Category Archives: Music

Does This Question Make Me Look Dumb?

During one of my trips to Canada to visit my Toronto-resident daughter, I was introduced to a Vancouver-based indie rock outfit called Said The Whale and began following them on social media. The band has a new album coming out soon (As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide, due March 31) and posted an intriguing message on Facebook earlier this month. The band offered to share an advance stream of the album with any group of 10 or more fans willing to host a listening party, or – this is where it gets more interesting – would be willing to Skype into classrooms to talk with arts students about music.

As it turns out, my best local pal and go-to plus-one music-loving buddy, Sally, is a high school English teacher and her journalism class is now studying interviewing techniques. I told her about STW’s offer and, the road to hell being paved with good intentions, not only will Sally and her teenage charges be talking with the band this Wednesday, but I will be visiting the class to talk about my so-called music journalism career, a.k.a. dancing about architecture. (TM: Steve Martin)

There was a time, Back In The Day, when most of my interviews were done live-and-in-person. Music magazines – in print! – had a valued place, just below TV and radio broadcasts, as an exposure tool for new music. But now that anyone with access to Spotify can pretty much hear whatever whenever they want and formulate an opinion, is printed advice on what to seek out even needed? If anything, my role now, if I still have one, is to act as a filter to the firehose of material that gushes forth in the age of information overload, traffic-directing people to sounds they may like.

It’s hard for me to even remember the last time I did a face-to-face interview, phoners being the modern way-to-go, or maybe a Skype call (see above) which at least allows for some facial recognition, and the need to wear pants. The last two interviews I did were email interviews. (Kirstin Hersh, once of Throwing Muses, and A/J Jackson, lead singer of Saint Motel) for the AXS.com site.

Email interviews are, to be honest, a great way to avoid the bane of an interviewer’s existence – transcribing! – since you need only cut-and- paste, with minimal corrections and proof-reading, text from your correspondence. If I were being paid real money for these stories, I would prefer to have a real conversation and really dive into the Getting To Know You business. But when you’re paid by the click for articles that are little more than intro to a list of tour dates (buy tickets here!), and the major effort is not finding the perfect phrase but negotiating a CMS (content management system), the email process is the cost-efficient way to go for all concerned.

My favorite pieces to do these days are concert reviews. I get to move close to the music in the photo pit, play/learn with my camera, enjoy the show, and share the memories. I did that recently, covering a concert by AJR, a trio of NYC-based brothers who opened for Ingrid Michaelson’s tour last year (I shot that, too), and are now on their own headlining club jaunt.

Still, it’s a long ways away from those heady days back in New York, when I lived in Brooklyn (before it was BKLYN) and rode the subway into Manhattan to meet Dire Straits in the studio, putting the finishing touches on their Making Movies album. I heard the amazing “Romeo and Juliet” in an early mix, booming from awesome professional studio speakers and chatted with frontman Mark Knopfler. I’ll always remember him as one of the nicest gents I ever encountered during a period when I actually made my living as a freelancer.

My recorder malfunctioned during the interview and, when I discovered that much of the tape was destroyed, he graciously repeated much of our conversation with a smile and genuine sympathy. His producer, on the other hand, dripped disdain, seemingly irked to have a writer (and a girl one at that!) in his sacred space.

I’m reminded of this interview in particular because the magazine I was writing for at the time, Trouser Press, recently posted a link on its Facebook feed, to the Dire Straits article I wrote for the November 1980 (ye gods!) issue. I read it now and remember a time when I felt I was really Writing a Story.

knopfler.jpg

In contrast, when I sent off my email questions to the frontman for Saint Motel, I had no chance for follow-up when he dodged a question about touring with Panic! At the Disco.

I wrote: How has the tour with Panic! been going? Can you tell us a funny – or strange – story from the road?

He answered: It’s been amazing!  These rooms are huge.  Funny story so far…    

and left it at that.  I checked with the publicist to see if something had been dropped from his message, but was told it was complete as is. It made little sense to me and drove home the sterility of such electronic conversations, so  I left the exchange out altogether. And yet, that article has been one of the most liked/shared I’ve written for the site in ages.

Since this little confessional has included a bunch of links to Recent Stuff I Wrote, I might as well end with my latest, hot-off-the-pixels article, a few words – and clickable links, of course! – on the subject of a new favorite of mine, Father John Misty, and the lust-worthy deluxe vinyl edition of his upcoming album, Pure Comedy.

It ain’t Pulitzer material, but it was fun to research and easy to write. I do what I do as best I can.

P.S. Speaking of research, if any of Sally’s students bothered to visit this site to find out more about me before Wednesday’s meeting, I have two things to say to you:

  1. Good luck with the journalism thing. You’ll need it. And we need you now more than ever.
  2. Thanks for reading all the way to the end. Say the secret word (“penultimate”) and I’ll tell Ms. Toner to give you extra credit.

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Dumbledore’s Army Needs Music

Despite best intentions for the new year (note I didn’t say resolutions; I know better), I haven’t posted much in January, but it’s for a different reason than my usual procrastination and sloth. I generally don’t use this blog as for a platform for political conversation, although I’m sure if you’ve read for a while, you’ve got an idea where my allegiances are. And my twitter feed, which pops up at the left side of this page, makes things pretty obvious.

I still think of this site as a place for music-oriented discussion and don’t want to get into the same kind of debates that roil my Facebook page. Trouble is, with the arrival of President Babyhands and his racist, misogynist, and/or frequently unqualified administration (There. No doubts left!) writing about music seems a rather trivial pursuit.

There’s so much to be done. As much as I love the Harry Potter novels, I never expected to be living in one. There is a cause at hand that commands a Dumbledore’s Army-style of commitment. I marched in the 60s and, as an Internet meme of an older woman declares, “I can’t believe I still have to fight for this shit.”

dumbledore_army

Thankfully, social media has given me an outlet that allows for participation – and I don’t mean signing endless online petitions. There are notifications of calls and donations to make, information to share, encouragement to offer those who are in a better position at the front lines.

But rebellion requires fuel, too. Some say an army marches on its stomach. But let’s not forget the fife-and-drum corps, the marching bands and infantry cadences. Music is the food of life, and of the soul, and the music I love – old favorites and new discoveries – have kept me going since that dark night in November when I began to wonder if I was a stranger in my own country.

So, I will write about music here. And mostly music, though I may share a few of the best political cartoons and satire now and then. Again, feel free to remove this blog from your reading list if you think you’ll be annoyed or (especially) if you’re tempted to argue on the side of our modern Voldemort. I won’t post and I won’t reply. It’s MY blog, after all. There will be plenty of alternative music, but no alternative facts allowed.

And so, having said my piece (peace!), I’ll be back soon with a love letter to vinyl.

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Happy New Year? Deep Breath. Here We Go.

And thus we come to the end of the infamous 2016. While it was fine for me personally and professionally, it was the Year of the Great Losses culturally and politically. I am still reeling from the many disappointments that hit us this past year and am genuinely worried about what lies ahead.

I found this poem online today and it speaks to me:

2016-poem

I love that it mentions music specifically as a coping mechanism and inspiration. Along with family and friends, of course, music has always been my comfort, and I’ve relied on it more than ever in the past months.

And with that in mind, here are my Top Ten Albums and Singles for 2016, in no particular order, as submitted to the annual Village Voice Pazz and Jop (not sure they’re using that title anymore) Critics Poll:

ALBUMS:

Wilco – Schmilco

Avett Brothers – True Sadness

Andy Shauf – The Party

David Bowie – Blackstar

Beyonce – Lemonade

The Monkees – Good Times!

The Hamilton Mixtape

Justin Bieber – Purpose

Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

SINGLES:

Hell No – Ingrid Michaelson

S.O.B. – Nathaniel Rateliffe & The Night Sweats

Heathens – Twenty-One Pilots

Cake by the Ocean – DNCE

2 A.M. – Bear Hands

When the Tequila Runs Out – Dawes

When We Were Young – Adele

Trip Switch – Nothing But Thieves

Waste A Moment – Kings of Leon

All We Ever Knew – The Head and the Heart

Feel free to argue for your favorites. As much music as I buy and as many downloads/promos as are sent to me (keep ’em coming!), I don’t hear all the great stuff that’s out there, so tell me what I missed.

Happy New Year? We can do it. Keep your eyes and ears and heart open. Stay strong. Do what you can. Be kind.

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O/CD in the U.K. (part 2) Hail, Poundland!

My next music source, accounting for the majority of my U.K. CD purchases, was discovered by accident, when I popped into Poundland to buy toilet paper. Much like our American dollar stores, the Poundland chain offers a mish-mash of items priced at £1 or £2 pounds per, or mixtures thereof (3 for £2, etc.). To my delight, the store had a fairly large wall section devoted to CD’s and DVDs in fully guaranteed “replay” condition. (Upon opening, I found them all in superb condition.)

If I were Robbie Williams, I’d be worried. The former Take That singer hardly registers a blip with American audiences, but is a stadium-filling star in the U.K. And yet, in his homeland, you can find an extensive slice of his discography –at least a half dozen titles – in the Poundland racks. I have all the Robbie Williams, I need, so I went for others. At an exchange rate close to $1.50, I bought the following over the course of two visits, restricted not by price but by the need to conserve packing space. (As it is, I left all the jewel cases at home, preserving only digi-paks and multiple disc sets):

1. The Pigeon Detectives – Emergency (PIAS/Dance to the Radio, 2008) I’d heard the name before and loved the album graphics – cartoon rocketship, spacemen with rayguns. Listening now, it’s a bright, easy pop sound. Titles like “Love You for a Day (Hate You for a Week)” and “Keep On Your Dress” give it a cheeky monkey feel. Pigeon Detectives - Emergency

2. Guillemots – Through the Windowpane (Polydor, 20066) Before we left the U.S., younger daughter and I were talking about music she liked back in Toronto, where she’s lived for the past five years. She mentioned liking this band, which I had no knowledge of, so buying this was a no-brainer.

3. Moshi Monsters – Music Roxy (Mind Candy, 2012) Again, the graphics got me – some kind of kids show, with a trippy anime-meets-Teletubbies vibe. From Wikipedia: “Moshi Monsters is a website aimed at children aged 6–12 with over 90 million registered users in 150 territories worldwide. Users choose from one of six virtual pet monsters…” and “once their pet has been customized, players can navigate their way around Monstro City, take daily puzzle challenges to earn ‘Rox’ (a virtual currency), play games, personalize their room and communicate with other users in a safe environment (most [sic] the time).”

Not surprisingly, the little dudes’ success has led to Moshi Monsters Magazine (“the number-one selling kids’ magazine in the UK”), a video game, books, toys, and a feature film which one Englsh critic said “will leave adults bored, stupefied, revolted and appalled.”

moshi

The music here? Very synthy, with chipmunk-y vocals on some tracks, and a few actually catchy pop/rap mixes, like “Moptop Teenybop (My Hair’s Too Long).” Kids just wanna have fun, after all. BTW, In 2011, Lady Gaga’s legal team was granted an injunction by a U.K High Court High Court to stop the Monsters’ parent company from releasing music by a character named Lady Goo Goo, including the parody “Peppy-razzi” (similar to “Paparazzi”). There’s nothing of such a parody nature to be had here

4. Sander KleinenbergRenaissance: Everybody (Renaissance, 2003) Again, Wikipedia: “a Dutch disc jockey, VDJ and record producer. He founded and runs Little Mountain Recordings and THIS IS Recordings. Kleinenberg is well known for his use of digital video in concerts, his “Everybody” and “THIS IS” brands of club nights and albums…” He’s also done remixes for Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Daft Punk, and Katy Perry, among others.

I knew none of this, but the double-CD compilation – still just one pound! – seemed like a good way to hear some new (to me) electronica. It’s playing as I type this and while I enjoy the genre as energizing background music, I also wonder whether some of these compilations are the musical equivalent of a bottle of wine – cost about $10-15 and, once you’ve enjoyed it, you can put the empty into the recycling.

5. David Craig – Born To Do It (Wildstar, 2000) I recall the name as a British artist of some reknown, and heard him on the radio later on the trip as if to confirm that it was a good pound spent.

 6. One Night Only – Started a Fire (2008) Five young moptops walking through a hallway on the cover, and a sticker that reads, “The UK’s most perfectly crafted arena band – NME.” Coming from NME, that could be a slap and not a kiss, but I gave it a go and am enjoying the pleasantly accented pop/rock tunes which, it turns out, were produced by the credible Steve Lillywhite. Alas, the sticker promised extra downloads but they are of a previous software version that cannot be read anymore. (How many of those spiffy enhanced CDs we bought years ago have suffered the same fate?)

It seems that the band is still alive and kicking, having released an album just last year through fan funding. And I just read that the band once toured with the Pigeon Detectives, so I have a complete show!

imgres

At the £1 price point, I couldn’t resist a few discs by American artists – titles I didn’t have in the home collection, like:

7. Janet Jackson – Design of a Decade 1986-1996 (A&M) Do I have this CD already at home? May have been fooled by a cover design I don’t recognize, but where else can I get 18 hit tracks for less than 10 cents each?

8. The Killers – Sawdust. (Vertigo U.K. 2007) I didn’t realize they’d recorded with Lou Reed (opening track, Tranquilizer”) or did covers of “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” (meh) and “Romeo and Juliet” (fine, but nothing beats hearing it in the studio when I went to interview Mark Knopfler during the recording of the Dire Straits original.) (Sorry, I didn’t intend to be an obvious name-dropper, but it just occurred to me, and damn he was lovely to meet!). Except for the dance remix of “Mr. Brightside,” which I already have, not sure there’s much I’d keep after running through most of it.

Chances are, if I’d been in England longer, I would have gone back to Poundland yet again. And would probably have a lot more Robbie Williams in my collection.

Next up, I finally get some NEW music, thanks to Tesco.

 

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O/CD in the U.K. (part 1)

Our week-long visit to England lost a day when our flight was delayed from Wednesday night (Jan. 20) to Thursday morning (Jan. 21). Given that we were there to see Grad Girl’s PhD ceremony, attend/provide various goodbye/30th birthday celebrations before bringing her home, and had one full day booked for the Harry Potter Studios tour just outside of London, there wasn’t much time to go searching for music events/purchases. Our home base for the visit was the historic-and-quaint-to-the-point-of-being-almost-unnerving Stratford-Upon-Avon and it had no record store – or so I thought. (It’s called foreshadowing.)

As we toured the town, I kept my eyes peeled for potential sources of musical satisfaction and, when I saw the Oxfam books and music thrift shop, I dove in, of course. There was a small selection of vinyl, some of which was priced for collectors – $25+ for a Beatles LP! (didn’t check/don’t think it was a particular rarity) – and a lot of cheapies that didn’t inspire excitement.

Younger daughter got the best of the lot – Relaxing with Val (Doonican), volume one (!) in a Readers Digest collection, made in France and taken from the Phillips catalog. Here’s our boy, the fifth Beatle on our adventure, as we carried the vinyl around carefully and worked to make sure he was comfortable and safe.

relax

The liner notes on this record are a hoot, and reading them aloud was a favorite pastime around the dinner table. Here are a few of the best bits, referring to various songs on the vinyl (emphasis on what quickly became our vacation catchphrases):

”The Lover’s Ghost” – “A young man welcomes back his sweetheart after a long absence, but then makes the disconcerting discovery that she is dead.

“My Coloring Book” – “A self portrait of lovelorn despair….Val invites us to wield the melancholy crayons, and depict the empty loneliness of his life now that the girl he depended upon is gone.”

“Lazy” – “Relaxation returns with a drowsy vengeance…”

“Innocent” – “The keynote of realism continues with a song beginning in the fairweather idyll of childhood for a boy and girl and ending in lethal finality for both of them as life progresses, corrupting and betraying. Notice again the total lack of casualness in the Doonican approach, which contains a maximum of perceptive awareness.”

Wow. The liner notes gave no credit to the writer, but s/he is my new literary hero(ine).

On Wikipedia, I learn that “Michael Valentine “Val” Doonican (3 February 1927 – 1 July 2015) was an Irish singer of traditional pop, easy listening, and novelty songs, who was noted for his warm and relaxed style.” He also frequently sang from a rocking chair. (One of his albums is entitled Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently).  He also makes a cameo appearance on the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band‘s “The Intro and the Outro,”saying “hello there.”

When I was searching for images of Val, Google gave me the following:

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 4.07.43 PM.png

The gift just keeps on giving. Next to the gently rocking glory of Val, the few CDs I bought to satisfy my initial itch for tune-age paled in comparison:

  1. Sex Pistols Kiss This (Virgin, 1992) £2.99 The seminal (and spittal) punks across 20 “greatest hits” tracks. That’s why I’m in the U.K., you gobs!
  2. Michael Buble Crazy Love Hollywood Edition (Reprise/143 Records, 2010) Pretty sure I have this at home, but not the deluxe, 2-CD edition, with 8 more songs. I’m sure Johnny Rotten understands my rationale. £2.99
  3. Matthew Jay Draw (EMI/Food, 2001) Well, this is a sad turn of events. As I’m listening to this nice, acoustic pop/rock album, which I bought strictly for the cute guy on the cover and the cheap price (£1.99), I go online for more info and find this Billboard item from 2003:  “Rising British singer/songwriter Matthew Jay died Sept. 24 after falling from a seventh-story window in Nottingham, England, his label EMI confirmed today (Sept. 30). He was 24.” Initially thought to be a suicide, an inquest into his death returned an open verdict (meaning the jury felt the death was suspicious, but was unable to reach any definitive conclusion). Given that Jay was often compared to Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith, that’s strange as well as very sad.

Don’t want to leave you on a down note. Come back soon because next up, there will be a musical feeding frenzy at Poundland!

 

 

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Here It Goes Again

(Days Just Past)  As a popular dorm poster once declared, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” While you could say this on any and every new morning, New Year’s Day is certainly the traditional time to commit to a fresh start in life, love and general happiness. I try not to put too much pressure on this day of new calendars and metaphorical page-turning but yeah, I’m looking to hit the reboot button and get some cool new things happening in 2016. (Note that I’m posting this on January 2, but I wrote most of it on 1/1/16.)

First off, I hope your December holidays, whatever you celebrate, were as happy as our family’s Christmas was. At our annual open house, the Fezziwig Ball, we had 81 people stop in to share food, drinks and fun. Christmas morning was the usual bacchanal of good cheer and not-entirely-cautious consumerism. I had much musical bounty to enjoy, including cool new print matter like “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Day-by-Day Trivia Calendar;” Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl;” Elvis Costello’s “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink” (book edition; the digital download of music arrived earlier this year) and “Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting,” a massive tome that, among other purposes, serves to prove to my husband that he could have it much, much worse when it comes to how/where I store my music.

As for actual playable new tunes, I am the proud new owner of  The Unthanks Memory Box, a bee-you-tee-ous collection, requested from and obtained by my British-resident (for now) PhD graduate. It includes a vinyl 7″, a CD, a DVD, postcards, recipes and much more, all letterpress printed with love. There’s even one piece signed by the band members.

My other daughter, a Toronto resident (for now), took my request for cool new music to heart by  sharing a local favorite with me, The Meligrove Band, in two formats – Shimmering Lights (vinyl album) and Let It Grow (CD).  I also got Ryan Adam’s 1989 on gorgeous sea-foam green vinyl, given to me by my 89-year-old mother. (No, she’s not as hipster as all that. She gave me a check for $25 and I ordered it for myself, but it’s no less appreciated.)

Meanwhile, my Beatles fanboy husband scored the #1’s CD/DVD set and Ringo’s photography book, and a copy of Mojo with a CD collection called Songs the Beatles Taught Us.  Also, a gift from me to him that’s really for the both of us – Laurie Anderson’s soundtrack to Heart of A Dog.

(Looking Ahead)  As this new year begins, I post here in hopes of better organizing my social media presence. I’m currently most active on Twitter (@mariannemeyer) and plan to revive my Instagram account (ClosePersonalFriend) since my high tech research team (two neighborhood teens with good taste) tell me that IG is where it’s at. Nevertheless, I remain an active Facebook user, though I intend to cull my friends list to remove people whose negativity drags me down. (Nonetheless, here’s the Facebook link if you want to reach out.)

I’m still writing as a pay-by-the-click digital lackey: Digital Music Examiner (national music news and free, legal downloads), DC Concert Photography Examiner (DC local news and concert reviews with photo slideshows) and AXS Contributor  (general tour and video news).

And then there’s this...(Read on for a Freebie)

on sale, full screen

Since nobody’s beating down my door with offers to write about music for real money, I have been exploring the world of self-publishing, both POD (print-on-demand) and e-books and plan to get way more involved in the coming year.

My first foray into the latter, e-published in December, is a simple concert photo book of Aussie pop/punk boy band 5 Seconds of Summer, shot when they opened for One Direction in 2014 at Nationals Stadium. I originally intended to create an ebook of 1D photos, and still plan to do so, but decided to start with 5SOS as a simpler effort, since I had fewer photos and, frankly, wanted to tackle the learning curve with a band I didn’t love like I do my 1D boys.

Admittedly, the 5SOS nation has not, so far, risen to my bait. I am not selling well, with mostly just friends and family shelling out the $2.99 (hey, it would cost them more to buy me a holiday latte!) or using promo download codes the iBooks system gave me to toss about. Speaking of which, the first five people who send an email to my new eddress – Marianne@closepersonalfriend.com – will get a free download code of his/her very own.

Maybe not the holiday gift you were most hoping for, but what they heck – Happy New Year, m’dears!

 

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Short month, long winter

February is the shortest month and yet it can easily feel like the longest, with the early-setting sun and bitter cold standing between me and spring – and my birthday, on March 1st. (Start planning now!)

At least this February, I have the sweet face of Harry Styles looking over my shoulder as I type, as his 21st birthday (can I buy you a drink, handsome?!) on February 2 makes him my calendar boy of the month.

IMG_4960

Yes, my possibly inappropriate 1D fangirl obsession continues, but I was able to make it work with a recent story posted on AXS.com, when respected indie troubadour Martin Sexton covered a 1D song for his daughter, after she found out that Harry was following him on Twitter.

Other recent stories for that site include:

Courtney Barnett’s new single/video and upcoming album. Very excited for this as I loved her album and the show I caught last year, at the Black Cat. She was also very gracious afterwards, meeting fans and signing albums. Here I am with the cool lady. IMG_3992

Sufjan Stevens’ new album and upcoming tour.

Rapper/singer Lizzo gets coveted spot opening for Sleater-Kinney’s tour.

I’ve had a few other items posted recently, so here are some other links for your pleasure:

Jukebox the Ghost and Twin Forks giving away free music and touring together.

A review of The Black Cadillacs, and Knox Hamilton (a new favorite band) at Jammin Java.

A review of (charming Southern boy) Christian Lopez, also at Jammin Java.

To recap, here are places you can find me and links to a whole lotta love:

AXS.com

Examiner.com – National Music news

Examiner.com – DC Concert Photography (reviews, previews and slideshows)

 Whatcha Gonna Play – the set list site

Thanks for dropping by and please come back soon. It won’t all be listicles (a horrible trend in journalism, with an ugly word to match!).

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