Lend Me Your Ears

Music, like any other art form, is a highly subjective topic, and the beauty of it rests wholly in the ear of the beholder. What strikes me as good music may not appeal to you, and vice versa. And that’s okay, since there is certainly an abundance of music out there.

After my rock and roll soul woke up a few years ago, and my full immersion baptism in all things Foo, I began to seek out other artists and genres, in an effort to expand my knowledge of contemporary music. There is way more music out there than I will likely ever be able to experience, but it’s certainly fun to try.

However, it’s something of a hit or miss process when you’re just digging around in it on your own, with no guidance. Obviously, I get feedback and suggestions from friends. People who have more knowledge about music than me are great for offering up bands and artists that they think I might like. My friends Carmack and Chris have been treasure troves of musical information. Carmack has helped me get to know rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, and he’s an Austin resident, so he knows a lot about the Texas music scene. He also writes a wickedly funny blog that you should check out. Chris is an IT/computer whiz, but spends part of each Saturday hosting a radio show called The Good Show, and has a wealth of information about more bands, both famous and obscure, than most anyone I’ve ever met.

Both of my kids know music, too, probably from their time spent working as DJs at the local college radio station (KTCU, which is the same station where Chris does his thing.) Celeste is tutoring me on all the 90s bands I missed, and Jarrod, the sole musician in the family, knows about bands I’ve never heard of – some of whom I rather like, by the by.

I’ve found some great stuff via the free weekly downloads from Starbucks, and from paying attention to the musical guests on late night television. I’ve also learned to listen more carefully to music in the background of TV shows and movies. Having a Shazam app is invaluable in this regard.

The one resource that I studiously avoid when choosing music? Music reviews.

It’s not my place to bash critics. They have a job to do. But in my experience, music reviews are written and geared toward people who know much more about music than me. I’m not an idiot, but most record reviews leave me wondering what the hell the writer is talking about. Here are a few examples, and for the sake of anonymity, I’ll exclude the source, author, and album:

“…songs still bash and seethe, but with more flashy time-signature shifts, open space and studio trickiness.”

“…singing in operatic quivers, howling yelps, haunting harmonic layers and even full-on vocal fry…”

“… reverb-y textures of the then-trendy chillwave subgenre…”

I’m sorry…what? Say that again, but in English this time, okay?

Maybe it’s just me and my woefully deficient knowledge of music that’s the problem. Maybe everyone else is more review-savvy. So I asked Jarrod. Who agreed that basically, many (I won’t say all) music reviewers are just pretentious assholes who purposely talk in music review jargon, which often goes over the heads of average listeners. Because really, what that average listener wants to know is, is this album any good? Does it have a good beat? Can you sing along, or play air guitar, or dance around your kitchen to it while you’re baking a cake? Tell me that, Mr. Pretentious Music Critic. And tell me in a way that I’ll understand.

With all that said, let me tell you about some of the stuff I’ve been listening to lately. Some old, and some new, but all worth a listen. In my humble opinion. Ha! I bet you’ll never read that qualifier from a music critic!

Over the past few months, I’ve delved into Soundgarden as an intro to all the 90s rock I missed. They remind me a little of Led Zeppelin, and I’ve enjoyed Down on the Upside, their 1993 album, very much. If you have a favorite Soundgarden album to recommend, I’m ready to explore further, so feel free to make a suggestion in the comments.

I was a little slow to warm up to The Black Keys, but they’ve fast become a favorite band. My most recent acquisition is the 2010 Brothers album. This isn’t my favorite BK album, but I’m liking it more every time I give it a listen. Leads Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney work beautifully together. The band has a soulful, rich sound I find appealing, and I’m thrilled that their next album, Turn Blue, will be arriving next month. If they’re touring in Texas to promote it, chances are I’m going to catch a show.

The terrific British band Elbow has just released a new album, The Takeoff and Landing of Everything, and it’s delightful! Lead singer Guy Garvey has a voice like nobody else. Elbow is, without question, one of my very favorite bands. Check them out!

A few years ago, Jarrod introduced me to a favorite band of his, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead. Yes, that’s really their name. But it’s just Trail of Dead to their fans. He started me off with their 2002 album Source Tags and Codes, and I recently added 2012’s Lost Songs to my collection. This is an energetic band, based in Austin, and I can’t exactly explain why, but their music makes me happy, in spite of their rather ominous-sounding name. It’s lively and loud and unique. Try a song called “Awestruck” and let me know what you think.

Finally, I want to tell you about Austin’s Gary Clark, Jr. I’d never heard of him until I watched the recent Beatles tribute show on CBS. Clark performed with Joe Walsh, delivering an amazing rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” He’s a great vocalist and a great guitarist, and I downloaded his 2012 album Blak and Blu about 30 seconds after he and Walsh took their bows.

You can’t put Clark in just one genre, because he can do it all equally well. Blak and Blu is classified in iTunes as an alternative (rock) album, but there’s something here for everyone. There’s the bluesy “When My Train Pulls In”, the spirited “Glitter Ain’t Gold”, a flashback to Smokey Robinson with the 60’s-esque “Please Come Home”, and even a little rap thrown in with the upbeat “The Life.” And don’t miss Clark’s nod to Hendrix, with his rendition of “Third Stone From the Sun” as a lead-in to late Texas blues guitarist Albert Collins’ “If You Love Me Like You Say.” Glitter may not be gold, but this debut album ought to be. I predict we’ll be seeing much more of Clark in the days to come.

There you have it. Music reviews from a rookie reviewer who knows nothing about music. I can say this about each of these albums – they’ve all got a good beat and I can cook, sing, dance, and chill to them.

So, what have you been listening to lately?

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2 thoughts on “Lend Me Your Ears

  1. What have I been listening to lately. It all really depends on my mood. Yesterday it was blues artist John Lee Hooker and some Muddy Waters. They call it the blues but it is not depressing. Last week it was Willie Nelson duets.

  2. Well, I’m not a big fan of country music, but I don’t think you can be a Texan and not love Willie. “Pancho and Lefty” with Merle Haggard is a favorite of mine!

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