Where the hell is my plasma TV?

So we have a payola scandal. I wonder if anyone really cares at all. I don't think that anyone was under the impression that talent was guiding radio selection. In this article from the Los Angeles Times, Robert Hilburn points out that marketing and focus groups drive radio selection and there is no reason to believe that Ted Leo, or the New Pornographers will be on DC101 anytime soon. I tend to agree with Mr. Hilburn. The only thing that I found surprising about this scandal is that major record labels still engaged in payola

Let us take this quote from an article in the Economist:

“Yet a band called Audioslave, which makes more “challenging” music, also benefited. 'I've paid payola,' admits one music executive. 'I couldn't get through to the key radio stations, my band made difficult music and now they're a household name.'”

This is a world where Audioslave is considered “difficult music.” Where does that leave bands like TV on the Radio or The Unicorns? And behold the power of payola, it can take a Superunknown like Chris Cornell and make him a household name, wow. By the way, let me apologize for that last sentence, but it was too easy.

Record labels are companies and not people. I am sure that if their research showed that they could make a lot of money selling the new Architecture in Helsinki album, then they would. While I am sure there are bands that would refuse to sign to a major label as a matter of principle, but not as many as one would think. Also, if the audience was out there demanding to hear the new Sigur Ros single, then Clear Channel would play it. It seems obvious to say, but companies like money and not music. When they release an album by Jason Mraz they are not saying that it is good, they are saying that it will sell.

I am not saying that everything on a major label is bad, just that aesthetic quality doesn't factor into the equation. I don't know if Clear Channel or Sony could just decide to make Clap Your Hands Say Yeah a platinum seller. It is possible that they create taste as much as react to it. I similarly don't know why a the market for indie rock is smaller than the market for Jessica Simpson, but it seems clear that it is. I also appreciate how arrogant this post is.

The other way to read this post is: Charles is angry that this blog's influence isn't large enough that people want to pay him off. And I am for sale by the way. Sony? Capitol? Come on guys, I have no shame or a job.


Does the world hate me?

The Hour Hand

This weeks song is “The Hour Hand” by my old band Roosevelt Roosevelt. I have mentioned my old band a few times so I decided to put up one of our songs. This song is off of our last album A Wish to be Blind. It was recorded at Inner Ear Studio and mastered by Chad Clark as Silver Sonya Studios.

The main reason that I chose this song is because I think it contains the best lyrics that I have written. We wrote this album in college, and I was in class that studied Nietzsche. At the time I was fascinated by his writings, and the Eternal Recurrence in particular. Briefly, the Eternal Recurrence is the idea that nothing ever changes and thus life is meaningless. I tried to use the image of a clock to express this, the hour hand returns to the same place every hour and nothing new ever happens. So yeah, we were that obnoxious. It is little wonder that we didn't have scores of groupies. I mean what are you gonna say, “Hey baby, want to come home with me and read The Gay Science?”

I also like this song because of the guitar solo. We originally recorded a different bridge/guitar solo. But after listening to it numerous times, which is what you do in a studio, we decided that it was too anthem rock. It evoked images of lighters in the air and me with my foot on the monitor, and we were already uncomfortable with Creed comparisons. So Aaron wrote the piano part that we recorded. This meant that I had to change my guitar solo. I decided to do a slide guitar thing, but unfortunately didn't have a slide so I used a beer bottle instead. The actual solo is fine, not my best. I just like that I used a beer bottle.

Some might point out that I have railed against drum solos, so it is slightly hypocritical to talk about my guitar solo. Well it is, but guitarist have their own issues to deal with also, particularly guitarist who don't sing, so back off. And no one likes drum solos.


Don't let that Dangermouse guy hog all of the glory.

I don't know if anyone else has seen this, but if you go here you can download and remix the new Nine Inch Nails single “Only.” Trent Reznor has made the song available in different formats, including Garageband for you mac users and Acid with the song optimized for the free version of Acid.

Let me encourage you to download one of the versions and take a look. I will admit that I am not the biggest fan in the world of NIN, but just seeing the different parts and being able to listen to each part by itself is fascinating. Trent Reznor has always used the studio as instrument to itself, and with these tracks you can get a sense of how he thinks and works.

So I am going to give remixing a try. Now all I need is a good DJ name.


Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old

So as Tommy and I were driving last night we heard “Come as You Are” on a classic rock radio station. I don't know about you, but it seems a little early for Nirvana to be considered classic rock, although it does help confirm my thesis that Nevermind was the last great album in a classic rock style.


This weeks download is Caprice, Opus 59, part 3, no. 16, by Matteo Carcassi. This is a solo guitar piece in D harmonic minor. Again, you can tell that it is in harmonic minor because the V chord, A, in the third measure is major instead of minor. A lot of classical pieces are in harmonic, rather than natural, minor. I think that this piece points to one of the reasons why the harmonic scale is the preferred scale.

The major scale and the natural scale are essentially the same scale. Here is F major:

Here is D Minor:

As you can see the notes are identical, D minor just starts on the 6th note of the F major scale. That is why D is the relative minor of F. Now here is D Harmonic Minor:

As you can see the C# sets D harmonic minor apart from F major. This note creates an important difference. In any key, the one, I, and the five, V, chords are the strong chords in the key. A perfect cadence, which pretty much tells the ear this is what key a piece is in, is V to I in root position. In F major the I chord is F major and the V chord is C major. So if you are in D natural minor and happen to use a C to F progression at any point, it is going to strongly imply a major key. This actually occurs in measure 6 of this piece. The song spends two measures in F, the relative major, and you know this because measure 6 starts with a C major chord and then moves to F major.

In harmonic minor, the V chord in the relative major becomes diminished. A diminished chord has a very unsettling feel, it is an unstable chord that just begs to be resolved. That resolution is frequently to the chord above it, which in this case is up to D minor. What was a strong chord in major now strongly reinforces minor. When a song is in harmonic minor it is absolutely in minor, where sometimes natural minor and major can be confused. There is just more clarity in the piece by using the harmonic minor scale. This isn't to say that a piece can't be decidedly minor in natural minor, it is just that the ways you do it are more limiting.

I am sorry if this is boring and overly technical, but you made it this far so it can't have been that bad. To those who are not reading this, you are all big jerks. I have been on a more classical bent recently. I just find the music is more deliberate and thus easier to learn from. I get more ideas for composition and technique from classical music than anything else. I promise something rocking and fun next week.


Oh Fish Lady

I have been listening to a fair amount of Bruce Springsteen lately. I was raised on Bruce Springsteen, The River came out a few months after I was born and my mother would put it on and dance with me. I remember my parents telling me after they got back from the “Tunnel of Love” tour that I could see Bruce the next time he came to Washington. Unfortunately he broke up the band and came out with the regrettable “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town” albums and I didn't get to see him until a few years ago. I really hate those albums, in fact I refuse to link to them.

But to those who doubt the brilliance of this man I point you “New York City Serenade” from The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. There is a part in the middle where he sings,

“Fish Lady, Oh Fish Lady”
with such desire and yearning that he makes a woman, who can't smell to good, beautiful.

Shiny, shiny pants and bleached-blond hair

So I saw Q and not U at Fort Reno last night. I am not going to offer a review because I like the band too much and it would basically be “they are awesome” or “I am going to miss them when they are gone.”

But something came up that I have been meaning to write about. I was standing with someone who hadn't seen them before, and she asked “There are only two of them?” I responded by pointing out the drummer who was hidden behind a speaker and his drum set. It is this very question that gives drummers their complex.

All musicians are head cases to a certain degree, rock musicians especially. I have mentioned it before, but you have to think a lot of yourself to get on a stage and perform well. Now you can certainly go to far, see Fleetwood Mac, but I think arrogance is a necessary condition to a good band.

Drummers have this arrogance, but the added problem of having no one pay attention to them. A singer gets to stand in front, lead the band, and get all the attention. A drummer sits behind a lot of hardware, usually in the back of the stage. No one every pays attention to the drummer, and the drummer knows it.

I had a drummer in my band who use to wear a black shirt with the word “Drummer” on it when we played. He certainly meant it as a joke about the drummer complex, but only kind of. He really wanted people to know that he actually played in the band when we got off stage.

I also played with another drummer who insisted on singing back up vocals. This is a terrible thing to admit, and I don't know if he reads this site but if he does I am sincerely sorry, but we use to tell sound guys just to put his mike into his monitor and not into the house speaker. There are drummers who can sing, but they are usually not very good drummers, see Don Henley. This guy was actually a very good drummer, so you can imagine the quality of his vocals. I know, I am an awful person. Once I even rerecorded our bassists parts after he had left the studio and never told him. If you are reading, sorry about that also. In many ways it is a wonder my band lasted as long as it did with me in it.

It is this complex that explains drum solos. Drum solos add nothing to a song. Try to name any songs that had recorded drum solos that were not call “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, as a side challenge, name the last time you actually listened to all of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Drum solos are a live phenomenon so that the drummer can get some applause and feel like people are paying attention to him. So this is my plea to you, the next time you are at a concert say “good set” to the drummer, or “I like your music,” anything. Don't just go talk to the singer or guitarist. If enough of us do this we might be able to defeat the drummer complex and then I might never have to listen to a drum solo again. That is my dream.


For Those Interested

This is almost exactly what I look like. Created at Hero Machine 2.

As a side note, I really need to find a job.

All Apologies to Mr. Zimmerman

I have been thinking about lyrics, specifically why I write such terrible lyrics. I realized that I think the problem is that I don't really listen to lyrics. Now, there are lots of songs that I can, well I will use the word sing for lack of a better term. The thing is that a voice is just an instrument as far as I am concerned. So when I listen to the vocal line of a song, all that I hear are tone, pitch, and sound, and the words are the sound. So while I can “sing” a lot of songs, I have no idea what any of them are about. For example, while I love the sound of the lines,

“The ghost of 'lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these Visions of Johanna have now taken my place”

I have never really spent anytime searching for the meaning behind them.


Don't Let the Hymns Fool You

I am listening to Tom Waits, and just heard the song Mr. Siegal. It has to have one of the greatest opening lines in history:

"I spent all my money in Mexican whorehouse baby,
Across the street from a Catholic Church.
And then I wiped off my revolver
And I buttoned up my burgundy shirt."

It is probably a bad thing that this line makes me smile every time I hear it.

In an administrative note...

I am going to remove the links to past Friday downloads, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, My Funny Valentine, Fandango, and Toe the Line, on Monday. If you want those songs after that, just leave a comment here and it will put up the link. I am just trying to conserve bandwidth at O Street Studio.

: I made the changes that Tommy mentioned in the comments, and everything seems to be working. The links to the songs will stay up, but let me know if you have any problems downloading anything.

Drifting Apart

This week's song is Drifting Apart. This is a song that Aaron and I recorded in about 3 hours in my basement last year. Like most of our experiments, I don't really remember anything about this song. Like a lot of our recordings last year, we just wrote parts as we needed them, and can't play them now. Also, don't pay any attention to the lyrics, Aaron just made them up as he went along to get the melody down. Though I am amazed at his ability to just spout off meaningless crap that sounds like it should make sense.

I have been sort of aimless since my band broke up about 2 years ago. While I have been practicing more, and I am a considerably better musician since the band, I haven't played seriously in a while. I am sure that my posters appreciate my improvement, but they don't want to give me the accolades that I need. Also, Paul Simonon remains poised to destroy his bass, and I was really hoping my playing could make him change his mind.

This song is an example of my music career for the last 2 years. Experimenting and practicing so that I will learn more for when I start playing music seriously again. Don't get me wrong, I think it is a pretty good song and there are some interesting things in it, but it could be better. I think the fact that I can't play the song speaks volumes.

Well, I have a new project in mind now. I will post more details as they become clear. My sister describes me as a music snob, and I think that it is time to prove her right... although I can't imagine there was much debate.


I Feel Like I'm Taking Crazy Pills

I have mentioned ringtones before, but they just won't leave me alone. Here is an article in the New York Times (subscription required). Apparently, people are composing music specifically for ringtones and there are people who consider themselves ringtone DJ's? Really? This is the best part:

“In Britain, the heavily advertised Crazy Frog ringtone - based on a Swedish teenager's imitation of a revving engine - topped artists like Coldplay and U2 on the singles charts just last month. And the remix is already out.”

I see this as a continuation of a trend started with TRL. They use show only about a minute of any song on their countdown Now we have distilled every song to the 10-20 seconds that it takes to answer the telephone. All you have to do know is come up with like four bars of something catchy to have a hit. This is a world where the jingle writer is king, and that terrifies me.

I must confess that I hate telephones, and cellphones in particular. Maybe my bias is making me miss something totally awesome about ringtones, so I implore you to explain this phenomenon to me. I know that Timberland creates these monstrosities to get paid, but why are people buying them?

To make matters worse, there are people who have perform something called Dialtones (A Telesymphony)*. They way it works is that people register their cellphone numbers, then get free ringtones. The “musician” then dials the numbers to create a “symphony” that sounds like electronica without the heavy bass drum that induces dancing and thus justifies the existence of the whole genre. Do we really want to make it artistic to irritate your neighbor? You really have to go over the link and download tele2330.mp3 where they use a phone on vibrate. Now you hear of people who call their phone just to have it vibrate, but not for reasons having to do with a symphony. They also have the audacity to sell cd's; 26 minutes of dozens of people refusing to answer their damn phones, sounds great. Enough, my head is going to explode.

*By the way, my spell check refuses to accept that telesymphony is a word, and I have to say that I agree with it.

I Must Have Been Trippin'

The Flaming Lips are offering 8 free live songs for download here. Apparently they are suppose to accompany a documentary about the band that is coming out.

I have a weird relationship with the Lips. I love Yoshimi and the Soft Bulletin, but I will go months without listening to either. Then I will hear one song and immerse myself in the Lips music for like a week. At some point I start to think that the Wayne Coyne is trying to slowly driving my insane and I have to stop listening to the band all together.



For about the last 3 months I have attempted an almost herculean task of listening to every song on my 40 gig Ipod. I created a smart play list that culled all of the of unplayed songs from my list and played them randomly. When I started, I had about 4,000 unplayed songs out of about 6,600. Well I have finally completed this task and the last song is “You are the Everything” by REM off of Green.

I will admit that I am a bit relieved. Once I realized that I was coming to the end of this task I decided that I was going to post the name of the final song. After deciding this, I became worried that the final song might be “Pop” by N Sync, or something similar. Now, I did place that song on my Ipod, and I guess I should stand by it, but Tickle identified my as “ Cool Indie Songster” like Jason Mraz. Here is their description of me:

“Have you got the remedy? It seems like you do. And like your music match, Jason Mraz, you've got a calm and collected way about you that usually makes people think of you as mature. It doesn't hurt that you're also a smarty.

Following along to someone else's song and dance? Not you. You're no copycat. You bring your own unique style to whatever you do whether it's your look, hobbies, interests, or outlook on life. Wherever you go, you prove that being yourself is the hottest thing around. And that's sure to be a hit with any crowd.”

If the final song had been by N Sync, or god forbid, a country song, then Tickle's whole scientific method would have to be called into question.


Wonderful People

It was pointed out in the comments, but deserves further mention. Q and not U are breaking up, you can read the announcement here. They are one of my favorite bands. I have seen them numerous times and been impressed with each performance. In the grand Dischord tradition, we can expect them to be in another band soon.

With Q and not U gone, one has to wonder about the fate of DC's record label. With Fugazi either defunct or in infinite hiatus, Q and not U was definitely the flagship band for the label. It will be the first time in a while that the label has not had a band that draws national attention. Some people feel that Dischord is an albatross on the neck of DC Music. While I love the label, I am not insensitive to this argument; the specter of MacKaye does loom large in this city.

I do know that Q and not U will be missed. If you didn't have a reason to go see them at Fort Reno before, you do now.

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

This weeks download is “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” by Charles Wesley and Lyra Davidica. Charles Wesley is one of the great Methodist hymns writers, and I coincidently happen to share his name. As a kid, I would see my name at the bottom of some hymns, and I quickly decided that these were the best hymns ever written. The music is from the Lyra Davidica. I have not been able to find much information about the Lyra, other than that it was a hymnal that appeared in England in 1708, and no one knows who wrote the music.

For a man that goes to church a lot, I don't consider myself a particularly religious man. I probably got only two things out of all my church'n. First, I have a good shot at knowing the answer to questions at a pub quiz that start “In the Bible...” The other thing is a love of old hymns.

I recently drove my grandmother to Baltimore, and we spent most of the car ride singing these old hymns. My biggest problem with contemporary worship is that it loses this connection to past generations. Kids who only go to contemporary worship won't know these songs, and and what are they going to sing with their grandparents? Every Move I Make? I doubt it.

But as Kayne says, “I am not here to convert atheists to believers.” I present this song as just a well written piece of music, which unfortunately casts my namesake aside. When I recorded it I tried to go for that Southern Baptist feel. Upon hearing it last night, Kriston felt that the bass was too high and the song came perilously close to rock and or roll, I leave that up to you to decide. One interesting thing I learned while recording this was that a single clap doesn't sound believable. I had to record my self clapping four times to get the right sound. Also, I can't actually play that piano part, a lot of studio magic went into getting that down.



Alright, so I came across this band named bond (intentionally lowercase). It is comprised of four very attractive women playing classical music with electronic beats underneath. They have been described as “the Spice Girls of classical music.” I can't determine if that quote comes from their detractors or supporters.

But here is the problem, I have been sitting here desperately trying to think of something clever, or snarky, to write about them, but these girls can play. They have received degrees and honors from real universities. In fact, they are clearly more qualified to discuss music than I am, so where does that leave me?

Then while hunting around their website and find this picture, (note I have tried to upload this picture, but blogger just doesn't want to let me right now. I will put it in later if I can, but I am sure you can find any number of pictures to get an idea of what I am talking about) or watch the video on their website (which you should check out because it features the group playing music on pirate radio so that people can dance. the local army then decides that they need to go out and quash this bit of rebellion.) and I want to be obnoxious again. I am at a loss.

I don't know why it is easier to accept music from ugly people, but it is. If it were possible, I would have used my looks to further my career. Also, I hear combination of classical and electronic music and I similarly want to dismiss it. This isn't to say that I am going to go out and buy all of their albums, but I think their music deserves to be discussed on its own merits. I guess this post is a way of announcing to the world that I am a big sexist snobbish jerk.


My Funny Valentine

This weeks download is My Funny Valentine by Rodgers and Hart. It is one of my favorite jazz songs. This version is arranged for a solo guitar by my old guitar teacher Eric Waters.

My playing style is the result of spending most of my musical career outside of a band. I would spend most of my time in my room playing for myself. The result was that I gravitated towards classical guitar. I love The Clash, but playing Clampdown by yourself is not as satisfying as one would think it would be. So I started playing classical pieces because they sounded good when I played them alone. The solitary nature of my playing led me to a lot of finger picking. To this day, I still don't play with a pick, even when playing rock music. I briefly entertained ideas of being the first great punk rock fingerpicker.

Eric arranged this song for me because most of my playing was alone. We had studied some jazz charts, but it is difficult to play jazz by yourself. The interaction of the band members is paramount in any jazz song, and while I am pretty good at communicating with myself, the dialog isn't very interesting or audible.

When he arranged this song, Eric taught me how a song is constructed, how to analyze melodies and harmonies, and how to convey the essential nature of a song with as few parts as possible. For example, the chords for the opening four bars of the song are: | C- | C-(maj 7) | C-7 | C-6| (note, - means minor). Here is what the chords look like on a staff:

As you can see, the chords create a descending line in the top voice. When Eric arranged the song, he put that line into the bass, and kept the G that is constant throughout all of the chords because it occurs on an open string on the guitar and thus doesn't tie up the left hand. The A in the C-6 chord in measure 4 also leads nicely to the Ab maj7 that occurs in measure 5. The result is that the essential nature of the chords, and the harmonies that they imply is conveyed with only two notes.

I have mentioned Eric before, but the influence that he had on me cannot be overstated. During some lessons, we would just sit and talk about music for the whole time. At first my mother was a little upset, why pay for music lessons if you are not going to play any music. Eventually she decided that paying for guitar lessons was cheaper than paying for a therapist.