Tag Archives: Arts

Leading Us Absurd Turns Two!

(Fall, 2009)

On Friday, Leading Us Absurd turned two years old. It’s hard to believe that it’s been this long. When I originally started this blog, my intentions were pretty modest. It was mainly just an outlet for my writing, which at the time I had been doing very little of. For the first few months, it wasn’t even strictly a music blog – though music was a subject I focused on a lot.

Since then, I’ve managed to get 53,000 views, hundreds of comments, and 134 subscribers. If you had asked me two years ago whether I thought this would happen, I probably would have laughed at the thought. For a long time, it seemed that no one was reading. Even as I gained more readers and hits, I feel that I didn’t really capture a voice until earlier this year.

My hope is that even if you disagree with some of my thoughts, that it’s coherent and my arguments are sound. I’ve always known a lot about music, but it’s been humbling to find out how much I don’t know and how much more I have to learn. There’s always new artists to check out, and ones who have been dead for decades I’ve only just learned about.

Whether you’ve been reading for awhile or a newer, I want to thank you for taking the time to let me indulge in my passion for music. I’ve truly appreciated all of the comments over the past years – it’s meant a lot to me and made me a stronger writer.

I also want to thank my friends at Randomville, Vulture Hound, and The Musebox for all the fantastic writing opportunities given to me. Special thanks to my girlfriend, Lindsey who has been a constant supporter of the blog (and me) even when no one else was reading. And of course to Kevin, Pete and Sean whose wide range of musical knowledge keeps me in check.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

(Fall, 2011)

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Ian Axel On Tour

(Note: I did not write this, Press Release Courtesy of the Musebox)

Emerging singer-songwriters Ian Axel, Allie Moss, and Bess Rogers have landed in your town, with a 20-city late summer tour that spans the East and West coasts.  All three have had a past year many would describe as out-of-this-world, with their songs being featured in television shows like CW’s One Tree Hill, ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, and MTV’s I Used to Be Fat.

Ian Axel began his career when his typical 20-something job working at a Manhattan Apple Store suddenly became not-so-typical as his bosses caught wind of his musical talents.  They flew him around the country to perform at dozens of stores around the United States, and included his songs on the playlists of hundreds of their stores worldwide.  Ian officially “touched down” in 2011 when he released his debut full-length, This Is the New Year.  The title track received over 1 million YouTube views, he performed on the nationally syndicated Rachael Ray Show and on La Blogothéque’s world-renown Take Away Shows, and his songs were featured on TV shows such as “One Tree Hill,” and as the theme to the MTV documentary series I Used to Be Fat.

However, it’s Ian’s live show that shoots him to new frontiers.  He has an energy that recalls the intimacy, energy and excitement of performers like Regina Spektor, Elton John and Randy Newman.  NPR described him as “a voice that possesses the sweetness of youth, the stubbornness of a teenager and the swagger of a rock star.”  He is capable of captivating an audience as only the greatest performers do, an appeal that has not gone unnoticed, leading to opening gigs for Ingrid Michaelson, Evan Dando and, most recently, for Glee star Matthew Morrison’s at the 2500-capacity Beacon Theater on August 1st.
Brooklynite Bess Rogers has created national recognition through her work as lead guitarist and backing vocalist for Ingrid Michaelson, and is quickly becoming a star in her own right.  Her fan-funded album, Out Of The Ocean, will be released on September 20 with the first single, “Anchor,” released to radio and iTunes in August.  Bess has spent this summer as the singing voice of the nationally televised Mott’s For Tots advertising campaign with her song, “We Believe In You,” and has had other compositions featured on television shows such as Switched At Birth, One Tree Hill, and Pretty Little Liars.  In recent months Bess has shared the stage with Ari Hest, Lelia Broussard, Jay Brannan, Rachel Platten, Caleb Hawley and others.

Allie Moss hails from New Jersey and, like Bess, also had her start in Ingrid Michaelson’s band, handling rhythm guitar & backing vocals. She will be supporting her new LP Late Bloomer on this tour, a 10-song album produced by Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Erin McKeown). The album’s lead track “Corner” was a left-field hit in the UK last year, which racked up over a half-million views on YouTube after being featured on a British Telecom advertisement.  Other songs of hers have been featured on Brothers & Sisters and the CW’s Pretty Little Liars. Her new album also features the whimsical, bittersweet single, “Melancholy Astronautic Man” accompanied by a delightful stop-motion video comprised entirely of Legos.

Together these three emerging talents have joined forces to create an incredible tour.  Landing on the scene together, this is the perfect opportunity to catch them at intimate venues before this constellation of singer-songwriters shoot to superstardom.

IAN AXEL: http://www.ianaxel.com | http://youtube.com/ianaxelmusic
BESS ROGERS: http://www.bessrogers.com | http://www.youtube.com/BessRogers
ALLIE MOSS: http://alliemoss.com | http://youtube.com/alliemoss

 

TOUR DATES:

Mon – 1-Aug – New York City, NY – Beacon Theatre (Ian Axel solo w/ Matthew Morrison)
Weds – 24-Aug – Seattle, WA – Fremont Abbey Arts Center
Fri – 26-Aug – Modesto, CA – Copper Rhino
Sat – 27-Aug – San Francisco, CA – Hotel Utah
Mon – 29-Aug – Fresno, CA – Fulton 55
Tue – 30-Aug – Los Angeles, CA – Hotel Cafe
Wed – 31-Aug – San Diego, CA – Lestats

Wed – 7-Sep – Marlboro, NY – The Falcon

Thu – 8-Sep – Easton, MD – Nightcat

Sat – 10-Sep – Vienna, VA – Jammin’ Java

Mon – 12-Sep – Nashville, TN – Third & Lindsley
Wed – 14-Sep – Atlanta, GA – The Earl
Thu – 15-Sep – Durham, NC – The Casbah
Sat – 17-Sep – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Upstairs
Wed – 21-Sep – Boston, MA – The Red Room @ Café 939 

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Albums I Thought Were Terrible (But Aren’t)

 

Popmatters recently ran a piece on “Albums that Supposedly Suck (But Don’t) and it got me thinking of which albums I initially hated. Sometimes, it would take a few listens for me to warm up to the music, with other albums it took a bit of revisionist history and also a bit of perspective.

Passengers – Original Soundtracks 1

This side project by U2 and Brian Eno is one of the most confusing (and alienating) pieces of work by a major artist in the last 20 years. Larry Mullen has gone on record as stating that he absolutely hates this record with songs set to (mostly) imaginary movies. Indeed, anyone expecting an album full of the anthems U2 are known will be disappointed.It’s a mostly laid-back, atmospheric and somewhat ambient affair, the perfect soundtrack to a late-night. The songs don’t really seem to have any structure as most U2 songs do, but they reveal themselves with each subsequent listen. The obvious standouts are “Your Blue Room” which is one of U2’s most haunting ballads, and the Pavarotti collaboration “Miss Sarajevo”.  But songs like “United Colors” and “Slug” are inventive and groundbreaking anything U2 has done.

The Who – The Who By Numbers

With the exception of the pop-ditty “Squeeze Box” The Who By Numbers has mostly been forgotten about by the general public. It’s not hard to see why, as it lacks the firepower of albums like Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Instead, Pete Townshend offers up songs about his mortality (“Blue Red and Grey”), alcoholism (“However Much I Booze”), his place in the rock world with the emergence of punk (“They’re All In Love”).  It’s certainly not as consistent as some of their earlier albums, but Townshend lyrics revealed a softer side (and more personal) that he further explored on solo albums like Empty Glass.

The Beatles – The White Album

I first this album when I was young. Even then, I knew there were great songs on it, but I couldn’t understand why the hell songs like “Rocky Raccoon” and “Wild Honey Pie” were included. The only version I had was a dubbed cassette I borrowed from my older brother. I was convinced that he must have taken these terrible songs from The Beatles Anthology and put them on the cassette as a joke. There could be no other logical explanation. In recent years, The White Album has grown to be one of my favorite Beatles’ albums. The quirky detours add to the charm of the record, and counter-balance some of Lennon’s heavier lyrics. And what other album could offer songs as majestic as “Julia” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and others as silly as “Ob-la-Di, Ob-La-Da”?

Beck – Midnite Vultures

I loved Odelay upon its release, so I quickly bought Midnite Vultures based on the bouncy and horn-heavy single, “Sexx Laws”.  I was quickly disappointed, as the rest of the album seemed to be a party album, without a party to accompany it. The songs seemed like Beck was trying to hard to be exciting, and unlike Odelay all the odd sounds annoyed the hell out me. In retrospect, Midnite Vultures is the soundtrack for the end of the party. It’s mesh of sounds while not groundbreaking makes it sound fresh and vital, and “Debra” is one of the best Prince tracks that Prince never wrote.

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

I’ve always heard from various people that The Rolling Stones albums are almost unlistenable after Exile on Main St. While that is certainly their prime, some of their latter days are albums are quite good. I bought Some Girls after reading a positive review in a magazine. This shit didn’t sound like The Rolling Stones. Jagger’s voice was the same, but where was the classic sound? You let me down, rock writers! “Miss You” sounded like a disco song, and “Some Girls” while raunchy, was nowhere as good as “Starfucker”(aka “Star Star”.) As it turns out, I missed the point. “Some Girls” was probably the last time that The Rolling Stones could take a contemporary sound and put their own spin on it without sounding tired and out of ideas. And for the record, I now love “Miss You”.

 

 

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Adult Swim “Country Club” Playlist, Also Known As “What’s On Matt’s Ipod”

My girlfriend and I have recently started swimming at the public pool on the weekends.  Since the pool is usually crowded during the afternoons, we decided to go in the early morning when there’s less people there.  The staff refers to this time as “country club hour” as it’s adult swim.  Usually, this consists of us and a bunch of old men.  Most of them don’t actually swim, they just hang out and talk.  To liven the experience, the staff plays old school R&B an soul music.  

Being the big fan of this that I am, I know most of the words to these songs to the surprise of many of the old men.  After Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and James Brown were played my girlfriend pointed out that it was like listening to my Ipod.  Indeed, when I was recently given an Itunes gift card my purchases included The Phil Spector Collection (the best collection of girl groups you can find) and a whole lot of James Brown.  Overall, I paid about $25 for about 70 songs.  

The whole experience at the pool kind of made me wish that I was young when all this music was new.  Of course if that was the case, then at the current moment I might be one of those old men at the pool.  

I just wish they had played the full version of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” instead of the single edit.  

 

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Songs of Summers Past: Part 2

(Carrie became so inspired by my list last week, that she wrote up a list of her own.  Check it out.)

(Me, circa 2006.)

The Clash – “Rudie Can’t Fail” (Summer 2003)

For me, “Rudie Can’t Fail” is the highlight of London Calling an album on which every single song would be a highlight on somebody else’s album.   London Calling was one the CDs that I brought with me on for a summer semester in Italy.  I had been to Europe before, but these trips were either with family or organized.  Living in a small town in Northern Italy for 6 weeks meant plenty of down-time to explore the subtleties of Italian culture I would not have otherwise been exposed to.  Each Wednesday morning the town opened its streets to a market.  The linens, Catholic relics, Italian leather were a link to the old world.  With my headphones on, I used to wander around the streets for hours trying to soak up as much as I could.  With its reggae and third world feel, “Rudie Can’t Fail” was the soundtrack to my self imposed Italian education.  The lyricsm “I went to the market, to realize my soul cuz what I need I just don’t have,” never seemed so prophetic and exciting.

“King of the Rodeo” – Kings of Leon (Summer 2005)

For everybody who thinks of Kings of Leon based on “Use Somebody”, I urge them to listen to this song.  It’s an entirely different band.  Matthew Followill delivers one of his sexiest and dirtiest guitar riffs, while Caleb’s vocals are incomprehensible and boozy, yet strangely melodic.  The only lyrics that can be deciphered are “let the good times roll, let the good times roll”.   I became obsessed with Kings of Leon’s Aha Shake Heartbreak earlier that year, due to their opening slot of U2’s tour.  While U2’s show was perfectly rehearsed with little room for improvisation (not a bad thing, by the way), Kings of Leon came out as if their instruments were weapons in a bar fight.  There was a sense that anything could happen.  Aha Shake Heartbreak became my “go to” CD that summer, as I drove to and from my shitty job.   I probably broke the skip button as I kept placing “King of the Rodeo” on repeat.  I can’t understand the rest of the summer, but “let the good times roll” became something of a mantra.

“High Fidelity” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions

I had recently discovered the genius of Elvis Costello about a year earlier, and was quickly becoming acquainted with his back catalogue, in particular Get Happy!! and “High Fidelity”.   On an album full of great songs, “High Fidelity” is a masterpiece – the piano never sounded so violent and menacing and also poppy.  A great sing-along song for the summer at full volume.  I used to always say that I never liked to drink too much a show, as I wanted to remember to it all.  Sadly, this was not the case at the Elvis Costello an Allen Toussaint show.  My friend, and my brother started tail-gating hours before the show.  To the audience at Wolf Trap, which is actually an outdoor theater sometimes used for a rock show, we were heathens.  Wolf Trap’s BYOB rules did not suit us well.  And our cans of Budweiser and bag of Lays was a direct contrast to everyone else’s wine and cheese.   At one point, I remember sitting on a pair of steps with my head between my legs desperately trying not to get sick.  As I tried to come to my senses, I did manage to hear “High Fidelity” in the background.

“Let’s Go Crazy” – Prince (Summer 2010)

A while back, I looked at my girlfriend’s Ipod and was surprised to see “Let’s Go Crazy” on it.  I never suspected her to be a Prince fan.  Even more surprisingly, she had mistakenly downloaded a remix with an extended ending.  That purchase has always made me laugh and “Let’s Go Crazy” has become a song that we listen to quite often when driving.  She even knows the opening monologue by heart, which is even more hilarious.  Last summer while in Florida with her family, I bought a copy of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll that led to a rather humorous (and sometimes tense) discussion with her father over which songs should and shouldn’t be included. It turned out to be a great bonding experience even if we disagreed on quite a few songs. He argued there were way too many Prince songs on the list (including “Let’s Go Crazy”) while I suggested that “Born to Be Wild” really isn’t that good, and was only included for nostalgic reasons.

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Songs of Summers Past (Part 1)

(Me, summer 2004.  Back when I had short hair.  It’s very strange looking at that now.)

For whatever reason, the advent of summer has bought back a lot memories.  And most of these memories somehow revolve a specific song, and are tied to a specific moment in time, which will be forever etched in my mind.  Every time I listen to The New Pornographers’ “Use It”, I’m immediately transported back to the summer of 2007.  The Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” takes me back to my teenage self when I used to listen to that dubbed cassette version of Sand in the Vaseline on my Walkman during road trips with my parents.  And some of these songs, well, I probably wouldn’t write about them otherwise.   (And for those I mention here, you know who are, though for the public domain, you shall remain nameless.)

Offspring – “Come out and Play” (Summer 1994)

The summer of 1994 was the first summer I really remember.  Not surprisingly it’s also the first summer where I could identify songs which were popular and the older kids were listening to.  That summer I was on a Swim Team with two my childhood friends (who are also still my best-friends). Even at this early age, getting up at 8 o’clock during the summer was not something I wanted to do.  As we swam laps, the lifeguards would blast music on their stereo.  I’m sure there were other songs, but the only two songs I seem to remember playing were Offspring’s “Come Out and Play” and Pearl Jam’s “Daughter”.  I really hated “Daughter” – it would be years before I actually liked the song and Pearl Jam themselves.  Even then I could sense that Eddie Vedder meant everything that he said.  “Come Out and Play” though, as much as I tried to pretend I hated it, I secretly liked its chunky rhythms and aggressiveness.  And even if you disliked the song it was hard to get away from, “you gotta keep’em separated!”.   Being 12, I was impressionable and if the 16 year old lifeguards thought it was cool, obviously it must be cool.  They knew every single word.

Years later, when I first discovered the Itunes Store in the summer of 2004 – “Come Out and Play” was one of the first songs I bought.  I’m not ashamed to admit.

Beck – “Where’s It’s At” (1996)

“Where It’s At” still remains a great song, however it remains stuck in 1996 – a song where time doesn’t apply.  It hasn’t aged, but it doesn’t seem to fit into a broader context.  Part of it probably has to do with its mesh of sounds and hook – “I got two turn tables and a microphone!” – which was inescapable in the summer of 1996.  My older brother who was 21 at the time, suggested that Beck’s Odelay was the Highway 61 Revisited of his generation.  Quite a bit of hyperbole on his part, I think.  This was the first summer when I was allowed to actually hang out with him, and we used to blast this song constantly. Its odd keyboards, bleeps, robotic voices, and stream of consciousness lyrics were unlike I ever heard.  I had previously been under the impression that songs had to have a certain sound and structure to be good – and “Where It’s At” demolished my previous ideas of what a song could actually sound like.  Oddly enough, the very things that make me critical of it now, were very appealing to my teenage self in 1996.  The windows of the car were down, the music was very loud.  Those who stared at us at we drove around, just didn’t seem to get it (whatever I thought it was at the time).

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Scar Tissue” (Summer of 1999)

“Scar Tissue” is a song that captures the sound of a hot summer evening.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a lot of good song, but this is the one that comes close to perfection.  Its melody is infectious, and John Frusciante’s guitar breaks are tasteful and full of beauty.  This song was everywhere in the summer of 1999 – the year that I was about to enter my senior year of high school.  The summer before I had gotten my driver’s license, but it was this summer that I was really able to drive around by myself and get out of the house, even if it was just driving to Borders. To me, the song represented wide open spaces and possibilities.  By being able to drive, I had achieved a sense of freedom that was previously unavailable.  “Scar Tissue” was a radio staple that summer, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.

U2 – “Bad”

2001 was the summer of U2.  The previous fall they had released the fantastic All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which reaffirmed their status after the abysmal Pop a few years earlier.  When they toured the US that summer, it would be the first time I would see them after years of trying. As a live band, U2 have few rivals and “Bad” has always been the centerpiece of their show whenever they play it.  It’s also one of the few U2 songs that is different every single time they play it.   Sometimes it could be 12 or 13 minutes long with several extended endings or 7 minutes long.  Bono would often sing lines from other songs such as “Sympathy for the Devil”, “People Have the Power”, “Norwegian Wood” and U2’s own “40” before the band kicked it back into high gear.   I’ve read that the song is about heroin addiction, but it’s also much more than that – it’s about letting go and not taking life for granted.   When Bono shouts “not fade away!” as the band kicks in and The Edge repeats his delayed chords, it really is transcendent, to use a cliche term.  I spent the summer of 2001, downloading as many U2 bootlegs from that tour, simply trying to find as many variations of “Bad” as I could.  And each version is magical in its own way.

 

More to come.

 

 

 

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Music To Listen To This Summer

Each season has their own soundtrack and summer is no exception.  There are numerous albums I listen to in the summer, and find perfect for days when you just can’t seem to cool off.  So here’s my selection of albums to listen to and kick back to.  (Note: I exclude some obvious choices such as Springsteen.)

Elvis CostelloGet Happy!!

Though King of America and Imperial Bedroom might be better albums, Get Happy!! is Costello’s most listenable album from front to back filled with R&B and soul styled songs with a punk twist.  The songs move along at breakneck speed (as do some of the songs) leaving the listener with barely any time to soak in the subtleties. Even when the songs are mean-spirited, the music is sheer fun.  What comes across though is Costello’s melodies and flawless songwriting, making it the perfect soundtrack for a summer day.

Outkast – Speakerboxxx

When Outkast’s double album first came out, most of the press focused on Andre 3000’s half, The Love Below.  As it turns out, Speakerboxxx turns out to be the better of the two, as Big Boi flirts with fast-paced beats, swing and jazz influences and George Clinton-style funk.  And like the rest of the albums on this list, there’s no filler – it’s genre -hopping music that’s perfect for nights with intense heat that never seems to let up.

The Gourds – Blood of the Ram

If you’re outside grilling, and drinking a beer, Blood on the Ram should be an essential addition.  It’s a combination of bluegrass, Band-style Americana, and alt-country.  Each song is a masterpiece in Southern Boogie and sing-alongs.  Songs such as “Do 4 U”,  “Lower 48” and “Cracklins” are designed to get you off your chair and dance.  And if you don’t feel that way, your humanity might come into question.  Plus where else can you sing every single state in the lower 48?

Creedence Clearwater RevivalChronicle

For a long time, I resisted getting this collection because practically every single on this collection is burned into the consciousness of every fan of classic rock.  But song for song, you can’t really ask for a better greatest hits collection.  With a a mix of down home rock and memorable songs, Chronicle feels like a lazy summer day.  And if it’s really hot, let CCR do the hard-work and sweat for you as they tear through their classics.

Al GreenThe Absolute Best

For me, Al Green has the best soul voice anybody’s side of Sam Cooke, and this collection as the title suggests, offers nothing but his best.  There’s straight-up soul classics – “So You’re Leaving”, “Strong as Death (Sweet as Love)”, funk-rock – “I’m a Ram”, “Driving Wheel”, and soul-jam classics – “Look What You For Me”.  Perfect for relaxing, with a strong drink in your hand as the day winds down.

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