Daytrotter, daytrotter, yeah

The Internet is an amazing place. I can safely say I’ve spent far too much of the last couple of years on music websites, listening to or downloading random songs. And somehow, in all that time, the Internet still has a few tricks up its sleeves. I stumbled this morning upon Daytrotter.com , which happily confesses to being “a recording studio with a website.” They regularly invite up-and-coming artists to record there, and then put the results for free download on the website,  a new band every day. Just in the last few weeks live songs have appeared on Daytrotter from the likes of Frightened Rabbit, The Antlers, Gary Jules, Kris Kristofferson, Wavves and Neon Indian, as well as music from more unheard musicians that are hoping to get a little more recognition.

Immediately I have to applaud both the concept and the motive of the website. Clearly they are working for the fans, which should in itself be admirable in overly-commerical times, and it seems that everybody benefits from the set-up, listeners are treated to live performances from their favourite bands, bands get a platform for their music and Daytrotter themselves get to show off how good they are at recording live bands, which they are very good at, it should be pointed out.

Daytrotter earn their indie stars by championing a pre-Yellow House Grizzly Bear and showcasing Fleet Foxes in between their EP and album release. They use this well to attract the likes of Andrew Bird, Spoon and The National. Perhaps my favourite set is by Bon Iver (the four songs and article can be found here ), and it perfectly illustrates the many good points of Daytrotter. As well as providing amazing music by talented artists, and inviting the listener to find out more, it also gives a very nice medium between the artist and their fans. Each track has a short paragraph written by the performer, just to give them that small extra bit of information that no super-fan can do without. Alongside the occasional interview and the user comments section, this website really seems to be able to provide everything. And its left me wishing Bon Iver would do a UK tour soon (his voice is just heavenly live. I have no idea how he keeps up the falsetto all the way through RE: Stacks, but it is incredible).

So yes, I may be late to discovering this site, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to make the same mistake as I. Go check it out!

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I get hammered forget that you exist

Sometimes it’s easier to fall in love with a song when you know you shouldn’t. Some words are too close to home, there is sometimes a rising interlude or calming coda that makes your breathing heavy. It’s easier to fall when you never notice the ground disappear.

Some songs bring out the worst in me. If a song is too emotional, if it connects too much, sometimes it can just be confusing, whether those emotions were ever yours in the first place, or whether the right piece of music at the right time fills you up. A song should not be able to make decisions for you. But those words can breed ideas in your head. Something somewhere has gone wrong and a skilled hand wants to fix it, and you want to be fixed. Its too easy, sometimes, to lapse into over-analysis. I don’t think we all share the same pain, but sometimes two people go through eerily similar circumstances, and one has the power to put the experience to music, and the other listens in, understanding and believing where there should just be dull and passive acceptance.

Would it be easier if life didn’t have this effect on me? Would it be easy to take your emotional cues from “real-life” events? There’s a reason music can choke you up, though, and its because of shared knowledge. We can’t all understand the same situations but maybe, in small groups, we can know the reactions of others, and they can become our own reactions. I don’t think I can explain much better.

i’m working on my backwards walk
walking with no shoes or socks
and the time rewinds to the end of may
i wish we’d never met then met today

i’m working on my faults and cracks
filling in the blanks and gaps
and when i write them out they don’t make sense
i need you to pencil in the rest

i’m working on drawing a straight line
and i’ll draw until i get one right
it’s bold and dark girl, can’t you see
i done drawn a line between you and me

i’m working on erasing you
just don’t have the proper tools
i get hammered, forget that you exist
there’s no way i’m forgetting this

i’m working hard on walking out
shoes keep sticking to the ground
my clothes won’t let me close the door
these trousers seem to love your floor

i been working on my backwards walk
there’s nowhere else for me to go
except back to you just one last time
say yes before i change my mind

say yes before i…

you’re the shit and i’m knee-deep in it

you’re the shit and i’m knee-deep in it

you’re the shit and i’m knee-deep in it

you’re the shit and i’m knee-deep in it


O Cover, Where Art Thou?

In a thunderstorm of crackling guitar charging its way through the 1968 music scene, Jimi Hendrix introduced the potential of the cover version to the masses with his emphatically bombastic reworking of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”. It was by no means the first cover ever, of course, nor was it Hendrix’s intention to make it an emblem of the possibilities of nicking an acclaimed artists work, but in terms of rock music the impact it had should not be played down. A folk track had been taken and then amplified and distorted beyond reason, and the result was utter magic. Without it, many years would have passed with rock acts feeling too worried to pursue re-recording one of their favourite tracks, humbled by lack of precedent in the “good covers” department. As it is, bands of today can look back on classic songs and think, “Hendrix did it, why don’t we give it a go?”

And so, here comes my celebration of the cover songs that really work, and an appreciation of the ability of musicians to take an already established track and make it feel fresh and new.

Hallelujah. I couldn’t start anywhere else, surely? Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s even less jovial classic is what made his status as a legend start to take form (his untimely death tragically cementing it). The popularity of this song has spiralled upwards in recent years. This has been down to firstly a cover version by Rufus Wainwright for the soundtrack to Shrek, where the meloncholic air that is achieved unfortuantely grates too much against its kiddy-film surroundings to really work, and then to last years UK Christmas No. 1 courtesy of the All-Seeing Si and his new puppet Alexandra Burke, which saw the strained words morphed into identikit sentimentality. But that is the openess provided by Cohen on the original, it really can be re-done in nearly any way, for most audiences. It is a universal song waiting to be interpreted.

Buckley’s version of Hallelujah is a prime example of an accomplished singer/songwriter taking a piece of music and messing around with it to see what can be added. Buckley makes a simple acuostic guitar sing as much as he does, he tests and experiments with interludes and fills, almost nonchalantly pulling out winning ideas. Though I’m a fan of the song, I wouldn’t call it perfect (the opening track from “Grace”, Mojo Pin, is a far more suitable and compelling starting point to Buckley’s discography, in my mind), but the joy of the cover is that small alterations can be made to an already known song in an attempt to add to it, introduce new elements and just see how it comes out. A re-working of a song can be seen as a form of alchemy, changing a known formula as opposed to the creation involved in writing new songs.

When you are influenced by a band, there is an urge to somehow namedrop them, or perhaps simply technique-drop them. Early Radiohead gave us rehased Pixies and Nirvana, but as they grew towards the end of the 90s as a more mature collective, discrete covers of Neil Young songs began popping up during their shows. Check out the Cinnamon Girl over on YouTube here (apologies for the poor quality, only version I could find), and you can also see an interview with Thom Yorke where he discusses Young here. I love this aspect of cover versions, a band putting forward to their fans someone who they should be checking out, telling them “we love this song, why don’t you?” An introduction to new music is always welcome, and the cover is a great way of doing that.

Another interesting use of covers that I’ve noticed is starting to become more dominant is that of an artist covering (or remixing) a song as a b-side to the song itself. I have great love for the LCD Soundsystem track “All My Friends”, but it is not the sort of song I would expect to see covered by convention indie guitar-bands. You could say that my mind was blown when I discovered that the single release included a cover by Franz Ferdinand. Now I don’t know who decided that was a good idea, but they deserve a medal, or a really well-made Italian pizza. It doesn’t matter about the quality of the song (although it is admittedly a very enjoyable take on it) because of its removal from the original, and the admittance that it is a bit of fun, an intriguing idea out of left-field that they just ran with, and it worked.

By uttering the strained, wounded phrase “I hurt myself today”, Johnny Cash immediately and definitively countered, in a way my words never could, the argument “a cover is not personal”. Taking other people’s words and making them about yourself and your own situation is what a consumer of music should do, in my opinion, but for Cash to go one step further and tell people how it applies to his life, without changing a single word, is very clever, and gives a breathtaking result.

I couldn’t leave this post without giving a nod to Feeling Good. The descending piano melody is open to interpretation from all quarters, and the simple yet overwhelmingly pleasant vocals by Nina Simone in the original has plenty of room for prospective vocalists to try out their malismas. My knowledge does not extend quite as far back as the time the original was released (I’m a 00’s man after all, my last 5 posts might have clued you in on that fact a tad), but I am aware of covers by Muse, My Brightest Diamond and Eels, and the variety of style yet the consistency in quality between these three songs is worth listening to (my favourite being the one by My Brightest Diamond, the moment the horns first hit is luscious beyond compare).

An interesting fact about the Muse version of Feeling Good is that they used it so well as a replacement for traditional filler at the back end of an album. Not only that, but it is now one of the highlights of their epic live shows, showing that a conversion of a song can work well as a part of a whole. The album does not stutter as one would think it could when it reaches a cover. That it is made to blend well into the mood of a 50 minute piece is certainly a notable advantage of cover versions.

The joys of covering a song, and listening to the result, is that it provides a combination of diversity and similarity, a test of a musician’s ability and an experiment on the ideas of old. A lot of people will say covers are performed by bands running out of ideas, but I say that instead it is because of the excess ideas and invention a band will have spilling over into already known material. And I welcome more, more evolution and creativity and morphing of ideas. More covers that introduce me to a bands influences. More subtly dropped b-sides or live tracks that I can unearth on the back end of a fans mixtape.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, yeah, I thought up the title before I thought up the concept. Sorry.)

Side Note: Facebook Page!

I am skilled at social networking sites.

If you have Facebook, and wish to follow my blogs better, go to My Facebook Page and become a fan.

Its that simple!

I will post links to my blog there whenever a new post is up, which is probably an easier system than bookmarking, and allows me to see how many people actually read this thing.

So if you do read this a lot, and have Facebook, join up. Its fun!

Thanks.

I’m changing all my strings I’m gonna write another travelling song

One arm rests awkwardly on the narrow ledge that chunkily surrounds the window. The other lies somewhere to one side, uncomfortable with lack of support and chrushed slightly in an attempt to avoid contact with the person in the next seat. The eyes look hazily out into the middle distance, vaguely trying to determine patterns within the passing blur of concrete interspersed with brief flashes of green. The legs doze lazily. The back hangs and sags, avoiding posture as if it were a common street mime.

But the ears, and the mind. They are busy. Whilst all other parts of the body are engaged in a haze of confusion as they undergo the effects of relativistic movement, the ears are converting waves propogating from a pair of dodgy cheap headphones into something else. The mind picks up this something else, and wills it to life, causes it to become an experience beyond its function. Suddenly, the sounds are special.

Travel seems to bring out my wistful side. Especially when good music is involved. I can escape from the world, cacooned as I am in a steel pod of motion. At the same time I can watch the world passing me by, and allowing me just a microsecond of judgement on each of the things that it contains. I combine this with the right sort of music and suddenly metaphors become inescapable.

So what constitues good music for travel? It has to be stimulating, to start off with. There are many tracks that work well in relation to their surrounding tracks, but often albums are difficult to enjoy whilst travelling. So we have to look at what individual tracks do, and those individual tracks must have an impact on their own. An ideal travel track must feel like an event, like a culmination of something. Intensity is important, and if some parts of the song feel climactic that is a bonus. There has to be something special in the air.

This is why closing tracks of records are often good for listening to on a train. “Wash The Day” from TV On The Radio’s Return To Cookie Mountain is a prime example, the clever instrumentation maintaining a mood best described as epic, and keeping the glorious experience up by eight minutes. It sums up what has come before it with grand, broad statements. Watching the world sweep past is not about small talk or inconsequential fleeting emotions.

I have tried to compile CD 1 (or playlist 1 if you’re all “Eww… CDs, go home Grandpa”) out of songs that are applicable to this sense of a large-scale event, so that while listening to it you will get a constant stream of intensity. The order is irrelevant, because the mood is by definition the same on all these tracks. Although seeing as it’s a compilation, there will be odd messed-up changes between tracks (although there won’t, because there is only one genre of music I listen to).

CD1:

Muse – Take A Bow

The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony

Blur – The Universal

Andrew Bird – Fake Palindromes

Neutral Milk Hotel – Two Headed Boy

Broken Social Scene – Lover’s Spit

The Decembrists – The Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid

Arcade Fire – Wake Up

The National – Lucky You

TV On The Radio – Wash The Day

Modest Mouse – 3rd Planet

Mumford & Sons – Thistle & Weeds

Laura Marling – Your Only Doll

LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends

Pink Floyd – Eclipse

I have set up this “album” (which I shouldnt call it since it’s actually over 80 minutes long…) as a playlist on my last.fm account, so if you want to listen to it, all the songs should be at:

http://www.last.fm/user/TheCapu/library/playlists/3hv2h_transport_music_1 .

The other playlist I have relates to songs that are about travel, or at least have a title that allowes me to tenously connect them to a blog about travel for the sake of filler. Travel is often used as a metaphor in music, whether it refers to a spiritual journey as referred to in R.E.M.’s “Electrolite” with its cries to fly to Mulholland Drive to escape the previous century, or to a journey where some great event will occur such as Bright Eyes’ “Train Under Water”. It allows for the songwriter to tell a story, as it can track the middle between a defined start and end point.

Travel is also good as it allows music to express a desire for escape, Grizzly Bear’s “Southern Point” having a particularly luscious call for isolation away from the common problems of the world. Music needs to be able to offer some element of escapism, and without a metaphorical journey to take, how could one ever escape?

Even the vehicle itself can be used as a metaphor for grand themes. Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” closes with “In the Backseat”, where a car is figuratively referred to as a family tree, and as the leaves fall off, the people riding along in the backseat suddenly have to take over and do the job of their elders steering the car out of harm’s way. The beautiful song is ruined somewhat by an exasperatingly long outtro, but it still sincerely conveys how this journey of life and our travel through it is fundamental to our experiences, thus justifying this blog. Cheers, Arcade Fire!

CD2:

Grizzly Bear – Southern Point

The Guillemots – Trains To Brazil

R.E.M. – Electrolite

Bright Eyes – Train Under Water

TV On The Radio – Halfway Home

The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road

Bob Dylan – I Was Young When I Left Home

Radiohead – Airbag

Feist & Ben Gibbard – Train Song

U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name

Arcade Fire – In The Backseat

Tenacious D – The Road

Vampire Weekend – Walcott

Radiohead – Killer Cars

Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone

The playlist for this one is also on my Last.fm account, at:

http://www.last.fm/user/TheCapu/library/playlists/3hv7e_transport_music_2 .

So yes, next time you have a long journey and your mp3 player, why not give some of these tracks a try? They’re damn good after all. I think that was the point of this exercise.

Enjoy your journey, people. Because after all, it’s just a ride.

Shattered windows and the sound of drums

So I’m not normally one for paying overdue attention to the percussion. Or at least I, traditionally, never was. Guitar riffs and blaring tone, convoluted melodies and stonkin’ bass, these things always seemed to interest me more. More of a guitar hero than a drummer, and a mildly competent bassist more than either. Sitting on a tiny stool, back arched, hitting the same ol’ thing never really connected with me to the extent that running around a room playing the bassline to Paranoid Android did.

However, I cannot deny my appreciation of a particularly beaty song. There are some rhythms that do manage to over-ride my brain’s natural desire for riffs, and these particular percussive tracks I feel I must praise. So I have made a tiny list of a few of my favourite drummers, along with their key track.

Recall, I am not a man skilled in knowing about drumming, so this probably won’t turn out too well. Eh.

Band: Radiohead

Drummer: Phil Selway

Key Track: 15 Step

In Rainbows I like to refer to as Phil’s album. 15 Step is a rhythm I find impossible to ignore, the 5/4 overlapping of electronic and acoustic drumming plus the syncopated clapping will suddenly appear in my head at random moments and I have to start tapping a table just to get my fill. Radiohead’s dreary, melancholy image omits the skill of Selway’s drumming, and his ability to get a crowd really pumped if need be, and that’s a damn shame. I could name a few more tracks on top of 15 Step, the drumming on The National Anthem is particularly amazing at being subliminally dance-worthy, whilst There There exquisitely combines layers of forceful toms over the top of Selway’s snare-heavy beats. But I think 15 Step does an incredible job of putting the drumming at the forefront, and really giving the listener a rhythm to fixate on as opposed to the ordinary guitar lines.

Band: Portishead

Drummer: Computers/Clive Deamer

Key Track: Machine Gun

The whole genre that Portishead helped to cultivate, trip hop, would be nothing without harsh, sampled drums. Portishead in particular were at the moodier, darker end of the spectrum, and the drumming had to allow for Beth Gibbons’ tortured vocals while still maintaining a groove. It does so incredibly well, the drum tracks being addictive, but never overwhelming the other instruments or the overall mood (the likes of Mysterons particularly showcasing the talents of the multi-instrumentalists on board). But the key track is Machine Gun, partly because as the lead-off single from Third it had to showcase their new direction, mostly, however, because it’s just so bloody abrasive. It jarrs and catches, like rusty gears turning. It insults and degrades the listener and the music around it and it sums up both the title of the track it is on, but also the whole mood of the album, as it guns down all in its path. This is not your Father’s Portishead. And all the better for it, in my opinion.

Band: The National

Drummer: Bryan Devendorf

Key Track: Brainy

Go to YouTube. Type in “The National Brainy”. Click the first result. On 0:09 the durms come in. Punchy, complex, ever-changing, shaping and somehow improving the simple guitar and dull keyboards that back it.  By 0:24, when the vocals arrive, you are hooked. Or at least, you are if you’re me, which I’m going to assume you aren’t (dismissing temporarily the fact that I’m gonna read this back later). Devendorf’s drumming keeps the head nodding, keeps the audiophilic mind interested no matter what is going on around it. It dictates like good drumming should, determing when a song shold be urgent and restless, or when a track should be light and soothing. It needs to be experienced in good quality, so you can feel every effort that has been put into the pace of the beat. Apartment Story and Abel are also worth a listen to give an idea of how a reptitive drum line can inventively keep a song going.

Band: Bloc Party

Durmmer: Matt Tong

Key Track: Helicopter

It’s always good for a band who choose to seep themself in politically-charged music to really sound passionate. To sound as though every note is a rage against, well, whatever they choose to rage against. The anger of Helicopter would not be what it is without Tong’s insistent, quick-fire drumming. Nor would many of their songs be quite as skilled in relaying the principles of classic British rock without his two poweful guiding hands. Probably the main reason I put him here, away from the pounding scale of Banquet and the majestic sweep of The Prayer, is that during a gig in Atlanta in 2006, he put in a performance so energetic that he suffered a collapsed lung. That is the kind of rock drummer we need, one who gives so much of himself he puts vital organs at risk.

The drummers I have missed out (for there are surely many), well, they’re probably better, more skillful, have more enduring songs and rhythms, but I didn’t think of them first, so what of it? Nick Mason pounding through Money’s 7/4 dystopia, Dominic Howard telling us how to really showcase an epic album opener on Take A Bow, Dave Grohl feeling and feeding the angst of the surrounding instruments on In Bloom. You all deserve to be here. But sorry, I didn’t think of you first.

Nothing can touch us my love

This is nothing like it was in my room

In my best clothes

Trying to think of you

This is nothing like it was in my room

In my best clothes

The English are waiting

And I don’t know what to do

In my best clothes

This is when I need you

The English are waiting

And I don’t know what to do

In my best clothes

I’m the new blue blood

I’m the great white hope

I’m the new blue blood

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over

I wish that I believed in fate

I wish I didn’t sleep so late

I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders

I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders

I’m the new blue blood

I’m the great white hope

I’m the new blue blood

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over

I wish that I believed in fate

I wish I didn’t sleep so late

I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders

I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders

I’m the new blue blood

I’m the great white hope

I’m the new blue blood

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over