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Artist Love: Brave Saint Saturn

October 24, 2008

I’m not a big fan of “Christian bands”.  They bother me as a whole.  Mostly because I feel like there’s no actual attempt to make good music, just “Christian music”.  Often, they’ll take a popular band/sound and copy that style with Jesus lyrics, and it really just doesn’t work out.  So again, frustrating.  See, I am a Christian, and I don’t mind music that deals with faith.  But I want it to be good music.  And not shoving themes or ideas down my throat.  So some bands, like Jars of Clay, are pretty great.  And then there’s MercyMe, which was terrrrrrible.

However, my favorite band that happens to be Christian and/or deal with faith, is a group called Brave Saint Saturn.  Some people may remember a ska band called Five Iron Frenzy that disbanded ages ago.  This was that band’s side-project.  Reese Roper, lead singer/songwriter and guitar player for the both bands, used BS2 as a platform for more serious subjects and oftentimes depressing moments.  Because really, can you picture a ska band singing about the Challenger explosion?  Me neither.

Brave Saint Saturn did something really interesting and fun, that you don’t see often.  They told a story with their albums.  It wasn’t anything intense, and oftentimes the songs didn’t relate to the story, just little filler tracks in the albums did, but it was there.  The narrative was about a group of astronauts on the USS Gloria who get lost around the moon Titan of Jupiter.  There’s a lot of metaphors in this, with space being loneliness, light being hope, the return home being like coming to Christ, and so on. The music is spot on and flows really well.  The story, however disconnected it actually is, feels pretty connected.

The real strength of this band though is the composition of the serious songs, though not all of them appear to be so serious.  A prime example of this is Enamel.  Roper wrote this song after his fiancee went down to Mexico and proceeded to break up with him over the phone.  To be honest, it’s a bitter song.  But it’s incredibly well put together.  The lyrics are fantastic:

“The phone lines down in mexico are slow and maybe tired
I think all your devotion, got lost inside the wires
Well I hope you cannot sleep, and I hope you cannot smile
And I hope that you are burdened with your guilt for quite a while”

It has a great bridge too, featuring a phone conversation with a translator and losing communication.

Some songs are more faith oriented too, like I Fell Away and Heart Still Beats.

But possibly the strongest song on any of the three albums is Estrella.  Roper wrote what the song is about better than I ever could, so here’s what he said, from the liner notes:

This song is about a dear friend of ours Matt Estrella. Matt suffered from a rare genetic disease called Neurofibromatosis 2, which causes tumors to grow on the myelin sheaths of the outer nervous system.  Eventually the nerves will stop functioning. Our friend Matt was deaf when we first met him. He was losing his sight and a lot of feeling in parts of his body. The tumors were large, and very noticeable in some places.He was about the same age as I was, but I was living an amazing life for a 25 year old, while he carried this enormous and hideous burden. It seemed that anytime that I would complain to God about something fair or unfair, somehow I would see or hear from Matt. He was the only person that I had met that had any right to complain to God about what unfair or unjust in his life, but he never did. His faith was beyond measure, and that is why I loved him. Last spring, he died while undergoing an operation of removing one of his many tumors. This is just some stupid song I wrote in a basement. It will never make up for what is missing from the world now Matt Estrella is gone from it…But it is the best I could do. Shalom my friend we will see you again.

-Reese Roper February 4, 2003

An amazing band.  Of their albums, the second (The Light of Things Hoped For…)is the strongest, though I should probably listen to the third that was just recently released some more.

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Ray LaMontagne: What Is He?

October 21, 2008

So because a) there is a song called Meg White on it and b) a particular young lady likes his stuff, I downloaded and listened to Ray LaMontagne’s newest album, Gossip In the Grain.

This was a good choice.  It’s a fantastic album.  I’m not going to review it though.  I’m going to figure out what the hell it is/he is.

The first song grabbed me, which is always good, but not in a way I was expecting.  Allmusic compares LaMontagne to Justin Townes Earle, A.A. Bondy, and (<3) Ryan Adams.  So I click play.  And…it’s soul.  Well, not actual soul.  Neo-soul.  Like, neo-Memphis soul.  Hm, what’s an easier way to say this?  I expected Sam Cooke or Al Green to sing, if that gives you an idea.

Here’s an Al Green song, for reference.

Here’s the opening track of Gossip In the Grain.

Can you hear it?  I mean, it’s not a copy, but it’s very soul influenced.  In fact, the thing that it reminded me of most was Donavan Frankenreiter’s Move By Yourself, both the album and the individual song.

However I’ve been assured that’s not Ray’s sound or style.  So I then go to YouTube to further understand this, and pull up the title track from Trouble, which I guess is his most well known album:

A little less soulish, but damn if that ain’t a Frankenreiterish sound.  Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing.  In fact, this is a very good thing, it works for him.  So, am I missing something?  I really do want to know if I have completely misunderstood Ray LaMontagne.  I mean, not all of his stuff sounds this way, like Hey Me, Hey Mama on the aforementioned Gossip In The Grain.  But it’s there, Let It Be Me proves this isn’t just a coincidence between Trouble and You Are the Best Thing.

Anyways, I highly recommend this album.  It’s fine.  It is the best thing.

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Band Love: The Old 97’s/Rhett Miller

October 17, 2008

The Old 97’s and Rhett Miller, like a lot of other bands or singers I like, have had a weird relationship with me.  I really like them both.  And I have for a while.  But I didn’t start actively listening to them until this year.  And I couldn’t tell you why.  I had one song by them for about 3 years, that song being “Question”, possibly the sappiest song in the world.  Which is a good thing.

Anyways, I got this song from watching Scrubs, where it’s in a fantastic engagement scene.  And I liked it for years, but never pursued anything else by them.  I had heard other things by them, but never really listened to them.  Then one day I go to Best Buy and on a total whim purchase Alive & Wired, their 2-disc live album.  And it was so good.  Especially Timebomb.  After that it was like falling in love.  I bought the new album: Blame It On Gravity, their most famous album: Too Far Too Care.  And these filled my summer.  Rhett Miller’s two solo albums both ended up in my iTunes after a fellow Ryan Adams/Ed Harcourt fan recommended them to me.  The other day I got Drag It Up by the Old 97’s, which I’d heard good things about.

So, why are they so good?  Everything they do has a level of excitement or joy in it that few artists can claim to have.  Listening to their stuff makes you just know that they had fun making it.  A lot of fun, in fact.  Rhett Miller’s lyrics for both his solo stuff and Old 97’s stuff is witty, smart, and enthusiastic without being full of itself.  i.e. from The Fool on Blame It On Gravity

“He came from Phoenix in a borrowed VW bug
He was the kid voted most likely not to return
To Phoenix in a borrowed VW”

And he has so much better, in Timebomb, Our Love, and so on.

The sound of the Old 97’s is also pretty enthusiastic.  It’s pretty rock oriented, but a mix of equal parts twang and garage.  His solo stuff though loses that, and focuses more on a power pop sound, which works just as well.  It’d sound more fleshed out with the band behind him, but that’s not so much what he drives for.

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Non Music Post: This Political Cycle

October 14, 2008

I am 20 years old.  A college student.  Male.  I fit every category of traditional non-voters.  And this November I will prove that stereotype right, since I’m not going to vote.  But here’s the kicker: I have a reason, hell- motivation, to not vote.  And it’s not laziness.  I mean, I registered, followed the primaries, argued with the local registrar as to why I should be legally allowed to vote here in Fredericksburg, and so on.  I was excited- it was my first presidential election!

Then August rolled around and the real campaigning started.  I remember back in May when both candidates were promising to run clean positive campaigns.  Oh how quickly that went down the toilet.  I can’t watch prime time TV without being told McCain is old and out of touch and probably has Alzheimer’s and Obama is a secret terrorist hiding in my closet.  I can’t walk down campus with out being told Obama is a bleeding heart liberal and McCain is another Bush waiting to happen.

I don’t want that.  I’m a happy person, I think.  And I like being happy.  And helping other people be happy.  But this political season is so negative and really bringing out the worst in people.  From out-right lies to subtle slanders, it doesn’t stop.  I couldn’t pick a candidate to support without being judged.  And the worst part was, it was more about parties than about the actual candidates.  The former Hilary supporters who would rather burn their pant-suits than vote Obama in the primaries are all about him now.  And the former hard-line right wingers who’d rather buy pant-suits than vote McCain in the primaries are completely in love with McCain.  Politics became more about issue voting than about responsible voting for the best candidate.  And that’s not how it should be.  If I’m going to vote for someone, I want to do it because I believe that they’re the best for the job, not because they agree with me on abortion or economic policies or who’s the better duck: Donald or Daffy.  And I’m not given that option.  I have to pick based on what they say they believe.

So no, I’m not playing this little political game anymore.  I’m tired of it.  And no, I haven’t become a cynic.  I believe that both McCain and Obama truly want what’s best for this country.  But they aren’t doing anything to show it.

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Bluegrass, Failure, and Lunch

October 13, 2008

So, I give up on the one year thing.  Mostly because I never really cared about it, I just wanted to have a focus for a while.  But whatever.  Now that I can write about what I want, I’ll be writing more.  Like now.  So.  Bluegrass.

I remember when I was a wee lad (by which I mean 12) my parents would drag me to the concerts of a local bluegrass band called Nothin’ Fancy.  I hated it.  And so for years, I hated bluegrass as well.  Then I started hearing about this upstart band known as Nickel Creek from California.  I ignored this, of course, until Fiona Apple went on tour with them and they came to Charlottesville.  I love Fiona Apple, and so of course, I had to see her.  So, by myself, armed with only the knowledge that they were bluegrass, I went to this concert.

I half ignored Nickel Creek, until they played one song that just blew me away:  Anthony, a two minute song off of their last album, Why Should the Fire Die. Chris Thile and Sarah and Sean Watkins gathered really close together, the lights dimmed, and it was just beautiful.  At this point, I fell in love with bluegrass.

To be fair, Nickel Creek isn’t traditional bluegrass.  They’re progressive bluegrass.  But it was a good intro.  I started listening to Alison Krauss and Union Station, the Watkins Family Hour, this ridiculous Maroon 5 tribute band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and so on.  Anyways, blue grass is not a terrible genre for hicks and rednecks like most people think.  It’s amazing.  So shut up.

This is Nickel Creek with Fiona Apple.  Excuse the terrible recording quality, I didn’t make it.

Trent Wagler and the Steel Wheels

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No. 19: Ed Harcourt

September 28, 2008

So I’m a day really late.  I failed before I even started.  C’est la vie.

I wish I could remember where I picked up Ed Harcourt from.  It was probably Allmusic.com or something similar. Regardless, it was a good choice.  He’s incredibly talented as a songwriter, and his performing is spot on too.  He’s like Ryan Adams without the twang and a little bit more in the way of pop hooks.  I started listening to him at the beginning of the summer when I was bored out of my mind, and he filled about a week, which is impressive.  I have a pretty short attention span.  Anyways, I first listened to the album From Every Sphere (2003, Heavenly Recording).  It was good.  None of the tracks particularly blew me away, but I liked them all.  Some were a little too discordant for me to really like them, but it was still good.  This led me to Here Be Monsters (2001, Heavenly) which was his debut album.

This blew me away.  Something In Your Eye was absolutely gorgeous, but two tracks later, is what is now one of my favorite songs ever: She Fell Into My Arms.  That song has every thing a song needs for me to love it.  Poppiness, but not too much, fantastic songwriting, but it doesn’t dwell on itself.  It builds well, goes somewhere, and has fun doing it, while not being a joke song.

Next is number 18: John Butler Trio, G. Love, and Tristan Prettyman in concert.

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1 Year of Music

September 23, 2008

I turned 20 on Saturday the 20th.  It was a crazy fun time: I went canoeing, movie watching, dinner eating, cake eating.  Oh- the thrills I experienced!

But I did some thinking- I’ve listened to a lot of music since I turned 19 one year ago.  A lot.  So what are my favorite things that I’ve found since then: bands, songs, albums, etc.  So I’m going to write about my 19 favorite musical discoveries that happened over my nineteenth year of life at a rate of one a day.  I’ll start tomorrow with Ed Harcourt.