24.9.11

Fusion

This time we're going to talk about Fusion.
Musically, fusion is the joining of multiple styles to create a new one. When you hear the word, you generally think of the styles of the Bitches Brew album by Miles Davis, or Weather Report. The funk/jazz fusion is definitely awesome. But there's plenty of other good joining of genres. Most modern genres of music are fusions of earlier ones.

But even knowing that, there are some interesting ways to merge them. Here are some of my favourites, any new ones I should know about?
Funk Metal.
Orchestral Christmas Metal.
Celtic Punk.
For more of a thematic fusion, Pirate Metal.
The Gorillaz could be considered a band built on different kinds of fusion.
Steampunk Rap.
And for the big finish, Swedish Swing Opera Metal.

Awesome.

21.7.11

Awesome alert

I was introduced to this a few weeks ago, but didn't have time to talk about it much until now. This thing is so cool. It's a neat new way to create electronic music, and beyond just that, it's very trippy to just watch.

The Reactable

It's an interactive, collaborative and all around cool musical instrument. At first glance, a price tag of 9700 Euros seems like a pretty substantial investment, but musical instruments have never been particularly cheap anyway, especially for the good ones. Plus they have mobile apps that simulate it. I am HIGHLY tempted to get the app for my iPad, and I have no skill or experience with electronic music at all, if only because it's so cool and encourages collaboration.

They also seem to have a few installations at some museums and schools to encourage people(especially kids) to make music together, making it intuitively and have fun while doing it. That's pretty awesome.

If you want to see a couple cool videos of it in action, here you go: One and two

Watching it in action, I was immediately reminded of one of the great video games of the previous era that recently got an HD remake: Rez

26.6.11

Writing and delivery

Sometimes there are particular lyrics that are perfectly crafted. Evocative, meaningful, powerful, they hit you in all the right places.
Other times there is a performance by the singer such that no matter what they're singing, it's amazing. Their voice just has that perfect tone, the right emphasis, the testicular/ovarian fortitude to go where the song needs to go. And some very rare times, you get both at once. Great lyrics mixing with great performance is what most songwriters strive for, but few get there. For most, it's a bar or two in a single song where magic happens.

My favourite such moments are as follows, and I'd love to hear some of yours:

I Would Do Anything For Love
I doubt many are surprised by me picking a Meatloaf song. This one in particular is full to the brim of awesome lines combined with great delivery. Some specifics include "Some nights you're breathing fire, and some nights you're carved in ice" (2:00), "Some days I just pray to god of SEX AND DRUMS AND ROCK AND ROLL!" (3:45) and "Will you cater to every fantasy I got? Will you hose me down with holy water if I get too hot?" (6:10)

Always
Okay, I'll try to avoid power ballads after this one. Say what you will about Bon Jovi, he has his moments. The whole song is good, but my favourite line is "Well there ain't no luck in these loaded dice" (4:06). Wicked.

Poison
Gotta love Alice Cooper. My line from this song: "I want to hurt you just to hear you screaming my name!" (1:55) Oh man, that line gives me chills.

The Card Cheat
This whole song is made of this. One of the commenters on this song has the same favourite lines as I: "From The Hundred Years War to the Crimea with the lance and the musket and the Roman spear, to all of those men who have stood with no fear in the service of the King." (1:50)

Hurt
Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails raised a sceptic eyebrow when I first heard of it, but this is amazing. Particular mention goes to: "Beneath the stains of time the feelings disappear. You are someone else, I am stuck right here." (2:09)

This was by no means an exhaustive list. Please add more examples. It never hurts to have more awesome.

15.5.11

Nostalgia filter or technology?

One of the consistent conversations and debates I have with my bandmate Rob is about eras of music, and how much recording technology has to do with perceived quality. To clarify a bit, Rob is a man of the 80s. He loves 80s music, cars, movies, maybe not the fashion, but you get the idea. He loves to talk about how analog recording was far superior to the digital recording of today. It's an interesting topic and he and I have had car rides listening to music and then discussing it.

There is certainly some validity to his argument. When bands used it exclusively, analog recording often gave a sound that is much more whole(encompasses more decibel range, room echo, etc), required less post-production engineering(It took more time, but less usually needed to be done), and the quality of the music was high.

I have two main problems with his argument, though. The first is that he is listening to music through the filter of time. The only consistent way to determine music that is good and long-lasting is if people are still listening to it on a wide basis 5, 10, 20, 50, etc years down the line. Sugar, Sugar was the #1 song of 1969, but I guarantee more people listen to Led Zeppelin's first album these days than the Archies. There was definitely a lot of bad music from the 80s that Rob is not applying his recording technology ears to.

My second problem is analog recording itself. It was(and still is) REALLY expensive to record on analog. In one way, Rob is right, because in order to do it within a reasonable budget and time, you had to be a decent musician, from a technical standpoint anyway. Fewer mistakes while playing meant less time and money wasted. But because of the cost, you needed a lot of money just to get in the door, and labels were the only ones with the capitol to secure enough recording time. This severely limited who got to play on an album, and thus applied another filter even before the time filter arrived.

The beauty of digital recording is how cheap it is. To give a relevant example, a year and a half ago d'Archangel recorded our first song "Situations" in Brian's basement on a laptop. Was it a high quality recording? No, but it was a recording that would have cost thousands of dollars in a studio in the 80s. Recording is still not cheap, even with digital, but it is order of magnitudes cheaper than with analog.

That means that the barrier for entry into the recording business is much lower. That means more studios doing recording, it means more artists getting recorded, and more music for people to listen to. This is a good thing. Yes, it's true that this low barrier means music that many consider just terrible gets produced, released and distributed. But it also means there's a lot of room for parody, homages and other experimental music.

7.5.11

Rammstein

So, with tomorrow being the Rammstein concert, I wanted to take a moment to discuss why I like them and why I'm so excited for this show. To put it in one word, that word would be showmanship. And fire. So two words. Showmanship and fire. Til Lindemann is a pyrotechnics expert and the live shows play to that. Hard.

They are one of the few heavy metal bands to incorporate a keyboard and do it well, the lead singer has an amazingly deep and rich voice, they manage to get different sounds every album(this avoiding the AC/DC syndrome), and are just plain clever with a lot of their lyrics and music videos.

Their song Links 2 3 4 sounds like a "right wing" marching song to a lot of people, if only because it's in German with a marching beat. It's actually about how left wing they are. They can be tongue in cheek, such as with their songs Amerika or Mein Teil. Hell, even their flagship song Du Hast is about marriage vows.

My personal favourite song of theirs is actually one of their newest songs, Haifisch, the video especially. It's a subversion in all kinds of ways, from the oddness of the funeral, to the altered flashbacks to previous music videos, it's a perfect sum up.

I am SO STOKED for this concert.

26.4.11

Best of Chuck's iPod 2

I don't know if this title is particularly appropriate anymore, since my iPod actually died. But I need to actually write something, since I've been busy/lazy/sick and that has cut into blogging time. Busy is good, lazy and sick are less so.

Today, we're going to look at one of my favourite songs of all time from my favourite soundtrack of all time, and the timing is somewhat appropriate: Heaven on Their Minds from Jesus Christ Superstar.

If you're unfamiliar with the tale itself, it's a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber about Jesus's final days as told from the perspective of Judas. This song is the opening anthem that establishes the situation and Judas' politics and opinions on it all. But enough exposition, let's analyze.

Lyrics

"I remember when this whole thing began, no talk of God then, we called you a man." It's pretty clear that Judas is very worried about the direction Jesus and his teachings are going, that the message is getting lost in the man. Judas also seems to be fairly genre savvy about the story itself(which shows up later in the more famous song form the musical, Superstar).

""Tables, chair and oaken chests would've suited Jesus best." It's definitely a perspective on Jesus that is not voiced often, describing him more as a great but ambitious man than as the "SON OF GOD!" told everywhere else, wondering if everything would have been better if Jesus had just stayed a carpenter's son.

"It was beautiful but now it's sour." Fundamentally, this song is about difference of vision for an organisation. Judas is more concerned about keeping things going, growing slowly, doing the good they can when they can, and he sees Jesus as someone whose reach exceeds his grasp and endangering things as a result.

Voice

Oh man. Carl Anderson has an AWESOME voice. He conveys both the worry that the tone of the song requires, but there's still a nice edge, foreshadowing Judas' ultimate decisions and fate regarding Jesus.

Form

Very 70s rock with some funk styles, especially in the bass. Has a good swing. An interesting bridge where the time signature changes to 7/8.

But that's most of what I wanted to say about that song. I'll probably have another post this week or early next week.

3.4.11

Bah, busy.

New post coming soon, worry not. In the mean time, enjoy.

14.3.11

Vidja Game Muzak

I was recently introduced to the Extra Credit series over the The Escapist. They have an excellent and growing library of videos investigating video games as one would an art form, critiquing and deconstructing the technology, tropes and culture surrounding games. I can only say how awesome this is so many times, so go watch it. I was introduced to it via their episode on Female Characters after doing some serious reading and thinking about my friend Anna's blog Go Make Me A Sandwich.

Another OUTSTANDINGLY good episode is this one. Seriously.

But on to what this blog post is actually about, they have an episode about Video Game Music. It hits me on all the right levels. Their points are very similar to the sort of arguments I made about Starcraft 2 music.

So yeah, I just wanted to plug that series mostly, but the music episode was awesome.

11.3.11

"You play bass? That's cool...

...I know someone who plays guitar! Do you have any tips about [guitar facet X]"

Not so much a pet peeve as a mild annoyance, but I have a need to emphasize the ways playing bass and guitar are pretty different. The same way a clarinet player could give you tips on reed maintenance, embouchere and cleaning, but not necessarily how to play a saxophone, bass and guitar are related but separate instruments.

Strings

First of all, the fact that bass strings are much thicker than guitar strings is not to be overlooked. While many guitar strings have an average life of about 6-8 months if played heavily, bass strings can easily last for years. For the record, on my fretless, I've been using the same strings since 2002. The strings are crazy dirty, but as James Jamerson used to say, the dirt holds the funk.

Action

The action is the distance of the strings to the fretboard, and it can be adjusted fairly easily on both a bass or a guitar. Low(closer distance) or high action is a matter of preference, but the reasons are often similar between guitar and bass. Lower action makes it easier to move around and hit a lot of notes, higher action gives each note more rattle and resonation against the fret board. For a guitar, low action is common for the lead guitar while high action is common for rhythm guitar. For bass, it's usually more of a matter of preference and style. I like low action myself.

Pick or Pluck

Rare is the rock guitar player that plays without a pick, and those bass players that play with a pick were often former guitar players. Most "real" bass players play with their fingers.

Responsibilities

I've written about bass playing styles before and how they integrate with the genre of music, so I highly recommend giving that a read.

So really, while maintenance and some very basic fundamentals are the same, there is substantial difference.

28.2.11

Ah, moving

Yup, it's that time again.

I'll be moving over the course of the week, with all the big stuff going on Friday. So I've been pre-occupied and not able to think up a good post to make.

So, here are some of my favourite songs for packing.

Crazy Train. Oh yeah. Energy, loud lyrics, wicked guitar solos. Dangers include being careless with your stuff, as well as going off the rails on a crazy train.

The Night Paddy Murphy Died. Easily sung along to to help the time fly by, plus keeps you moving.

Clint Eastwood. More mellow, but good for sorting.

St. Andrews. Good for organising the boxes once they're packed, has some swing to help your balance.

Be on the lookout next week for more of the best of Chuck's iPod.

17.2.11

Musicals? No! Music Movies!

Movies about music and musicians are a tricky lot. While there are plenty of outstanding documentaries about musicians, movie fiction about music/ians has a more mixed quality to it.

The main conflict in movies like that is the casting choices. The director of Once commented at one point that he had been working with "actors who could halfway sing, but I then realised I needed singers who could halfway act." Since that movie won an Oscar for best song, it probably wasn't a bad choice.

Very few pieces of cinema can find the perfect balance of good actors who are also good singers/musicians. Glee has managed to pull it off very well, but I think their secret is that they recruited HEAVILY form Broadway, where such talent is almost mandatory. Thus, casting has to make a choice between good actors or good singers.

And to my dismay, far too often people choose a good actor. The results are often rough, sometimes they're REALLY rough, and occasionally they're decent.

Some interesting things come out when you go the other way and have better musicians than actors. They tend not to do as well but get good cult followings. The aforementioned Once is a very touching movie, with both Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova having very natural chemistry(with good reason) on screen. The Blues Brothers is a classic for a very good reason, and it's not just the car chases. That movie cast is almost the who's who of top blues/soul talent from the 70s and 80s.

Movies about music are ones I'm naturally curious about, and I just wish more of them were like Once instead of Country Strong.

9.2.11

And so it begins

Beginning this Friday, and going for at least 4 weeks, d'Archangel will be averaging 1 show a week. Next week alone we have 2 shows! This is all very exciting stuff! We will be putting ourselves out there to get as many fans as we can, we'll be spreading out wider, we'll have fancy new stuff for you to hear/download/buy in the near future, so I highly recommend everyone stay tuned to the same d'Archangel channel!

If you're ever curious as to when our upcoming shows are, you can always check our MySpace, our Facebook page, or even just dropping one of us a line at our fancy band email: darchangelband@gmail.com.

February is already big, March is going to be big, and there are even bigger and more exciting plans for the spring and summer, so be ready.

This is the year d'Archangel makes the big splashes.

31.1.11

What lyrics?

As a bass player who learned his craft on blues, jazz and funk, I got used to having no lyrics in most of the music I played or listened to. It's only recently I've gotten interested in lyrics again, but I wanted to talk about instrumental music again. Particularly modern stuff.

It's easy to find good music with no singing, just visit the classical section of your favourite music store. For something a little closer to the modern time, most movie soundtracks have plenty to lose yourself in.

What I want to avoid with those is the fact that such soundtracks are often supplementary pieces, designed to be part of a larger piece of art, whether that's an opera, movie, album or something else. It's challenging to find a piece of rock or pop music that was written and designed to stand alone and tell its own story. I want to avoid talking about jazz and such, if only because it's normal to have ensemble pieces for it, as awesome as they may be. Progressive rock does a pretty good job, but because it's Prog, it tends to be a bit out there. Where's more pop-soudning stuff with no lyrics?

One place is right here. Animusic is just awesome. While yes, the music is meant to go along with the animation, it still sounds like a perfectly awesome song on its own. It sounds like a song you would have heard on the radio(though it might have been in 1992 :P).

A lot of celtic bands do instrumental songs as well, though they are often just covers of classic Irish/Scotch/etc folk songs. However, there are cool modern celtic folk tunes I like a lot.

How about you? Do you guys have any interesting instrumental popish-tunes you can recommend?

25.1.11

The best of Chuck's iPod: Nothing Else Matters

This is going to be a new regular thing for this blog (read as: when I have nothing else to talk about :P)

I will take one of my favourite songs and analyze the hell out of it. I will try to make it one of my more obscure songs, or at least obscure outside of the genre. Mostly as an exploration about why the song makes me like it, and by extension why you should too! I love explaining my opinions and then inflicting them on friends! It's just how I roll.

Who knows, there might be a video of these at some point. *strokes chin and raises eyebrow*

As to the analysis, I'll look at the lyrics(if they apply), the instrumentation, the mood, the energy, anything striking, typicalities of the band, all that good stuff.

To start it off, we'll warm the concept up with a fairly easy song, and one that is not obscure by any means: Nothing Else Matters by Metallica.

Lyrics

The lyrical meaning for this song is pretty straightforward. A heartfelt song about the loneliness of being on tour, of longing to be home, of memories of the good times keeping you going. It immediately reminds me of Turn the Page, the other great song about life on the road, which Metallica coincidentally did a cover of(albeit with a very different subtext).

The lyrics are repeated over and over, almost like a mantra, like he's trying to convince someone. Perhaps himself? "All these words I don't just say, and nothing else matters". Yeah, that definitely sounds like a prayer to me.

The energy of the singing increases through the song, starting off softly until reaching a big climax and falling off, almost like a story structure, but still the same lyrics repeated each time. I never thought about like that, that's cool. The story isn't in the words, it's in the emotion. The words are the medium, not the message. That's very cool.

Instrumentation

If you know Metallica at all, then this pretty clearly is not their usual style. It starts off with some acoustic guitar, very soft, lots of echo and effect, some harmonics, it immediately sets the tone. Even when the bass and drums kick in, you feel the weight of it but the pace remains the same. Some soft electric guitar chords are in the background.

The band picks up energy and volume as the song goes on, much in the same way that the singing does. There's a short lull, with an acoustic solo, almost as if they are trying to reign in the feeling. The solo is almost a distraction. When the big climax comes, it comes in with a big electric guitar solo, like a crisis point. The slowness of the tempo helps here, with each smash of the drums punctuating the pace very deliberately.

That's pretty much all I got out of it, as I said this was supposed to be a warmup to the concept. I think it went okay, though, I definitely heard things I hadn't yet, which was the goal.

But as was also the goal, hopefully this gave you new(even brand new) appreciation for a great song you might have otherwise dismissed!

16.1.11

All the way across the sky!

I've had a rough week and weekend, so you are getting two blog posts today. That's just how I roll.

Now, we're going to talk once again about emotion and music and how they go together. And specifically, we'll be discussing it in terms of covers. I've talked about covers and emotion before, but this is more of a series of analyses. I will take one song, look at the original, plus two covers of it, and talk about how the emotion differs.

Now when I talk about the emotion of a song, especially with an analysis like this, I'm talking about more than the lyrics, more than the chords. Inevitably, two people doing the same song will do it differently, the same way two people will paint the same still life differently. I'm talking about the context, what the singer is feeling, what they are trying to make you feel through those words, those chords.

The song in question is Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Classic, Standard, Familiar, all that good stuff.

Here is the original from The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is singing to Toto(re: herself) about how much she is longing to be somewhere better than the farm, away from her fears and troubles. She's exasperated.

Here is the cover done at the end of season 1 of Glee. Will is relieving everyone else's emotions, after revealing how there is hope for another year to keep the club going. Will is hopeful, he's relieved.

We've looked at musicals so far, here is a straight up concert cover by Eric Clapton. The context is trickier here, but there are hints. There's a swing to the lyrics, there's a softness, a relaxation to his voice, there's a groove. This is an expression of casual optimism.

The point? Words only say so much. Music only says so much. Expression and delivery say a lot.

We're gonna need a montage

If there was ever a movie made about my life, I want the soundtrack written by Vince DiCola.

If that name doesn't sound familiar, maybe you need to rewatch Rocky IV.

That is 80s music in all its glory. Synthesized, overly majestic, cheesy, ear-wormingly catchy, and all kinds of awesome. This soundtrack and movie won a Golden Rasberry, it was so 80s.

But as much as people sneer at sequels and cheesy music, Parody is the sincerest form of flattery.

So remember, a legacy can outlast criticism, don't underestimate kitsch value, and avoid sneering.

Remember, you've got The Touch.

9.1.11

Sunday morning

Nothing like a Victor Wooten solo to wake you up on a Sunday.

And make you realise your inadequacies as a bass player.....

That guy is way too good.