Archive for the ‘New Music’ Category

Brooklyn-based The National has been around since all the way back in 2001, but I didn’t quite jump on their bandwagon until 2007’s epic Boxer. I can’t remember if it was a friend or boy of interest at the time that swayed me on to them, but whoever it was, I am forever indebted; I’ve been enamored ever since. Matt Berninger is on vocals; brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitar; brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf, on guitar and drums, respectively. If you haven’t done so yet, here’s why should give them a shot.

 

The sound: the best way to describe The National’s sound, is emotive. They’re able to masterfully evoke the sentiments of each track, pulling you deeper and deeper into their thoughtful realm. They don’t commit to any one sound exclusively, but rather to several equally. They sometimes slam the drums, and crush guitar riffs, while Berninger loses his mind on the mic. Other times, the noise is faint, the vocals barely audible, but everything is perfectly timed, building up and up with each line. You never know exactly what you’re going to get with them, which urges you to keep exploring.

 

The lyrics: there’s no hiding that The National puts out some of the most thought-provoking words out there, and with each listen, you gain more insight into their minds. They’re executed so perfectly, so delicately, ensuring every lyric has its moment to shine. Each time, their soft claws sink deeper and deeper into your soul until there’s nowhere else for them to go. You get hooked, addicted to that intense feeling. They get you to exercise that part of your brain your day-to-day life ignores. That part of your brain, that’s full of questions; that’s confused about why things are the way they are, that is full of all your vulnerabilities. They make you wonder. As heavy as that sounds, it’s also incredibly liberating.

 

The vocals: Berninger’s voice can be deep, quiet and heavy, creating a sound that reverberates in your ears, long after the music has stopped. It’s the voice we all use when we talk to ourselves, while trying to sort out everything in our minds. Berninger’s voice can also be louder and more musical, full of emotion and passion, and all the reactions to what he’s feeling. It’s the voice we use when we’re done thinking about everything and just need to let it all out. This back and forth between vocal stylings makes the lyrics and the songs all that much more relatable because we’ve all been there, we’ve all felt that.

 

The albums: when you listen to any of The National’s albums, you really have to listen to them. The albums reveal themselves more and more with each repetition, and the only way to truly understand any of them, is to pay attention. Their live shows take all of this, and heighten it even further. No song is like any other, no album is like any other. Go on their journey with them: they’ll lift you up, bring you down, and make you feel all over, but they’ll never let you go. Once you get them, you won’t be able to forget them.

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Maybe it’s a sign of aging, but I find myself longing for music of the past more and more these days. I’ve never hidden the fact that the current state of music is deplorable compared to when I grew up. But this isn’t a post about that. It’s a post about trying to (rhetorically) figure out what truly connects a person to music, and if that changes over time, across generations and through individuals.

(Note: Everyone’s experience with music is different; I’m not trying to make all-encompassing blanket statements. These are just my observations over the years.)

When I was a kid, all my musical influences lay in the hands of my older family members. As such, it was all 80s rock – U2, INXS, Duran Duran, etc. At that time, cassette tapes were the only vehicle for music, and I still remember this INXS tape we had – 1987’s Kick album, loaded with classics like “Need You Tonight” and “Never Tear Us Apart.” I used to play that tape over and over and over again on my small pink tape player (that came with earbuds!) I would just lay on the ground, headphones in, and listen.

I continued on like this, album after album (including The Little Mermaid Soundtrack) until U2 essentially took over my entire world. I had this one U2 mixtape that I spent hours upon hours crafting, timing every track to perfection. I must’ve listened to it countless times over years and years. At the time, I had a shiny silver Sony Walkman that automatically switched the tape’s sides. I knew every single word to every single song on that tape – they were my first favourite band of all time, and felt like a part of me.

Adolescence is a time when one is easily influenced, inspired. We hang on to things that (we think) mean something to us. If we’re angry, we like loud music. If we like to dance, we pick dance music. Our minds are so malleable and spongey, we can absorb anything. During such a precious time, it’s also easy to just follow what your friends are doing, so you won’t feel left out. For me, it was a combination – my entire school listened to grunge in the 90s, therefore I did too. However, I also enjoyed the music, and felt some connection to it, because it became about learning about an entire genre, and all the bands involved.

But here’s what I’m trying to figure out: when I hear 90s music now, do I love it because of that previous connection to it, because of nostalgia? Is it attached to specific memories, or a more care-free time? Or do I truly think it’s better than a lot of the music of today? If I heard that same music now, what would I think? Would I enjoy it the same way, would it speak to me in the same way? Or was it just a right time, right place scenario? Let’s be real, grunge doesn’t exist anymore (in spite of some pitiful attempts at a comeback); it died a long time ago – is that why it has such a pull over me?

Same would go for those who are fans of 60s-70s music – maybe that attachment comes from the notion that there currently isn’t any music out there that resembles anything from back then. Maybe they feel like they experienced the birth and demise of a genre. Its evolution and inability to survive in the current world. Maybe they just miss it. In previous decades, music had so much more to say. Musicians used their voices to make statements.

Nowadays, the industry has gotten soft. No one (rather, not many) talk about anything real, which is why everything is so interchangeable and unrecognizable. It all kind of blurs together. For example, millennials all think Drake is the almighty – but will they still think that in 10 years? Or is it because they hear his songs at clubs and bars right now? In 10 year’s time though, will they still be going to clubs? Moreover, even if they did, would Drake still be playing over the speakers? Has the music scene just changed now?

These days, music can be heard anywhere and everywhere – which is great. But that also makes a lot of room for noise. I wonder if in this day and age, it’s possible to really connect to an artist, and still feel connected years later. If it is possible, I feel like it’ll still be different than how music was felt in the past; when you earned the ability to listen to a track over and over. You had to save up. You had to really want it, and if the album wasn’t all that good, you wouldn’t delete it or toss it, you’d make yourself listen because you invested in it. You would give it a real, solid chance.

Year after year, there’s so much turnover in tracks too, so many singles released, that it’s tough to really feel the impact of any of them, due to so much output volume. It seems as though Selena Gomez releases a track every week, so how does one even keep track? With programs like Spotify, essentially every single song you could ever want in life, can be found there. You don’t have to buy the album and only play it on your CD player, or if you’re lucky, in your car. You don’t have to commit to an artist.

You can download a track just as easily as you can delete it. No one has Walkmen/Discmen (RIP) anymore, so all music on-the-go comes from their phones. The flow of which can easily be interrupted by phone calls, txt msgs and taking photos. How are young people supposed to understand how to truly value music? People these days don’t get obsessed with albums; they get obsessed with songs. One track.

Don’t get me wrong, I use Spotify too – guilty as charged. It’s the easiest, fastest way to get a track I want when I want it. I don’t have invest so much time/energy in its acquisition. But here’s the thing: I kind of miss that process. I kind of miss getting to know the music, the artist. I kind of miss opening the plastic wrap around the CD. I kind of miss analyzing the album art, and flipping through the lyric books and footnotes. I kind of really miss that connection.

 

 

British trio The xx formed back in 2005, and first came onto the scene in 2009 with their debut album, xx. Romy Madley Croft provides vocals and guitar; Oliver Sim, vocals and bass; Jamie Smith, beats and production. They followed up with 2012’s sublime, Coexist, and most recently 2016’s work of art, I See You. Here’s why you need them in your life.

The Sound: It’s subtle, nuanced, echoing each and every feeling they express, without being distracting. It perfectly sets up the mood for each track, knowing when to quiet down, and when to pick things up. It’s so meticulously and purposefully placed in each track, such that each note, each strum, each pluck of a string, each inflection, each beat has a specific place in the song; nothing is superfluous. It doesn’t fit in any particular genre, having flecks of indie rock and dance; hints of pop and electronic; plenty of confessional tones. The beats, guitar and bass shimmer so brightly together, the resulting music comes off in such a way that, no other version of the song will ever make sense. Their sound is incomparable, inimitable, and frankly deserves to be a genre all on its own.

The Lyrics: One thing to note about The xx, you can’t just have them on in the background. You have to listen to them, and you’ll thank me because what you’ll hear will take you to a place you’ve never been before. You’ll find yourself deep in thought, ruminating over some life event in ways you never have. Each word, each phrase, is so well thought out. Every syllable is in there for a reason, and has a role to play in unfolding the inner workings of Croft and Sim’s minds. They know exactly what to say, and how to say it, and only say what’s necessary to convey their mood; nothing more, nothing less. Like true poets.

The Vocals. There’s nothing outwardly spectacular about their vocals; they don’t do runs, they’re not power houses, they don’t show anything off. They exude just the right amount of force when singing, perfectly exercising control, and not getting carried away. They can be haunting, moving, playful, emotional, thoughtful, on the verge of tears, confident, confused, and everything else you can imagine. They’re honest and vulnerable, and sometimes a total mess on the inside – and it all translates perfectly through their delivery.

The Albums. When you combine their sound, their lyrics and their vocals, this is what you get: a masterpiece that grabs your soul and breaks it apart piece by piece, leaving you empty and broken inside. Then out of nowhere, breathes life right back into you, reviving your soul and making you feel things far beyond what you ever thought possible. I’m not being hyperbolic, they’re just that good. It’s not just a one-off either. Each of their albums is unique in its own way, but still manages to evoke the same senses. If you’ve never seen them live, please do – it’s an experience you’ll  never forget.