Category Archives: Music

Five Awesomely Terrible Solos

Sometimes, like a Japanese gibberish prog-rock band, terrible things are also awesome things. Let’s examine.

1. “I Will Survive” by Cake

Now Cake is a band known for its simplistic arrangements, but the guitar solo at 4:45 really takes the… cake. Backed myself into a corner on that one. What makes it so great is the guitarist just rocking out on that one note – to the adoration of thescreaming fans below. Never has the one note solo been so successfully employed in a song, so kudos, Cake.

2. “Icky Thump” by the White Stripes

The blips and bleeps that make up the solo at the end of this song are surprisingly melodic – despite the fact that most of them sound like a dying calf. Jack White is the master of odd noises as evidenced by the bagpipe sound that he pulls out of his guitar earlier in the song. Or maybe he plays bagpipe also. Who knows?

3. “Fresh Garbage” by Spirit

Now John Locke’s organ solo in this song isn’t so bad, (we’ll get to one that’s far worse) but the section around 2:00 where he starts jabbing at two dissonant notes on the keyboard is mind blowing. Bassist Mark Andes joins in on the fun by playing a swath of discordant notes at 2:05. All of this was done cognizantly however. I’m not sure I can say the same thing about our number 5 solo.

4. “If” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

What were they thinking when they included this song on their latest album, Stadium Arcadium? There’s not really a solo in this song, but John Frusciante I’m sure is really holding back some strong words as he watches Flea rock out while he sits dejectedly in the corner plucking half notes. And what about the accordionist? Poor fellow, who only get’s to play one chord throughout the entire nearly three minute song. That was probably Chad Smith being punished by the band for losing his light up drum kit. “Here, Chad, hold these three notes and Squeeze”.

1. “Do It Again” by Steely Dan

OK. This is le creme de le creme of terrible solos. I don’t care, Wikipedia, that it was “among the first in popular music to include an organ solo featuring a pitch-shifting technique”. It’s simply not good. It’s awesome that it’s on the album recording, for sure, but especially following atfer Denny Dias’ spectacular electric-sitar solo, what was Donald Fagen thinking? It get’s better towards the end, but those first few measures…. man.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think.

Happy Listening,

~Josh

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PEAK KEYWORD: AWESOME

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Reasons to Pay Attention to Canada Besides the Olymipcs

Most of the time, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what our northern neighbor is up to…. until the Olympics, that is. Suddenly I’m seeing more advertisements for whale-watching in the Canadian outback than commercials featuring creepily mature babies talking about their stock options. And for me, that’s a problem. That, and getting whooped by both the British and the Canadians in curling. (Full disclosure: I’m watching curling right now, and the match is not going so well.)

The point I’m trying to slowly meandering towards is that Canada has great music, and the Canadian music scene is something definitely worth paying attention to.

The Band, on a beach near Robertson's house in Malibu in 1975

There are the big names in Canadian music. Perhaps the biggest being The Band, from Toronto, which was four-fifths Canadian, with legends Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson (fun fact: Roberstson just masterminded the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese psychological thriller Shutter Island). The one non-Canadian in the band was “the only drummer that could make you cry” – America’s own Levon Helm.

Also from Toronto was a band I talked about last week, the prog rock gods, Rush. Their last album, Snakes and Arrows, came out in 2007 but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy. The Sports Network (TSN), Canada’s ESPN, was looking for a way to add some pizazz to their outdated “The Hockey Theme”, originally composed in 1968. The solution? The theme, which plays before all NHL games on the network, would be re-recorded by Mr. Peart which means many, many drum fills. Oh, so many drum fills. Check it out:

The new theme is set to play for the rest of the season, and hopefully will last longer than a previous tongue in cheek version recorded by the Barenaked Ladies, who also happen to be from Toronto.

Back to music that is actually written by the artists themselves: From Midland, Ontario comes one of my favorite bands, The Born Ruffians. Formed by Luke Lalonde, Mitch Derosier and Steven Hamelin, the band makes some great music that is sparse and erratic yet wonderfully rich. Take a listen to this song, and be warned that it gets a little gory towards the end:

Luke’s unique voice is what sets the band apart from other small-time indie bands, and in terms of classic vocalists he can doo wop with the best of them. In preparation for the release of their upcoming album, Say It, the band will be playing in March at the SXSW music festival but they’ll be stopping by New York before then for two private shows, one at Colgate University and the other at NYU, for the lucky students who attend those schools.

We head back to Montreal for the so-called “trip rock” band, Beast, consisting of just two members: Betty Bonifassi, and Jean-Phi Goncalves. They’ve been growing in popularity because in addition to their main single “Mr. Hurricane” being a free download on iTunes, it was nominated at the Grammys for Best Short Form Video. Despite Bonifassi’s annoying tendency to add unnecessary syllables to words (“me-a”, “safety-a”, “sea-a” etc.), the song’s really fun to listen to thanks to a fantastic drum and bass section and some spiffy production courtesy of Goncalves. And the video has some pretty cool special effects, done at a discount by Joshua Sherrett who worked on 300. But the song is the best part, and if you don’t like bees, don’t watch this:

But no Canadian group has been so prominent in recent years as The Arcade Fire, indie-rock superstars. Husband and wife duo Win Bulter and Régine Chassange have led the band to incredible fame. They have been all over the place: possibly working with Owen Pallett (the indie-violinist who formerly released solo works under the name Final Fantasy) on the soundtrack for Richard Kelley’s (who directed Donnie Darko) upcoming film The Box (incidentally, The Box is also a Canadian new-wave band from the eighties); re-recording their song “Wake Up” for the Where the Wild Things Are trailer; and licensing that same song for this past Superbowl – all the while coming in and out of the studios so they can release their third LP sometime later this year. Wow that was a mouthful.

Some of the members of The Arcade Fire, with Butler and Chassange and their duplicates in the center

For the ardent Arcade Fire fans, here’s something at least I hadn’t heard about until this week: Three other members of The Arcade Fire, Sarah Neufeld, Kelly Pratt and Pietro Amato, play in the six person instrumental band Bell Orchestre. Here’s a sample of what their hauntingly beautiful music sounds like:

I’ll come back to Bell Orchestre and Owen Pallett  as well as the progressive bluegrass band, Nickel Creek, and others next Monday as I take a look at some bands that have been pushing the boundaries of rock and roll.

Well, we lost our match against Britain, effectively dashing our (my – and his) hopes at a curling medal. Canada is 6-0 at the time of this post… I guess they know what the sport is all aboot.

Shoot. I promised myself that I would contain my Canadian accent… but no one’s gonna take it to heart, eh? OKAY, I’ll stop. As long as Canada keeps turning out great tunes, I’ll leave them alone. I can take solace in good music. That, and the fact that we beat them in hockey. USA!

Happy listening,

~Josh

[If I missed your favorite Canadian band, please feel free to let me and the rest of the readers know by leaving a comment down below!]

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PEAK KEYWORD: JINGOISM

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Peter Gabriel: Songs To Listen To In An Empty Room

Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel, the former lead singer of Genesis, is putting out a new album. It happens to be his first in seven years. It also happens to be contain covers (or “song-swaps”) of some of the most varied big-name artists. Here’s the full track list:

01 “Heroes” (David Bowie)
02 “The Boy in the Bubble” (Paul Simon)
03 “Mirrorball” (Elbow)
04 “Flume” (Bon Iver)
05 “Listening Wind” (Talking Heads)
06 “The Power of the Heart” (Lou Reed)
07 “My Body Is a Cage” (Arcade Fire)
08 “The Book of Love” (The Magnetic Fields)
09 “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” (Randy Newman)
10 “Après moi” (Regina Spektor)
11 “Philadelphia” (Neil Young)
12 “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” (Radiohead)

Most of those names are familiar, I’m sure, but some may not be. Elbow is a British band – heavily influenced by U2 – that sounds like  a stripped down Coldplay. The Magnetic Fields come out of Boston. As a point of reference, both bands have been about for 20 years.

Album Art for Scratch My Back

Starting his musical career as a drummer, Peter Gabriel was drawn into music by its craftwork. In an interview on his website, Gabriel says that he’s alway had interest in doing “the dreaded covers album”.  But he wasn’t about to go about it in any old fashion. He reflects, “I thought, ‘If I’m going to do that, I’m going to do something different with it.”

Gabriel wanted to create self-imposed rules to rein in the creative process, stating that “giving an artist total freedom is castrating them”. At first he toyed with the idea of using homemade instruments, but finally decided that a strict no guitar, no drums policy would be the way that Scratch My Back would go.

John Metcalfe

And in the absence of guitar and drums, Peter Gabriel has turned to New Zealand composer John Metcalfe, who has written string arrangements for The Cranberries and The Pretenders. But the compositions on this record have strayed far from the beaten pop path into the realm of minimalist and classical music. Gabriel himself says that Metcalfe had Steve Reich and Arvo Part in mind when composing the music.

This has led to the creation of songs that deserve to be listened to with your full attention. These songs create in my mind a white, unadorned and simple room where the empty space is filled in by the beautiful textures of Metcalfe’s compositions.

But enough talking, take a listen and decide for yourself. First up, “Heroes”, originally by David Bowie.

A fantastic string section adds a dramatic edge to the song, especially in the context of Gabriel’s recent contribution of the track in an effort to support Haiti.

His cover of the Bon Iver song, “Flume”, starts with somber piano and then slowly brings out french horns and coronets to back the haunting lyrics, “Sky is womb and she’s the moon”. Take a listen, and if you like it, you can download the song here.

But the pinnacle of the album, or at least the songs I’ve heard so far, is his cover of The Arcade Fire’s “My Body is a Cage” – an incredibly original and dynamic song to begin with.  The song explodes two and a half minutes in, and is the only song on the album to feature a full chorus.

By contrast, his cover of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” is surprisingly disappointing. Barely choking out the words, or just grumbling at times, it’s simply not pleasurable to listen to.

But in the end, Peter Gabriel really has accomplished a great deal with this album. In his own words, “working with the negative” of the songs allowed him to set his album on a different plane than where the “positives” lie.

To see some footage from the recording, check out  this interview. And get all the info about the upcoming album on his website www.petergabriel.com.

~Josh

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PEAK KEYWORD: GABRIEL

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Concert Watch February 2010

So the cold, cruel North Wind may blow, but sure isn’t stopping bands coming from the balmier parts of the country to play in NYC.

Washington State may not be particularly balmy right now, but it is quite a distance for the folk darling Brandi Carlile to come to play just for you. This Wednesday, the 3rd, she’ll be performing a sold out show at Ridgefield Playhouse. If you don’t have tickets, try to find some online, because she’s an extremely powerful singer. Check out this weird but fun video for her latest hit “Dreams” off her third album Give Up the Ghost.

On second review, the video is a little creepy – mostly because she sings half of the song with her eyes closed, lying down in the crook of a willow tree. But we’ll let it slide because it’s such a strong song.

Giveaway! Head over to the Listener Advisory Board right now to win some tickets to see the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures at the Roseland Ballroom on February 8th. You can read about them in this post from last November.

The men of Delta Spirit, lead singer Matt Vasquez second from left

Coming from a really warm clime is the California band, Delta Spirit. Coming out of San Diego, the band’s only been around since 2005, and have only released one full-length album, Ode to Sunshine. Well they’re playing four whole shows in NYC this month, on the 4th and the 11th at Pianos, and the 5th and the 12th at Union Hall in Brooklyn. You may have heard their song “People C’mon” on the Peak

They’ll be playing that and other songs of Ode to Sunshine, hopefully in addition to a few sneak peeks off of their upcoming record, History from Below, due out in May.

Here’s the video for “People C’mon”, lying at  the intersection of art and violence:

Speaking of a lot of shows, Citizen Cope a.k.a. Clarence Greenwood is playing five already sold out shows in NYC. The 10th and 11th, he’ll be at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and then on the 12th,

Citizen Cope

13th and 14th he’s relocating to the Bowery Ballroom. The reason he’s selling out all of these shows is that on Tuesday he’s releasing his third album The Rainwater LP, especially important since the now brooklyn-based artist hasn’t released anything since his Clarence Greenwood Recordings in 2004.

That’s a jam-packed week, because just before Citizen Cope gets to the Ballroom, the Aussie John Butler Trio will be headlining there. They’ve got an album coming out soon too; April Rising, the band’s fifth.

Then on the 16th, after Mr. Cope clears out, Phish’s Trey Anastasio will be taking over Bowery Ballroom. He’s hitting the road again starting on the 8th in Virginia with his “Classic Trey Anastasio Band (TAB)”. He says he’ll be trying out some new songs – in his words, TAB “is sort of a breeding ground for Phish material”. You can check out the interview with him that I was reading here.

Now you may be reading this and thinking to yourself “Gee, how did I not know that Bowery Ballroom was such a groovy place? Why don’t I go there all the time?” And the answer is because if you just go to Bowery Ballroom then you would miss Eric Clapton coming to Madison Square Garden!

Jeff Beck, left and Eric Clapton, right

That’s right, Thursday and Friday, February 18th and 19th Eric Clapton will be playing two shows at the Knicks’ home, with long time fellow guitarist Jeff Beck. Beck just yesterday won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for his work on “A Day In The Life” off of his 2009 Performing This Week…Live At Ronnie Scott’s. This makes him a five-time Grammy winner, which is also how many Grammys Beyonce won last night.

John Mayer

If that’s not enough stardom for you, John Mayer will be playing on the 25th and 26th, with guest Michael Franti on the “Battle Studies Tour”. Everyone knows John Mayer now, and a growing number of people know Mr. Franti through his super catchy song “Say Hey” off of 2008’s All Rebel Rockers.

Finally, don’t miss Umphrey’s McGee coming to Nokia Theater on the 25th also. They played last year at Summerstage in Central Park, and it was a really fun show. If you’re thinking about going, practice your “U” hand signs well in advance.

Phew! Well happy concert hunting in New York’s back yard – and don’t let these winter blues get you down.

~Josh

[If you end up going to one of these or any other concerts this month please let us know how it was – if you met the band, or even if you just moshed a little bit.]

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PEAK KEYWORD:  BOWERY

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Raising Awareness Through Music

Bands and musicians supporting Haiti in crisis

To make sure you didn’t miss out on it, this past Thursday I let you know of a few ways that caring souls in the music community were pitching in to help raise awareness and garner donations for the victims of the recent 7.0 earthquake that occurred just outside of Port Au Prince, the capital of Haiti.

Bands and artists are finding unique ways to urge people to chip in to the relief effort. Music for Relief, a non-profit organization founded by the members of Linkin Park that has raised $3 million dollars since its founding, is currently offering a compilation album for free on its website, urging you to donate after the download. The album features unreleased music by artists such as Peter Gabriel, Alanis Morisette, Linkin Park, The Dave Matthews Band and more. You can check out the full track listing and get more information about Music for Relief on their website by clicking here.

Download “Typical Situation (Live)” by The Dave Matthews Band off of Download to Donate for Haiti – courtesy of Music for Relief

Paste Magazine's Songs for haiti

Paste magazine has set up songsforhaiti.org, where hundreds of artists have donated tracks in an effort to entice more people to donate. The funds raised will be split three ways between Doctors Without BordersRed Cross, and Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund. Artists in the download archive include quite a handful of Peak regulars: Andrew Bird, Ben Folds, Bob Mould, Cowboy Junkies, Indigo Girls, Marc Broussard, Of Montreal, She & Him, The Avett Brothers, Dan Dyer, The Decemberists,  The Jayhawks, The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee and many many more.

Paste is aware that this may not be the best way to raise support. In their words:

We don’t think people should donate to the relief efforts in Haiti just to get a reward. But this gives Paste and artists a way to help, using the thing we’re most passionate about—music.

And seeing as they’ve already raised over $100,000 through Songs for Haiti, it has proven to be a smart idea.

Régine Chassange

In the realm of raising awareness, one artist has gone above and beyond normal measures in telling her personal story. Régine Chassange, of The Arcade Fire, wrote a heart-breaking piece for the Guardian the Sunday before last documenting her shock and disbelief as she saw and felt the events of the earthquake unfolded. Régine is one of the founding members of the Montreal band, where she sings vocals and mans the accordion (and the drums and xylophone and piano from time to time). Although she is a citizen in both Canada and the U.S., her family emigrated from Haiti before she was born, and therefore news of the earthquake affected her in ways that those who don’t have relatives there will not be able to understand.

She writes,

I ran downstairs and turned on the television. It was true. Tears came rushing right to my eyes and I let out a cry, as if I had just heard that everybody I love had died. The reality, unfortunately, is much worse. Although everything around me is peaceful, I have been in an internal state of emergency for days. My house is quiet, but I forget to eat (food is tasteless). I forget to sleep. I’m on the phone, on email, non-stop. I’m nearly not moving, but my pulse is still fast. I forget who I talked to and who I told what. I leave the house without my bag, my keys. I cannot rest.

Partners in Health

In her article, she beckons her readers to donate to Partners in Health, saying that PIH is the best relief organization “in terms of thorough medical care, follow-up and combining of parallel necessary services (education, sanitation, training, water, agriculture)”. You can read the full article here.

But for every shining instance of goodwill, there are plenty who pass up opportunities to pitch in. If none of the above relief efforts moved you, here is a list of ways to help support those in need, including a breakdown how each organization uses its resources.

Thank you for doing your part to help those who, at this point in time, can’t help themselves. To quote Régine again we, as humans, are “[i]mpossibly weak, but standing”. And as we look to the horizon in this dark night and broaden our awareness of those in need, we can see the sun begin to spill outward and upward. My thoughts are with Haiti.

~Josh

[PS: If there is a relief organization or effort that you would like to bring to this blog’s attention, please feel free to talk about it in a comment below – thanks!]

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PEAK KEYWORD: HAITI

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Concert Watch January 2010*

*Thanks to my readers for informing me that it is no longer 2009.

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So in my zeal to try out posting some decades-old Spirit for your entertainment pleasure, I completely neglected a close-up look at some of the concerts that are coming through New York’s backyard this month.

The Little Feat lineup in 2009

This Tuesday, you can catch Little Feat at The Concert Hall in NYC, on 64th Street just west of Central Park. They’re playing in despite of the fact that, as they announced in August, Richie Hayward, drummer and founding member of the band is battling cancer of the liver. The band has offered many ways to support Richie on their website. In the meantime, the best way to support the band is by hopping on that One train and seeing what’s always been a great live performance, provided by a living legend Bill Payne.

Ezra Kroenig

But if Little Feat doesn’t strike your fancy, how about a band that combines two of America’s favorite things: vampires and weekends. Vampire Weekend, the uber-trendy nerd  band from Colombia University (just a jaunt North on that very same One train), is doing three shows in three nights in NYC. They’re appearing first at Union Palace on Sunday the 17th, followed by Webster Hall on the 18th and Bowery Ballroom on the 19th. They’ve been around for three years now, featuring Ezra Kroenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Tomson, and Chris Baio. The reason for the band’s heavy touring is upcoming release of their second album, Contra (2010). Expectations are high, but most eagerly awaiting fans were appeased by this nifty, frenetic and sometimes creepy video for the first single off the album, “Cousinz”:

Bonus! Click here to download a fun remix of “Cousinz” by Toy Selectah. And if you want to get a jumpstart on Contra (which comes out tomorrow), you can stream the whole thing on the band’s website.

Suzanne Vega

And the talented Suzanne Vega will be in her hometown of New York City on January 28th. Her most recent album, Beauty and Crime, was released in 2007. It featured “Frank and Ava” a subdued song that paints the tumultuous relationship between Frank Sinatra and his second wife, Ava Gardner. Just last year, she worked on an album (still unreleased for legal reasons) with musician and producer Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley) and the indie band Sparklehorse. If all of these funky names are making you anxious, here’s a throwback to the song that made Ms. Vega the “Mother of the Mp3“:

How calming is that? For more artists, concerts and concert information, check out the Peak’s Concert Calendar (put together by yours truly).

Next week: I examine a great find that’s coming straight from the Peak’s junk pile to your ears. Until then, happy listening!

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PEAK KEYWORD: COUSINZ

[If you’ve looked at the concert calendar, and you think there’s a band or singer more important than the three I’ve mentioned here – please let me know!]

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Not 8th Continent, Not Chocolate Soy Milk

So no radio station blog-writing intern is perfect, and this one is no exception. In August, when this blog was still a baby germ of an idea, I came across an article talking of an upcoming album, The Sun Came Out, by a group called “7 Worlds Collide”.

Neil Finn

What caught my eye at the time were some of the names on the back of the CD. 7 Worlds Collide is the brainchild of New Zealand rocker Neil Finn. In tow is Scottswoman KT Tunstall; Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco, plus fellow band members John Stirratt, Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche; Phil Selway, the drummer from Radiohead is on there; and so are Neil’s two sons – Liam and Elroy and his brother, Tim. And there are plenty more.

The 7 Worlds Collide lineup

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco

Talk about some world class rockers – you’ve at least heard Neil Finn’s voice backing Sheryl Crow’s “Every Day is a Winding Road”. You’ve heard numerous cuts on the Peak off Tunstall’s debut album Eye to the Telescope – most notably “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”. Wilco and Radiohead pretty much go with out saying, and if you’re a devout listener, then you may remember hearing Liam Finn’s “Second Chance” on Next about two or three years back.

Now when I went back to find that original article last night, I’ll confess I was a little mixed up – and found a bunch of great information about the soy milk company – 8th Continent.

But soy milk and British internet tech firms ( Continent 8 ) aside, check out some of these videos to see the really great songs that make up The Sun Came Out. You can head over to their website, and buy the album for just five pounds!

The best part is all proceeds from the band go to benefit Oxfam, a non-profit that brings aid to those living in poverty. So by listening to great music you get to help the poor. And just in time for the Holidays too!

And don’t forget to check back next Monday for Josh The Intern’s Blog (JTIB)’s first annual Record of Records (no science included)! I’ll be looking at some of my favorite records of the year based around arbitrary categories – you’ll see. But if you’ve got an album that you’ve been digging and it’s from ’09, drop me an email or a comment and maybe it’ll deserve a category of its own.

Check out these great videos from 7 Worlds Collide:

A really great intro video for the 7 Worlds concert this past January

So first up: “Hazel Black” with KT Tunstall

Next, father and son perform “Learn to Crawl”, a truly powerful song

And last but not least, Mr. Selway gets his chance to be a songwriter with “The Ties That Bind Us”

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PEAK KEYWORD: SOYMILK

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