music

Black Light Machine

Speaking of music: Frost’s behind the scenes work on their song “Black Light Machine” was a lot of fun to watch. With all of these “here’s how the song was made” videos and podcasts, it’s great to see the musicians actually performing their individual parts.

And my gosh, that guitar section at 5:56. Beautiful.

Frost is becoming one of my favorite bands – and they’re a recent discovery, thanks to that Spotify / YouTube / Amazon connection. Great, poppy prog with virtuoso musicians. If you have a spare 26 minutes, let “Milliontown” wash over you. Every part and movement is perfect.


Analog City

Analog City

In Sound City, Dave Grohl’s love letter to the legendary, hit-making studio in California, he and other musicians gush about the “real” process of getting guys in a studio and recording music live, on two-inch tape: “the human element of creating and recording music.” ProTools has its place, many of the artists say, but there’s nothing like analog.

We’ve heard this before, of course. Everyone from filmmakers to photographers are returning to (or, in the case of movies, never leaving) film.

Lots of words get used to describe this process: magic, alchemy, mystery, human. Digital is too “easy.” You can fix everything with digital. Etc.

For many, it’s a return to what is known. Analog is more familiar to those of a certain age. A lot of what Grohl and Christopher Nolan and other film fans seem to be saying is, “You missed the good stuff, the good old days.”

Those of us who adopted photography as a hobby or profession in the digital age don’t know what a dark room is like because we’ve never used one, and may never step foot in one.

(A side note: my college newspaper had a darkroom attached to it, behind this sweet swiveling circular door, and I did spend some time in there – but never to actually develop or print images. I remember photography students spending a lot of time in that room, and I’d catch glimpses of what they were working on when they brought their prints out into the light.)

We seemed to have this big upswing, in the ’80s (music), ’90s (movies), and 2000s (photography) toward digital art making. In the last decade, that digital tide has swung back, and more and more artists are experimenting with analog again. Call it the Maker Movement, call it hipsterism, call it whatever, but vinyl records and photo film seem to be doing okay again. Not great, but not dead.

So it is with blogging – away from federated, silo’d social media platforms and toward artists and writers owning their material.

Maybe we’re all learning that perfect isn’t the goal. The goal is to make something great, imperfections and all. Something human.

We’re all living in Analog City now.

 


Steps to Music Discovery

So Hard to Get Along

So Hard to Get Along – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Lately, I feel like I’m exploring more and more musical acts, especially in progressive rock and metal. So many musical discoveries have come from a combination of Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, and following the bands I love. I feel like I’m awash in music, and it brings me a lot of joy.

Don’t get me wrong: I still purchase my music, usually in physical form. I give myself a monthly musical budget, and I’m not afraid to spend that money.

But music discovery? Spotify makes this so easy.

The steps go something like this:

  1. Listen to a band I enjoy
  2. Look at the “Related Artist” tab on Spotify and poke around
  3. Check out YouTube to see if the artist has any music videos (remember those?)
  4. Head to Amazon to see what reviewers say about their albums
  5. Put an album in my Amazon wish list to reference later
  6. Purchase the album

Rinse, repeat.

I don’t do like the kids do these days and use Spotify (or Apple Music, or any other streaming service) for all my music needs. But I do find that it’s perfect for experimenting, and for checking out albums that I’ve always wanted to hear before I buy.

(And thank goodness for YouTube. If an artist is not on Spotify, chances are someone has ripped and uploaded their album to YouTube.)

For those bands that have been on the periphery of my musical tastes, digital music venues offer me a free sample. It costs nothing, except a potential album purchase down the road.

I haven’t been this excited about music since around the time I was in college, when so much good stuff was coming my way from friends in school and college radio. Today, the material is almost overwhelming, because now the entirety of rock and roll’s catalog is at my fingertips. A lot of these newly-discovered artists have quickly become some of my favorites. That’s a fun feeling.

Supporting my favorite artists with actual money is so important. Thanks to these streaming services, I can find more favorite artists to support.

(Follow along on Spotify if you’re interested in what I listen to!)


Earthrise

With Affinity, Haken took the Stranger Things + Tron vibe and turned it into a prog concept album.

My favorite song off the album, “Earthrise,” really is a lovely piece – especially that opening. The piano riff that starts at 0:30 has been in my head for months.


Folklore

Is there a more nerdy musical category than prog rock?

If so, I don’t want to know.

All of Big Big Train’s Folklore is a delight, but the title track and “Wassail” are my favorites so far.

So dorky! So English! But such a great tune.


Inevitability Of Death

Tragically Hip in Windsor, Ontario

Saturday night, The Tragically Hip played the last show on their most recent “Man Machine Poem Tour” in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario.

The show was notable because Gord Downie, the Hip’s lead singer, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer earlier this year. Saturday night’s show, broadcast on the CBC to a third of Canada’s citizens, could be the Hip’s last ever – capping a 30-year career.

Imagine that in America. What U.S.-based band would garner a national broadcast on its last show ever? Bruce Springsteen, maybe? What modern music act can unite a country on what night in the way the Hip did this weekend? It’s amazing when you think about it.

I have a great history with the band. My friend Chris took me to a Hip show in the summer of 2000 at DTE Energy Music Theater (Pine Knob to those who remember the good ol’ days), north of Detroit. Since then, I’ve seen the Hip more than a dozen times: in Detroit, in Grand Rapids, in Sarnia, in Toronto, in Windsor (photo above). Their country and my own, I’ve seen them on almost every tour since 2000, sometimes catching them on several dates on a given tour.

Saturday night was emotional for me. It was especially difficult watching Gord, obviously frail and tired, giving it his all. He was spent emotionally, physically, and perhaps even creatively. But he went out with a bang. Here was a guy who has dealt with terminal cancer, on the last night of a country-spanning tour, deliver a three-hour performance in front of his hometown crowd and his nation. That’s grit.

Not that I think about death a lot, but watching my musical heroes pass away over the years makes me think about mortality, and the limited time we have.

It’s hard not to dive into the live-like-you-were-dying cliché here, but hear me out.

What would you do, artistically, if you knew you were on borrowed time?

And what’s holding you back from doing that, right now?

I try not to be morbid about this stuff. But it’s hard, having kids, not thinking about being taken away suddenly, and what kind of situation I’d leave behind. The unexpected happens all the time. Any of us could get a diagnosis that changes everything.

We can’t think about this stuff every day. That would be paralyzing in a way. Then again, that’s the whole point of the your-life-changes-after-you-get-the-news storyline – hardly anyone young-ish sees death coming. Saturday’s concert was a good reminder.

I mean, if a guy with terminal brain cancer can hit the road with the band one more time, travel the country and give it his all every night in the name of art and performance and duty, surely I can get that undone project completed. Right?

Watching Gord’s exhausted face melt into anguish at the end of a barn-burning song? Yeah, there aren’t too many excuses left after seeing that.

 

 


Spock’s Beard, ‘The Light’

By 2008, Neal Morse had been away from Spock’s Beard for the better part of the decade.

But here, he returns, full force, to perform “The Light,” his first Spock’s Beard song, with his former bandmates.

So great, so celebratory. And the piano interlude at 9:30 is Morse at his beautiful best.


On Greatest Hits

 

Ghost, performing in Grand Rapids, Michigan

You know that new thing where a band goes out on tour and plays an entire classic album of theirs live?

For the fans, it’s great, especially if it’s a truly beloved and well-known album. It’s a well-worn reminder of why you love the band and their music.

What if we could go back and try our hands at an old project, and reinterpret it years later?

William Christenberry made a career out of it, coming back to the same location year after year, watching it fall apart.

I often wonder what i would do if I took my life-changing Route 66 roadtrip and did it all over again, but with the photo skills I have now. It would probably be a longer trip out of necessity.

Pulling over, after all, takes time.

A greatest hits in photos, knowing what I know now? Let’s hit the road.


365 Singles

365singles:

Blackest Eyes, Porcupine Tree

Many, many years ago, this post by @365singles led me to one of my now favorite bands. All because I gave it a chance (and the artwork was so cool).

It’s fine to share your own work. But it’s worth sharing the stuff you dig, too.