You’re not making Jesus better...

I play weekly in a Contemporary Worship service at my church. The service mixes video clips with modern Christian music. Over the last year I have had a lot of experience with contemporary Christian music and let me say that it is not very good.

The problem seems to be that current Christina musicians believe that by writing about God, they can ignore everything else that makes a song good. They don’t concern themselves with creating interesting melodies, incorporating dynamics, unique chord progressions, or any thing else that would make a song interesting because they reference a Bible verse. I have played a song that where the whole structure was to repeat the verse, there was no chorus, ad infinitum while raising the key a half step with each round.

The other problem is that the lyrics are as bland as the rest of the songs. Take a look at this song, not exactly Dylan. For more examples, just look at these song titles. Again, the simple act of writing about God is enough for these artists. Contemporary Christian sales are surging while the rest of the industry struggles to deal with downloading; remember your commandments. I wonder what would have happened if Michelangelo had taken this same approach?

Something beautiful happened in the theater...

One of my favorite bands, Q and not U, is playing at the Black Cat this evening. You can find an mp3 of “Wonderful People” here. If you get a chance, check them out. If you go, I would suggest getting tickets early as they have sold out the last few times they have played here.


I'm in love with a rock and roll world!

It looks like Joe Strummer's 101ers material is going to be released. I have not heard this material at all, but the man's work speaks for itself. In "Westway to the World," Mick and Paul talk about trying to meet Joe because he was in the 101ers. The Clash wouldn't have existed without this band. Also, Westway is a great documentary about a band. If you haven't seen it, I suggest it.

They're No Friends of Mine...

If we take our cue from Men Without Hats, and I believe we all should, then we are condemned meaningless friendless existence.

I was at a DJ thing* on Saturday, and the dancing was horrible. It was a mess: people gyrating, bopping, swinging such that one would think that the flashing lights had sent everyone into an epileptic shock. It was as if that the Libertarians have invaded our clubs, and Ayn Rand is shaking it in front of me. We have removed the structure and rules of dancing, and created a state of nature that would terrify Hobbes.

I prefer dancing with steps, rules, and fundamentals upon which one can expand. Steps give the shy dancer a way to join in. Great dancers shine with steps, their style and grace lifts them above everyone else despite the formalities of the dance. Most importantly, steps create a shared language that allows you to immediately, and confidently, communicate with a partner.

This is analogous to an important difference between Classical Music and Jam Bands. It is through the use of tone, interpretation of fortes, pianos, crescendos, and decrescendos, the artist proves that they are not a machine just reciting what is on a page. Luciano Pavarotti and Yo-Yo Ma may be performing the same music that countless others have, but you can tell when they are playing. Jam bands typically use a basic major chord progression to serve as a bland background around which one can solo seemingly endlessly. The problem is that there are rarely any decent melodies around which to frame a solo, and the chord progression isn’t interesting enough to challenge the soloist. The result is that given a large degree of freedom, the music has no personality.

The problem is that we don’t have any great dance music to inspire our feet. Whether techno, or dancepunk, or whatever, the current crop of dance music all has the same basic characteristics. The bass drum has to pound out every quarter note like we are so rhythmically challenged that we will forget the beat without it being driven into our head. The high hat is often closed and playing 16th notes. Finally, the music builds to a “chorus” that is a barrage of noise, I assume connoting a frenzy or intensity, that washes away back to the basic beat with little instrumentation. If the art of being a DJ is to seemlessly mix one song into the next, then this is the perfect music because it all sounds the same to begin with. This is music meant to coerce you into dancing. The beat screams “you should be dancing”, but the music usually lacks that intangible quality that is the “groove.” You’re moving, but not happy about it.

*I don't know what to call these things. Concert clearly isn't appropriate. Gig? Show?


At Last!

No time for real posting. After living here for 25 years, DC finally has baseball! I have no children, and have never been married...This is the greatest day of my life!



For an interesting read, check out Bob Mould's blog Boblog. He writes a lot about recording his new album, which was recorded at Arlington, VA's own Inner Ear Studio, with members Fugazi and Garland of Hours among others. It should be worth hearing, so keep your eye out for it.

I love reading about the recording process. It has to be one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. On one hand, you have to be arrogant enough to believe that what you are creating is worthwhile, that your art needs to be heard. But, you also listen to each song over and over again, trying to hear any imperfection, anything that you can improve. It creates quite a psychosis. I have never liked a single thing that I have recorded once I have finished recording it. In fact, when I listen to my last album I only hear flaws, things that we could have done differently. That is why I don't listen to it.

Extraordinary Machine

I was reading about the new Fiona Apple album, Extraordinary Machine, that you can’t buy. You can read about the details here, but the gist is that Fiona recorded an album that her label refuses to release. Of course the album has made its way to the internet, and the torrent is pretty easy to find.

Now, I don’t download music. There are many reasons why I don’t:

1) I prefer albums to singles, and I think that downloading has hurt the album as the dominate art form in popular music. Downloading creates an atmosphere where it makes more sense to create one, or two, great songs. There is less of an incentive, artist or financial, to create an album when its pieces will be picked apart by fans on the internet.

2) I love CDs. I like holding something, and leafing through the booklet. I like looking at album covers.

There are other reasons, but basically I love music and it feels like stealing to me. These are the reasons why I don’t download, I don’t really begrudge anyone else the practice.

The reason why I bring up the Fiona Apple album is that I can’t buy it, or hear it legally. Breaking the law is the only option. Now I am not fashioning myself after Thoreau, personally I never liked old Henry. But my questions are: Is downloading this album different than downloading Kelly Clarkson’s? Does the quality of the music make a difference? Once a piece of art has been created doesn’t it have a right to be heard by anyone who is interested?



I must confess that I just don’t understand the whole Ringtone phenomenon. When your phone breaks into “How Do You Want It?” are you hoping that a dance party will commence around your Nokia? Maybe that special girl will notice “Crazy Train” the next time your mother calls to tell you to pick up some milk on your way home and fully appreciate how much you really rock. Maybe they are a way of saying, “This is who I am,” Nietzsche be damned.


I Hate New York

With the Strokes, et al, New York has decided that it is the epicenter of rock music. This of course is not news, New York is perpetually deciding that it is the epicenter of anything important. Personally, I don’t think I could take the stress of millions of eyes gazing at me from around the world as I walk into Bleecker Street Records waiting breathlessly to see which album I buy. I guess that quintessential New York smell is the primordial ooze out of which all creativity emerges.

As a brief aside, I grew up in Washington DC, so you can chalk this rant up to an inferiority complex if you want.

As I was thinking through the history of Rock n’ Roll, I noticed that New Yorkers are surprisingly absent from the cannon. From its birth, through today, New Yorkers have had little impact on the genre as a whole. You can start with Elvis, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, or Chuck Berry, but all of the originators of Rock share one thing: They are not from New York. One of the first great songwriters in Rock, Buddy Holly, also managed to originate from somewhere other than the Five Boroughs.

The sixties bring us The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and countless others great artists who were not from New York. To be fair, great New Yorkers like Melanie, John Sebastian, Sha-Na-Na, and Bert Somner did play at Woodstock, and their influence is still felt today.

We also see the rise of soul music in the Sixties. Atlantic Records, Motown, and James Brown and others created some of the most potent, vibrant music in the last 50 years, and again we find “The City” curiously absent.

New Yorkers finally claim their rightful place atop the rock throne in the late 70s. The Talking Heads, The Ramones, Television, and Patti Smith all rightfully deserve a place atop any list of important musicians. From around 1975 to 1978, or so, New York was the center of rock music. It would be foolish to claim otherwise.

After that, we get Athens, GA (REM) and Minneapolis, MN (The Replacements, Husker Du, Prince) dominate the 80s. Everyone knows about Seattle in the early 90s.

I am sure people will say that you have to go to New York to be make it, spewing Frank Sinatra lines at me the whole time. South by Southwest is not in New York, but that is neither here not there.


Eric Waters

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my former guitar teacher, Eric Waters, is performing at the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center, 12826 Laurel Bowie Rd, Laurel, MD, on April 10. The concert starts at 3:00 pm, and is free. Call 301-953-1993 to make reservations, or for more information.

I can’t stress what an influence this man has been on my life. He is one of the most talented musicians I have every played with. Eric can play Carcassi one minute and Metallica the next, illustrating the similarities between both pieces. For him, music was not segmented along genre lines as it sometimes appears, or as we sometimes claim. Rather than just teach me how to play the guitar, Eric taught me how to appreciate and understand music.

I have not heard his newest CD, and I don’t know what style of music he will be playing on 10th, but given his talent I am sure that it will be an excellent concert.


Adam's Curse

A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
-W.B. Yeats, Adam’s Curse

Great songs, albums, symphonies, whatever, all share a sense of unity. Their compositions and arraignments strike such a balance and perfection that one cannot imagine changing a single note. This unity propels these works, hides their construction, and cleans off their sweat. It is one thing to compose a song in 7/4, it is another tap your foot without being aware of the time signature.

For example, I contend that “Let Down” by Radiohead is a better song then “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zepplin based on this principle. Stairway beats you over the head with its construction. The crescendos in Stairway are obvious, and while “rocking” don’t possess the subtlety of the build into the “You know, you know where you are...” section of “Let Down.” I get shivers whenever I hear that part of the song, the layers and harmonies are gorgeous.

Similarly, the harmonic structure of “Let Down” is elegant and understated. The melody, while obviously based on the chord structure, doesn’t reveal the chord structure in the way that a country song’s melody does. The reason why you can sing a country song after a listen or two is that the melody is often on the root of the chord underneath on the one beat of every measure. The melody makes the chord progression obvious. Stairway’s harmonic structure while beginning interesting, degrades into a predictable iv, V, IV progression common throughout popular music. (“All Along the Watchtower”, or “Genie in a Bottle” for example) While the opening is based on that same progression, it presents the progression in a more interesting and unique way. Also, Jimmy Page solos over the predictable structure rather than the more interesting opening, I have always felt this to be a cop out. This isn’t to say that the chords in “Let Down” are unique and overly complex, they are not.

The point is that the chord structure is masked in “Let Down” in a way that hides the construction of the song, and this masking does not occur in Stairway. “Let Down” is a better song because it seems more complete, it doesn’t divulge the work that went in to creating it.

I'll provide the people of this city...

Considering that I plan on writing about music, I feel that I should broadly outline my opinions on music. First, I believe that music is principally art. This may not seem like a novel idea, and it isn’t, but I feel that music is used in so many different ways that most people don’t think of it as art. People view music as: a way to relax, as entertainment, as a beat to dance to, to sell things, background so that one doesn’t have to endure silence, etc. (I wonder at the struggle Joni Mitchell had when she got so disgusted with music, and the music industry, that she stopped listening to it altogether. I also wonder how an artist I respect so much can believe that the New Radicals were a breath of fresh air.) While music is all of these things, it is art first.

Second, because music is an art form, it should be judged as such. Music has rules, theory, and its own language, and should be evaluated along these terms. I don’t believe that “I like it” or “It sucks” are meaningful or acceptable ways of discussing music. I understand that music is very personal, but if there is going to be any intelligent discussion of music we can’t just leave things up to a matter of taste. The Beatles are better than Anal Cunt, and it is just wrong to believe otherwise. I will leave that explaination, if anyone really needs it, for a later post.


Welcome to my blog. I intend to occupy myself with music criticism; principally because music is my passion, but also because the rest of my life doesn’t merit being memorialized. That being said, let me get some cursory details out of the way. I was born in Washington, DC and grew up in Arlington, VA. I graduated from Hamilton College in 2002, and moved back to Washington where I currently reside.

I have been playing the guitar for 13 years and I also play the bass, mandolin, and piano. I have studied all styles of music, but primarily classical guitar. I have played in one band or another since 1997. My recent band broke up about two years ago. When I get a chance I will post some mp3s of my recent work so that you can judge my opinions based on what I have created...it only seems fair.