Sunday, December 20, 2009

Writer’s Jukebox – Long-Time Listener Edition

Strange discoveries can be made when you listen to music for long periods of time.  I’m not sure pop music was designed to be listened to in eight hour stretches.  You might find yourself testing out different genres, exploring an artist’s more obscure back catalogue.  Or even attempting to score your life (even the more mundane moments) with appropriate background music. 

Or you’ll just wind up listening to stand-up.

Our contributors this week all discuss where their tastes take them when listening for prolonged periods – Stephanie’s experience stuck in a chemistry lab, Chris’ time spent long-hauling from Florida to Pennsylvania, and Jordasch’s wandering off the beaten path into stand-up territory.  Hit the jump for more.

StephanieDiscovering The Hush Sound in a Chem Lab

During my summer of chemistry research at Kenyon, I got really sick of my music library. Working in a lab alone, I had about eight hours of undisputed listening time daily. I tried out a lot of streaming radio stations which included a brief indie phase, a genre which I had historically found to be relatively fun for a short period of time, yet quick to become annoying. It was during one of my forays with an indie station that I discovered a band called The Hush Sound, a young mostly-acoustic-but-not-always quartet out of Illinois. Their newest album, Goodbye Blues, was released in March of 2008, but I only picked it up recently. Being only casually familiar with the first two albums, I still actually bought the CD. How outdated.

Honestly, I can’t tell you anything about the quality of this band because I just don’t know how to judge these things, especially with indie. At best, I think I can tell you that lead female vocalist Greta Salpeter has a strong voice and handles herself well with a piano. The band is supported by Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz. Other than that, all I can say rather vaguely is that I really like the way this band sounds, though I couldn’t tell you why. The songs on Goodbye Blues make me want to sing and dance around, even if they’re sort of goofy sometimes, and after a rejuvenated return to the previous two albums, So Sudden and Like Vines, I found that they evoked similar feelings. I would pay to this band live. I just like it. There isn’t much else I can add. Though I should mention that one of their songs (“Wine Red”) is featured on Snakes on a Plane: The Album.

Chris – A Solo Journey from Santana to Beethoven

Long road trips are always a great excuse to listen to a bunch of music. Last week, I finished up my semester and embarked on a 14 hour drive from Tallahassee to Washington D.C. I was actually sort of excited about the prospect of spending all day on the road by myself - I can listen to whatever music I want, all day long, no distractions. 

But there's an art to picking music for a long drive; different music matches different moods throughout the day. You want something laid back and low-key early in the morning, as you don't want to get too excited early on. I started my drive around 7:30 am with Santana's Abraxas, a cool, jazzy wake-up call if there ever was one.

The fast-paced, energetic music is for the middle of the day, when the drive still seems interminably long and you're beginning to doubt if the end is in sight. For these mid-day blues, I listened to a lot of OutKast - both Stankonia and their bizarre double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. The Atlanta duo's incessant rhythmic flow were enough to keep me moving at a fast pace, and when "Hey Ya!" came on the stereo, I had to stop myself from doing 90 miles an hour.

As the sun began to set and my destination approached, I opted for something quieter and more poignant. Radiohead's Kid A was my evening music, a strange, alienated piece of electronic angst. It's quiet, subtle, and perfect for a drive through the dark foliage of southern Virginia.

Finally, as the "Miles to Washington" signs fell into double digits, I put Beethoven's 9th Symphony into my CD player as the perfect coda to the trip. There should be some sort of rule that every long journey must end with Beethoven. Triumphant and cathartic, I can't think of a better piece to blast from my speakers to signal the end of an 800 mile trek.

JordaschStand Up Comedy is the Devil

I know it doesn't count as music, but stand-up comedy has dominated my listening habits for the past few weeks.  I've been (not) grooving to the "sweet" sounds of Patton Oswalt (that neurotic nerd comedian) and Doug Benson (that pothead comedian), both of whom put out albums this year.  Patton's album (the brilliantly-titled My Weakness is Strong) might not be his best, but it's certainly his most accessible (his only pop culture reference is to The Road Warrior).  It also has two of the funniest bits he's ever written ("Rats" and "Text"), and the best line he's ever written (I won't ruin it for you, but it involves Uncle Touchy and a Naked Puzzle Basement.  Oops).

Benson's album is less wonderful.  He's certainly a funny dude, but, at this point in his career, his personality is better-developed than his act.  His jokes don't fall flat, but they lack the sophistication of a Patton Oswalt bit or a Louis CK routine.  And while his one-liners are uniformly great, he doesn't have enough of them to sustain a whole record.  Unbalanced Load feels consequently insubstantial.  But he's a hard-working guy, and I'm confident he's got a great album in him.

Oh yeah, this is supposed to be about music.  I've been rocking a couple of critically-acclaimed 2009 metal records (Converge's Axe to Fall and Gaza's He is Never Coming Back), both of which my mom said sound like Satan.  The newest Phoenix record (Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix) is probably my favorite of the year, and a cursory listen to Tom Waits' new live album (Glitter and Doom Live) got me back into his unfuckwithable back-catalog (Rain Dogs, Mule Variations; even Orphans, his B-sides collection, is unbelievable).

Also I watched that episode of The O.C. where Marissa shoots Trey, so I've probably listened to that whatcha say song (fuck, that video is retarded) a hundred times in the past week.  Not that whatcha say song, though.  Also, Jason DeRulo saying his own name at the beginning of the song makes him sound like a Pokémon.