Friday, November 28, 2008

Week in Review

Here's a new feature I thought of while stuck in traffic today and listening to Sound Opinions. Since one of the only things I can figure on talking about is myself, I'm going to write a blurb about what I'm listening to and thinking about music-wise each week. This might be a good idea since writing about concerts is an opportunity that only comes along every once in a while. Now that I have a again, I find myself thinking about trends in my listening.

Despite how much I love punk and rock bands, I've found myself seriously drawn to singer-songwriters lately. Paul Simon and Cat Stevens are the most important to me, for some reason. Paul Simon's Graceland resonated with me for a while, and I just recently began exploring the remainder of his back-catalogue. Even the songs that don't stand out on each album are better than anything I could write. Cat Stevens' music is all charming. Venturing beyond the songs featured on the cult dark comedy Harold & Maude soundtrack, Stevens has these folk rock songs that are not only catchy but powerful.

I listened to "Baby, It's Cold Outside" about 10 times straight today, to learn the guy part, and boy, what a saucy song.

I reached the epitome of my respect for composer Percy Grainger this week when I had to conduct "Horkstow Grange," a movement from Lincolnshire Posy on Monday. He has a unique compositional style the breaks conventions but is still seriously listenable. This could be a true tool for breaking down barriers for students and stubborn adults into listening to art music.

OK readers, be honest. Did this post make me sound like a pretentious ass?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The World/Inferno Out-of-Town Friendship Society

Saxophonist Peter Hess and singer Jack Terricloth, both bearing with maniacal grins, stepped to the front of the stage to greet the undulating crowd. With three drum sticks between them, they joined drummer Brian Viglione in pounding out the opening beat to "Tattoos Fade"—The World/Inferno Friendship Society's call-to-arms—on a well-worn tom tom. Snarlingly reminding the audience that they'd "do better living more and commemorating less," Jack Terricloth inspired spontaneity in the pit.

The World/Inferno Friendship Society arrived at South Burlington's well known Higher Ground nightclub on Nov. 6, 2008. To this writer's surprise, the crowd gathered long before doors opened, and the second admittance was allowed, the line to show tickets and IDs stretched through the lobby. Opening band, The Dig, provided an upbeat set of indie rock with a twist. Some attendees, anxious to see the main attraction, danced and goofed off in the room. When singer Jack Terricloth and bassist Sandra Malak appeared in the V.I.P. balcony, stars-struck fans waved enthusiastically. The musicians looked adoringly at their fans, toasted their wine glasses, and waved graciously.

When you've only seen a band or musician in their hometown (which for this band encompasses all of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey), it's a revealing experience to witness an out-of-town gig. Thursday night was no exception. The band played a relentless set of songs both new and old, touching upon "M is for Morphine," "I Remember the Weimar," "Everybody Comes to Rick's," Thumb Cinema," "Addicted to Bad Ideas," all from the 2007 release Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's Twentieth Century. Older favorites were also played, including greatly received "Just the Best Party," "My Ancestral Homeland, New Jersey," "Jeffrey Lee," "Paul Robeson," and "Brother of the Mayor of Bridgewater" were just a few of those older favorites. While most of the fans knew the words to those songs, many of them were stumped when it came to the VERY old stuff..."All the World is a Stage(dive)" didn't garner any audience stage dives (for fear of getting kicked out), but Terricloth did throw himself onto the stage mid-song. The highlight of the show for me, personally, was "Cats are Not Lucky Creatures," a song about resiliency and independence as represented by the demeanor of cats. Although many of the kids didn't seem to know the classic, they shockingly screamed the lyrics of other songs along for most of the night.

The night saw more fancy stick-work from Hess and Terricloth, who synchronized a sort of drum hit-stick hit (like checking swords) in time to the intro of "M is for Morphine." The band was clearly more involved than they can be at hometown shows, which is ironic. Jack Terricloth's usually profound between-song banter was unfortunately watered-down by his inebriated state. Although missing the familiar handlebar mustache of Franz Nicolay, the group sufficiently compensated with newcomer Matt Landis, a menace at the keyboard. The Dresden Dolls' Brian Viglione powerfully filled the role of drummer and brought a whole new level of celebrity to the band.

The final question that arises from this experience you might ask would be, "Miss Harrison, was it worth it to drive three stinking hours each way to see a band you've already seen five times before?" And I would answer as such. "How anyone could turn down an opportunity to have the religious experience that is a World/Inferno show is beyond me. It's more than a band, it's a way of life. Sign the f*ck up."

Fourteen ways to live your life more like a pirate

As published in the 11/7 issue of The Racquette.

If you've ever dreamed of a life as a bootlegger, pirate, Eastern European vagrant, railroad worker, or revolutionary, O'Death's latest release, Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin just might be the album for you. The album's title immediately gives you an idea of the morbidity and sensibilities of the band. From the opening violin pizzicato, this album will pull you right in. Each of the fourteen unique tracks give the listener an excuse to role-play in any strange situation they'd like.

The band explores lots of different bluegrass instruments, from banjo to fiddle, in addition to their traditional rock band line-up. Other instruments that sometimes appear on their recordings are ukulele, piano, trombone, and euphonium. The textures they are able to produce through this juxtaposition of styles are incomparable to most other punk fusion bands.

Their influences lie in the songs of Appalachia, gospel music and punk vivacity. Their "olde tyme" poster art and aesthetic adds to their appeal and individuality, while their snarling stage presence defines their image. It is refreshing to find a band that has established its own new aesthetic based on traditional sources.

Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin truly takes the listener into a different time and different mindset. The feel of Appalachian folk music underlying their original songs is not only anachronistic to most listeners, but haunting by nature.

Growing in prominence in several punk and alternative circles, O'Death has shared stages with Beat Circus, Death Vessel, Humanwine, Hoots & Hellmouth and Takka Takka. They recently embarked on a 34-date tour in support of Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin.

If you are in the mood for something frantic, something passionate, something unusual and disturbing, or something that compels you on a gut level to get up, dance, and break things, you should listen to O'Death. There is not a single weak track on this album. Listen for it on SUNY Potsdam's radio station, WAIH "The Way" 90.3FM in the coming weeks.

"Non-required" anthology provides reading solution for overworked college students

As printed in the 11/7 issue of The Racquette.

With ever-increasing course-loads and time dedicated to busy social calendars, the last thing a college student has time to do is read for fun. College culture is limited to short snippets-Youtube videos, RSS feeds, and blogs are often chosen for their amusement factor and brevity. For those who love literature but often find themselves distracted and pressed for time, The Best American Non-required Reading 2008 offers an apt solution.

The latest installment in a series that has run since 2002, BANR is compiled by author Dave Eggers and high schoolers of the San Francisco Bay Area. They spend each year reading through respected literary journals, quarterlies and magazines, ultimately deciding on the best stories-a pile of hundreds that gets whittled down into the final published anthology.

BANR 2008 features an introduction by Judy Blume, a retrospective on Kurt Vonnegut's lifetime of writing, a piece about Bill Clinton's post-presidential life as an activist, a story on how one of the world's most renowned violinist performed unnoticed in a D.C. metro station, and several particularly jarring stories about the search for one's origins and identity.

Short fiction and short creative non-fiction, the two genres presented in this anthology, are by far the most accessible genre to college-aged students. Each story is engaging and insightful, yet still delivered in a size that hard-working college students can easily swallow. Short writing does not require a huge emotional and time commitment, but is still satisfying and amusing.

This anthology moves along at a fairly rapid pace, with very few lengthy pieces. If one piece in particular isn't appealing, it is simple to skip ahead to something more exciting. Any of the stories in it that seemed slow-moving at first eventually picked up and gained depth, eventually becoming enjoyable reads. Like previous BANR anthologies, this one has a little something for everyone.

One of the aims of the committee that chooses the pieces which get published is to increase exposure for up-and-coming writers. Although familiar names such as Stephen King are represented this year, most of the contributing writers in this anthology are newcomers to the field. Past contributors include Chuck Klosterman, David Sedaris and Huruki Murakami. For those who have more time to explore the sources (journals) and authors from the anthology, it is a good chance to see who is currently shaping the field of short fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps you'll discover a new favorite author, or at least one of note whom you may hear from in the future.

The editor of the series, Dave Eggers, was once a newcomer not unlike many of the featured authors. Through inclusion in literary journals he gained popularity and has since published successful books such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What is the What.

The number one thing that assures me that most college students will be able to appreciate this is that the pieces are chosen by high schoolers. If they can find modern literature and creative non-fiction appealing, I am confident that college students also can.

If you have a free half hour between classes, or even just a few minutes before you drift off to sleep, pick up The Best American Non-required Reading 2008. Who knows; you may find a new favorite author or rekindle your love for reading.

Preview of a Show that Happened 2 Months Ago

Just for people who like to read my writing...just for posterity...just because I've been lazy for the bulk of the semester...

On Saturday, September 20, Hurley's is hosting a triple bill of extremely talented musicians from New York City. Franz Nicolay, Emilyn Brodsky, and Emily Hope Price will take the stage in Hurley's for several hours of diverse entertainment. The show is sure to appeal to both those interested in indie songwriters as well as those who currently study music and are curious to see what versatile results a music degree can inspire.

Franz Nicolay is currently the keyboardist for The Hold Steady, a critically acclaimed rock band that has recently performed on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Late Show with David Letterman, and The Late Late Show. The multi-instrumentalist tours year-round with The Hold Steady-playing over 200 shows annually-but still finds time to dedicate to performing his solo material. His set on Saturday will consist of original songs performed both on guitar and accordion, part of his trademark style. He trained in New York University's jazz composition program and brings his own twist to both traditional and avant-garde songwriting.

Emilyn Brodsky is a sharp-tongued ukulele-playing cupcake punk. Her songs are smart and witty, filled with complex emotions, and, depending on the personnel, tight vocal harmonies. As a "cupcake punk" she is a strong believer in the Do It Yourself (DIY) ethic, and brought that consciousness to her new album, which features the combined efforts of her musician friends, producers and artwork designers. Emilyn Brodsky's Greatest *its boasts full band arrangements of many of the catchy, fun, and emotionally tumultuous songs she will perform in Hurley's. When she isn't playing originals, her repertoire of covers includes songs by The Mountain Goats, The Long Winters, The Magnetic Fields, and 60s girl groups.

Emily Hope Price is an extremely versatile musician, popular in the Anti-Folk scene in New York City. Although she received a master's degree in classical cello performance from Carnegie Mellon University, her true interests lie in improvisation and composing. She brings new depth to cello performance by adding many effects such as looping, distortion, sampling, and improvising on the spot.

Hurley's is clearly branching out into booking more diverse and talented musicians this semester. This show will appeal to even the most critical listeners. Check it out if you enjoy: The Hold Steady, Billy Bragg, Mirah, Joanna Newsom, Regina Spektor, or Belle & Sebastian.