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Review: Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Holy crap. Really? A day early?! The news is all over the place: Facebook, Twitter … Radiohead had nothing else going on today, so why wait until tomorrow to release their newest masterpiece?

And why indeed! For those of you who have heard “Lotus Flower,” you’ll know the excitement and anticipation this CD holds. One of my favorite songs of theirs is “Everything In Its Right Place.” For some reason, this song kind of has that vibe to it. LOVE LOVE *LOVE* this song.

For those of you who have been living under a musical rock aren’t familiar with Radiohead, a brief history is in order. The band consists of Thom Yorke, who handles the vocals, Jonny Greenwood on guitars and occasional keyboards, Ed O’Brien on guitars, Colin Greenwood providing bass and synth work, and Phil Selway on the drums. King of Limbs is their 8th studio recording, and if it’s anything like their previous works, you’ll want to grab this. Like … now.

Yet you’re still reading this. Why?! Why are you buying this RIGHT NOW?!

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, more and more bands are doing their own marketing and distribution. Radiohead is no exception. They’re jazzing it up for the “newspaper version.” Check out what all is included at the link above. I ponied up the $48 for that one, and I would strongly recommend that you do the same. For one, it comes with a CD, which I can then rip to wav if I want. For another, vinyl. Clear. Making a HUGE comeback. For the audiophile purist, vinyl is the way to go.

However, if you’re not into the ancillary peripherii, the $9 and $14 for mp3 and wav respectably is a great way to go. Either way, you’ll get your digital copy of the new CD immediately. Or, well … as fast as your throttled high-speed internet provider will allow (I’m spitting in your general direction, Comcast.).

So how does the new CD sound? What’s it like?

On one hand, it’s a rich, deep, haunting CD. At the same time, there is a more minimalistic approach than in Radiohead CDs of the past. By “minimalistic,” by no means do I mean that the music is sub-standard. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a pure sound to this that

“Bloom,” the first track, is a eargasmic trip into a soundscape that these little Apple earbuds simply do not do justice. I really need my Bose headphones back … *sigh*. Oh well. With the effect this song has had on me the two times I’ve listened to it, I’d swear that it’s binaural, but I can’t be positive. I do know that it’s extremely mellow and relaxing.

Compared to “Morning Mr. Magpie,” that is, which starts off, “You got some nerve, coming here. You stole it all … give it back.” There’s a very low-level feel of angst and just a hint of pissed-off-edness to keep you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the song to explode … and it never does. It maintains the air of “I’m going to kick your ass … maybe” throughout the entire song.

“Codex” is a fantastic piano piece that will haunt you until the day you die. There’s a warm mix of traditional piano, synth, a very subdued, possibly drum machine bass, and of course, Thom’s crooning. Mid-way through, there’s some synthetic horn sounds that mixes really well with the song. Overall, it’s a really peaceful piece.

You know my MO … I’m not reviewing every song. I will say this: If you’ve liked the last few Radiohead CDs, this one will grow on you really fast. This one is to be enjoyed with a a drink, dim lights, and a good pair of headphones or a fantastic home stereo. If you’re the brandy-sipping type, you might want to pour yourself a glass, sit back in your favorite chair, kick your feet up, and just chill with this. You’ll find yourself hitting repeat and zoning out for hours.

Taking the Plunge and Getting it Started

I think I mentioned this before, but if I haven’t, I will now. The first record I owned as a kid was Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. My mom raised me well–got me hooked on classical early on. Obvioulsy, I’ve broadened my horizons, but classical will always be at the root of my love affair with music.

In 2003, I bought a Yamaha keyboard. It’s a 3/4 size, a respectable sound bank, some semi-useful drum sounds. Nothing I’d need to smoke a cigarette after hearing, if you get my meaning, but they work. So of course, I started tinkering with it, and I had a handful of songs that I had learned how to play from when I lived at home and tinkered with my mom’s piano: Rush’s “Subdivisions;” Queensryche’s “Someone Else;” Van Halen’s “Right Now” and “Jump;” I mean … nothing really complex, right? and certainly nothing that required mixing software or anything.

I have a copy of Adobe Audition. It’s a respectable track-layering piece of software. The keyboard has a USB port. So … I mean … you can kind of see where I’m going with this.

As is also one of my strong affinities with music, I like new age stuff. You know … Yanni, Anael, Kitaro … stuff like that.

Here’s my idea: I think it would be amazing to re-do Bolero using just the keyboard, using various sounds in place of the traditional orchestral instruments.There are soft, lulling bell sounds, faux-wind instrument sounds … there are even a few timpani sounds to start off the track. This could *really* be a lot of fun!!!

This is *just* a whim. I’d love to see this through to fruition, and I’m going to give it a shot, but I’ll be honest; I’m not a musician. I know a little about a lot when it comes to music, but there’s no way I would try to pick up a guitar and create a song, though I can play just about every bass line to every Alice in Chain’s song out there and “Silent Lucidity.” Doesn’t make me a musician; it makes me a tinkerer. And yah–I can pick out tunes and start playing them on the piano/keyboard. Again … not a musician. Ravel was a musician, and he wrote a superb piece of music (IMHO). It would give me a great sense of satisfaction to re-do such a staple from my childhood with what I’ve learned and come to appreciate over the last 30+ years. So … why not give it a shot?! I have the keyboard, I have the desire, and I’ve already picked out the melody. I can *do* this!

Don’t expect progress reports though. ūüėČ

New Foo For You

Just for fun, I typed #music in twitter’s search field on my phone. The first hit that came up was from @hennemusic. What good news is this! Foo Fighters announce new album details? Read the article on his website here. Not sure where he gleaned his info, but it’s pretty detailed.

I knew that something was in the works, but this is more info than I’ve seen anywhere.¬†¬†So this is great news! They’re a phenomenal act to catch live.¬†Here’s hoping¬†a tour comes by your neck of the woods. If not, save¬†up your gas money and hit the¬†road. Nothing like a good drive to a “foreign” city to check out¬†incredible music, right? ¬†

Awesome. April 12. Good day to be a Foo fan!

Maybe There’s Hope …

Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist in one of the most meaningless award ceremonies ever The Grammys last night.

The committee bestowed this honor upon her despite the fact that uber-teen freak-of-the-week Justin Bieber was up for the same award. Thankfully, it seems that the committee had a brief moment of lucidity and awarded the individual who actually has talent. I might not agree with the “new artist” moniker, but whatever–she beat Bieber (“What’s a ‘Biebuh’?!”), and that’s all that matters. I would have been happy if Mumford and Sons or Florence and the Machine¬†had won too, but I’m impressed that they gave the award to someone of her musical background.

This has all the same feel of the 2003 Grammys when Norah Jones stunned the music world by walking off with 5 awards, including Best New Artist. She went up agains Avril Lavigne, John Mayer, and I don’t remember who else, but I can tell you this much–she far and away deserved it. She has infinitely more musical talent than at least those two.

To be clear, I couldn’t care less about the awards as a general rule. The overwhelming feeling to these kinds of award ceremonies is one of favortism and elitism … precisely what I loathe. Like I said, Florence or Mumford would have been fine wins as well, but had that little kid won, I’m afraid that the last flickering candle of hope for the Grammys would have been blown out by the winds of crap. And yes–somewhere in there is a metaphor for passing gas, which is mostly appropriate for that award in the first place. But with Esperanza’s win, who knows where the music acadamy is heading. At least there are signs of life.

Crap. I wrote all that, and now I wonder if there isn’t another point to consider, and I wonder if this one¬†isn’t more accurate.

Esperanza wasn’t the only talent to take home an award last night. Muse took home an award for best rock album. Arcade Fire brought home an award for album of the year. Right there are two amazing bands. And they went up against some established musicians. Muse won against Pearl Jam, Tom Petty, and Neil frickin’ Young. Arcade Fire beat out Eminem, Katy Perry, Lady Antebellum, and Lady Gag. Well, hmm … okay, so Arcade Fire didn’t have a lot of tough competition, but I’m all for giving Eminem his due. Could’ve gone to him, but AF won out. That’s great. Muse, though … good grief. They took on some power houses, and they were victorious.

So … I think back over the last 10-15 years of winners, and wonder what the talent pool was. I mean, in¬†a case like Norah Jones, look at her competition. She rightly won the award–hands down. When talent rises, talent wins.

Maybe it isn’t the music academy that’s having the rough time; maybe it’s just who’s available at the time. As someone posted in a message board, and I paraphrase, “it’s not about popularity; it’s about talent.” And thankfully, this year’s best new artist proved that.

Cat’s In the Cradle

It’s no secret that I didn’t have the best relationship with my dad. The history is long, complicated, and as of September 2006, over. He died of cancer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He left me and my brother behind, along with his wife and my sister. By the time the end rolled around, we had patched things up and mended our bridges … but things were never quite the same as before.

Long before we made our concerted efforts to stay in contact, I had become aware of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” song. I don’t remember what I thought of the song the first time I heard it because I was in high school, and “the bomb” hadn’t dropped at that point. However, I do remember the effects of hearing that song for the first time after the bomb had gone off … and it wasn’t pretty. At all. In fact, it still gives me chills just thinking about it.

If you’re not familiar with the song, I … hmm. I would recommend listening to it, but at the same time, I would *strongly* caution that you brace yourself for an emotional storm that you may not be prepared to weather. They lyrics are potent, and they will over-run you if you are caught unaware. Even Harry Chapin said that this song scares him to death.

I have an incredibly up-and-down love/hate relationship with this song. I hate the fact that it reduces me to a puddle of tears just listening to the opening guitar plucking. I also hate the fact that I’m scared shit-less of failing in my responsibilities as a parent. Do I spend enough time with my kids? Am I “that dad”? I’d like to think that the answer is a resounding “NO.” I try to spend time with them. I love sitting with them and watching them do their insanely crazy little things that they do. I love watching them watch something like a documentary (e.g. Planet Earth, Life, etc) because they totally soak it in. I love being with my kids. I don’t think that I put them off very often, and when I do, it’s because I have something that I’m working on. Most of the time. Yah, sometimes I need some quiet, alone time. Every parent does. My wife especially does cuz she’s with them all day. But for the most part, I work very hard to NOT BE the father in the song.

However, I also love this song for the very reason that it *does* drive me to break the cycle. I want to be a better dad than what I had growing up because of this song. Yet, back to the hate-part of the relationship, I hate feeling like I need a motivation to want to be with my kids. I DON’T need that motivation, yet … I find myself coming back to these lyrics whenever I feel like I’m not spending enough time with them. Do you know what I mean? Cuz if you do, you’re probably two steps ahead of me.

So there it is: the love/hate relationship.

Now … to be fair, I think one of the reasons that I become so emotional over Harry Chapin’s version is because it’s so hauntingly melodic. The music itself is like a dagger piercing the heart with every pained word. The Ugly Kid Joe version of this song doesn’t have the same effect on me. However, I often find myself drawn to their version for a number of reasons. For one, their sound is nearly perfect for it. Grungy, dirty, distorted guitar riffs; heavy, weighted sounds; Whit Crane’s grueling, gutteral, gritty vocals that bring out the agony and pain that the song so vividly portrays … I could listen to that version a lot easier than Mr. Chapin’s comparative crooning.

So why discuss this song? Where is this coming from?

Oddly, it was quote in a church sermon I heard today. Not just a snippet or a stanza …it was the whole song. And as the guy speaking kept quoting, I found myself having a harder and harder time fighting back the tears. By the time he got to the last part of the song, I couldn’t see straight. My eyes were stinging, my body was shaking from trying to hold back the sobs. My 5 year old daughter noticed my distress, and without saying a word, she just crawled up on my lap and whispered, “Don’t worry, daddy. It will be okay!”, at which point I just flat-out lost it. I gave her the biggest hug, and let it all flow out. My poor kids … they have no idea how messed up their daddy is when it comes to actually being a parent. It scares me to death to think that I’m going to screw this up and let them down somehow. I know the effect it can have on a kid, and I cannot have my girls go through that.

If any of you out there have kids, or if any of you are that kid in the song, break the cycle. Be the one to step up and say, “We’re better than this.” You have precisely one life. Nothing can be gained by not mending fences, or at least trying to mend them. Be you the parent or the child … it’s never too late to attempt to fix the past and say that, from this moment forward, the past is just that–the past. Move past the hate and resentment and push through to the forgiveness and love. Just do it.

Ahmed El Shazli: Egyptian Musician

All of the sudden, I am 100% enamored with Egyptian EVERYthing. Culture, cuisine, people, music … it stands to reason that I would at least be interested in their music, but it’s not just that. Their whole idea of rebuilding their country from the inside out with NO outside influence … it is so inspirational and amazing to watch.

I started following closely when the whole idea of overthrowing Mubarak took off. I hoped and prayed like mad that it would end well for them. And in the end, it did. It’s opening doors of communication in and out of the country like never before. For example, Twitter was ALL abuzz with news we didn’t get to hear through the traditional media. I read numerous posts from various Tweeters, like Ahmed. He and I have a had a small but meaningful dialog back and forth about him and the goings-on in Tahrir Square. Through this dialog, he pointed me to his website. He plays the piano and violin, and he composes and arranges music.¬† How amazing is that?!

I would highly encourage everyone to check out his site. On it, he has a player set up that cycles through his compositions. They’re all really amazing work! It sounds like he’s recorded it on his computer with a keyboard of some kind. How he recorded the violin parts is a mystery to me, but I’ll find out. Super impressed that he can do this. What I really like is that there seems to be an ethnic influence in the compositions, which is exactly what I was looking for–classical music compositions with an Egyptian influence.

This is the kind of music I want to “discover.” This, current Egyptian music, Egyptian rock, folk, indie … if they have those genres or an equivalent. This is what I want to find. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Soundtrack for the Day

First off, my hearty congratulations to the citizens of Egypt for their hard-fought take-down of Mubarak. Now we can begin to hope for a peaceful, switft transition to a democracy.

That being said, I think it’s time we start celebrating their victory with some party music! Here’s a list I’ve compiled so far, all appropriate for the day.

  • Muse – “Knights of Cydonia” What party is complete without this high-energy, soul-shaking, anthemic jump-around song?! “No one’s going to take me alive; the time has come to make things right. You and I must fight for our rights. You and I must fight to survive.” And fight they did! RAH!!!
  • Muse – “Uprising” I swearMatthew Bellamy is bringing back the fist-pump with raging style. You can’t NOT thrust your frist in the air while yelling “HEY!” during the bridge. It’s impossible. Hell, even when I’m *driving,* I still eke out a little non-damaging roof punch. “They will not force us. They will stop betraying us! They will not control us! We will be victorious!” HOLY shiver-inducing. MORE RAH!
  • Queensryche – “My Global Mind” I already touched on this yesterday, so I’ll leave it alone, except to say that it packs a huge punch.
  • Metallica – Don’t Tread on Me. As anthemic as it gets. “Love it or live it, she with the deadly bite. Quick is the blue tongue, forked as the lighting strike. Shining with brightness, always on surveillance. The eyes, they never close, emblem of vigilance. Don’t tread on me!”
  • The Bangles – “Walk Like an Egyptian” Come on … you knew this was gonna show up. Right? You had to know that. How can anyone pass up doing that whole arms-cockeyed thing while they strut around? And that whistling. How cool would it be to hear ALL of Tahrir Square whistle that? Eh? Think about that.
  • John Lennon – “Imagine” There has to be at least one lighter-lifting song in the mix. What better song than this? “You may say that I’m a dream, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.”
  • The Beatles – “Blackbird” I love how this has such a “rise above” feel to it. Melodic, simple, but with *such* a powerful message.
  • Pink Floyd – “A Great Day for Freedom” And indeed it is. This song has the emotional punch of an Evander Holyfield shot to gut. Peace is such a noble goal, but how you achieve that peace is as important as the peace itself. And the vast majority of the demonstrators in Egypt pulled that off. How amazing is that!?
  • Not that this is a song, but how about that insane speech from Independence Day? Where President Whitmore takes the mic just before the last aerial attack and says, “… We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today, we celebrate¬†our independence day!!!” Still gives me the chills just thinking about it.

I’m still in shock. I stayed up until 2:30 combing through tweets and news clips, hoping that the blood bath I severely feared wouldn’t happen. Thankfully, it didn’t, and it’s turning into an amazing experience for those who are over there. One twitterer who I’ve been following closely has indicated that there are a LOT of foreigners joining in the celebration. What an experience that would be. I mean, it’s hardly fair to come in at the end and say, “Yay! We did it!”, but in the spirit of joining the Egyptians who finally have their country back (hopefully permanently!), I would gladly join them, pat them on their backs, shake their hands, give them all a hug and say, “YOU did it!”

My next goal is to become more familiar with native Egyptian artists. I bet they have amazing music.

Party on, Egypt.

My Global Mind

In light of the events today in Egypt, I feel that writing a post about something so subjectively ethereal as music just doesn’t seem fitting. There is a revolution taking place in the Middle East unlike any of us have ever seen, or possibly will ever see. Hundreds of thousands have gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to voice their anger and rage over the Mubarek regime, and they are taking action for change.

While part of me is rooting like crazy for them to overthrow this evil despot who has literally pirated his own country (his net assets off-shore are reportedly in the billions, while his countrymen earn the equivalent of between $2-4 a day …), part of me is terrified of the world-wide ramifications. How will this sit with the rest of the Middle East? Will other countries with despicable leaders rise up and attempt the same? Not to mention the fact that no one knows where the Egyptian army stands. Will they stand with the revolutionaries? Or will they obey orders and turn on their own countrymen, if given the order? How is this going to play out long-term?

These are the questions I worry about today. I worry about the lives of people I’ve never met. I wonderabout how this could possibly de-stabilize that area of the world even further. What if the US doesn’t intercede? Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. For as much as the world hates us for Afgahnistan and Iraq, how will it be viewed if we don’t help Egypt? We’ve kind of shot ourselves in the foot in that respect.

Dear readers, we’re on the cusp of something large–something scary … something new. I hope and pray that this ends well for the citizens of Egypt and really for all of us. Truthfully, I’m less worried about what will happen to Mubarek and his vice president. I’m extremely worried about the possibility of the Tahrir demonstrators storming the presidential palace and attempting a coup, as has already been tweeted about by those I’m following from over there. Their tweets and re-tweets are enough to show that there is already a mob mentality that’s way past brewing; they’re formulating plans.

I hope like hell this ends well. My heart wants it so badly for them. My gut and my brain are singing a different song, and it’s not a pretty tune. God help them if they storm the palace.¬† I don’t know if anyone else will …

More Upcoming Music for 2011

I was really just looking for music coming out this week. Instead, I got a pretty large list of things coming out for this year. Check out this link. Isn’t that sweet?! It may or may not be comprehensive. I’m betting it’s not, but it’s a healthy-sized list regardless.

Of interest to me are:

  • Motorhead (actually came out yesterday)
  • Bright Eyes
  • The Dears
  • Mogwai
  • Sonic Youth
  • Dropkick Murphys
  • R.E.M.
  • Green day
  • Soundgarden (*really* stoked for this one!)
  • Mountain Goats
  • The Kills
  • Vivian Girls
  • Lady Gaga*

I’m sure I’ll become excited for more of those bands as I start researching them and seeing what they have to offer, but for now, my list from now until the end of April is looking pretty healthy. Not to mention the unscheduled-yet-semi-confirmed list!

Two interesting CDs from the no-date-confirmed list are from The Cars and Human Leauge. I thought that Human League had all but fallen off the face of the earth. Not too far from it … they’ve only released 3 CDs since 1986’s Crash gave us the hit “Human.” The Cars, on the other hand … they haven’t released a studio CD since 1987, if I remember right. The notable absence on this new release will be Benjamin Orr, who passed away in 2000 from cancer. I’m curious to hear how this new CD sounds without him.

Anyway, happy perusing. I hope your favorite band is on the list!

*yes, crystal … that was my little joke to you. ūüėČ

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