ALBUM REVIEW | Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (50 Anniversary Remix – Deluxe Version)

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Ask any music fan worth his salt what the best album of all time is and chances are they would at least make mention of The Beatles’ seminal record: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Though it’s hard to pick the one Beatles record that stands above the rest, there’s clearly something special about hearing the band really coming into their own on this album. It’s a concept album (sort of), it stretches the creativity of the band and it showcases their musicality like never before. Now, on the album’s 50th birthday, a new remix edition has been released. Is it just a standard attempt to cash in on the anniversary or is this actually a worthwhile purchase? I’m happy to tell you that this new release is the new standard for listening to the album.

What is remixing anyway? Usually, a producer takes the original stems of the songs on an album (if they’re available), tweaks a few things to give it his or her own signature flavor and bounces it back out again. Remastering is taking the finished recordings and tweaking those without really working on individual tracks. The conversation that Beatles audiophiles often have centers around the mono versus stereo mixes. In the 60’s, mono was the preferred mix because most people didn’t have stereo capability at home. The Beatles focused their efforts on mono mixes for the most part (and definitely on Sgt Pepper). A stereo mix existed, but it was thought of as the weaker mix and not truly Beatles-approved. Even a remastered stereo version from recent years is not held in as high a regard as the original mono version. Enter Giles Martin.

Giles Martin is the son of George Martin, the original producer of almost every Beatles track you’ve ever heard. George Martin was a phenomenal musical mind and is often thought of as “the fifth Beatle” owing to his stellar contributions to the sound of the band — the orchestral elements in particular. When George recorded the Beatles, he was limited to the technology of the day, which was four track recording. He could only record 4 things at a time onto a tape. If more tracks were needed (and on this album, many more were needed), he would have to bounced the original four tracks into one and then record three more against that and then repeat the process. With each track bounced, a little fidelity is lost. Plus, if anyone wanted to do a proper remix, they had to actually locate the original, individual tape takes to split out all the stems. No one had ever been able to locate those tapes, until Giles did. Giles took all the original tracks and used those to produce a real, thoughtfully mixed stereo version of Sgt Pepper. Clearly incredible effort went into this project.

So how does it sound? Is there a difference? You better believe it. Listening to this version with headphones is like being in the room as the band is recording. It’s amazing. The sound is just so, so clear. The vocals are centered and crisp. The guitars are panned appropriately and sound so live. But the real difference is in the drums and bass. Giles boosted Ringo’s drums in ways that simply weren’t possible in 1967. In fact, since vinyl was the medium of the day, drums couldn’t be pushed to far up in the mix because heavy hits would actually cause the needle to bounce out of the groove on the record! Now the drums are mixed right into the songs and it’s a joy. The bass, likewise, gets a bump and the hidden notes are suddenly revealed. I’ve heard this record many, many times, but listening to it like this was a completely new experience.

Of course, the album comes in a deluxe version that also includes a bunch of bonus content. You get some other studio takes of various songs and even some instrumental tracks from the sessions. They probably aren’t for everyone, but I really appreciated them. One real treat was the orchestral instruments track from “She’s Leaving Home”. Gorgeous. And you can hear George Martin counting the players in.

So I’d highly encourage you to pick up or stream this new mix of Sgt. Pepper! You’ll be happy you did.

And if you want to dissect it a little more, there’s a great Beatles podcast called “Screw it, we’re just gonna talk about the Beatles” that took a deep-dive into the differences. It’s pretty great.

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Apple Podcast Link:

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Top Albums of 2016 – Part 2

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Onward to my top ten favorite albums of the year!

10. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

It sure seemed like Bon Iver was breaking up a couple of years ago. Justin Vernon even said as much at various times. But the truth was that he had another album in him, a very different album. Here, Vernon moves even further away from that cabin in the woods and into a dystopian, electronic future where cryptic lyrics and numerology are scattered around his strained falsetto. I think this album is a grower, but it hasn’t put its roots down too deeply for me yet.

9. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

Still one of the most musically talented indie artists today, Andrew Bird’s albums are master courses in the art of layering and writing. There are many lovely melodies here and his violin prowess never fails to impress. “Capsized” is a great single and “Roma Fade” is probably my favorite track.

8. The Album Leaf – Between Waves

The Album Leaf have returned. After letting the band lay rather dormant for a few years, Jimmy LaValle dusted it off and recorded this gem of an album. Leaning more toward the ambient side of the spectrum rather than pop, there is a sense of comfort and purpose here. It’s been in my rotation since it dropped in August. A great autumn record to be sure.

7. Minor Victories – Minor Victories

What makes a good super group, anyway? When you take members of bands you like and put them together, will they sound like one of their original bands? Or something different? Minor Victories features members of Slowdive, Mogwai and Editors, so that should give you an idea of what to expect. It’s a shoegaze affair with great vocals and interesting guitar work. I discovered them sometime in the spring and have returned to the album often, finding new things to like each time.

6. Wilco – Schmilco

Jeff Tweedy can’t or won’t slow down and we’re all the better for it. With the grinning title Schmilco, I thought this would be a bouncy, goofy album. There’s definitely fun to be had, but overall this is a sad Wilco album. Nice melodies, nostalgia and a lo-fi production plan make the album feel intimate and wonderful.

5. Hammock – Everything and Nothing

Hammock is a mainstay on my EOTY lists. I just love this band and their approach to music. On Everything and Nothing, there’s a sense of dissonance to go with the lush beauty of their walls of sound. This is an album I listened to many, many times this year, sinking further and further into the sea of sound they produce.

4. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness

After a 5 year absence, Explosions in the Sky are back with a full length record! As expected, it’s an epic journey through crushing guitars and pushing/pulling rhythms. I agree with those critics that said this is their best album since 2003’s now-classic The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. I sincerely hope that we don’t have to wait another 5 years for the next album!

3. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Soundtrack

I want to live inside this music. The perfect backdrop to the creepy happenings in Netflix series is this dark synth-filled tapestry that Dixon and Stein created. Evoking the scores of many great 80’s horror films (especially John Carpenter), they strike all the perfect tones and work hand-in-hand with the Duffer brothers to complete their vision for the show. The title theme music is a wonderful entry point into this analog universe.

2. David Bowie – Blackstar

It’s pretty rare that an artist is able to write and release his own eulogy ahead of his/her unexpected passing, but Bowie did that this year. He released Blackstar on his 69th birthday. He died two days later. He had been fighting liver cancer for months, but that fight was done in private. He recorded the songs of this album as his health allowed and he clearly knew the end was near. These songs are windows into the mind of a dying artist and a rarefied genius. The music video for the song “Lazarus” is breathtaking and heartbreaking and the lyrics of the album’s closer, “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, are a brilliant coda to a brilliant life.

1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

New Radiohead! I wrote a longer review of this one when it came out, so I won’t prattle on too much about it. It’s great and depressing and uplifting and everything a good Radiohead album should be. I spun this album a lot this year and never got old.


What did I miss? Did you have a favorite album that I didn’t mention?

Top Albums of 2016 – Part 1

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I thought it was a pretty great year for music releases this year, but 2016 will probably be remember most for what the music industry lost. The deaths of a few iconic musicians in the last 12 months were hard to grapple with. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and Sharon Jones were some of the all time greats and they will be fondly remembered through their wonderful music.

Anyway, here is part 1 of my top 25 albums of the year! Check back soon for the top ten!

25. Citizens & Saints – Through a Mirror Dimly

This electro-pop worship band has never disappointed me with their energy and creativity while also imbibing their songs with good theology. This album dials back the energy a bit and leans into the more somber tone. The members of this band were involved with Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which sadly imploded a couple years ago. These songs reflect some of the lament and doubt that grew out of that sad situation, but always turn towards Christ and the hope the gospel brings.

24. Lisa Hannigan – At Swim

Lisa started out as an integral part of Damien Rice’s music before spinning herself off into a solo act. Her voice is extremely lovely and her folk arrangements, while not as raw as Rice’s, are well crafted and satisfying. At Swim is another nice entry in her growing discography.

23. Gungor – One Wild Life: Body // Spirit

Michael and Lisa Gungor dreamed big with this project: effectively a triple album released over the course of about 1 year. They brought some politics, some liturgy and some struggles to the table and created a sprawling piece of art. Not every song is a winner, but when they hit they hit hard.

22. Conor Oberst – Ruminations

The Bright Eyes moniker has been dead for 5 years now, but Conor Oberst has been releasing music steadily since then under his own name and as part of some other bands. Ruminations was recorded live in the span of only 48 hours as Oberst was wintering in Omaha following a health crisis. It’s raw, somewhat bleak and very personal.

21. Weezer – The White Album

It’s crazy to think that this is Weezer’s 10th album! It’s also their 4th self-titled LP. They’ve been experiencing a creative renaissance of sorts over the last few years and this album continues that trend. It’s “good Weezer” and it was a great summer album this year.

20. Cloud Cult – The Seeker

Minneapolis-based Cloud Cult joined the crowd-funded album trend this year, raising support to release The Seeker, their 10th album. Fans obliged and the album dropped in February accompanied by a feature film starring Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother fame. I haven’t seen the film yet, but the album has a lot to like and doesn’t deviate too much from the established Cloud Cult sound. Which is a good thing.

19. Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere

Thrice is back. After breaking up in 2012, the band members kicked around other projects to varying success. Frontman Dustin Kensrue had a gig as the worship pastor at Mars Hill in Seattle. When that church imploded, Kensrue decided to reform Thrice and they recorded this album in short order. You’ll find themes of faith and culture, but also politics here as the band comments on the state of the union.

18. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

I love Jimmy Eat World, but I haven’t been blown away by an album of theirs in ten years (not since Futures). And frankly, their last two albums were big disappointments. With Integrity Blues, they seem to have gotten back to basics a bit and recaptured some of the magic of their early catalog. I like this album more every time I listen to it.

17. Polica – United Crushers

When a great Minneapolis band releases an album that references semi-famous Minneapolis graffiti, I like before I even hear it. Fortunately, Polica’s album is easy on the ears too. With a protest song bent to it, the album still oozes cool with the dark arrangements and the vocal work of Channy Leaneagh.

16. All Sons and Daughters – Poets & Saints

This Christian band decided to take a trip to inspire their new album. They visited various European cities and read the works of the various Christian writers who called those cities home. Working off those manuscripts, they wrote an album that is full of history and theology, but also the singable choruses they are known for. Worship leaders, like me, appreciate the effort.

15. James Blake – The Colour in Anything

Blake’s music is perfect for autumn, sparse and minimal melodies with piano and electronic elements beneath his wavering vocals. With guest appearances by Justin Vernon and Frank Ocean, this might be his best album to date.

14. S U R V I V E – RR7349

Stranger Things arrested the cultural moment this summer and it launched a formerly-unknown band to internet fame. SURVIVE is a synth-wave band and some members contributed the score to that show. Their band work is similar, but more propulsive and crunchy. Listening to it stoked up my interest in this genre and I spent plenty of time searching around for me!

13. Amiina – Fantomas

We haven’t had new music for Amiina since 2010! Originally a string quartet, they’ve expanded their sound (and roster) into a diverse collection of unique instruments over the years. Their music is a wonderful collage of textures and melodies. This album just continues to prove that they are very, very talented.

12. Phantogram – Three

It’s kind of amazing that Phantogram’s sound is produced by only two people! Their music is a mutation of trip-hop that has a lot of energy and pop to it. Their single from this album, “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”, was a great radio play this year.

11. M83 – Junk

M83 is coming off their most successful album to date with 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. There’s a sense that Anthony Gonzalez wanted to deviate from that pillar a little bit with this year’s album Junk. It’s not as radio-friendly, for sure, but there are some real jams here and I appreciate that they didn’t just clone their hits.

Concert Review | Sigur Ros at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis 9/29/16

Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros is probably my favorite live act. I’ve seen them 3 times and each time has been different and beautiful. My first experience was 10 years ago when they played the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. They were one tour following the release of their album “Takk…” and they brought along their string quartet partners Amiina. Following that tour, Amiina struck out on their own, ending their longstanding tour partnership with Sigur Ros.

That meant that the next time I saw the band, in 2008 at the Orpheum again, the songs were doctored to cover the absence of the string parts. This tour was in support of their 5th studio album “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust”, which had some “poppier” elements than their previous, pastoral work. As my review stated, they closed their main set with a bouncy rendition of “Gobbledigook” and a hurricane of confetti. 

My 3rd experience was in 2013 and it was a sharp departure as longtime Sigur Ros member Kjartan left the band following the release of “Valtari” and their next tour included some of the crushing, industrial sounds of their album “Kveikur”. They played the Roy Wilkins Auditorium on that tour and showcased a magnificent video board show and backing musicians. It was a huge performance.

For the last couple of years, the band has rested a bit and regrouped. Now a trio, the band decided that they would tour again this year, but without any supporting musicians. For probably the first time, they would perform only as a three-piece ensemble. The band made it clear that this tour was something special:

the month long run is comprised primarily of theater shows, marking the band’s most intimate tour in a decade. in keeping with the scale of the venues, the group will be performing without the string and brass sections that have been characteristic of recent performances, opting instead to focus on the core unit of the band itself. the shows will give the group a chance to road test new music, the first time since the tour leading up to the acclaimed ( ) album in 2002 that the band has performed new material ahead of album recording sessions. alongside this experimentation played out in public, the band is also planning on attempting new interpretations of old songs that haven’t been played in a very long time.

though the scale of the venues and band will be reduced, the live production will be characteristically stunning, designed again by the team behind their previous knights of illumination award-winning tour

With the promise of intimacy and new songs, I couldn’t resist shelling out the dough for another chance to see these guys. Especially at the Orpheum, which I believe is the perfect Twin Cities venue for them.

A quick word about the current state of online ticket sales: it’s a complete disaster. The band offered a code for the presale of tickets. They also offered a number of tiers of prices, including a package that included orchestra pit seats and other goodies for over $100 a ticket. Still, all tickets sold out almost immediately during the presale. I selected the lowest price tier and got decent seats in the balcony and bought them. Just for kicked, I then tried searching for tickets in the next highest price range to see what would happen. All tickets were gone. Of course, scalper tickets appeared online almost instantaneously after the presale. Ticketmaster needs to get their act together on this or bands need to find alternate channels for fans to get to their shows without getting scammed.


It was a gorgeous autumn evening when we ventured downtown for the show. The Orpheum was lit up as usual and fans were lingering outside, taking selfies with the marquee and smoking. There were little postings throughout the lobby stating that the show would begin promptly at 8:30pm, a subtle urging for people to find their seats before showtime. After scoping out the merch table, we went upstairs and located our seats in the balcony. The views in the Orpheum are great from almost every seat and we were pleased with our vantage point.

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With no opening act, the stage was empty and ambient music was playing overhead. The stage was dressed with semi-transparent curtains on all four sides, including the front of the stage. What looked like black PVC pipe constructions formed a sort of lattice around the edges telescoping to the back and creating a tunnel-like illusion from head on.

Soon the ambient music surged a bit and the anticipatory energy in the room surged with it. Still, there empty seats around us. Then the lights went down and the show began. Throughout the first few songs, people were still being ushered to their seats and talking as they got settled. “See, he plays his guitar with a bow!” shouted one person nearby as the band played. *sigh* Moving on.

The band opened their set with their newest, unreleased song simply entitled “Á“. It was a quiet number that wouldn’t feel out of place on Valtari. It was a somber start to the show, especially when followed by two more sedate numbers. Most of the crowd was rapt with attention, pulled into the sonic textures and mesmerized by the amazing light show set to each of the songs. Jonsi did have one vocal flub as he plucked a wrong note on this guitar and his voice went with the sour note. He’s human, after all. Soon the band took the energy up with some of their well-known loud numbers (Daudalagid and Glosoli) before closing the first set with a lesser known B-side from years ago called “Smaskifa”. It was a calculated bell curve of a set.

h/t to Lacey Hunt on Facebook

As I took a breath, I thought about how different this show really was than the others I’d seen. The 4th member of the band here was the light rig, which really added to the songs in a very tangible way. I also realized that the absence of Kjartan left a bit of an instrumental void that was mostly filled by Orri, the drummer. Jonsi and Georg stayed in their lanes for the most part and it was Orri who was tasked with frantic drumming and also pensive keys – sometimes on the same song. But it was working! Three guys, with some backing track help, were making a lot of noise!

It was in the beginning of the 2nd set that the missing member was acutely felt, however. Returning to the slightly redressed stage, the trio took up positions bunched together towards the back of the stage. They were surrounded on all sides by these transparent curtains and projections danced all around them. This gave the appearance that they were very tall and almost swimming in the projected smoke and cloud images. They played another new song “Ovedur” from this position as Orri drummed on an electric pad. Then they went into a crowd favorite from their catalog: “Staralfur”, made semi-famous for its inclusion in the Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The album version of this song features a gorgeous string arrangement as its sonic backbone, which they didn’t have. They did have Orri playing the shimmering piano part under Jonsi’s bowed guitar and Georg’s rhythm acoustic. Still, it didn’t feel quite the same and actually felt a little rhythmically off-kilter at one moment. Then as they were fading the song to a quiet finish, an abrupt accidental piano “plink” rang out. Oops.

After this interstitial arrangement, the band again took their original places and proceeded to bring down the house with the next two incredible songs. As the musicians hammered away at their instruments, the screens danced with color and light and strobe lights accented the snare and tom hits, blinding and thrilling the audience. This 1-2 punch of Saeglopur and Ny Batteri was an epic highlight of the night. The set oscillated again from there, taking a breather for a couple of quiet songs and cleansing the audience’s auditory palette. The final 3 songs brought the night to a triumphant close with the traditional closer Popplagid as the band frantically played and the light rigs really let loose (Orri even had to remove his shirt between songs). As the Jonsi and Georg threw their guitars to the ground and walked off stage with Orri, feedback and reverb still throbbing, the crowd leapt to its feet in euphoria. The boys returned to the stage twice for bows and “takk”s before venturing back into the darkness and the netherworld we all assume they reside in.

h/t to Lacey Hunt on Facebook

Much has been said about the music of Sigur Ros. Many, including the band themselves, talk about how the music is inextricably linked to their home country of Iceland. Iceland is a unique place with desolate, beautiful landscapes and rich, almost mythical local legends. There’s a mystique to it and a sense of magical unknown. The language is a beautiful nordic volley of consonants. And all of these descriptors can easily be applied to the music of Sigur Ros. Most of their songs are sung in Icelandic, with a healthy number sung in the proprietary invented language of “Hopelandic”, so 99% of the audience probably has no idea what the words are to these songs. But it doesn’t matter. The music is arresting and beautiful and the intensity with which it is delivered seals you in.

During intermission, a middle-aged man behind me commented, “This music, like, destroys my soul. And then recreates it.” And I think this gets at another thing that draws people into the music of Sigur Ros – it has a spiritual quality. That otherworldly nature of the sounds reminds us of heaven. It stirs up souls and elicits the kind of emotion that a good worship song might do in church. That’s another reason why the Orpheum suits this band far better than “The Roy”. It feels like an ancient, ornate church sanctuary.

Sigur Ros is, without a doubt, the best live band I’ve ever seen. Personnel and show design may change, but these guys and these songs are something special. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Setlist:

Were you there too? Have you seen Sigur Ros elsewhere? Share your thoughts!

TV REVIEW: Stranger Things

TV REVIEW:

Stranger Things (Netflix)

SPOILER FREE

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In recent years, the sprawling success of Netflix has forced them to change their company strategy. Where once they were just another upstart distribution service for older movies, they soon came to be viewed as a competitor by their suppliers (Hollywood). As movie studios gradually pulled their content out of the streaming catalog, Netflix pivoted to focusing on TV series (becoming the new syndication standard) and on original content. Like a new network, the early days were about first making a name for themselves with interesting and provocative series, but also about just getting enough programming to fill time. Netflix went to creative minds and basically gave them carte blanche to create their show how they wanted. With this model, Netflix has had some big hits (Orange is the New Black) and a few whiffs (Hemlock Grove). Still, they’ve had an impressive track record to this point with prestige-style dramas (House of Cards), pulpy comic book adaptations (Daredevil), quirky sitcoms (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), compelling docu-series (Making  a Murderer), kids shows (Voltron) and adult cartoons (Bojack Horseman). They’ve even started financing the releases of actual films too (Beasts of No Nation). In 2013, Netflix’s chief content officer famously said, “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” That quote became prophetic as HBO launched a cable-free streaming option for all their content last year.

Last year, I caught wind of a new Netflix project with the working title “Montauk”. Winona Ryder had just been cast, giving the series a headliner with a good resume and name recognition. The project was billed as a supernatural mystery series set in Montauk, NY, and was described as “a love letter to the ’80s classics that captivated a generation.” It was being helmed by The Duffer Brothers, who I’d never heard of. From there, not much was said about the project for a good long time. Only in the last couple of months were trailers released for “Stranger Things” and I realized that this was “Montauk”.

The series was released on Friday and I burned through the 8 episodes in 3 days, probably the fastest I’ve binge-watched a Netflix series. I was completely taken in by this amazing show.

Instead of taking place in Montauk, NY, the Duffer brothers reset the show in a sleepy small town in Indiana in 1983. The story revolves around the disappearance of a 12-year-old boy and the mysterious events that begin to happen after that.

What really sets this show apart is the clear influence of the films of the 80’s, specifically Spielberg and his peers. Familiar tropes from those films are joyously adapted into this fresh story. This is homage at its finest, but the Duffers don’t just copy and paste, they update the ideas of those films and view them through a 21st-century lens. Take Ryder’s character as an example. A frantic and grieving mother character may be familiar, but she dials her performance to 11 and doesn’t pull any punches. The same goes for David Harbour’s depiction of the small town sheriff. He’s a complicated and wounded man, struggling through depression with sex, drugs, and alcohol. Probably a little too real for the Amblin pillars of the 80’s.

And then there’s the central group of kids. They’re perfectly cast. Just perfect. Their chemistry is undeniable and it’s just a joy to be part of their world when it gets spun around by the scary events of the story.

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All the familiarity of this genre plays so well in this series. As someone who grew up watching those movies all the time, it feels so warm and nostalgic to see those beats hit again with such precision and skill. I had a similar feeling about JJ Abrams’ film “Super 8” a couple years back. But the series format of “Stranger Things” allows the story to breathe more and for the characters to travel further on their journeys.

And the music. Oh my goodness, the music. The Duffers were apparently granted enough cash to buy the rights to some great music from the early 80’s, which lends a lot of authenticity to the show. However, it’s the John Carpenter-evoking score that really stands out to me. As soon as the iconic title sequence begins, I get goosebumps. The dark synths are incredible (courtesy of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the Austin band SURVIVE). Couple that with the iconic fonts and the subtle film scratch effects, this is a gorgeous sequence that perfectly sets up the vibe of the show.

I’m not going to post any spoilers regarding the storyline of the series because I highly recommend you watch it for yourself. I’ve watched lots of Netflix’s series and this one is my favorite with a bullet. It’s thrilling, funny, scary and emotional. It’s 8 episodes long and has a beginning, a middle and an end. With that said, I’d love to hear Netflix announce a renewal of this series. Watching it is like watching an up and coming band at a small club and realizing that the next time they’re in town they’ll probably be playing an arena. Watch the Duffer brothers now before they’re making awesome summer blockbusters or Marvel movies.

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BONUS

A short list of awesome films that influence “Stranger Things”:

  • Explorers
  • The Goonies
  • E.T. – The Extraterrestrial
  • Flight of the Navigator
  • D.A.R.Y.L
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • The Last Starfighter
  • Stand By Me
  • Invaders from Mars
  • Jurassic Park

 

ALBUM REVIEW | Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

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When mourning the loss of a relationship (whether by death or by conflict), people often find themselves looking backwards first. They comb through the experiences of that relationship and find moments that seemed pedestrian at the time, but now take on a new weight and significance in light of the end of the relationship. An off-the-cuff turn of phrase, a passing glance, a subtle smile or the weather on a memorable day. After plumbing these depths of history we can begin to look ahead and grapple with the future (with all its fears and hopes). With their 9th album, Thom Yorke and his bandmates in Radiohead have delivered an album that seems to encapsulate this ritual of pressing into loss and letting it affect you before turning to what’s next.


It’s been 5 years since we last had an LP from Radiohead. After their triumphal release of their 7th LP In Rainbows, the band returned 4 years later with their 8th – The King of Limbs. After the rock and roll of Rainbows, TKOL was a marked downshift. It was a sleepy, somewhat detached collection of songs that just wasn’t as compelling in comparison to the rest of their recent work. At the time of release, I speculated that the album may be a grower and more suited for autumn than the actual February 2011 release date. Or maybe I’m too seasonal in my listening. In any case, LP8 didn’t have the staying power of most Radiohead albums.

So after touring in 2012, the band took their now-traditional hiatus while sporadically putting in work on LP9 here and there. They had played some newer songs on the tour that many expected would become part of a new album down the road. But mostly, band members did their own things. Thom Yorke worked on some solo material that became Tomorrow’s Modern BoxesHe also participated in a supergroup of sorts with producer Nigel Goodrich and Flea called Atoms for Peace and released an album called Amok. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood, meanwhile, created the soundtracks to a number of films, honing his arrangement craft with strings and choirs. Even drummer Phil Selway put out a solo album during this time (Weatherhouse).

Thom Yorke

Last August, Yorke announced that he was separating from partner Rachel Owen. They pair had been together for 23 years and has two children together. It was reported that the separation was amicable and they valued their years together as people and artists.

Against the backdrop of these last 5 years arrives LP9 – A Moon Shaped Pool. 


Radiohead always manages to create fast-moving buzz for their albums in creative ways. This time around, they began by completely removing their internet presence. Their Twitter account went blank, their Instagram went blank and their website slowly faded away as users furiously refreshed. After a few days, they were back with cryptic teasers which led up to the release of a music video for a new single: Burn the Witch.

It’s a great lead single that telegraphs some of the texture to expect on the new album. It’s also not a brand new song, but one that has allegedly been around since the Kid A era. Indeed, the title appears on the cover art for 2003’s Hail to the ThiefYorke teased the song a few times over the years as well, but the song was never given any public exposure. Here it appears fully formed, driven by a pensive and percussive string section throughout. Greenwood’s soundtrack efforts and influences are evident as it evokes Bernard Herrmann’s skin-crawling work on Hitchcock’s Psycho. The video helps place the lyrics into the context of the ability of some leaders to influence their constituents to support horrific injustice. Very much on point for Yorke and company.

A few days later, they dropped yet another song and video, this one entitled Daydreaming. 

I like Burn the Witch, but I love Daydreaming. This song lies clear across the spectrum from Burn the Witch and finds Yorke at his paranoid best. With the video came the announcement of the new LP and also introduced some of the central core of the album: heartbreak. Yorke warbles “Dreamers, they never learn” over pensive piano and finishes the song with a reversed vocal line that seems to work out to “half of my life”. Attempting to crack the code a bit, Yorke is 47 years old and his relationship with Owen lasted 23 of those years. Amicable separation or not, A Moon Shaped Pool is, at least in part, a breakup album. Now that the full LP has dropped, we are free to dig deeper. And it’s a long way down.


Opening with the first two singles in respective order, the album continues on to visit other sites within the charred landscape of emotional and psychological trauma. Through it all, Yorke evokes images of darkness, rain, isolation and frustration. As the video for Daydreaming depicts, Yorke is moving through room after room and finding no place where he is comfortable staying until the end. And that comfortable place is a dark cave with a small fire burning as he closes his eyes. The video was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, a filmmaker who has collaborated with Johnny Greenwood on a number of films including the Oscar-nominated There Will Be Blood.

That film score sound is all over this album as Greenwood injects his influence in all the right places. As someone who adores the song Nude from In Rainbows because of the lush strings and pastoral beautythis element of orchestration makes me incredibly happy. The album also distinguishes itself from recent Radiohead albums by featuring lots of organic, acoustic instrumentation. Acoustic guitar is heavily featured on a couple of songs in particular and Yorke often favors somber piano arpeggios in his music.

Highlights on the album include Ful Stop, which does little to veil the jilted lover motif – opening with the line “You really messed up everything”. This song has been featured live for a few years since 2012 and has become a fan favorite.

The midpoint of the album is Glass Eyes, a confessional song that’s something of a distant cousin to Adel’s 2016 hit Hello, beginning with “Hey, it’s me. I just got off the train” and meandering to “I feel this love turn cold”.

Identikit is another 2012 tour song brought to studio-life. Yorke painfully sings, “Did I see you messing around? I don’t want to know.” This song is also noteworthy for including an honest-t0-goodness guitar solo from Jonny Greenwood. It seriously feels like years since we’ve had that!

By the time The Numbers rolls around, it feels like something brand new. A folksy and almost bluesy tune that will remind listeners of Led Zeppelin or Neil Young. Lyrically, this song takes a break from grieving a relationship and focuses on expressing anger over society’s failure to do more to combat climate change. Yorke is a noted activist for peace and this song shows that his activism extends to climate change as well.

Finally, the album concludes in a wonderful way: a studio version of True Love Waits, a song that dates all that way back to 1995! It’s been played live frequently over the years and even appeared on a live EP in 2001. As a crowd favorite, the band has often been asked when a proper studio recording would be released. In fact, around the time of that live EP, the band did attempt a studio recording, but it was eventually scrapped for some reason. In 2012, producer Nigel Goodrich spoke up about the song in an interview, saying,

“To Thom’s credit, he needs to feel a song has validation, that it has a reason to exist as a recording. We could do ‘True Love Waits’ and make it sound like John Mayer. Nobody wants to do that.”

We can infer, then, that Yorke has validated the 20-year-old song and given it a reason to exist as a recording. A Moon Shaped Pool contains many old songs that have been given validation and a reason to exist now where they may not have been imbued with that quality to begin with. I see Yorke looking back over his songwriting from the past 23 years and reading new meanings into the words. Where True Love Waits kicked around for a long time, it finds ultimate fulfillment now in 2016 in light of Yorke’s station in life. The deep melancholy that hovers over the piano is so much more arresting today that it was in 2001’s live version. The song has been gutted, dissected and reanimated into this beautiful thing. It’s a perfect close to a beautiful and sad collection of songs. Radiohead has always been a patient band, taking their sweet time creating their albums and waiting for the perfect moment to complete the vision of a single song.

A Moon Shaped Pool is a complex album. It’s not just that the layers of musical experimentation as many and varied, it’s that it examines the complexity of human emotions and doesn’t shy away from the fearful places. It presents a protagonist who often holds the world at arms length, paranoid about and confused by most societal constructs, but who is devastated by lost love just like all of us. Beneath all the glitchy beats and cryptic linguistics, we find gentle strings and voices crying for comfort saying “Just don’t leave. Don’t leave.” True love waits. True love hangs on through the storms. When it doesn’t, we realize it wasn’t true love at all. And that is what’s truly heartbreaking. That’s what causes us to reexamine everything. Where does Yorke land in all this? Perhaps in the closing lines of Desert Island Disk: “You know what I mean. Different types of love … are possible.”

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

Dueteronomy 31:8

 

[Jesus said to them], and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:20b


A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead was released on May 8th, 2016.

Get the album here.

Stray Observations: Super Bowl 50

Another Super Bowl has come and gone, but this one was brought to you with no roman numerals! Crazy. Here are a few random thoughts on this year’s big game.

The Game

I watched most of the game, but it was in a large house with a large number of small children making lots of noise. After a while, it just became a dull hum in the background. It’s fun watching the game with my sons though, even if they can only pay attention for about 5 minutes at a time. They both seemed to care very much about who won though. Our family decided early on that we were pulling for the Broncos and for Peyton Manning to go out on top. So every time the Broncos did something good or the boys noticed the score, they cheered loudly for “their” team.

Like many people going into the game, I thought the Panthers were the favorites to win. Their recent, lopsided playoff victories (in addition to their near-undefeated regular season) seemed to suggest they would overpower the Broncos and their small-scale offense. BUT, the same arguments were made two and a half weeks ago when the Broncos were getting set to play the Patriots. In that game, the Broncos came out with a surprisingly pass-centered offense to start the game and got on the scoreboard early. From there, their amazing defense went to work holding down their opponent and won the game. So I figured that if the Broncos could score first and get a 7-0 or 10-0 lead, the game was theirs. However, if the Panthers went up 10-0 or 14-0, Newton and company would hoist the trophy.

In the opening quarter, I saw the Broncos following their side of the script perfectly. The offense got a lead and the defense went to work making Cam Newton’s life miserable. It was a defensive struggle punctuated by fumbles, INTs and pass rushes. And, of course, in the end – Defense Wins Championships.

Peyton Manning morphed into the role of offensive caretaker quarterback and just kept the offense from making too many mistakes once they had the lead. Many, including Peter King of MMQB, thought that the most valuable offensive player was the Broncos punter! But Peyton won his 2nd Super Bowl, tying him with his brother Eli, who was so very happy about it.

When Peyton won, he was quickly interviewed and said that he wasn’t thinking about retirement yet, he just wanted to kiss his wife and kids and drink Budweiser. Two things about this. First, before he kissed his wife and kids he kissed… Papa John!?

And second, does Peyton have an endorsement deal with Budweiser? They say “no”, but the truth is that Peyton owns some Budweiser distribution business. Oh and also, NFL commish Roger Goodell has banned players from directly promoting alcohol. So maybe this was a parting shot at the much-maligned commish from a retiring player? Or maybe Peyton just really likes boring macrobrew.

Also, why did Peyton receive a defective SB cap?!

What about the losing QB Cam Newton? Cam had a fantastic season. An MVP season. But when it came to the big game, he got handled by a fired up defense. They were chasing him all game long and forcing him into making some major mistakes (including a strip sack TD early). By the end, Cam seemed to have given up, opting not to dive for his fumble that basically sealed the game when Denver recovered it instead.

And post-game, he sat down for the required press conference and had very little to say before walking out.

Part of the walk out was probably due to the fact that he could clearly hear Denver players being interviewed and talking about how they had beaten Cam and forced him to all sorts of errors. That’s tough to listen to, but it’s part of losing and losing is part of the game.

My LVP of the game was Denver’s Talib, who incurred a bunch of violent and dumb personal fouls. Goodell is pushing a new rule where 2 personal fouls would trigger an automatic ejection. Talib would have been sent off early in this one. Dumb. Also…

But as the Panther’s Greg Olson said, “We picked a really bad day to kind of have a meltdown.”

Good game overall, though. I like seeing the defense be the talk of the game for once!

The Halftime Show

First of all, I really don’t like Lady Gaga, but she did  a pretty good job with the National Anthem. She’s got a good voice, why does she need all the other trappings?

I do like Coldplay, just not their more recent work. My dream playlist was mostly ignored in favor of other tunes, which is fine. They opened with their biggest recent hit and went from there into the single from their latest album. Still, the performance wasn’t very arresting. Chris Martin’s most memorable lyrics these days are apparently “oh oh ooohhh oh ooohh”.

Then Coldplay had a halftime of their own while Bruno Mars and Beyonce came out and actually got some real energy going. I remember when Bruno Mars headlined the show a few years back and I was actually surprised at how good he was. Again, he was great here. And Beyonce is good, but being the father of two young boys it was hard to feel good about all the scantily clad women and the suggestive dancing.

Coldplay returned from their halftime to join B&B for a mashup thing before everyone got lovey dovey with a remix of sorts of “Fix You” that felt like “We Are The World” or something. And maybe a same-sex marriage statement at the end?

So it was a mostly forgettable halftime show for me.

The Commercials

Some decent ones. I think that SB commercials that get the most reaction are the ones that are so weird that we love/hate them. You had the Doritos baby.

You had the Mountian Dew PuppyMonkeyBaby. I mean, it hits all the Super Bowl Commercial requirements!

I didn’t like the Prius series at all. Blah. And we’re cheering for bank robbers / car thieves?!?

My favorites were the movie trailers.

Jason Bourne.

Captain America: Civil War.

And X-Men: Apocalypse.

But maybe my favorite of all was Ant-Man vs. The Hulk.

Your Thoughts?

Coldplay Super Bowl Halftime Dream Playlist

So Coldplay is handling the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. It’s almost amazing that they haven’t played it yet as they are one of the most popular bands in the world. Still, their pop sound in recent years has gotten blander and blander. That said, I’ve put together a small playlist of songs that I’d love to hear from the band on Sunday. How many of these do you think they’ll actually throw into the set?

As you can probably tell, I like my Coldplay sleepy and dreamy. But I still like some of their classic hits too, just not much from the last 3-4 years.

I’m still holding out hope for a Sigur Ros halftime show in a few years. Or at the very least, how about a Minnesota-flavored show when we host the big game in 2 years! A big team up of Cloud Cult, Low, Polica, Atmosphere, Doom Tree, Trampled by Turtles, The Replacements (!?!), with an appearance by Prince himself!?! C’mon, that would be amazing!!!

Top Albums of 2015 – Part 2

Albums part 2

10. Pacific Gold – Sing My Welcome Home

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If you listen to “worship” music at all, you’ll find that you’ve got your pop-worship songs and you’ve got your rebooted hymns. A lot of times, neither subgenre is very compelling, but I gravitate towards the rich lyrics of hymns with interesting music as my favorite. Pacific Gold (previously known as Wayfarer) is a California outfit that imbues hymns with a Beach Boys-esque sheen that’s really quite something. Their arrangments are very, very fun.  And that cover art is something else too!

9. Josh Garrels – Home

I’ve listened to Josh Garrels before, but I’ve never been struck by any of his albums until this one. Garrels’ voice is fantastic and the songs he’s written for this album are extremely poignant and arresting. I’ve learned and played a couple of these for our church and gained an even deeper connection to them through the performance.

8. Gungor – One Wild Life: Soul

Gungor are probably one of the more musically talented “Christian” bands right now. After taking a bit of time off to grow their family, they returned with the first in a series of LPs. This one, called “Soul”, has some really great tunes on it. Then you reach the end and are presented with the song “Vapor” and it’s a beautiful, beautiful moment.

7. Passion Pit – Kindred

This was a great summer album. Passion Pit is known for their electro-power-pop sound and the soaring vocals of lead singer Michael Angelakos. This is their 3rd album and may be their strongest overall. And the lead single “Lifted Up (1985)” is a total jam. Just a very fun, hooky album.

6. Wilco – Star Wars

The coolest thing for bands to do these days is to drop new albums without warning. Radiohead has done it. Beyonce has done it. Now Wilco got in on the act, springing this quixotic collection on the public and giving it away for free! It’s a fun, off-kilter jaunt of an album that the band clearly had a lot of fun putting together. Naming it “Star Wars” and putting a painting of a cat on the cover are just two examples of the gleeful weirdness.

5. Low – Ones and Sixes

It was good to have Low back in my life this year. I didn’t love their 2013 album all that much, but this one grabbed me right away. The chilling, thunderous resonance that Sparhawk and Parker conjure up is so lovely. And I’ve really fallen in love with the song “No Comprende”.

4. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi

I think Death Cab had their “back to the shack” moment (copyright Weezer) this year. Ben Gibbard experienced upheaval in his personal life over the last couple of years after he and Zooey broke up and founding DCFC member Chris Walla left the band. “Kintsugi” is the Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery in a way that preserves the cracks for all to see. The band re-emphasizes their knack for creating good guitar riffs (that have been missing for a few years) and creates their best album Plans.

3. Chvrches – Every Open Eye

I love this band. Their first album was great from front to back. There was some worry as to whether they could keep the momentum going for a sophomore album, but they hit this one out of the park too. It’s another gem. Lots of cool beats and melodies with Lauren Mayberry’s astonishingly vibrant vocals leading the way. They’re one of the best bands going right now.

2. Mew – +/- (plus/minus)

Full disclosure: this album’s ranking was definitely influenced by the fact that I was able to see them live this fall – and they were outstanding. Mew crafts some of the more unconventional arrangements you’ll find with choppy guitar riffs and intricate drumming. Then you’ve got the sky-high falsetto vocal lines. This album takes all of those things and explores some new territory too. After the show, I spun this album until it was dizzy. I particularly like “Water Slides” and the crushing chorus specifically.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Yeah, the year belonged to Sufjan Stevens. After dabbling in the spectacle that was Age of Adz and the wild circus of the Christmas albums and tour, no one knew where Stevens would go next. Maybe he didn’t either. Then his estranged mother died and he was consumed by the event. His grief gave birth to this haunting and beautiful album. Full of loss, regret, longing and hope, it’s his most blatantly personal work in a career filled with questionably fictional story songs. I’ve found that once I start listening to it, I almost have to play it out to the very end. The journey of the album is vivid and compelling. I find that the albums I really fall in love with are the ones that are born out of an artist’s story. And I fell in love with this album.

Top Albums of 2015 – Part 1

Albums part 1

2015 was a banner year for music in a lot of ways. A bunch of my favorite bands all managed to put out records this year and many of them were very good. Like in years past, I’m putting together a list of my favorites with some quick thoughts on each one. Here we go with part 1!

25. Metric – Pagans in Vegas

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Metric remains one of the best bands out there and this album didn’t deviate much from their established formula. I felt like it lacked that indelible song that many of their albums feature, but still a great effort from Emily Haines and company.

24. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?

This is really the first Hotchip album that’s stuck with me longer than a couple of spins. It’s got a great vibe a couple of jams that got stuck in my head for sure. Now I feel like I have to go back and give some of their past albums another chance. Maybe I do like this band!

23. Slow Meadow – Slow Meadow

One of my favorite bands is Hammock, who didn’t release an album this year. Instead, they actually started a little record label and put out this album by a new band called Slow Meadow. The music palatial and gorgeous. Soft vocal and string melodies float above droning guitars to create an emotional tapestry. Check them out.

22. Bjork – Vulnicura

Bjork returned this year with a break-up album. She had recently split from her longtime partner and these songs were composed out of that sense of loss. The result is an album that relies on organic strings paired with electronic beats and is reminiscent of her late-90’s work.

21. Citizens & Saints – Join the Triumph

As the worship leader at Hiawatha Church, I try to find worship music that’s actually good and worthy of inclusion in our Sunday gatherings. It’s often a difficult quest. Citizens & Saints were once involved with Mars Hill Church before it fractured and they continue to make good worship music. This album is another collection of electro-pop songs that contain theologically sound, Gospel-centered lyrics. We’ve done a couple of their tunes and will probably adapt more in the future.

20. Beach House – Depression Cherry

Beach House actually put out two albums this year, but I fancy this first one a bit more. Their reverbed arrangments, guitar effects and the lovely vocals of Victoria Legrand combine into quintessential dream pop.

19. EL VY – Return to the Moon

Does this qualify as a supergroup? EL VY (like the plural of “Elvis”) is comprised of The National’s Matt Berninger and Menomena’s Brent Knopf and actually does sound like a mashup of the two bands’ sounds. I really like the resulting vibe and the title track from this album is a fun jam.

18. Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves

Well look who decided to show up. The last time Modest Mouse released an album was… 2007! This year, they picked up where they left off with another slightly overstuffed album of tunes that don’t stray too far off the reservation. To me, it doesn’t touch the greatness of their previous work, but it’s nice to have the zany Isaac Brock back in our ears.

17. Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Sea

2011’s “My Head is an Animal” was a surprise hit for this Icelandic pop rock band which yielded a few radio hits like “Little Talks”. They’re back this year with more cool jams with dueling vocalists. The lead single “Crystals” is a very good song.

16. Original Mark Edwards (OME) – Distortion

Full disclosure, Mark Edwards is a good friend of mine. He decided to try Kickstarter this year and funded this album, which is very good. Incorporating influences from the Beach Boys, David Bowie and Radiohead, he produced a set of songs that has something for everyone. You should get it. 

15. Sandra McCracken – Psalms

McCracken has been putting out good albums for a number of years, but she really outdid herself this time. Penning a collection of songs influenced by the book of Psalms in the Bible, Sandra captured the spirit perfectly. Unlike many worship music people, she doesn’t shy away from the sadness and pain that Christians experience – she leans into them and lets them direct her towards God. It’s a truly beautiful album.

14. Ben Folds – So There

Ben Folds has become a sort of quirk-pop godfather in recent years, emphasizing his musical proficiency and pulling younger musicians into his eddies. Here, he embracing the collaborative nature of music by partnering with yMusic on some great tunes. He also includes an actual concerto that he wrote. It’s his best work since “Rockin’ The Suburbs”. And I’m in love with the cover art.

13. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Brittany Howard and her band burst onto the musical stage in 2012 with a fantastic debut album that featured awesome guitar work and a powerful vocalist without fear. They’re back this year with a stellar sophomore album that really propelled them into the national spotlight. Just listen to “Don’t Wanna Fight” and you’ll hear a band firing on all cylinders.

12. The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

You know what’s crazy? This is the first Decemberists LP since 2011! And they’ve still got it. The theatrics of their earlier album have (rightly) been pulled back a bit in favor of just featuring good songwriting and arrangement. I wasn’t as caught up in the songs as I was on their previous album (The King is Dead), but you’d be hard pressed to find more literary songwriting than what Colin Meloy pens. The band also released a nice little EP late in the year! I guess they’re back!

11. Dustin Kensrue – Carry the Fire

Kensrue fronted the band Thrice, did some solo stuff, became a worship leader at a megachurch, left the church as the ship started to sink, recorded this new solo album and is now putting Thrice back together. What a wild, symmetrical arc! With this album, Kensrue pulls from his experiences as a husband and father to great effect. I love how he weaves the romantic and mundane moments of married life into the song “Back to Back”. I’m glad he’s still making music.

Look for my top ten in Part 2!