Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Brief Moment in Theology

I used to live in a house with some people. One of these people I lived with was named Brendan. Brendan is a very interesting guy, especially if you sit down and talk with him about some of the things he believes.

Something Brendan used to mention periodically was a story about Ghandi. He said that there was a period of time in Ghandi's life where he became obsessed with the idea of non-violence. It became such an obsession that he began to structure his life around it. Brendan always mentioned how Ghandi struggled to learn how to do every little action non-violently, even eating. Ghandi spent a lot of time thinking about how to eat non-violently.

This got me thinking about another concept recently. My chuch (Next Church) is doing a little sermon series on a little phrase in the bible that says "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself". I've been thinking about what this means and why it's a thing that I feel I should do.

This related to the Ghandi story though because this idea has been making me look at things in my life differently. For instance, I was driving into work this morning and thinking "How can I love God while driving to work?". I just got out of the shower and while I was showering I was thinking "How can I love God while showering?". These seem like such ridiculous questions to me because showering doesn't seem like a context where you can love God, but this idea is causing me to reexamine all the things I do and how I do them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Standards?

Once upon a time, I played in a Led Zeppelin cover band. It was a time when I was a much poorer drummer than I am now, and the music school where I was taking my drum lessons was offering this program where they'd hook you up with a cover band. One day we were trying to get together "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin which was taking an unusually long time for some reason. In a fit of frustration, our teacher went out on a rant about how we didn't know what he considered to be "Rock and roll standards"; songs everybody should know.

Some time later, I was reading about a jazz trio called "The Bad Plus" who do a lot of rock and roll song covers. In an interview, they were asked why they do these types of songs. The interviewer was wondering if it was for irony or if it was to prove some kind of point. The band responded by talking about the jazz concept of "Standards". There is a list of songs referred to as "Standards" in Jazz music which are songs which are common for jazz musicians to know. Most of these standards are old songs written in the 40s which have since been adapted by jazz musicians for use in many different contexts. The band discussed how if you play an exceptionally old song it's referred to as a standard, but if you play a new song it's called a cover. They said they didn't understand this difference and decided to make some contemporary songs into standards, hence their performance of rock "Covers" or standards.

These two separate events got me thinking today about what songs would be considered modern standards. We have such a diverse array of available music that it makes me wonder if there are any songs that we could consider essential to know. I've decided to think about this from now on and try and come up with a decent list. If you have any thoughts about this, or any songs you think are essential for a musician to be able to play through without previous practice, comment away.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Coulda Sworn....

So I'm having a birthday party. Today I decided to make the facebook event for my birthday party. This involved setting a location and a date and then inviting people to come to the party. The first two parts went swimmingly but when I got to the third part, I struggled. Who do I invite? I don't want to invite a bunch of people who will say no, but I also don't want to exclude people. I also have the problem of having a bunch of friends who are all working at camp right now so none of them can come.

When I finished making the invite list all I could think was "I thought I had more friends than this who I would invite to a birthday party".

After pondering on this briefly I figured out that summer is a terrible time to have a birthday party because everyone is either working or out of town.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Album Review: The Roots-How I Got Over

The track listing on the back of The Roots latest album starts somewhere around 140. This is a clever way of saying they've been around for a while. Even without the clever track listing though, The Roots show their experience on their latest album "How I Got Over" (or how i got over if you're into being literal about typography).

The album is full of additional musicians. Indie heros Dirty Projectors and Jim James of My Morning Jacket both make appearances. The Roots don't bring these people in just for the sake of adding indie credibility. Instead, these artists make big contributions to the sound of the album. On album opener "A Peace of Light" the girls from Dirty Projectors generate some interesting harmonies that are used in such a way that they sound more like an organ than a group of vocalists. It lends the song a very interesting texture and serves to capture the listener from the album's opening.

The album builds momentum as it goes until it reaches the title track "How I Got Over", after which the album slowly loses steam before giving a last punch at the end of the album with "Web 20/20". There's a bonus track on the end ("Hustla") but it seems to be tacked on and doesn't really jibe with the rest of the album. The low-high-low feel of the album seems to work, but I don't know how well. I've been finding myself skipping over some of the earlier tracks, just because the album picks up so much once it hits "How I Got Over".

The highlight of the album for me is the trio of songs that follow "How I Got Over". "DillaTUDE", an instrumental followed by the amazing groove and inspiration of "The Day" and then my favourite track of the album "Right On" featuring Joanna Newsom. On these songs The Roots really show what they're best at; building grooves that carry their songs to the next level. The drum track on "Right On" alone is substantial enough to carry any song, but the song also includes a perfect bass line that slides in and a sample that just works.

When you look at this album, you're looking at a hip hop album with some great grooves. There's a few tracks that don't really do it for me, but I still would recommend this album to anyone who finds themselves being caught up in a rhythm section.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Losing Sleep

Last night I woke up at 4 AM and all I could think about was how I needed to scoop ice cream sundaes.

This summer I started a new job working as a kitchen supervisor at the camp where I always work. I initially tried to get a job somewhere else doing something else, but then I couldn’t find another job and someone at camp approached me and offered me the job with no previous interest expressed. At this point in the summer I had figured out that I needed the money very badly so I agreed to the job and here I am.

My job involves running the kitchen when another cook is not present. This means doing anything from cooking large amounts of meat (14 kg of ground beef!) to ordering people around ("peel 250 potatoes") to doing laundry.

I enjoy my job but it can be very stressful at times. When it comes to meal times often you'll find me running around, sweating, and generally in a bad mood. Lately it's been troubling my sleep. The last couple of nights, I've woken up in the middle of the night in a panic about having to finish something on time. One night I woke up thinking that I had to put meat in the oven or dinner was going to be late. It took me a solid 5 minutes to get thinking straight and remember that it was night time and I needed to go back to sleep.

So last night I woke up at 4 AM thinking that I needed to scoop ice cream, only to discover that I was nowhere near ice cream or scooping. I think I need some kind of stress release.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Album Review: Shad-TSOL

I'm probably the most unqualified person to be reviewing a hip-hop album. While I listen to a few artists in this genre, I'm not really sure I understand the subtleties of what makes good hip-hop. Nevertheless here I am, attempting to review London rapper Shad's latest album.

Shad came to my attention about a year and half ago after I saw a video for his song "The Old Prince Still Lives at Home" from his previous album "The Old Prince". The video was kind of funny to watch, but it was the way that Shad generates his lyrics that attracted me to his music. He gets this flow going where you think he's going to run out of rhymes or stop but he just keeps going right into the end of the song.

On this album, Shad is doing exactly what I like him best for. He's rhyming in a way that sounds very unique. "Rose Garden" and "A Good Name" are both good examples of this steady stream of rhyming. It helps that all of the songs have very catchy hooks. Again, "Rose Garden" is a perfect example. Even if he wasn't rhyming on top of it, the song would still be catchy as hell.

His rhyming skill wouldn't really matter if the content of his rhymes wasn't good, but there's a lot of depth in the lyrics here. Shad speaks to themes that seem to be skipped over by a lot of other hip-hop I hear. On "Keep Shining" he gets into his views on how women should be viewed, putting them on an equal footing with men instead of viewing them as objects. The aforementioned "Good Name" dives into Shad's personal history and his namesakes. It reads like a letter thanking the people who he's named after for their contributions to his life.

The album follows an intro-interlude-outro pattern which works for the album. It's not a format that I'm a huge fan of but it makes the album flow pretty well. All in all this is a solid album from a solid Canadian artist. If you're looking for an alternative to the lyrical content of a lot of mainstream hip hop, this is an excellent pick.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Album Review: Tokyo Police Club-Champ

Sometimes when you put on an album, you're not looking for some kind of deep emotional experience or thrilling journey. Sometimes you just want to listen to some catchy songs on the way to work to give you a kick in the pants to make it through the day. I am happy to report that if that's what your looking for, I have the perfect album.

Tokyo Police Club's second full album "Champ" is an albums worth of songs which are all dangerously catchy, fun, and upbeat. The album opens with "Favourite Food" which starts off slowly by exhibiting singer/bassist Dave Monk's scratchy voice singing earnestly. About halfway through though the songs picks up dramatically and we launch into a full Tokyo Police Club assault on the rest of the song featuring all of the hallmarks that the band has developed in their very short career; a speedy, screeching guitar line loaded with reverb, a well accented drum beat, a bass line that fills out the song and is very audible, and some synth work in the background that polishes everything off. The album continues on like this from here on out. Every song is a little different, but each one exhibits these elements with startling polish.

Lyrically, the album explores elements of youth as an adult. It's not anything incredibly profound, but it's great stuff to sing along to since the themes in the song will feel very familiar.

Out of all of the albums I've reviewed thus far, this one is my favourite, just because it's so easy to listen. If you're looking for a soundtrack to your summer, this is probably it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

Sometimes I play videogames. My parents will tell you that this is a gross understatement but I feel it expresses my level of dedication towards them. When I am not sometimes playing video games, I often keep tabs on things that are going on in "the industry". I like to know what company is putting out which games, how they're doing financially, what new technologies they're coming up with, things like this.

So today I was browsing around the internet, and I started thinking about Sega. You see, Sega is a video game company from Japan who made both some excellent decisions and some very poor decisions. They began producing video games in the early 1990's with something called the Sega Master System which was a complete failure. Then they made a system called the Sega Genesis which was a great success. After that they made the Sega Saturn which was a success in Japan but a complete failure in North America, only lasting just over a year. Following this they developed a system called the Dreamcast which played host to some of the greatest games of the last 10 years, but was a financial failure for other reasons and ceased production after 4 years. After this, Sega said they had finally had it and moved to become a software only company instead of making game consoles.

Which brings us to my thoughts of today. You see, if you look at Sega's website you will see two types of games. 1) Games which have nothing to do with Sega as a highly skilled developer of games, and are only being published by them because it's a smart financial decision and 2) Games which are direct ports of older sega games, usually from the Genesis but sometimes from the Dreamcast or Saturn. As I looked at this I wondered what happened to the company that once upon a time developed some of the greatest and most daring games of the modern day. Where were all the risks that they used to take? Have they lost their confidence? I honestly hope Sega starts taking risks again soon because right now they look like a shell of the company they once were.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Album Review: Wintersleep-New Inheritors

I try to say mostly positive things about the albums I listen to. I think all bands or artists are really trying their best and should be commended for their hard work. Sometimes an album just doesn't quite hit as hard as you think it should. This latest album from Wintersleep is one of those albums.

It's a decent enough album. It's fairly consistent, it's got some very good tracks ("Mausoleum" and some others. The whole back half of the album is pretty strong), and there's a lot of emotion in the album but the ride through the album feels a bit bumpy at times. The album starts with heavy dark tracks like "Experience the Jewel" only to be jilted off course by the upbeat title track "New Inheritors" before being thrown down into the depths again with "Black Camera". On their own these are well written songs but the way they're put together just feels very jumbled to me. I like to sit down and listen to an album all the way through, and when I find myself skipping through songs to get to the same pack of tracks at the end of the album, I can't help but think the album could have been a bit more organized.

There's still plenty to enjoy here. Like I said before, the back half of the album has a lot of good tracks and it's good music to listen to if you're feeling angsty, but I feel like the tracks could have flowed into each other better and the album could have been more cohesive.