June 6, 2014

Collecting vinyl and moving overseas

So over the last few months my wife and I have been preparing to move overseas. This is a difficult task on many levels, but for the purpose of this blog, I will focus on one aspect of it: my music collection. The cassette tapes and CD's are easy, I am just putting them in boxes and in storage. They aren't worth that much to begin with, and they will be fine in storage, as I rarely listen to them anyway. 99% of the music contained on them exist as MP3's in my iTunes library. But I am too obsessed with artwork and packaging to let them go permanently.

The difficult part about the move is my vinyl collection. Number one, I am attached to it, and I am adding to it all the time. Secondly, it is worth a lot. Vinyl, unlike other formats of physical music, either holds its value or appreciates over time. I actually have my collection insured.

But for the purposes of moving, the problems with vinyl records are that they are super heavy, fragile, and sensitive to temperature changes. All that said, I cannot take my collection of nearly 400 records across the Atlantic ocean. So for the most part, they are staying here. Today I completed the move of the majority of my collection, the shelf they are stored on, and my stereo from my home to a friend's place, who has agreed to care for them/listen to them for 5 years. (What a deal, right!?)

So a couple weeks ago I bought a vintage LP case from the 1960's (?) to store some records to take with me. It is made of metal has a handle and a latch, and will be one of my carry-on's when I fly. I wasn't sure how many records it would hold, but below is what will fit (14 albums, which is 23 total records).

Narrowing down my collection from 400 to 14 was clearly challenging, but the final selections were made based on a combination of the music itself (mostly all-time favorites), the artwork, the color of the vinyl, and the rarity (and value) of release.





May 18, 2014

(Don't be) Afraid of change

Every May I make a mix for the graduating class of the school I work at. Some years the mix has been a specific theme, but the past few years I just stuck to the concept of only using songs from the year of graduation of the seniors and the year of their birth (an 18-year difference). That allowed me to choose songs from my teenage years that were important to me, and new songs that I liked. The results from doing that the last couple of years had been fun, but this year I felt like I needed to create something more meaningful.

In January the song "Terrified" by Rainer Maria came up while listening to my iPod on random. I knew immediately I had to put that song on the mix for this year, and used the theme of "fear". I had no problem finding 20+ songs with the lyrical theme of fear, or not being afraid. But musically, I just couldn't get the songs to work together. ("I'm Not Afraid" by Fleming & John, while being one of my favorite songs of all time, did not work at all.)

Coming back from the boys' state track meet two weeks ago, my assistant coach and good friend put on the album The Five Ghosts by Stars. It is a favorite album of ours, as we first listened to it on a trip to Appalachian State cross country camp four years ago. We have listened to it frequently on track and cross country trips. When the song "Changes" came up, it was emotional for me, as I realized that I had a lot of changes in store personally. It was my final trip with the team and school I have been at for nine years, and am now leaving.

Sausenburg Castle, Kandern, Germany
At that point a second concept of "change" began to develop for the theme of the mix I was creating, which was now really more for me than it was for the seniors (but obviously still applicable). Originally I started gathering songs strictly about change, but soon realized combining the two ideas resulted in the exact idea I was trying to communicate, and the emotions I was feeling. When I write "(Don't be) afraid of change", I am mostly talking to myself, but also to my friends and the graduating class.

The mix is one of the most mellow and sad I have ever created, but is perfect for this time of transition. Change is hard, but exciting and necessary.

1. Rainer Maria- "Terrified" (from the album Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, 2006)
As I mentioned above, this is the song that inspired the original concept for the mix.
Lyric excerpt:
"You could be waiting all your life.
And it's so wrong to wait.
But you're so terrified, so terrified.
So am I.
You're so terrified, so terrified.
So am I."

2. Bob Dylan- "The Times They Are a-Changin'" (from the album The Times They Are A-Changin', 1964)
I had a problem for a long time when making mixes that most all the songs were from the same time period, typically the most recent 5 years. 99% of the music I listen to was released 1990 or later, and over the past couple of years I have been very intentional about expanding my listening further into the past. This song is also used in the movie Watchmen and is placed perfectly.

Lyric excerpt:
"Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'."

3. Waterdeep- "I'm Afraid I'm Not Supposed To Be Like This" (from the album Sink Or Swim, 1997)

Lyric excerpt:
"Well He's been promising me something more than pain
Where the cost is grace and my loss is gain
And I have chosen because there is no other way
I either wallow in shame
Or humble myself and be saved"

4. Stars- "Changes" (from the album The Five Ghosts, 2010)
Part two of the inspiration for this mix.

Lyric excerpt:
"This time in between the day and the night
the light kills my sense of life
so scared, turn it off, turn it off

It's dull, this dusk, this desk, this dust
My eyes adjust
I'll blow out the flame
Can you and me remain?

Changes, never been good with change
I hate it when it all stays the same
caught between the gold and the game
Changes, never been good with change
I hate it when it all stays the same
caught between the cold and the waves
My heart beats up, again"

5. R.E.M.- "Walk Unafraid" (from the album Up, 1998)
Up is my favorite R.E.M. album, which is a rare choice because the album is largely unknown. And this is my favorite song from the album, both lyrically and musically.

Lyric excerpt:
"As the sun comes up, as the moon goes down
These heavy notions creep around
It makes me think, long ago
I was brought into this life a little lamb
A little lamb
Courageous, stumbling
Fearless was my middle name.
But somewhere there I lost my way
Everyone walks the same
Expecting me to step
The narrow path they've laid
They claim to
Walk unafraid
I'll be clumsy instead
Hold my love or leave me high."

6. The Casket Girls- "The Chase" (from the album True Love Kills the Fairy Tale, 2014)
In 2013 I subscribed to Graveface Records record club, which is a deal where one gets everything the label releases in a calendar year. The Appleseed Cast's vinyl releases first attracted me to the label a few years ago. Then I met the owner Ryan at his shop in Savannah, and when he signed Haley Bonar, my interest in the label grew enough for me to commit to the record club.

One of the releases I got early on was the Casket Girls debut album Sleepwalking. The album didn't really grab me, but I loved the vinyl artwork and the story behind the formation of the band (Ryan Graveface plus sisters he met on the streets of Savannah). As my record club subscription came to a close (and I didn't renew, because of my upcoming move to Germany), I waited a few months to pick my final release. The second Casket Girls album is what I chose, mainly because I knew the vinyl itself would look amazing(I was correct, see photo).
What surprised me though was how catchy the songs were. The noisy background and female vocals were similar to the debut album, but everything was so much tighter and the harmonies were great. And the lyrics really jumped out at me this time around.

Musically, this is no where near my favorite song on the album, but lyrically it is very meaningful to me (both in the context of this mix, and as a running coach).

Lyric excerpt:
"It's not the quarry but the chase, not the trophy but the race
There is no prize, there is no finish line
There's only forgiveness"

7. The Postal Service- "Suddenly Everything Has Changed" (from the The District Sleeps Alone Tonight  EP, 2003).
This is a Flaming Lips song, and I considered using the original version, but I had just listened to a lot of Postal Service on the way back from the girls' state track meet three weeks ago. And this Postal Service version is a little more chill, a little less weird, and fit better here.

Lyric excerpt:
"Driving home, the sky accelerates
And the clouds all form a geometric shape
And it goes fast
You think of the past
Suddenly everything has changed"

8. Arcade Fire- "We Used to Wait" (from the album The Suburbs, 2010)
If you have never "watched" the interactive video for this song, stop everything you are doing and try it now. One of the coolest things I have ever seen on the web: The Wilderness Downtown

Lyric excerpt:
"I'm gonna write
A letter to my true love
I'm gonna sign my name

Like a patient on a table
I wanna walk again
Gonna move through the pain

Now our lives are changing fast
Now our lives are changing fast
Hope that something pure can last
Hope that something pure can last

We used to wait
We used to wait
We used to wait
Sometimes it never came
We used to wait
Sometimes it never came
We used to wait
I'm still moving through the pain
We used to wait
We used to wait
We used to wait"

9. Jimmy Eat World- "For Me This Is Heaven" (from the album Clarity, 1999)
This is my favorite song from one of my top 5 albums of all time. In fact, I am so obsessed with and familiar with this song, it almost didn't work here, at least for me. But it communicates exactly what I needed to express and feel.

Full lyrics:
"The first star I see may not be a star
We can't do a thing but wait
So let's wait for one more

And the time, such clumsy time
In deciding if it's time
I'm careful but not sure how it goes
You can lose yourself in your courage

When the time we have now ends
When the big hand goes round again
Can you still feel the butterflies?
Can you still hear the last goodnight?

And the mindless comfort grows 
When I'm alone with my 'great' plans
And this is what she says gets her through it
"If I don't let myself be happy now, then when?
If not now, when?"

The time we have now ends
And when the big hand goes round again
Can you still feel the butterflies?
Can you still hear the last goodnight?

I close my eyes and believe 
Wherever you are, an angel for me

When the time we have now ends
And when the big hand goes round again
Can you still feel the butterflies?
Can you still hear the last goodnight?"

10. Pearl Jam- Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town (from the album Vs., 1993)
2014 was the year I truly discovered Pearl Jam. I listened to and loved Ten when it was released, but I never bought it until a couple years ago. And it wasn't until this year that I bought any other Pearl Jam album, and I bought them all (as used CDs, and got the entire discography for less than $30). I am still exploring the depth of each album. This song (with a weird and long title) I was of course familiar with in the Nineties. But I had never payed attention to the lyrics until this year.

Lyric excerpt:
"Lifetimes are catching up with me
all these changes taking place, i wish i'd seen the place
but no one's ever taken me
hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away..."

11. K's Choice- "When I Lay Beside You" (from the album Echo Mountain, 2011)
This is really the only song on the mix that lyrically is a little off the theme. But musically I thought it was perfect, and actually reminds me a lot of the Rainer Maria song at the beginning. As I listen to the song I am thankful I get to share this time of change with my loving wife.

Lyric excerpt:
"I am everything I want to be
With your loving face in front of me
With your eyes that hum the perfect song
To go on long after I am gone

When I lay beside you
When I lay beside you"

12. Elliott Smith- "Better Be Quiet Now" (from the album Figure 8, 2000)
My assistant coach is obsessed with Elliott Smith (to say the least!) I have always liked him, but never really listened to him all that much. The only album I have owned for a long time is XO, which is awesome but quite depressing.

For me, Elliott Smith and "depressing" have always been synonymous, especially since he committed suicide--well at least I thought I did! I was not familiar with the events surrounding his death as it happened when I lived in Zambia. And in October 2003 I am pretty sure I was camping the the bush. Anyway, my assistant coach has convinced me his girlfriend murdered him, which seems far more plausible after reading all the facts.

I bought Figure 8 just a couple weeks ago, and was thrilled to listen to some "happy" Elliott Smith. I picked this song strictly based on the lyrics, as I still don't know it that well.

Lyric excerpt:
"But I better be quiet now
I'm tired of wasting my breath
Carrying on, not over it yet
Wish I knew what you were doing
And why you want to do it this way
So I can't go the distance
I got a long way to go
I'm getting further away
I got a long way to go
I'm getting further away"

13. Coldplay- "We Never Change" (from the album Parachutes, 2000)
It's amazing how my feelings about Coldplay have changed. When I first heard "Yellow" 14 years ago, I thought "blah". But now I have a ton of respect for the band, and my wife and I both adore their debut Parachutes.

Lyric excerpt:
"And I live my life, and have friends around.
We never change do we? No, no,
We never learned to leave.
So I wanna live in a wooden house,
Making more friends would be easy.
Oh and I don't have a show to say,
Yes, and I sin every single day,
We never change, do we?"

14. Fleetwood Mac- Landslide (from the album Fleetwood Mac, 1975)
I hate to admit it, but I heard the Smashing Pumpkins cover of this song before I heard the original. About the same time, the first girl I dated put the original on a mix for me. I have always thought the song was sad, and it was meaningful as I left my hometown to move to college in 1995. Crazy that it is almost 40 years old.

Lyric excerpt:
"Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too"

15. Bright Eyes- Nothing Gets Crossed Out from the album (Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground, 2002)
During our team trips my assistant coach will often take my iPod and select random songs to play. This is fun for many reasons, but when one has 16,000 songs to choose from, there are many songs I have not listened to in many years (if ever). She played the song "You Will. You?..." off this Bright Eyes album, and I while I am sure I had heard it at some point, this was the first time I had truly paid attention.

I have mixed feelings about Conor Oberst. He is a musical genius, but I often cannot identify to his songs. The album Lifted... I purchased a couple years ago because I became obsessed with The People's Key, and was looking for the next best Bright Eyes album. I still haven't properly digested Lifted..., but I have listened to it more the last couple weeks and this song fit the theme of this mix.

Lyric excerpt:
"Now I'm tryin' to be assertive.
I'm making plans.
Wanna rise to the occasion, yeah
meet all of their demands.
But all I do is just lay in bed
and hide under the covers.
I know I should be brave
but I'm just too afraid of all this change.
And it's too hard to focus through all this doubt.
I keep making these 'To Do' lists but nothing gets crossed out."

16. Sleeping At Last- Earth (from the album Atlas: Space 1, 2013)
Sleeping at Last is so prolific that it is hard for me to focus on any one album  (or EP) of theirs (really "his"). But the Space EP's are terrific, and rival the best songs he has ever written.

Lyric excerpt:
"there was an earthquake.
there was an avalanche of change.
we were so afraid,
we cried ourselves a hurricane.
there were floods,
tidal waves over us,
so we folded our hands and prayed.
like a domino,
these wildfires grow and grow
until a brand new world takes shape."

17. Jeremy Enigk- "How It Feels to Be Something On" (from an AOL Music - The Interface session in 2006)
Originally a Sunny Day Real Estate Song, I have always loved this acoustic solo version. I have been listening to a ton of Sunny Day recently, as they just released their first song in 14 years. I don't listen to Enigk's solo stuff enough, but we went through lots of random Enigk songs during the boys' state meet trip, including the Fire Theft's "Heaven" and mewithoutYou's "O'Porcupine".

Lyric excerpt:
"Don't tell me, God
The dreams I've had
To fill it up but spill instead
Talk to remind
Days, weeks and hours

All in time will be, later on we'll try
All we gave to fly
Hollow peaks we've climbed
All these things I've been
How it feels to be something on"

18. Manchester Orchestra- "Colly Strings" (from the album I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child, 2006)
This song is pretty hard to understand even after listening to it over and over again for years and reading interviews on what it is about. I picked it because I needed a song that lyrically continued the themes here, but musically ended in an uplifting way (after half a dozen sad songs in a row).
Lyric excerpt:
"'Cause like dying young, idols got the best of me,
Well don't stop calling, you're the reason I love losing sleep,
And the building collapse, we'll shop one for something

I'll stick it at our skin, pierced for something

Besides, don't release me until it's over
And besides, you can't believe without bleeding"

April 24, 2014

MINERAL Reunites

As I posted on Facebook earlier, WOW. Mineral getting back together, even if it is only to play shows, is one of the most amazing and unlikely reunions I could have imagined. Their short existence was so tumultuous and volatile, I just never saw it coming. 17 years later!

Brooklyn Vegan
Pitchfork
NPR
AV Club



Here is my 2009 interview with lead singer Chris Simpson.

April 16, 2014

Roy Ira plays Mogwai

A few nights ago in Nashville a bunch of local bands played 3-song sets, all covers. Roy Ira picked Mogwai, and performed great versions of "Hunted By a Freak, "Waltz for Aidan", and "Friend of the Night". Here is the first and best of the three (you can also watch the other two on YouTube):

 
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