Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 30: Daily Guru, "Saturday Smorgasbord: Inside The Guru's iPod"

In today's video, I answer the often asked question of just what is on my iPod. Share and enjoy.

June 30: Chuck Ragan, "Feast Or Famine"

Artist: Chuck Ragan
Album: Feast Or Famine
Year: 2007

Though one can make the case that the roots of punk rock can offer the easiest and most direct route to convey ones feelings, there are times when this style is simply not enough for some artists.  There are a handful of cases where a member of a punk-style band needed to find another outlet for the full expression of both their emotions and talents, and few of these projects have proved to be as mesmerizing and completely moving as one finds in the solo work of Chuck Ragan.  Having made his name as the frontman in the post-punk/hardcore band, Hot Water Music, it was in the waning years of that band that his talents as a singular performer began to become obvious.  With his gritty voice and unforgiving lyrics, few have shown as wide a range of talent as Ragan, and he was unquestionably at his best throughout his 2007 solo album, Feast Or Famine.  Each song on the album has its own personality, from scathing social criticisms to some of the more beautiful love-type songs that have been recorded in recent memory.  His ability to completely bare his soul and quickly connect with the listener is what makes this album so fantastic, and it is without question one of the finest albums of the past decade.  With each song having a different appeal, there is simply no getting past the power and presence found on every second of Feast Or Famine.

While many may be quick to try and write-off Ragan as another "punk gone folk" act, the fact of the matter is, there is so much more going on within his musical arrangements, that he is far beyond such a simple classification.  From the soaring harmonicas to the touches of violin and organ, the overall mood of the album moves into a unique category all its own.  It is this seemingly odd blend of the styles of punk, folk, and almost gypsy sounds that makes Chuck Ragan's music so refreshing, as there is a sound of purity and authenticity that is rarely found elsewhere in music.  Yet there is also an urgency that runs underneath the entire record, and it is there that Ragan's connection to his old band becomes most clear.  The way in which the mood seems to shift back and forth throughout "throughout the tracks, pulling the beauty and energy from both styles, that is clearly one of the keys that keeps the listener completely mesmerized, as the combination of the complex arrangements and straightforward sound makes the record impossible to ignore or forget.  There is a very present "family" feel to the album, and yet there is also a sense of pain and frustration running through the tracks that further sets it apart from anything else being recorded at the time.  Though at its core, the sound found on Feast Or Famine may be seen as folk, there is far too much going on around these simple guitar pieces to leave it with only a single definition, and it is this same fact that pushes the album into an uncategorizable, yet extraordinary musical experience.

However, while one cannot deny the brilliant musical arrangements found all across Feast Or Famine, there is no denying that for any moment anywhere on the record, the focus is anywhere but the completely captivating voice and lyrics of Chuck Ragan.  Within his previous band, both of these elements were a bit hidden behind the much louder musical structures, yet it is clear that when given the chance, he knows few equals in either area.  Bringing a gruff, yet completely honest sound, one cannot help but be drawn in by Ragan's singing, and the words which he sings are so perfect that they can easily be related to by anyone.  It is this almost universal quality that makes all of his songs so fantastic, and on tracks like "California Burritos," he turns the pen on himself and unleashes one of the most unforgiving and emotional critiques that can be found anywhere in music history.  With verses that dig deep into the the idea of wasted time and how we interact with one another, it is the chorus of the song that is nothing short of a rallying cry.  Even for those who may not be a fan of the style, there is an almost adversarial, confrontational, yet uplifting mood that can be felt when Ragan shouts lyrics like, "...I can’t stand standing for nothing, when standing up is all I know..."  It is sentiments such as this, as well as the straightforward, honest way that he delivers them that makes every track on the album stand so tall in an era when truly great music has become a rare occurrence.

While his previous band, Hot Water Music, was rather easy to place into a genre, when he released his 2007 solo album, Feast Or Famine, Chuck Ragan made it clear that his own talents went far beyond that band or any possibility of being placed into a single style.  Bringing elements of punk, folk, Americana, and even sounds of the gypsy style, the way in which he crafts the simple, yet rather full musical arrangements throughout this album are nothing short of superb.  Furthermore, he brings a diversity in the styles and sounds within these arrangements that proves just how talented a writer and composer he is, and the album remains one of the finest of the entire decade.  Leaving all "studio magic" aside, the album is full of deeply emotional, perfectly constructed songs, and it is the type of record which can easily be enjoyed by fans of any musical background.  It is this ability to have such a wide appeal that serves as a testament to his talents, and few songs on the record pack a similar sonic and lyrical punch to that found on every moment of Feast Or Famine.  In many ways, Ragan seems to be trying to make sense of the world and the state it is in, and through these unrelenting critiques, the songs become some of the finest, yet overlooked rallying cries for a generation that may have forgotten what it means to stand up and be counted.  Carrying the torch for everything that makes "real" music so fantastic and impossible to ignore, there are few artists in modern music that can bring a similar amount of emotion and musical creativity that one can find within Chuck Ragan's phenomenal 2007 album, Feast Or Famine.

Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29: Daily Guru, "Music News: June 24 - June 30"

In today's video, I recap some of the biggest music stories of the week.  Share and enjoy.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28: Daily Guru, "Music Myths #14"

In today's video, I explore the truth beyond myths about The Who, Aerosmith, and Elvis. Share and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 27: Daily Guru, "Gabbing With The Guru: Tim Barry"

Today I'm honored to chat with the great Tim Barry. He also played us a song during soundcheck. Share and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26: Daily Guru, "Music School: Dischord Records"

Today I give a brief history of the most important independent record label of all time: Dischord Records. Share and enjoy.

June 26: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #130"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself. Tracklist will be added to THIS post on Thursday.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #79"

It’s Monday, and that means another edition of “Something Old, Something New.” Share and enjoy.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 24: Daily Guru, "The Playlist #09: Ethan Fixell"

Today on The Playlist, Ethan Fixell adds his music suggestions to mine…awesome ensues! Share and enjoy.

June 24: Tears For Fears, "Everybody Wants To Rule The World"

Artist: Tears For Fears
Song: "Everybody Wants To Rule The World"
Album: Songs From The Big Chair
Year: 1985

While many may wish to argue it differently, the reality is that one uses the phrase "1980's pop hit," there is a certain bias or set of stereotypes that accompany the term.  Whether it is the image of wild hairstyles, a massive over-use of synthesizers, or a wide range of other images and sounds, it is amazing to consider the fact that many people attempt to pigeon-hole the entirety of 1980's pop music into a single sound.  The reality is that there was a massive amount of sonic diversity going on within the musical mainstream, as most musicians attempted to shake off the memories of the disco movement of the previous decade.  It was due to this truth, along with the fact that the "buying public" were at one of their most adventurous in terms of what sounds and structures they could get behind, that there was not only a wide range in the sound, but many groups found themselves experimenting with different approaches, and this has rarely been more true than in the case of Tears For Fears.  While their first album was largely a somber, if not mopey musical affair, their magnificent follow-up, 1985's Songs From The Big Chair, remains today one of the most impressive and important albums of the entire era.  Creating some of the most captivating musical arrangements, as well as a handful of outright iconic lyrics, the group quickly became international superstars, and there are few songs from the decade that stand as more memorable than Tears For Fears' phenomenal 1985 single, "Everybody Wants To Rule The World."

When it comes down to it, the intro on "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" is outright unmistakable, and whether it is due to the way the melody seems to wistfully dance across the track, or perhaps due to its perfect placement in a number of films, there is no question that it has become a musical institution onto itself.  It is the way that the guitar from Roland Orzabal cuts into the cadence from the bass and keyboards that is so stunning, as the simple, quick riff he creates brings an energy and mood to "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" that one cannot find anywhere else in music history.  This balance in tone created by the guitar and bass is in many ways the epitome of sonic bliss fot the era, and yet at the same time has an excitement and appeal that is unlike most other songs that take on such a term.  Furthermore, when Orzabal drops into a bit of a solo behind the bridge section, it adds more depth and sonic diversity to an already exceptional track.  Yet it is also the way that the bass guitar from Curt Smith creates so much movement all across the track that allows "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" to seem far shorter than it's four-minute run-time, and in many ways, this is the true sign of a superb musical achievement.  The manner with which these sounds blend, all on top of the almost mechanical drumming from Manny Elias creates a sonic journey that is completely unique for the decade, as well as for the overall catalog of Tears For Fears.

However, while there is no question that the overall mood and sonic structure on "Everybody Wants To Rule The World"was a massive shift from the sounds of their previous album, the track is also unique for the group in that Curt Smith handles the lead vocals.  While one can argue that there were few groups of the era that had voices which blended as perfectly as Smith and Orzabal, the reality here is that it is the energy and punch behind Smith's singing which is so fantastic.  There is a bounce to his vocals that brilliantly mirrors that of the music over which he is singing, and yet at the same time there is an almost airy, free spirit within them that makes it impossible not to sing along with every word.  However, even though Curt Smith seems to effortlessly work the entire vocal scale all across "Everybody Wants To Rule The World," most people miss the fact that within these gorgeous vocals and upbeat sound, Tears For Fears placed some of the most unapologetic and in many ways unnerving lyrics that one can find.  The truth of the matter is, the song speaks directly to the battle for power, if not world domination, that was certainly still an issue at the time, as one can find clear commentary on the horrors of war, and the almost directionless conquest seen by many governments.  Overall, there is a rather bleak picture that one can take from the song, and it is the fact that this often goes unnoticed due to the amazing vocal work that makes "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" such a special musical achievement.

Almost since the moment the song first appeared as a single, "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" has been a constant part of popular culture in a wide range of mediums.  From the perfect placement at the end of the classic movie, Read Genius, to a massive number of television shows, and even appearances in video games, after nearly three decades, the song remains just as relevant and powerful as it was upon its initial release.  Yet this is not all that surprising, as "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" managed to break into the top five on the charts in nearly ten different countries, as well as becoming Tears For Fears' first number one song in the United States.  Over the years, dozens of artists have released their own cover versions of the song, and from more jazzy takes to recordings that are deep into the world of black metal, it seems that the song managed to find its way into every conceivable musical area.  However, the fact of the matter is that even if it had not been so heavily covered or used within popular culture, the song itself remains an amazing musical achievement, and it is all the more impressive when one compares it to the groups' previous work.  The fact that Tears For Fears were able to create such a beautiful musical work within a structure that was relatively new for them is a testament to their exceptional talents as musicians and songwriters, and even after nearly thirty years, there are few songs that can hold their own with Tears For Fears' iconic 1985 single, "Everybody Wants To Rule The World."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 23: Daily Guru, "Saturday Smorgasbord: Ethan Fixell Word Association"

In today's video, the completely awesome Ethan Fixell joins me for some music geek word association. Share and enjoy.

June 23: Bad Manners, "Bad Manners"

Artist: Bad Manners
Album: Bad Manners
Year: 1981
Label: MCA

Though it is one of the most common occurrences across the entire history of recorded music, there are few things as frustrating as when bands begin to take themselves too seriously.  While there are certainly groups that have made massive social impact, there is a point when you can see a band "forget" how much fun it is to actually BE in a band, and when this loss of perspective occurs, it is the music that suffers.  In many ways, this is one of the most enjoyable things about the ska genre, in the fact that at its base, it is about having a good time and creating an upbeat, positive mood.  Even when ska groups are singing about more sober or painful ideas, there is still the almost oddly optimistic feel that underscores the song through the music and mood.  Among the many great ska bands that displayed this idea, there were few that embodied the idea of pure fun better than Bad Manners, and to this day, their songs can still ignite a room and completely change ones' mood.  Throughout the tail-end of the 1970's and the early 1980's, Bad Manners released a number of singles and albums, all filled with their trademark style, and though they often bordered on the line of "silly," there is no denying the almost intoxicating mood that comes through in almost every one of their songs.  Following what many see as their breakthrough single and a handful of EP's, Bad Manners released their first album in the US, and the self-titled 1981 record combined their finest two releases.

Bad Manners is a compilation of sorts, with the entirety of their Ska N B and Loonie Toons records being
brought together to give an overall representation of the band.  Across these two albums, one can quickly understand just why the group had such a devoted following, as the energy on their songs are second to none.  Whether it is classic tracks like "Lorraine" and "Ne-Ne Na-Na Na-Na Nu-Nu," or their take on "Wooly Bully," there isn't a moment anywhere on Bad Manners that is anything short of fantastic.  It is the way that the horn sections are so perfectly in sync with the rhythm that allows the group to quickly captivate the listener, and the range in tempo and overall sound that they show is far beyond that of a majority of their peers.  Trumpet player Paul Hyman, along with the sax duo of Chris Kane and Andrew Marson offer a perfect balance in every sense of the word throughout the album, as they are able to give what are often largely sparse musical arrangements an amazing amount of depth and movement.  It is also the way in which both drummer Brian Tuitt, as well as guitarist Louis Cook deliver solid performances on every track, yet manage to not dominate the other players that gives these songs a unique balance, and it is this musical equality that enables the entire album to become so much larger than the sum of its parts.

However, while one cannot overlook the spirited and upbeat performance of the musicians, the soul of Bad Manners was always contained within the voice and vocals of Buster Bloodvessel (AKA Douglas Trendle).  There are few singers from any genre that have as instantly recognizable a voice as one finds here, and on tracks like "Lorraine," one can experience both sides of his vocal personality.  For a majority of the album, Bloodvessel does little more than speak with a touch of pitch, and yet there is an intriguing sincerity and "every man" tone to his voice that sets him far apart from most of his peers.  One gets the sense that he is much like a friend, venting his frustrations, and it is this attitude that further endeared itself to fans across the globe.  Yet it is the other side of Bloodvessel's performance style that turned him into such a legend, as his almost comic-like, light-spirited vocal shift that occurs on many of the songs, making them almost instantly unforgettable.  Though there is a slight level of "silly" within many of these vocal moments, one can also hear it as a defense mechanism as he pours his heart out about the most evil of women, among a wide range of topics.  The juxtaposition he creates with the lines, "...Lorraine she took everything, even my brand new engagement ring...she took the car and went to town, but now she can no longer be found..." is absolutely fantastic, and it is Buster Bloodvessel's ability to create these contrasts that makes "Lorraine" in particular such a brilliant recording.

The reality is that Bad Manners had already established themselves as one of the finest and most unique groups of the ska-revival sound by the time that the compilation album, Bad Manners, hit shelves in the US.  The versions found on this record are the exact same as the original UK releases, and along with a handful of other groups, Bad Manners carved out an amazingly upbeat and powerful place in music history.  Whether it is through the original two albums or on this collected set, regardless of "how" one experiences the music of Bad Manners, it is clear that they were unlike any other ska band at the time, mostly in the fact that one can sense the level of tongue-in-cheek humor within a majority of their songs. It is this reality, as well as the overall energy of the band that makes them impossible to compare to another, as well as making their songs outright irresistible.   From titles and lyrics that were little more than gibberish to the larger than life personality of Buster Bloodvessel, Bad Manners remain one of the most wonderfully unique bands in all of music history.  Representing the band at the peak of their powers, as well as offering an introduction not only to their own sound, but the ska style in general, there are few records as bright and in many ways joyously raw as one can experience all across the collected set of songs that is Bad Manners' 1981 self-titled US release.

Friday, June 22, 2012

June 22: Daily Guru, "Music News: June 17 - June 23"

In today's video, I recap some of the biggest music stories of the week.  Share and enjoy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21: Daily Guru, "Music Myths #13"

In today's video, I dig deep into the truth behind some of the most well known myths in music history. Share and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 20: Daily Guru, "Get Over Yourself: Arrogant Music Store Clerks"

In today's video, I send a friendly message to some of my FAVORITE employees. Share and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 19: Daily Guru, "Music School: The Funk Brothers"

In today's video, I go into further detail about the most tragically overlooked band in history. Share and enjoy.

June 19: Daily Guru, "Guruast #129"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself. Tracklist will be added to THIS post on Thursday.

Monday, June 18, 2012

June 18: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #78"

It’s Monday, and that means another edition of “Something Old, Something New.” Share and enjoy.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June 17: Daily Guru, "The Playlist #08: Katie"

Today on The Playlist, Katie stops by to add her suggestions on tunes you need to check out. Share and enjoy.

June 17: Blue Scholars, "Blue School"

Artist: Blue Scholars
Song: "Blue School"
Album: Blue Scholars
Year: 2004

As the 2000's began, it was nothing short of outright depressing to see the overly-predictable and largely uninspiring world that the hip-hop genre had become.  Dominated by songs and artists that seemed far more concerned with placing as much bass as possible on a track, and adding over it a smattering of meaningless lyrics that were often nothing short of offensive to listeners in terms of how low quality the rhymes were.  With the rise of digital downloads, this trend seemed to be set to get even worse, as the idea of making a complete album was being dumped in favor of creating just one single, and for a majority of true hip-hop fans, the mainstream sound had little to offer.  Thankfully, at any point in history where the dominant sound has become so lost in itself, there has been an underground movement that has served as a vital space for amazing artistry and for the true form of the style to thrive.  In the case of this era of hip-hop, some of the most promising sounds were coming from a rather unexpected place: Seattle, Washington.  Having been known as the "hotbed" for the "grunge" movement a decade earlier, the city was boasting some of the most vibrant and fresh hip-hop sounds in years, and at at the front of this movement were a duo going by the name Blue Scholars, and their 2004 self-titled debut remains easily one of the finest records that has come from the world of hip-hop in recent memory, and the track "Blue School" is without question one of the highlights from the album.

From the moment that "Blue School" begins, there is a levity to the track that is rarely heard within hip-hop music, and it is the bubbly bounce that the song offers which makes it instantly addictive.  The sound and energy that forms the backing track is nothing short of fantastic, and it has an originality that is second to none.  The work of producer DJ Sabzi throughout all of Blue Scholars is ex exceptional, but this is easily one of his most impressive arrangements, as the track manages to have enough of a bounce and beat to want to turn the volume way up, but at the same time it never interferes with the rapping, staying in the background of the song.  In many ways it is this reality which serves as a reminder of how important the "music" part is in the term "hip-hop music," and from the superb musical loop to the saxophone sounds, it is the groove of "Blue School" that almost demands the song to be played over and over.  It's the way that the overall sonic structure provides the flow of the track that puts the more mainstream, predictable sounds of the genre into perspective, as the vocals and music are truly a singular element, and it is one of the keys that makes "Blue School" such a standout track on an album that is absolutely stellar from end to end.

Working perfectly within this unique musical arrangement and mood, Blue Scholars emcee Geologic quickly makes his case as one of the most original and outright talented rappers of his entire generation.  At every turn on "Blue School," his voice has a power and presence that cannot be ignored, and he also manages to have a pull within his words that draw the listener in deeper and deeper.  There is not a moment on the track where his vocals seem in the least bit forced or unnatural, and it is the way that these rhymes flow so effortlessly that cements his place as an exceptional emcee.  While there is no getting past his fantastic tone, one can easily make the case that the true draw of the talents of Geologic lies within his absolutely phenomenal writing skills.  There is an honestly and authenticity within the rhymes of Geologic, and at the same time, many of the lines be brings on "Blue School" can be easily related to by people across the globe.  Whether he is speaking on the power of music to connect people that might have nothing else in common, or breaking down what hip-hop music is truly supposed to represent, it is the way that his lyrics are thought-provoking at every turn which not only prove his own place as one of the finest emcees of his generation, but the amazing chemistry he has with DJ Sabzi.

While many may wish to attempt to argue differently, the fact of the matter is that in general, the most exciting and engaging hip-hop music from the past decade has emerged from the so-called "underground" scene.  Whether this greatness comes from an original musical construction, a set of phenomenal lyrics, or an emcee or group that simply takes a completely different approach to the genre, it is within these artists who make a conscious choice to exist outside of the mainstream where the true "art" of the genre continues to thrive.  Among the finest performers to emerge in the past decade, Blue Scholars are without question one of the most impressive, as their ability to work nearly any musical combination with exceptional results quickly vaults them far beyond almost any of their peers.  It is the way that DJ Sabzi mixes together sounds from jazz, funk, and more modern sounds that makes the background of "Blue School" so enjoyable, and yet at the same time there are enough of the core elements of harder hip-hop to appease almost any music fan.  When these sounds are combined with the exceptional rhymes and rap flow of emcee Geologic, the overall impact of the track is vaulted far beyond almost anything else from the past decade of hip-hop, and there is no question that Blue Scholars' 2004 track, "Blue School" stands as a reminder that top-quality hip-hop is still being made, and should be praised for it's uniqueness and overall excellence.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16: Daily Guru, "Saturday Smorgasbord: More Songs From Patrick Dennis"

In the premiere edition of Saturday Smorgasbord, I give you two more amazing songs from Patrick Dennis. Share and enjoy.

June 16: Agent Orange, "Living In Darkness"

Artist: Agent Orange
Album: Living In Darkness
Year: 1981
Label: Posh Boy

Though many may try to deny the connection, it is impossible to ignore the strong bond between the styles of surf rock and punk rock.  From the carefree feeling to the actual musical constructs of both genres, there are countless examples of how similar the two sounds are at their core.  Though clearly, the punk sound borrowed from the surf sound, when the two styles collide, it can yield some of the most exciting and original music ever recorded and few bands capture this idea as perfectly as one finds in the music of punk legends, Agent Orange.  Pulling heavily from the surf sound, as well as unquestionably incorporating a strong foundation in heavy metal, the group's music remains some of the most fierce and original ever recorded, and this core sound can be heard in the later projects of the band members.  This unique sound set them far apart from their peers, and few bands since have so brilliantly fused together these seemingly distant sounds.  Furthermore, though the band has gone through a handful of lineup changes, Agent Orange remains one of the few of the "early" punk bands that still performs and records to this day.  Though they are often overlooked, one cannot deny the fact that Agent Orange was leaps and bounds ahead of their peers, and the amount of influence that the band has had on later groups is similarly undeniable.  As is the case with many bands, it is Agent Orange's first full length recording, 1981's Living In Darkness, that stands as their best, and the album remains just as stunning today is it was more than three decades ago.

Though many are unaware, the truth of the matter is that the lineup found throughout Living In Darkness is not that found on their original EP, as bassist Steve Soto left the band, and would later form The Adolescents.  Yet the reality remains that new bass player James Levesque is just as adept, and the bands' sound is just as pummeling and exciting as it was on their earlier release.  Often bringing speedy, almost crunching riffs, it is his pace that gives the songs an energetic, yet often looming feel, making the bands' sound instantly recognizable.  It is the way his sound perfectly compliments that of guitarist Mike Palm, as his sound is where the balance between punk and surf rock is most apparent.  Whether it is a high-octane riff or he is going off in a different direction, one can cite the work of Palm as some of the most vital in terms of pushing the boundaries on "what" was acceptable within the punk genre.  Rounding out the sound is drummer Scott Miller, and it is his attack which helps to turn many of the tracks into outright anthemic classics.  Whether it is the unforgettable "Bloodstains" or their brilliant take on the classic track, "Miserlou," there is not a sub-par moment anywhere on the album, and it is Living In Darkness that would set the high-water mark for countless bands that followed.

Along with writing and playing guitar, Mike Palm also handled vocal duties throughout Living In Darkness, and he proves to have one of the most ideal punk voices, and the sound of his singing is instantly recognizable.  Sounding most akin to Jello Biafra, Palm's voice has all the grit one could want in a punk singer, and the spirit he brings to the vocals pushes him into the most elite of all singers of his style.  When the rest of the band joins in for the chorus on "Bloodstains," it becomes clear that at its core, the band can pen as good a punk anthem as anyone, and one can easily imagine the song being shouted at Agent Orange's live performances.  It is this group spirit that not only embodies the ethos of the punk style, but it is what makes the entirety of Living In Darkness so amazing, and along with the singing, one can find it in equal measure within the lyrics.  Truly deploying words that can be applied to nearly any situation, few lyrics so perfectly capture the angst and frustration of being "down and out" as one can find in many songs on this album.  Whether he is using the more traditional punk themes of anti-authority or anti-corporation, it is when Palm turns the pen on the community which he himself is a part of, encouraging them to take more pride in their individuality that one can see just how vital a role Agent Orange played in the overall punk scene.

While Agent Orange may not have as instantly recognizable a name as many other seminal punk bands, their influence on alter artists cannot be denied.  In reality, one can even make the claim that The Offspring completely lifted the core riff from "Bloodstains" on their own hit song, "Come Out And Play."  Though the later group denies this fact, simply listening to the two songs makes this denial very hard to believe.  Regardless, if nothing else, it solidifies the importance of Agent Orange, and one would be hard pressed to find a group that so seamlessly brings together the sounds of punk rock and surf rock.  The bands' debut record even features covers of surf classics like the aforementioned "Miserlou" and "Pipeline," yet there is also never a question of the groups' base within the punk style.  Largely the brainchild of Mike Palm, Living In Darkness is perhaps the ultimate punk crossover, as the band makes no attempt to hide their love for surf rock, and somehow manages to make clearly surf-based solos fit perfectly into the punk chaos that they created.  The trio bring as much power and angst as larger bands, and even with the new lineup, the group manages to create an uncanny sense of tension that drives the entire album to a brilliant frenzy that surely set off any and every live crowd.  Based around Palm's core of crushing guitar riffs, it is within this aspect of the music that one can also hear the influence of the heavy metal sound, and the fact that the group was able to incorporate this sound as well makes the album even more impressive.  Though often lost among the "larger names" of the punk movement, one would be hard pressed to find a more uniquely innovative band of the genre than Agent Orange, and their musical brilliance is perfectly captured on their legendary 1981 record, Living In Darkness.

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 15: Daily Guru, "Music News: June 10 - June 16"

In today's video, I recap some of the biggest music stories of the week.  Share and enjoy.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 14: Daily Guru, "Music Myths #12"

In today's video, I dig deep into the truth behind some of the most well known myths in music history. Share and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 13: Daily Guru, "Ask The Guru #08"

In today's video, I answer a few questions from viewers. Share and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12: Daily Guru, "Music School: The Science Of Feeback"

In today's video, I explain exactly what guitar and microphone "feedback" is, and why it happens. Share and enjoy.

June 12: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #128"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself. Tracklist will be added to THIS post on Thursday.

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #77"

It’s Monday, and that means another edition of “Something Old, Something New." Share and enjoy.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 10: Daily Guru, "The Playlist #07: June 10, 2012"

In today's playlist, I give you some good music you MUST check out! Share and enjoy.

June 10: Mac Lethal, "Calm Down Baby"

Artist: Mac Lethal
Song: Calm Down Baby
Album: 11:11
Label: Rhymesayers

Though there have been many changes for a wide range of reasons over the past fifteen years in music, there is no question that one of the most obvious and disappointing has come in the clear downturn in the overall quality of hip-hop music.  As the 1990’s gave way to the 2000’s, much in the way that pop music began moving far away from quality in place of “marketability,” an overwhelming majority of hip-hop music became rather predictable in form and content, standing in stark contrast to the values upon which the style was built.  Whether it was the unavoidable presence of bass levels pushed so high that it was almost unlistenable, or simply the seemingly endless parade of copycat emcees that could rhyme about nothing beyond “women, drugs, and money;” the genre in general was a rather dismal place in terms of exiting or inspirational music.  Thankfully, there were a handful of record labels that then made it their mission to spot and support the underground emcees that had their own unique style, thriving on their individuality, and easily standing amongst the finest in this category is Kansas City native David Sheldon, better known as Mac Lethal.  For well over a decade, the emcee has been releasing mix-tapes and full lengths, as well as being featured in a number emcee battles where he quickly proved his exceptional talents.  While it is difficult to find a subpar recording from Mac Lethal, it is his 2007 release, 11:11 that stands as his most complete effort, and one can quickly learn just why he remains so highly respected on his brilliant track, “Calm Down Baby.”

One of the most exceptional aspects of the entire 11:11 record is the wide variety in sounds and beats over which Mac Lethal rhymes, and yet in many ways, the backing track on “Calm Down Baby” is the most traditional on the album.  The beat knocks perfectly, almost instantly pulling the listener into the head-bobbing pace; but at the same time, it is the slight stutter-step that gives the song a bit more diversity and bounce than one might expect.  The smooth keyboard notes that sit behind the entirety of the song allow for there to be an excellent sense of musicality, as well as giving the track sonic depth, and it is the combination of these sounds that again proves that one need not drive the bass levels through the roof to create a magnificent hip-hop beat.  It is the way that “Calm Down Baby” seems to almost sway a bit which becomes more and more intriguing as the song continues, and the fact that there is a discernable “bridge” section to the song reinforces the fact that there needs to be a “music” within hip-hop music.  This differentiation in the pace and flow of the song also helps to prevent the track from becoming even remotely mundane, and it is the fact that while these differences are present, there is never a sense that it is “over-done” or over-produced.  Such phenomenal balance In terms of both the actual sounds, as well as the mood are a rare occurrence from any point in hip-hop history, and this is all the more reason the track stands out from others.

However, as intriguing as the music on “Calm Down Baby” might be, there is no arguing that it is the devastatingly brilliant lyrical work and delivery of Mac Lethal that remains the focus throughout the entire track.  From the very first moments of the song, he throws down the gauntlet, and it feels as if he just rears back and then lets loose on one of the most focused and humorously penned rants ever captured on tape.  Whether he is providing commentary on the current state of music and culture or turning the pen onto himself, there is never a moment that is anything less than completely captivating.  It is the smooth, natural flow Mac Lethal brings to every moment that proves just how talented an emcee he truly is, and when one compares his rhythm and the ease with which he delivers the lines, most other rappers are quickly placed into a very pale comparison.  Yet it is the powerful, completely engaging way that he mixes together his various themes that makes the song exciting in a completely unique way, and many of his rhymes one can see as Mac Lethal simply saying out loud what many silently think.  Though some might be put off by his comments on the band Tool, his odd story of young love, or his views on current relationships, the fact remains that in almost every case, he is deadly accurate, and you can’t help but grin when he drops the line, “…the world is gray and blue but what skates me through, is knowing that I have a better music taste than you…”

Strangely enough, the version of 11:11 that was released in 2007 bas very little resemblance to the original incarnation of the album.  During the time between the initial recordings, and the actual release, Mac Lethal went through a number of rather traumatic personal experiences, and in the end, he felt that the record was a bit too dark and negative.  With this in mind, he recorded completely new tracks, and most will argue that the final product stands as one of the finest and most uniquely enjoyable hip-hop records of the past decade.  While in recent months, Mac Lethal has found massive amounts of success with a series of raps on YouTube, it is those who dig further into his recorded catalog that are rewarded with the truly exceptional examples of his talents.  In many ways, the rhyming style of Mac Lethal is the epitome of an emcee that is happy to simply be themselves, never feeling it necessary to alter their sound or pattern to sound more like “what’s popular.”  It is this artistic integrity and focus in every aspect of his music that results in a far stronger final product, and also enables the entire album to stand up far better as the years pass.  One can find a handful of other emcees that have recorded tracks where they seem to be letting loose on aspects of society that they find bothersome, but once one experiences the focused, yet smooth sound of Mac Lethal’s brilliant 2007 track, “Calm Down Baby,” there is no arguing the place of both the song as well as the emcee amongst the finest of their generation.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 9: Crosby, Stills, And Nash, "Crosby, Stills, And Nash"

Artist: Crosby, Stills, And Nash
Album: Crosby, Stills, And Nash
Year: 1969
Label: Atlantic

Though they are exceptionally few and far between, there are a handful of albums from the overall history of recorded music that simply serve as landmark moments, almost always defining a certain time period.  In many cases, albums of this nature are so starkly different than anything else at the time that they cannot help but be revolutionary.  Yet at the same time, there are a few records that were not so dissimilar from the mainstream, but at the same time are so vastly beyond the music of their peers that they almost instantly attain an iconic status.  Case in point: during the tail-end of the 1960’s, so many new sounds and combinations of musical styles were emerging that one can argue that it was those who managed to put the most unique products into their own musical formula that stood as the most famous.  But it was in the final year of this decade where one of the most groundbreakingly beautiful albums was released,  Though they had already made their musical brilliance known over the previous few years, most memorably during the legendary Woodstock Music And Arts Festival, the trio known as Crosby, Stills, And Nash had yet to reach “the masses” with their sound, and their debut record was easily one of the most highly anticipated of the era.  Filled with some of the most simple, yet unquestionably gorgeous textures and harmonies ever captured on tape, there is not another album from any point in music history that quite measures up to the self-titled 1969 debut from Crosby, Stills, And Nash.

While other bands of the era were attempting to find new ways to involve the most recent recording and instrumental technology, as well as sheer volume in their music, Crosby, Stills, And Nash proved that there was something to be said for simplicity, and their country-folk based sounds resonate more than forty years later.  It is the way that the trio of guitars intertwine, proving that no additional instrumentation is needed for sufficient impact that sets their sound apart from others, and at the same time there is a groove that runs through a majority of the tracks on this album.  There is such a phenomenal balance of sonic textures and moods on every song that you cannot help but get caught up in the sound, and at many points, the music is able to transport the listener back to the era during which the songs were recorded.  But it is that groove, that spirit that exists within these songs that defines the sound of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and it is rarely as perfect as on the albums’ iconic opening track, “Judy Blue Eyes.”  There is a pace and a tone running throughout the song that lends an extraordinary sense of movement, and one can almost feel the revolutionary nature of the song just in this aspect.  Yet it is the fact that even with such a seemingly limited instrumentation, the trio are able to give each song its own unique feeling and sound that vaults Crosby, Stills, And Nash to such heights, making it a truly timeless icon of music.

However, the fact of the matter is that while the music all throughout the debut record from Crosby, Stills, And Nash is superb, it is their vocal work all across the record that remains nothing short of legendary to this day.  In many ways, simply mentioning this trio brings to mind some of the most influential and outright gorgeous harmonies ever captured on tape; and yet the reality stands that the actual approach the trio took to this vocal style was rather non-traditional.  In most cases, harmonized vocals take different octaves and blend them together, but it is the way that David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash seem to layer their sounds directly on top of one another that has such a stunning impact on the listener.  It was this purposeful concentration on the beauty in the act of singing that would cause a massive shift in the overall trends of popular music; and while many other acts attempted this same approach, none ever came close to the sonic bliss found on every track.  But at the same time, Crosby, Stills, and Nash benefited from the fact that they were all also extraordinarily talented lyricists; and this combined with their voices make them a truly unstoppable trio.  Whether they were speaking on the ideas of true love, the horrors of war, or what remains one of the most moving responses to the assassination of Robert Kennedy, there is never a shortage of engaging, insightful lyrics.  It is the way that the trio perfectly deploy emotion and sonic power with their voices to bring out each and every word and meaning that makes this record nothing short of flawless.

All across the 1960’s, one can find albums from every genre that would remain massively influential throughout the decades that followed.  Whether it was due to a revolutionary approach in terms of musical construction, new possibilities in instrumentation, or simply finding a new way to address topics within society, there is no question that the decade remains one of the most vibrant in terms of sheer artistic creation.  Yet it is the fact that the debut album from Crosby, Stills, and Nash manages to keep a foot in the older, classic sound, yet has a modern, edgy feel in many ways that sets it so far apart from other recordings of the era.  The trio rarely held back within their lyrics, and the spirit that runs underneath every song on Crosby, Stills, And Nash is everything that makes music exciting and enjoyable.  It is the way that the guitars intertwine with one another, providing both the rhythm and melody to the song, that inspired an entire generation of new musicians, also cementing the idea that folk music had found its way back into the musical mainstream.  But along with this, it is the dazzling vocal harmonies that the trio deploys on every song which makes the record truly unforgettable, and one can make the case that without this album, scores of later groups would have never developed in the manner that they did.  While in modern times, their names may be seen as largely that of nostalgia, the truth remains that the trio known as Crosby, Stills, And Nash forever altered the entire landscape of music, and their self-titled 1969 debut album remains one of the most breathtakingly beautiful records ever released.

Friday, June 8, 2012

June 8: Daily Guru, "Music News: June 3 - June 9"

In today’s video, I recap some of the biggest music stories of the week. Share and enjoy.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 7: Daily Guru, "Music Myths #11"

In today's video, I take a look at the truth behind some of the biggest myths in music history. Share and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 6: Daily Guru, "Guru Soapbox: Hipsters"

In today's video, I let loose on what makes someone a hipster, and why that's a problem. Share and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June 5: Daily Guru, "Music School: The Roots Of True Emo"

In today's video, I explain the roots of the term "emo." Share and enjoy.

June 5: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #127"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself. Tracklist will be added to THIS post on Thursday.

Monday, June 4, 2012

June 4: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #76"

It’s Monday, and that means another edition of “Something Old, Something New.” Share and enjoy.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

June 3: Daily Guru, "The Playlist #06: Mike AKA Micklesme"

In today’s playlist, my friend Mike joins me to suggest some good music you MUST check out!

He might also correct me…share and enjoy!

June 3: Strawberry Alarm Clock, "Incense And Peppermints"

Artist: Strawberry Alarm Clock
Song: "Incense And Peppermints"
Album: Incense And Peppermints
Year: 1967

All across the history of recorded music, one can label each decade as having a rather specific sound that was new and fresh to that time period.  This sound or musical approach often defined the culture of the time beyond music, and this was perhaps no more clear than when one looks to the end of the 1960's and the emergence of the "psychedelic" sound.  While one can find a wide range of examples as to how the different themes and sounds of the psychedelic movement were worked into music, there is rarely a question of whether or not something fits within this style once heard.  Many bands found unique ways to deploy the sound, and yet there is no arguging that one of the finest and most impressive came from the unknown Los Angeles based band, Strawberry Alarm Clock.  Strangely, many believe that the band would fall under the category of "one hit wonder," and yet the fact stands that they charted a number of times, cementing their place among the finest bands of their era.  Yet at the same time, both history and chart success make it quite clear that in terms of their appeal to the general public, one of their singles stands far beyond the others, and there is not another song from any point in music history that has quite the same tone and feel as Strawberry Alarm Clock's classic 1967 single, "Incense And Peppermints."

Moreso than almost any other track in the entire history of music, the reality behind the recording and release of "Incense And Peppermints" stands in a category all its own.  Even the actual recording of the track is as unbelievable as one can find anywhere, as the truth of the matter is, the lead vocalist was not actually a member of the band.  When recording began on the song, the two lead singers did not like the lyrics, and instead of handling the duties themselves, they asked their friend, Greg Munford, to take this role.  Munford had been attending the recording session to observe his friends at work, and yet this would end up being the bands' best selling single.  Furthermore, when the song was first released as the b-side to the song, "The Birdman Of Alkatrash," the group was still calling themselves Thee Sixpence.  However, due to the runaway success of the single, the group had to change their name as Thee Sixpence was already being used by a similar sounding group in the area.  When the single was released a second time, this time under the label of MCA, the group had taken on the moniker of Strawberry Alarm Clock, and yet few listeners were aware that the song's vocalist was not technically a member of the group.  The single would go on to sell more than one million copies, and it remains today an unmistakable piece of cultural history.

Yet even without these rather odd circumstances to create a lore around the song, the reality remains that "Incense And Peppermints" is one of the most catchy and captivating songs of the entire generation.  The moment that the song begins, it is the sound and tone of the keyboards that instantly make it clear what time period the song was from, as it perfectly defines the psychedelic sound in terms of the pitch and mood of the keyboard.  "Incense And Peppermints" seems to almost spin around the listener, giving a classic feel to the song, and the melody found on this track has been reused and slightly altered a number of times over the course of music history.  Along with this, the variance in the percussion of the song set it apart from most other singles of the era.  From cow bells to hand claps to a rather sparse use of "standard" drums helps to make the overall impact of the song even more unique, and there are many moments on the song where one can hear just how heavily the influence of the "surf rock" sound had on the psychedelic movement.  At the same time, there is an ample level of tension and perhaps a bit of a darker feel at times, and this juxtaposition to the rest of the musical work is easily one of the most intriguing aspects of the track.  It is the way that all of the sounds and moods work in such perfect balance with one another that allows the track to become so much larger, as well as enable it to sound just as fresh and exciting more than four decades after its first release.

Along with the rather odd circumstances around the recording and release of the song, many are unaware that "Incense And Peppermints" was actually based around a melody written by band members Mark Weitz and Ed King.  The duo were not given credit for their work, and while this would lead to its own issues, most miss the connection that King would go on to become quite well known as a member of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd.  However, had he not done this, there is no question that he had already written one of the most unforgettable melodies of all time, and one can find the song being used in a number of films, perhaps most prominently in 1970's Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, as well as in the 1997 comedy, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery.  The fact remains that when one considers exactly what it means to play psychedelic music, there are a number of examples to which one can turn for a number of different reasons.  However, when looking for the core of the sound and an understanding of exactly why it gained such a rapid and wide appeal within the youth culture, there are few songs that serve as a better example than "Incense And Peppermints."  From the swirling guitars to the exciting rhythms to the almost disjointed vocals, there is simply no other song in history quite like Strawberry Alarm Clock's 1967 classic, "Incense And Peppermints."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

June 2: Röyksopp, "Melody A.M."

Artist: Röyksopp
Album: Melody A.M.
Year: 2001
Label: Wall Of Sound

It has been proven time and time again that without question, one of the most difficult genres in which one can succeed is that of the host of sub-genres that fall under the title “electronic music.”  From techno and house to ambient and drone, the fact that “anyone with a computer” can create music of this style leads to there being far more sub-standard representations of this style of music than that of any other musical form.  However, this same ability for “anyone” to create also works in a positive way, in that it yields some of the most unique sounds and approaches due to being able to so tightly manipulate the composition.  Yet even with all of these truths, for whatever reason, a majority of the finest representations of all of the electronic styles come from northern Europe and Scandinavia, where it seems that as the climate gets colder, the ability to create warm, mind-bending sonic textures increases proportionately.  From Björk to Zero7, it is hard to argue that the finest acts of the various down-tempo genres come this this part of the world, and in that group, one simply cannot ignore the presence of the Norwegian duo known as Röyksopp.  With an ability to execute styles across the spectrum, their debut record, 2001’s Melody A.M. remains a mainstay of the genre nearly a decade after it was first released, From almost haunting textures to some of the most beautiful, yet minimalist forays into the trip-hop/ambient sub-genre, Melody A.M. is a true musical masterpiece, and the it remains in a class all its own to this day.

All across Melody A.M., the listener gets drawn further and further into the deep, ambient tones, ad it is one of the most truly immersive records ever created.  In fact, it is one of the few albums of this style to find even moderate chart success, and it would eventually be named the greatest Norwegian album of the entire decade.  Musically, the entire album is pure “chill-out” bliss, as the soft textures deployed by Torbørn Brundtland and Svein Berge instantly set them far above the cavalcade of electronic acts that filled the genre in the early years of the “oughts.”  With an opening groove that instantly grabs the listener, it helps to set a perfect stage for a sound and mood that simply defy description.  This goes further, as the overall sound of songs like “Sparks” almost feel like a throwback to the 1970’s; as the warm, relaxed tone of the song begs for smoke-filled rooms with shag carpeting.  Keeping the album exciting and engaging, the duo manage to make even more upbeat rhythms and tones fit perfectly within the overall mix, and the flow of the album is never pushed off course for even a moment.  It is the way in which the duo intertwine their delicate sonic subtleties into these varied rhythms that serves as a testament to their true musical genius, and shows just how much diversity one can find within the genre.  Further displaying their talents, Röyksopp add in some of the funkiest basslines in the history of the genre, and this fantastic groove is yet another aspect that sets Melody A.M. far apart as a “classic” album.

While there is no question that the music found all across Melody A.M. would have made it a classic of the ambient genre, it is the fact that Röyksopp ups the ante even further by adding in the stunning voice of Anneli Drecker and others.  Though Drecker had already been recording with “dream-pop” veterans Bel Canto for more than two decades, her appearance here on “Sparks” stands as one of her finest performances.  With a voice that is just as smooth and captivating, if not moreso, as the music, Drecker gently rocks the listener, into a mesmerizing, almost ethereal state of mind.  Röyksopp have also put a slight distortion on her voice at times on the album, and it manages to make her sound even more fused together with the overall sound, as the gloss that it gains perfectly completes the overall mood.  It is the fact that her voice is never too far in front of the mix, nor buried behind it, that makes it so alluring, as it seems to almost float across the musical passages.  The final piece to this overwhelming beauty is the lyrics, penned by both Drecker and the duo, depending on the song.  Though usually somewhat simple, they are all brilliantly crafted, and again add far more to the overall mood of the track.  It is the deep, sincere feelings that overflow within the few vocal passages on Melody A.M. that prove just how far beyond their peers Röyksopp were, and in the years that have followed, no other performer has been able to duplicate this stunning balance of sounds and textures.

Achieving an entire song that, in every aspect, defines the term “beautiful” is a nearly impossible task, as there is always some small part of the song that must be “forgiven.”  Yet all across their debut record, the Norwegian electronic duo known as Röyksopp make it look almost easy the fact that nearly every track on the album has a mood and tone that has never been equaled. Rooted by some of the most bewitching sonic landscapes ever put together, the songs instantly pull the listener into the delicate, yet vast spaces, and it remains one of the greatest “chill-out” albums ever composed.  The addition of the vocal presence of Anneli Drecker and others truly pushes the songs over the edge, and one can search the entire history of the ambient sub-genre, and you’ll simply never find another grouping of tracks that quite measure up to the overall impact of Melody A.M. While the album was somewhat lost within the seemingly endless string of sub-par electronic acts, there is no question that it stands as one of the genre’s finest, and is easily worthy of the awards and accolades it was given.  Whether they are spinning an almost dizzying rhythm, or slowing things down to a crawl, the duo never mis-step, and the flow of this record truly knows no equal.  The blissful sonic textures that result in a fantastically warm mood, all capped off by the consistently stunning vocal work creates the recipe for ambient perfection, and that is why more than a decade after its release, Melody A.M. remains unrivaled and a true classic of the entire electronic genre.

Friday, June 1, 2012

June 1: Daily Guru, "Music News: May 27 - June 2"

In today's video, I recap some of the biggest music stories of the week. Share and enjoy.