Cow Garage, Austin Lucas, and the like. So go buy this album, then call up your local country radio station and ask why they aren’t playing any of the artists I just mentioned. (They won’t know who you’re talking about. Trust me, I’ve tried). Choice Tracks: Benjamin and Coals

3. Worship This! – Tomorrow, I’ll Miss You. This band. Man, this band is something else. It’s truly amazing how young, yet talented these guys are. I saw this band back in summer in a tiny art space in Pittsburgh, and let me tell you, the dozen people that were there witnessed a hell of a show. These guys are always on point no matter who they are playing for. This album captures that energy making every song sound massive. It’s “All Killer, No Filler” as Sum 41 would say. Every track is a standout in it’s own right. If Red City Radio are leading the way for a new breed of rock bands, Worship This! are the A students of the class. Choice Tracks: Summit Tower and The Fear of Missing Out.

2. Restorations – LP2. I’ve already spewed my love for this record in two entries, and I just bought it two months ago. They blew me away when I saw them live. I had heard the name of them in passing, but never got around to listening to them. This is why I mention so many bands to listen to. It may seem bothersome, but one of these times you’ll get some time and find a band that might change your life. This is one of those bands for me. They are one of the more accessible bands due to the melodic nature in their songs, but the things they do as musicians will captivate anyone taking the time to actually listen and let the music get inside them. It’s easy to lose yourself in these songs. That’s the sign of a great record to me. The ability for sound to take me away from whatever I’m doing and thinking and just listen. Music is my drug of choice, and this album hits the spot when I need it. It may not do the same for you, but I have a feeling you’ll enjoy it regardless. Choice Tracks: New Old and D

1. Captain, We’re Sinking – The Future is Cancelled. This album is absolutely depressing, but the reason it’s my favorite album of the year is due to the way it grabs a hold of your heart and doesn’t let go until you hear what it has to say. The lyrics read as if from the diary of a man going through a divorce and subsequently his life falling apart. It’s not a concept album, but it feels like a story is being told. To start this album and not let it finish is an injustice to yourself. Captain, We’re Sinking play a brand of melodic punk rock that provides a driving rhythm for the emotional roller coaster. I can’t recommend this album. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s hands down my most listened to album of the year. This doesn’t always equate to the best album, but I think in this case it’s a fitting title. Choice Tracks: Adultery and The Future is Cancelled

That concludes my favorite albums of 2013. Leave a comment telling me what you’ve enjoyed this year. And as always stay safe and take care of yourself.

The Unnecessary Subjective Ranking of Albums in 2013 Part I

Ranking albums at the end of the year brings me as much joy as it does anxiety. Best of lists are completely subjective, but I love reading what other people think of things. It gives me a chance to check out something I may have missed, share what I have been enjoying this year, and to use as conversation piece with friends.

I do make an effort to try and sort them, but every album listed is one I hold dear for one reason or another. There’s also a bunch of albums that didn’t make this list that probably could/should have, but at the time of writing these are the ten albums  I spent most of the time listening to over the year. Anything that didn’t get listed will get a proper write up anyway in the coming weeks and months. Like I’ve said before, there’s never a bad year in music. This blog in indicative of that statement.

10. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart. Frank Turner has a full band backing his songs in his version of Americana. For the most part it works, and you’re left with songs that make you want to dance and sing along. He has a way of making every song sound like it is someone’s personal anthem. That’s why I love Frank. Choice tracks: Plain Sailing Weather and Four Simple Words

9. The National – Trouble Will Find Me. This is my listen at work album when I’m working on paperwork. The band sounds like an indie rock combination of Joy Division and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Singer, Matt Berninger sounds like a young Nick Cave, which I find incredibly relaxing to listen to. The music is very passive aggressive, relatively soft in nature, but lyrically dark. Choice tracks: Don’t Swallow the Cap and Slipped

8. The Bronx – IV. This album I just wrote about in my last blog post, but to recap: This album just rocks. It’s an unpretentious album about being who you want and doing what you want. It’s a little bit cliche, but the band don’t take themselves too seriously, and who doesn’t need a little bit of fun in their life? Choice tracks: Ribcage and Pilot Light

7.  Off With Their Heads – Home. This album came out just at the right time, and was therapeutic for what I was going through. Ryan Young writes from his heart about his pain. It’s not poetic, and at times almost painful to listen to. The man hurts inside, and you can hear it in every note he sings. I recently saw them live and blew out my voice singing along. It’s a solid punk rock album from a band that similarly to The Bronx churns out album after album because they just love making music. Choice tracks: Nightlife and Start Walking

6. RVIVR – The Beauty Between. Politics aside, this band knows how to write songs. Really good songs. They expanded beyond their traditional pop-punk sound which I think is a huge improvement on an already proven formula. The dynamic of Erica and Matt singing is what makes this band stand apart from their peers. That, and that guitar tone. My lord, that guitar tone. Choice Tracks: Wrong Way/One Way and LMD

For the sake keeping these entries from growing to an absurd length (and hopefully building anticipation) this concludes Part 1. Part 2 will be uploaded in the coming days. Have I left out your favorite album? Is it coming up in Part 2? Have you heard any of the albums I’ve mentioned? If not here’s a chance to check out something new before being bombarded with more information.

Along For The Ride

At this time of year you’d think this would be my “Best Of” list. Not quite yet. I need more time to formulate that list. I was just having a conversation with someone and I told them, “There’s no such thing as a bad year for music.” There’s literally so much music made on a yearly basis, that as long as you have your ear to the ground you’ll have a disappointing year in music.

The Bronx quietly released their 4th album in February that I almost forgot it came out this year. The Bronx are a no-nonsense punk band with rock and roll tendencies. All their albums are self-titled. They’ve even released two mariachi albums that are both named Mariachi El Bronx. Why? Just because they felt like it.

On “IV”, they bring a  mixed bag of goods. They’ve got songs that make you want to dance, songs that you want to sing along to, and songs that make you want to break stuff. Sometimes all in the same song. The band is a locomotive of noise that is speeding down the tracks, but the wheels never leave the tracks, though sometimes you get worried if you’re along for the ride.

The opener “The Unholy Hand” is the perfect clocking out of work song. Cranking up the volume as the guitars ease you into the explosion that is vocalist, Matt Caughthran, singing:

“They got you working on the weekdays
They got you working on the weekends too
And now you’re swallowing your paycheck
Like it’s what you always dreamed you’d do
When you look into the mirror
Is your faking any clearer?
Are you hanging on your last hope?
When you look into the microscope”

This is the band to listen to when you just want to rock out and shrug the stress off.  There’s not a skippable track on this record, or any of their records for that matter. If the band has any message to their listeners, it’s to be who you want to be no matter what people tell you otherwise. The band continues to churn out whatever type of album they want every couple years. Either you’re on board or you’re not. I grabbed my ticket a decade ago.

Some of my personal favorites are “Along For The Ride”, “Ribcage”, and “Valley Heat”.

Here’s them playing my favorite song of theirs, “Heart Attack American”. I love the opening where Matt asks the audience, “You wanna cut loose. You got a voice? Get the fuck up here!” These are my favorite types of shows to go to. If this doesn’t win you over, I don’t know what will.

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