Black Mountain – taken from

With “Mary Lou,” canadian rock group Black Mountain takes its pseudo-psychedelic sound – which in the past has had the tendency to sound like a plethora of fossilized classic rock bands – to the next level. The song comes from the band’s forthcoming release (available April 3rd), which is a soundtrack composed of old and new songs for the so-called “apocalyptic” surf film Year Zero. Since the song was written specifically for a film, there is a noticeable shift in the group’s approach to songwriting. The vintage sound of the chunky opening bass riff, which is later mimicked by an even chunkier, distorted guitar is typical Black Mountain; but the band injects their fossil rock sound with a shot of adrenaline by working in a quicker tempo than usual, while simplifying the song structure to a repetitive, catchy drone that does not put any emphasis on lyrics. However, lyrics are of no importance to this song – this is cruising music. The simple phrase “Mary Lou, Mary Lou/Whatchu gonna do?” is adequate because the emphasis relies solely on the charging electric vibe of the music, which makes it appealing to a crowd of “renegade surfers” and anyone who wants to rock hard. The song makes the listener feel as if he or she is catching a wave, taking it for a speedy ride, crashing down and drowning under water, and then slowly washing up to shore.

Listen to “Mary Lou” here:


Since it was recognized nearly one-hundred years ago as a form of music, Jazz has become a loosely used term. In 1933, Theodor Adorno published his essay “Farewell to Jazz.” He explained that jazz–with it’s main characteristic during the 20’s and 30’s being that it was popular dance music–was standardized and banal. If it was 1933, I would most likely agree with Adorno that jazz was coming to an end. But it’s not 1933, and today his essay is quite dated.

Here’s the problem: when one gets their hands on this essay, or the other few essays Adorno published regarding jazz, he or she might believe that this still relates to our time, and I believe that there are many misconceptions concerning the subject. I’ve seen some people relate Billie Holiday to Ke$ha, merely because jazz was an early version of American pop music. I’ve also seen another desperate connection that “stereotypical” jazz, like Jaco Pastorious and Pat Metheney–who both arrived on the jazz scene nearly forty years after Adorno’s “Farewell to Jazz” was written–somehow relates to metal music.

I understand those arguments, but the jazz of yesterday is not the jazz of today, regardless of how hard Wynton Marsalis tries to make that happen.

Adorno was right about Jazz in the 1930’s in a lot of ways, but since his first essay on Jazz was published he lived through three more decades of the genre. Throughout those decades, jazz rapidly progressed as an art form and the world heard bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, post-bop, free jazz, and even beginnings of jazz fusion, while also decreasing significantly in popularity. Did Adorno ignore this progression? Did Adorno himself, while vehemently condemning the commodification of early Jazz music (which creates the argument that it is standardized and produced in a “cookie-cutter” style in order to sell more records), have a misconception as to what jazz actually was? And with so-called “Jazz conservatism” possibly killing jazz in our time, could Adorno’s thoughts on standardization be more true now than they were then? Do I myself have a misconception as to what Jazz actually is? Perhaps.

More thought-out writings to come.

taken from Popsugar

During the 2012 Grammy Awards, host LL Cool J channeled his inner theorist and asked the world a crucial question: “How do we speak to this time?” As Jacques Attali states in his book, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, “Music is prophecy,” and it forces the question: Do the Grammys speak for us and our generation?

The Grammy Awards ceremony pretends that it represents and appreciates the musical world, but there seems to be a central motive behind the awards show. By picking a handful of music’s most popular – or “hip” – artists, nominating them in the same categories, having them perform, and then continuously playing their music throughout the show – and in a slew of Target commercials – the Grammys are using repetition to clutter our brains, silence us, and ultimately sell us the same product packaged in a different cellophane wrapper.

What is problematic, is that the current generation is content with this repetition. Music’s role has changed; it no longer has power. Since what sells ultimately controls what the masses hear, it is impossible for musicians to “speak to this time.” In Noise, Attali quotes Gianfranco Sanguinetti, stating that “capitalism has become ‘a terrorism tempered by well-being, the well-being of each in his place,’” which questions whether capitalism is threatening our freedom.

Adele sheepishly accepting a Grammy–taken from Hello Magazine

Pop singer Adele, who won six Grammys, including Album of the Year, is being looked at as the new voice of this generation. Perhaps she deserves it. She sings well, she doesn’t use any stunts or gimmicks during her performances, and she’s down to earth and personable. However, it is unfortunate that she is only another product of repetition. During the 60 Minutes interview that preceded the Grammys, Anderson Cooper explained that Adele experiences “near crippling stage fright.” She fears that she will ruin her fans’ love for her songs by performing them live. The pressure to deliver and present herself in the way she is perceived is overwhelming, and it forces her to execute repetitive performances – ones that live up to the album.

Furthermore, it seems we are being silenced by the presence of Adele, along with other Grammy winning (supported) artists, such as Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga. The reason they were part of that exclusive handful of artists that the Grammys constantly transmitted to the viewer’s eyes and ears, was because they were the best selling and most popular artists of the year. First, listeners are made to believe that these are the only artists of importance, and secondly, when Target is selling all (only) of the Grammy winning/nominated albums in its stores, listeners are made to believe that this is all that exists. There were seventy-eight Grammys awarded in all, but only nine were awarded on television. Groups like the Christian McBride Big Band get the recognition and honor of a Grammy, though they don’t receive the exposure that the Grammys potentially offer, as they do for Adele and the others. But since the Christian McBride Big Band doesn’t have t-shirts available at Target, they are kept hidden away from the public; the consumers. This does threaten our freedom, because it is narrowing the spectrum of what is available to the masses, therefore keeping them immobile, zombified, and at Target.

Obey Target–taken from Cleverly Simple

The Grammy Awards is not only speaking for “this time,” it is spoon-feeding, bathing, and wiping it. It is an advertisement under the guise of a music awards show. By presenting the masses with a list of “best artists” and “best albums” of the year, which are conveniently available at Target, the Recording Academy is brainwashing the listeners. Musicians are incapable of speaking to “this time,” because no one is listening – or the the musician is cut off.

taken from Sheffield Doc Fest

“Music is prophecy,” says Jacques Attali, in his book Noise: The Political Economy of Music. “Our music foretells our future. Let us lend it an ear.”

* * *

A history teacher of mine once told me that “it was those damn Beatles that ruined America.” Although he was joking, there was no doubt that he was, in many ways, correct. The Beatles weren’t intentionally creating subversive music, and their goal wasn’t to push forward drug culture or the sexual revolution–no one could be that ambitious. But with the angst broiling under the seemingly genuine “Leave it to Beaver” mentality that lingered from the 50’s, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s impulse to push rock music to its limits with every album, the country had no choice but to crumble within its ideals and push the limits themselves.

In the U.S.S.R., however, it was different. The Beatles were not permitted to play in Mother Russia, their records were banned, and the group essentially became a modern legend for the youth of Russia. In the A&E documentary, Paul McCartney in Red Square, viewers are shown Russia’s excitement of having a Beatle visiting their country for the first time, nearly forty years after Beatlemania. Within that documentary, author and former director of the Salzburg Global Seminar, Timothy Ryback provided an explanation as to why the Beatles were forbidden:

Marxism, Leninism–the very foundation for the Soviet system–said that the economic structure, the basis of a society, affected what he called the “super structure”–which is everything: religion, music, the way people think. And there was something called the dialectical relationship, which meant the way people thought affected the way the economy functioned, and the way the economy functioned affected the way people thought, and therefore you needed censorship to control the system.

X-Ray Record–taken from Liverpool Echo

Ryback essentially explained that the Beatles were a major threat to the super structure, and when one effected the super structure, it would bring about change. It can also be assumed that when something is not permitted, the people will crave it more.

Eventually, the Russians figured out ways to distribute the Beatles’ music. According to Leslie Woodhead’s article, “How the Beatles Rocked the Eastern Bloc,” “Beatles tracks [were] copied from illicit tape recordings and inscribed on to old x-ray plates.”

Russian music critic Artemy Troitsky, in the same A&E Documentary, explained that “the Beatles started a whole, huge movement in the Soviet Union.” He went on to further say that the movement “involved millions of young people” who still “lived in the Soviet Union in their body, but mentally and spiritually they were somewhere else.” The foreboding prophecy that the Soviet Union would soon collapse began to loom over the Motherland’s head.

For one group to influence an entire generation to seek beyond the limits, within a country that held an iron shield over itself, is hard to fathom. But it brings up the question, what will today’s music foretell?

In a time where hardly anything makes the Western world blush, I don’t believe music has the power it once had. Simon Reynolds sums it up well in his article “Noise,” writing that:

The problem is that, with any drug or intoxicant, tolerance builds up rapidly. . . As the barriers in the head get broken down, the noise buff becomes kind of a hip vegetable, by a process that paradoxically combines both brutalization and weakening. To be shocked requires that the individual be immersed to some degree in a culture or value system. But noise hipsters have uprooted themselves so successfully from their parent culture, they can cope with absurd levels of outrage/dissonance, and therefore require extreme after extreme in order to feel stimulated/mindblown. Burnout approaches.

Has too much noise been created? Is it possible that society is burned out?

taken from LemonNinja at

Some nights I’m awakened by a cringing sound that churns through the walls of my bedroom. When I slip out of bed to languidly follow the sound that is reverberating throughout my living space, I end up in the bathroom, and within the shower walls remains the incessant chugging and slamming. It sounds as if someone has thrown a metal rod into a gear system–a major disruption. The sound eventually stops and I crawl back into bed and it’s silent, though the brightness from the bathroom light and the foreboding clatter of the shower always leaves me awake and staring at the ceiling.

My shower, which is on the verge of eruption, could be classified as noise. Simon Reynolds, in his essay “Noise,” might agree, since he claims that the term is “best defined as interference, something which blocks transmission, jams the code, prevents sense being made.” Within music, listeners divide noise from the sound spectrum as music’s opposite, but there is a fine line between the two, and Reynolds’ definition creates a different idea for what constitutes music, and opens up a whole new range of possibilities for what music can be.

However, definitions have never stopped artists from pushing the limits.

John Zorn is one artist who has never known limitations. In his group Naked City, he created a plethora of sounds derived from a combination of influences in jazz, punk, rock, grind core, blues, and funk, among other styles. Seeing that music these days is judged based off of adaptability to certain situations, such as driving, exercising, partying, or making love–or all at the same time if one were so bold–I would assume that Naked City, perhaps, is not ideal listening material, and can be categorized as noise.

I will not deny that the song “Hammerhead” is noise; however, it is constructed noise. Zorn and the rest of the members of the group created these sounds together, and the song has order to it; it is a cohesive piece.

In modern, colloquial language, noise may be considered displeasing to the ear, but it does not make it any less musical. Music itself is a collection of carefully controlled noises. Some musicians follow the rules to create beauty and harmony–and to have hit records–while others, like Zorn, bend the rules to explore new possibilities. This does not mean that following the rules of harmony to create pleasant compositions inhibits one’s creativity, but that exploring outrageous ways of creating music allows the composer and the listener to understand what is possible within the limitations.

The annoying rumble of my bathroom shower is something no one can control. It involuntarily starts its chugging and slamming, and creates unorganized sounds. That, to me, is noise. But when I think about it, the garbage cans out on the curb also make a lot of annoying sounds in the distance. People knock them over, or crash into them with their bicycles, or sometimes there is a trashcan medley coming down the street as the garbage men make the rounds.

Whoever thought the crackling sound of trashcan lids could be music?

taken from KORD 102.7 FM

One time I was asked how it was possible to listen to a rectangle. But it was a subtle way for a technologically illiterate baby-boomer to pry into my life, and then feel compelled to tell me his “back in my day” story about vinyl records. Like most old people, he pretended like I was not aware that music existed before compact discs and MP3 players, and gave me a brief history of the phonograph record. “To listen to music we had to drop a needle on these fragile, black discs,” he said. “Try to wrap your mind around that.” Once he believed that I understood the concept of a needle and a groove, he listed the groovy records he once owned: Rubber Soul, Tower of Power, Tapestry, My Favorite Things–the list seemed never ending.

What was more important, however, was the role vinyl played in his life. Every album had a story. Sociologist and musicologist Theodor Adorno had a peculiar way of explaining this role, and claimed in his essay, “The Form of the Phonograph Record,” that “records are possessed like photographs,” and become “herbaria of artificial life that are present in the smallest space and ready to conjure up every recollection that would otherwise be mercilessly shredded between the haste and hum-drum of private life.”

Album art for "Odessey and Oracle" by the Zombies–taken from mental_floss

I would agree with Adorno’s statement. The old man told me of the time he first heard the White Album. He said his father overheard him listening and they got into an argument over long hair. Then he explained what it was like ripping the plastic from a new album: the cardboard cover was firm and glossy, the paper sleeve was crisp and white, and he was always reluctant to play the record because the virgin black vinyl was always spotless; no dust, no scratches. There was something else about an album that he didn’t feel admirable about later in life. “My friends and I used to roll our marijuana joints on the album covers,” he said. “But everybody did that then.”

Liner notes for "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis, written by Bill Evans–taken from Big and Strong

It became clear to me then that a record was not just, as Adorno would say, an “acoustic photograph.” Although records are material possessions that have the power to conjure up recollections from our boring lives, they also add a new dimension to the listening experience. Along with music, there’s the visual feature of the album art, and the literary aspect of the liner notes–a complete artistic package. A record in its complete physical form can produce more than just a memory; it brings aesthetic pleasure.

When I look down now at that rectangular device that contains all of my music, I wonder of its significance in my life, and Adorno’s thoughts are possibly more meaningful in our time. How meaningful is the listening experience when music is merely an mp3 file on a hard-drive, that we then transfer to an iPod, and then attach to our arms before we run on a treadmill? Music is influential as it is, but as a possession I believe it is necessary to own a physical copy of an album, even in CD format, or else songs on an iPod may only become “acoustic photographs.”

Recently, however, recording artists have been releasing vinyl copies of their albums along with a free, one time only, mp3 download of the album. This is a good idea because one can buy the complete, aesthetic package of an album, and then do as they wish with the mp3’s. Perhaps iTunes could one day add an option to receive a vinyl copy in the mail with every full album purchase, rather than a digital album booklet.

Until then, enjoy this:

taken from the San Francisco Sentinel

Lately I’ve been watching HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and at this moment I don’t believe there is anything cooler than seeing Enoch “Nucky” Thompson unload the magazine of a Tommy gun into a grandfather clock, turn and explain to the Irish Cause that he wants whiskey for guns, and then slide a Lucky Strike in between his lips and slowly take a drag. Like most shows on HBO, it involves swearing, nudity, and drug use–the good stuff–but what separates it from most of the other shows currently on the network, is that its components also include cigarettes in every scene and an awesome soundtrack. With jazz music and cigarettes being an integral part of American culture during the early twentieth century, it got me to thinking of the current relationship between the two: are people thinking of particular songs while they’re smoking, and are there songs that are making people thinking of lighting up?

While a good portion of scenes from Boardwalk show the characters reveling with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of bourbon in the other, all while some hot-jazz is being played from the bandstand at a night club, I view the combination of cigarettes and music from a sentimental perspective. I picture relaxing in a dim club, with the blue haze of smoke lingering in front of my eyes, as a trumpeter leads his group slowly through a tune.This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t smoke to upbeat music, but a ballad definitely invites smoking and gives the listener more room to do so. Listening to the quick, convoluted improvisation of someone like John Coltrane in songs such as “Countdown,” one can become lost within the sheets of sound emanating from the speakers, and later find that his or her cigarette has burned down to their fingers. However, Coltrane knew when it was dirty-nasty time, and more often than not he played sentimental tunes, like “I’m Old Fashioned.”

But regardless of who plays what in whatever style, I like to sit in bed a lot, and when I sit in bed I enjoy listening to music, and the type of music that satisfies my taste for when I’m sitting in the dark are medium to slow-tempo ballads–ones that can potentially get down and dirty. These songs often make me feel like going to the nearest corner store, buying a pack of cigarettes, and smoking them all in one sitting.

From these medium to slow-tempo ballads, here’s what I believe would make a good list of top songs to sit in bed and smoke cigarettes to:

1. “For All We Know” by the Nat King Cole Trio

2. “‘Round Midnight” by the (first) Miles Davis Quintet

3. “Bethena” by Scott Joplin

4. “I’ll See You In My Dreams” by Cliff Edwards

5. “Just a Gigolo” by Thelonious Monk

I’d be interested in knowing some other people’s choices for which songs make them want to light up a bogie, in any musical style. Comment your thoughts.