Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hiatus

I'm taking a hiatus from blogging. Things are going on in my life and I likely won't be writing here for a while. Come back and visit in April sometime.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Album Review: James Blake-James Blake

I'm making an effort to try more new artists out this year to see what happens. This has resulted in me checking out the guy featured in this review "James Blake". Who is James Blake? James Blake is an electronic musician from the UK who's generated a lot of buzz with a couple of single releases and a few EPs (4-5 song albums for those of you not in the know). He's is the very definition of a minimalist songwriter, making music that sounds like it would crumble if you removed a single note.

What's here on his debut full length fits into one of two categories. Some of the songs feature some excellent songwriting and arranging mixed in with a creative use of percussion and Blake's well textured voice. You get songs like "The Wilhelm Scream" which sounds like it would fit on a soul record. The other songs feature a lot of experimentation with this minimalist electronic/songwriter hybrid thing that Blake is doing. Things like random-sounding rhythms, atonality, and lots of vocal processing. "Lindisfarne I-II" feature a lot of this.

This is not an easy listening record. It's not something that I'd put on my ipod and walk to school to. What's here is complex and requires some careful attention to figure out what he's trying to do. When you pick up on great moments on this record, it can be quite enjoyable but it's important to know what you're getting into here. This is the kind of album that you might sit down to listen to with a cup of coffee and make remarks like "hmmmm" every two minutes.

James Blake gets big points in my book for doing one of the best covers I've ever heard. His version of "Limit to Your Love" is incredible.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Today's Spark: Finally Home

-Idea taken from Dark to Spark

I drive a lot of places. My family is spread out all over Ontario and a little bit into Michigan so I end up doing a lot of travelling for visits and family functions. As much as I have learned to enjoy driving though, I always love getting home.

If I were writing a story instead of telling you what I do, I might make up something about how I swing my arms around my housemates and tell them how glad I am to see them. What actually happens is probably just as good though. I walk in the door and give a wave to whomever it is that I was away from, whether its housemates or family. I always try and get everything in the door and unpacked, but it usually just ends up on the floor in front of the door for an hour or two while I sit around and catch up with what happens.

The thing I miss most on trips is being away from home. I miss being around my housemates and hearing about their days and their life's adventures. Maybe that's kind of lame, but that's the first thing that I do when I get back from a car trip. I take a load off and catch up.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Arcade Fire?


So the Grammy's were on Sunday night. I've been dismissing the Grammys for years as a joke because they tend to pick the oldest artist in a category and load them up with Grammys (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Santana, Herbie Hancock, etc.). I don't mean to say this to dismiss the music of these older artists. They make lots of good music, but it's actually laughable how consistently this rule works for predicting the results of the Grammys.

This year it almost worked out. I predicted that Lady Antebellum would probably sweep most of their categories since the Grammy nominating committee seem to like country music. I was almost right, but then Arcade Fire won album of the year which pretty much no one saw coming.

The next day (well actually, the next day now refers to immediately after something happens thanks to twitter and facebook) people started venting their frustrations because a large chunk of the population has not heard of Arcade Fire, thus generating the sort of meme "Arcade Fire?!?!". Some of the comments that people leave are quite funny, and some are quite sad.

The ones that get me are the ones where people say that they didn't deserve to win because nobody had heard of them. Some people legitimately believe that the Grammys should be a popularity contest. I recognize that an artist's popularity is based to some extent on how "good" their music is (see previous post....) but sometimes people make it just because they're in the right place at the right time. Saying the biggest artist should win is like saying that the most popular person in Canada should be the prime minister. This is a TERRIBLE idea in politics and it's also a terrible idea for music.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bad Music, Bad Art


One of my musical projects got reviewed in the campus newspaper today. It wasn't the nicest review but it wasn't bad either. It made me think about musical criticism again though, and this always gets me thinking about something that bothers me about critics. It's this idea of "bad music" or "bad art". Let me break down for you how I interpret this whole bad music/bad art continuum.

Music has to do with your technical ability as a musician. There's a pretty well defined set of requirements for what constitues music that is "well played" and these are the things that I'm looking for when I want to decide if something is "good music". For example, if a singer sings off key, a drummer is playing at the wrong tempo, or somebody accidentally plays some notes that don't fit the key signature or that they didn't intend to play, I would say that that constitutes bad music. Another way to say this in musical terms might be the performance.

The art part of it has to do with your level of self expression. In music this most often relates to the writing or arrangement of the songs. How much have you created in the song? This gets complicated when your talking about sample-based music but it still applies because some sample artists manipulate the pre-existing sounds to points where they are unrecognizable, while some just keep them mostly in tact and thus make "bad art".

There's a continuum of bad music and bad art though. One does not necessarily go with the other. For example, a cover band who plays a Rush song exactly the same note for note produces some very good music, but some very bad art since there's no creative expression involved. Other times, really good songwriters are lacking in technical skill on the instruments they play, so they play bad music but it can be amazing art. Then every once in a while, you get someone who has great technical skill, and loads of creative potential. These people are the lucky ones who get to put the rest of us to shame.

I just wanted to lay this out because a lot of the time people talk about how people play "bad music" when really they play everything correctly, the person just doesn't particularly like what they're playing. It's important to recognize that everyone has different tastes and that something that is not to our liking is not necessarily bad music, or bad art, we may just not like it. I don't really like Lady Gaga but I would never try and claim that she plays bad music because she's an amazing piano player, and I would never state that she's making bad art because it's obvious that a lot of her creative energy goes into her songs.

So there you go. Next time you catch someone say something is "bad music", take a minute to think if it really is or not.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

How We Listen to Music

I'm trying to listen to more music. It's not for any specific reason, it just feels like a good thing to do. Listening to more music is forcing me to think about they way that I listen to music though.

I was discussing yesterday with my housemate how I feel like my ipod helps to block out things in my environment that tend to get me upset. This seems to affect the kind of music I listen to. I listen to loud upbeat things with very straightforward writing and lots of energy because this is what keeps me happiest when listening to my ipod. It's very rare that I'll sit down and just "listen to music". I'm always doing something else, even if I'm at a concert.

So now that I've recognized this, I'm trying to just enjoy the music more. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Thoughts on Friends

It's amazing how many friends we have. It's also amazing how little we know about each one.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February Sucks

I come to this same realization every year. The only difference is how I choose to combat it. One year I made an album, one year I went on a lot of trips. What will I do this year to avoid how much February sucks? Thoughts?