What I’m Listening To: Tegan & Sara – The Con

Written By Simon Chisholm

I know I’m late to the party, but sometimes it takes time for music tastes to evolve, and to save enough money to purchase music; but the cost of music is a discussion for another time and place. An old friend showed me some of Tegan and Sara’s music years ago, and also personal hero Hunter Burgan (of AFI) is friends with and has recorded and performed with the girls. Now that I’ve had a chance to listen hard to this album, I wish I jumped at the chance years ago.

‘The Con’ is not your usual brand of pop music. While the hooks and choruses are catchy, and the harmonic progressions are the typical intervals, it has a disjointed quality. There are times when the melodies and the arrangements are more erratic than is traditional.

Lyrically, the songs are open to personal interpretation by the listener, and that’s beautiful. While the melodies are easy enough, in order to follow the lyrics correctly, further interrogation of the CD booklet is required. Not all together a bad thing, delving deeper into the words can be enlightening, highlighting lines you would never have picked otherwise, or altering the phrasing and flow of the ‘story’. The songs translate a lot of personal expression of emotions and feelings.

The main instrumentation are two harmonised voices of Tegan and Sara and their two steel string acoustic guitars. There is an intensity to the execution of the guitar parts; a combination of the performance and the timbre of the instruments themselves. As well as that, most of the songs also make use of full rock band accompaniment playing interesting polyrhythms a lot of the time. There are synthesisers throughout the tracks that add a cute quality to the accompaniment.

The vocals are executed with a sense of intensity and passion. While the main vocal seems desperate, the backing vocal seems as though it’s not bothered by the course events. It’s almost like a conversation is taking place between the two vocal tones. I love the harmonies in the vocals and their use of counter melodies. I also like the urgency in ‘Are You 10 Years Ago’ and that it is underlined by a second slower vocal line. At times the girls sing in falsetto, and when they do is sounds almost like a kettle whistling.

http://youtu.be/soJtF3F5t2k

The guitar tone is very percussive. Having been mic’ed in such a way that a lot of plectrum noise is captured. It is also a quality of steel stringed guitars. Some guitar motifs have an almost western quality

I really like this album. Pretty much every track made it on to my ‘notable tracks’ list and given the fact that there are 14 tracks that is saying something.

Released in 2007 by Sire Records . Produced by Christopher Walla, Tegan Quin and Sara Quin.

What I’m Listening To: Tegan & Sara – The Con

What I’m Listening To: Me’Shell Ndegeocello – Bitter

Written By Simon Chisholm

A good friend recommended Me’Shell Ndegeocello to me after a discussion about bass guitar and grooves. I don’t know if I chose the best album to reflect what we were discussing, but it still put an amazing artists on my radar. On this album, Me’Shell is Bitter.

The album title is very descriptive of the overall tone of the album, and the first track (an instrumental) acts as an introduction into the ‘Bitter’ state of mind that the album stems from. While the tone is negative, the lyrical subjects revolve around relation ships including; finding, wanting, and being in love, losing love and remembering love. The album isn’t dark however, at times our protagonist is full of love and happiness.

Overall, this album is easy to listen to. It has a laid back, relaxed classic R’N’B sound with Jazz influences. There is also a funk and soul element present, through heavy use of hook line repetition.

The vocal performance throughout the album is deep, flowing and mostly slow. Yet don’t think the performance is lacking, what has been delivered is exactly what the songs called for.

While the vocals are the focal point of each track, large sections of the songs are instrumental, making the instrumental motifs a central element. The accompanying instrumentation is sparse and groove orientated, with heavy utilisation of ostinato by all instruments.

Me-Shell is an accomplished bass player and the bass lines that feature on this record are fun and groovy. The kind that a bass player delights in jamming. Songs like ‘Satisfy’ particularly show off Me’Shell’s bass chops.

Featured on this work are a number of compositional devices that are not used in a scarce capacity. They include riffs, lick, ostinatos, motifs, fills, ornamentation, harmonics, solo sections, movement and arrangements. The musicianship present is highlighted by the perfect execution in the performances.

My favourite track is ‘Beautiful’, simply because it sounds pretty and creates an interesting soundscape with the layering of ostinatos.

Released 1999 by Maverick Recording Company.

What I’m Listening To: Me’Shell Ndegeocello – Bitter

What I’m Listening To: Emma Louise – Full Hearts & Empty Rooms

Written By Simon Chisholm

Emma Louise is a young independent artist from Brisbane. Her folk pop tunes are mind blowing-ly beautiful. At only 19 years old Emma Louise has already achieved more that us ‘bedroom musicians’ could dream of. At 15 she had already won two Q Sing Awards for her song writing, and she has played support for aussie heavy weights Sarah Blasko, Bob Evans and Boy and Bear with upcoming support for Josh Pyke. This release marks the next step for this young singer songwriter, and is the first of many more to come.

Emma Louise was suggested to me by a friend, and boy am I glad he made that suggestion! This E.P. is captivating from start to finish. These four songs take you on a ride over galloping melody lines, emotional tensions and breezy textures.

Emma demonstrates a large vocal range. Her galloping, free-feel approach to the melodies is playful. The freedom of the vocal is perfect. There is a complimentary mix of chest voice and falsetto, and it’s a good falsetto! ‘Bugs’ boasts some beautifully airy backing vocal ‘ooh’s’. There is some creative use of lyrical repetition.

Emma Louise has crafted the songs with an uncanny way of matching lyrical tone to the instrumental and  harmonic tone. One of these ways includes varying the textures when the vocal enters and exits.

The accompanying instrumental performances are skilled and well executed. Within the instrumentation there is a large amount of dynamic range, meaning that the ebb and flow of the music is both more dramatic and more complimenting of the tone of the tracks. The percussive elements littered throughout are fun, and well placed.

The standout track for me is ‘1000 Sundowns’. This was the track suggested to me. Historically, this track has stuck with Miss Louise since her time at high school. It is slow, sad and moving. There is an electric guitar arpeggio accompanying a symmetrical vocal contour. The harmonic movement of the track seems to have a swaying feel to it. The song is about a lost love, and Emma really gets into the mood, the vocal is strained and you can really hear the pain in her voice.

Overall, the E.P. is populated by honest, heartfelt, easy to listen to compositions. After listening you are left relaxed and smiling. The only bad thing worth mentioning is its too short! I await the next release with interest. Kudos Miss Louise.

‘Full Hearts & Empty Rooms’ released independently through MGM in 2011.

Produced by Mark Myers.

What I’m Listening To: Emma Louise – Full Hearts & Empty Rooms

What I’m Listening To: Ari Herstand – Your Eyes

Written By Simon Chisholm

Ari Herstand is an independent multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter based out of L.A. I came across this track somewhere on Tumblr. It was accompanied with a caption something along the lines of ‘love this song’, or ‘so me right now’, which piqued my interest. What are social networking sites for if not to share music that moves us?

This is one of those truly beautiful songs that stop you in your tracks. The overall effect of the track is relaxing and emotionally moving. The mix is very spacious and airy, which supplies that element of relaxation.

The song tells the story of a relationship. It is a melancholy recount of the trials and tribulations in the search for love. The lyrics  communicate angst, frustration and heartbreak. The track concludes with our protagonist showing acceptance.

The instrumentation is sparse. The main instrumentation is the vocal and piano with a steel string acoustic guitar. As the track progresses, the texture and intensity builds with the aid of adding instruments. We hear a string interlude and a weeping accompaniment, as well as a female vocal and, towards the end, a classic rock band. The piano motif in the conclusion of the song is pretty. It is nicely timed and executed.

Ari’s vocal is almost strained. It sounds as if Ari is in pain or trying to sing quietly so as to not wake someone. It has an intense, breaking quality that implies emotion, that he is choked up over the events he is recounting.

Deep underneath the mix is a low rumble and click, what I would identify as the sound of a vinyl record. The quality that give a vinyl record its ‘warm’ sound.

The arrangement, instrumentation and movement of the track mimic the turmoil and emotion of the relationship. As the story unfolds the track builds into full rock band instrumentation including groovy electric guitar solo. The arrangement is a progression. The structure is made up of a number of different sections building to the conclusion. I’ve labelled them thus: Intro/ Passage 1/ Interlude/ Passage 2/ Build-up/ Conclusion.

The performance is not virtuosic, but it is crafted ingeniously from start to finish.

Sit down and listen.

Ari is known for his live looping performances, check out the one below.

‘Your Eyes’ appears on the album ‘Whispering Endearments’ released independently in 2008 by Proud HoneyBee Productions.

What I’m Listening To: Ari Herstand – Your Eyes

What I’m Listening To: Patrick Stump – Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia)

Written By Simon Chisholm

Being a rather obsessive Fall Out Boy fan it would have been wrong and disrespectful to overlook the solo projects of singer Patrick Stump. Stump had taken it on himself to work on the music he wants to work on, writing, recording and producing all of his work by himself. Let’s look his first single off of his debut E.P. ‘Truant Wave’, Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia).

The track is introduced with a marching snare and an octave left hand piano oom-pah. This is threaded throughout the track, creating a sense of movement, and affords a kind of bright, positive tone. The underlying synthesizer leads passages fill the higher frequency spectrum, providing interest, and breaking up the possible monotony that we have know and hate about pop music. The uplifting chord progression is introduced right away and continues throughout the track.

When the vocals enter, Stump sings in metaphors and other lyrical devices in order to tell a story of a character that is feeling downtrodden and struggling. Instrumental elements enter and exit breaking up the sections, creating interest.

The bar of silence before the chorus enters provides a sense of suspense and dramatics, leading up to the inspirational lyrics in the chorus. The backing vocals break the monotony of the one line hook of the chorus. The infectious hook line acts as a resolution to the feelings and tone established in the first verse, as if the character has found a solution and moved on be the best they could be.

The second verse features some of the more annoying quirks in Stumps vocals trimmings. It bugs me when he tries to sing like a computerised bassoon. The second verse also features a few light backing vocal ornamentations, making the track seem to build up as it progresses. The character’s (or a second character) insecurities return in this verse.

The pre-chorus and chorus is repeated as before, except with a little more vocal ornamentation. Enlightenment is found once again for our protagonist/s.

The bridge is definitely the climax of the track. Given that this section consists of only an organ, several vocal layers, and simple percussion, it is also a bit of fresh air. The message conveyed in this section seems to be that no matter how hard of a time you seem to be having, you can make it through. The line ‘shine alight on me’ implies to me that the message also includes the fact that all you have to do is ask for help, and it will be freely given.

The last chorus of the song is repeated a number of times while Patrick improvises with the melody, chanting the hook “You could be your own spotlight’.

The lyrics are inspiring and hold a deeper meaning at times and are delivered with an easy flow.

The single is accompanied by an inspirational video which is definitely worth a look.

Released 2011 by Nervous Breakdance Media. Produced by Patrick Stump.

What I’m Listening To: Patrick Stump – Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia)

What I’m Listening To: Evan Taubenfeld – Welcome To The Blacklist Club

Written By Simon Chisholm

Evan Taubenfeld kicked off his career as a band member, and co-writer for a few songs, for Avril Lavigne. In recent years however, he has been working as a producer and writer for other pop acts, as well as building up his own repertoire. ‘Welcome To The Blacklist Club’ is his debut solo album.

Welcome To the blacklist club

‘Welcome To The Blacklist Club’ is essentially radio friendly pop-rock aimed at the teeny demographic. Evan has written hard hitting, easy to sing along tracks. He has written songs about love, loss and relationships. Evan said during an interview that the overall theme of the album was a character wanting to fall in love.

“[Welcome to the Blacklist Club] is about being a hopeless romantic trapped under a cinnamon-coated shell that is L.A., I think your outside hardens when you live out here. Most people don’t express how much they want to fall in love. For me, half the album is about being able to expose that. The other half…is more about having fun.”

The tracks are not virtuosic, but are feel good pop fun. Evan has used some creative and interesting instrumentation arrangements. The many layered sounds He has used give each track a ‘big’ sound. Some of the identifiable layers include: Main vocal, vocal harmony, lead and rhythm guitars, synthesizers, electronic elements, glockenspiel, piano and strings. The instrumentation and the vocals compliment each other. Together they provides a feel that backs up the overall tone of each track.

Throughout each track, the sections vary, meaning repetition of verses doesn’t get tired. An example of this variation is adding or taking away a particular instrument, or even using a different amount of syllables in each line.

Taubenfeld’s rock influence shows. There are songs that feature guitar solos, which I am very happy about. Evan, as an accomplished guitarist, deserves to show of his skills. Evan also makes creative use of guitar effects (to set tone), guitar leads, and guitar riffs. He shows his punk rock roots through classic harmonic progressions.

My favourite tracks include ‘Razorblade Limeade’ (for the guitar work and harmonies) and ‘Evan Way’ ( for the neat  dramatic, contrasting build-up section).

I feel that the tracks on the second half of the album stand out more than those in the beginning.

It’s a shame that Warner Brothers dropped him from the label as this album shows extreme potential. Although this does free him up to co-write and produce other acts (recently on Black Cards).

Released in May 2010 by Sire Records. Produced by John Fields.

What I’m Listening To: Evan Taubenfeld – Welcome To The Blacklist Club

What I’m Listening To: Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown

Written By Simon Chisholm

‘21st Century Breakdown’ is essentially a sequel to 2004’s ‘American Idiot’. It has the same rock operah approach. It is also similar in the overall sound and impact. The release is dark and jaded with an ‘all hope is lost’ kind of vibe. I guess when you break it all down, Green Day have composed a slew of songs with the theme of social commentary and protest.

Apparently the album takes a ‘The Who’ inspired approach to a concept album, following two characters through turmoil created by government and other socially influential characters. An overall analysis may come to that conclusion, but when you focus of individual tracks, you find a number of songs about characters struggling with themselves and the world, and helping each other through the turmoil. I find the idea of the concept exciting, but when I listen, I like to think of the songs as tales of woe and reflection aimed at the youth of today.

While not virtuosic, the band has created tracks consisting of simple layers of instrumentation with the vocal as the focal point. The instrumentation consists of hyperactive drums, violent bass, thrashing guitars and Billy Joe’s trademark ‘blocked nose’ vocal delivery. The overall sound of the songs is powerful with arrangements that are crafted to create a sense of movement and progress through the story.

The melodies are simple, but easy to sing along. It is the words, however, that are the important thing anyway, the message. The chorus hooks are catchy and will be stuck in your head for days.

Some of the tracks are tired, heard it before, forced to reach the three minute goal and a strain to listen for the duration. However, the standout tracks hold you for their duration. Songs that stand out? Try: ‘21st Century Breakdown’, ‘Know Your Enemy’, ‘¡Viva La Gloria!’, ‘Last Night On Earth’, ‘East Jesus Nowhere’, ‘Peacemaker’, ‘Last Of The American Girls’,  and ’21 Guns’.

While listening I envision Mike Dirnt snarling while attacking the string of his bass while Tré wears a goofy grin with arms flailing around like dancing snakes on ecstasy.

http://youtu.be/D4ZKlT1EvCA

Green Day is:

Billy Joe Armstring – Vocals, guitar, piano

Mike Dirnt – Bass, vocals

Tre Cool – Drums, percussion

Released in 2009 by Reprise records. Produced by Butch Vig and Green Day.

What I’m Listening To: Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown

What I’m Listening To: Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life

Written By Simon Chisholm

‘My Dinosaur Life’ is Motion City Soundtrack’s fourth album, and the first released on major label Columbia. My first MCS experience was back when Mark Hoppus was doing his ‘Hi My Name Is Mark’ podcast. In one of the first podcasts he played a MSC song. After that, it was not until Soundwave 2008, where their set kept me pleasantly entertained while waiting for Alexisonfire, that they made an impression, a big impression, and this release has made me very happy.

‘My Dinosaur Life’ stays true to classic Motion City Soundtrack. In terms of the vocal, I feel that Pierre’s vocals are unique and give that signature MCS sound. He delivers his lyrics with intensity, singing in an easy, flowing melodic contour with the occasional shriek. The melodies are very catchy, and ‘jumpy’, due to the swing in rhythms.

‘My Dinosaur Life’ is up-beat pop-punk with a dark approach to lyrical content. The boys have delivered a classic pop-punk sound with a coarse edge lending a feeling of animosity. The lyrics deliver verses of inner turmoil, owning up to wrongs committed, and generally ‘talking’ through personal issues. Many of the songs tend to tell a story, beginning with a complication and working through a resolution and self-realisations.

I like the chorus in ‘Pulp Fiction’, it is not a single hook, rather a long description with no repetition as is traditional in pop choruses.

Instrumentally, MCS have stuck to the music visions previously established in previous releases. By that I’m talking about thumping guitars, heavy crunch guitar tones, pop-punk bass grooves, and fun and up-beat drum lines. All of the instrumentation has a crunchy intensity, even the vocals have an angry crunch. At times it sounds as though the band is simply jamming while the tape is recording, which has you dancing away think ‘This is fun!’

‘My Dinosaur Life’ is a great way to spend 40 minutes, you’ll come away feeling much more content with life, and wanting to hit the ‘Play’ button again.

Motion City Soundtrack is:

Justin Pierre – Vocals, guitar

Joshua Cain – Guitar, vocals

Jesse Johnson – Synth, keys

Matthew Taylor – Bass, vocals

Tony Thaxton – Drums, vocals

‘My Dinosaur Life’ released Jan 2010 by Columbia Records. Produced by Mark Hoppus.

What I’m Listening To: Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life

What I’m Listening To: Anarbor – The Words You Don’t Swallow

Written By Simon Chisholm

Anarbor’s debut album is a collection of high-energy rock and roll tracks. This album is a fun listen from start to finish and will leave you feeling as though you just attended the party of the year. I believe ‘The Words You Don’t Swallow’ lives up to the hype and delivers on the potential offered by 2009’s ‘Free Your Mind’ E.P.

This release is infested with a slew of catchy hooks in both the vocals and guitar riffs. The easy melodies just make the whole thing infectious.

The foundations of the tracks are in the grooves, established by a combination of the drums, bass and guitar riffs. Every song has a fun groove, executed with ease. You can imagine the enjoyment of the band playing these tracks. I feel that during the writing process the boys took an approach where they aimed for what felt right, and these boys are all about the music, and love to groove. 

Anarbor have stuck to a simple rock band format; Overdrive Guitars, Electric Bass, Drum Kit, and Vocals. Even so, the band has managed to create a thick texture, through use of riffs, bass grooves and skill. This simplified approach to instrumentation gives the tracks room to breath, and causes the tracks to stand out in the stormy seas of contemporary music.

The drums occupy a large space in the mix, supplying a powerful percussive presence. These drum lines will have you toe tapping and air drumming in no time at all.

Notable tracks include; ‘Cantagious’; ‘Drugstore Diet’; ‘Gypsy Woman’; ‘Going To Jail’; ‘Carefree Highway’; ‘This Can’t Be Healthy’; and ‘Useless’.

After the release of this album, Anarbor released a Mixtape of remixed, tracks and covers. This free download will give you a taste of what these boys are about. If the opening remix of ‘Contagious’ doesn’t have you hooked, this isn’t for you. <http://anarbor.net/mixtape/&gt;

Anarbor is:

Slade Echeverria – Vocals, Bass

Mike Kitlas – Guitar, Vocals

Adam Juwig – Guitar, Vocals

Greg Garrity – Drums, Vocals

‘The Words You Don’t Swallow’ released April 2010 by Hopeless Records. Produced by Mike Green.

What I’m Listening To: Anarbor – The Words You Don’t Swallow

What I’m Listening To: Chaz Knapp – Vie comme un Parasite Faisant la fête

Written By Simon Chisholm

I came across the amazing Chaz Knapp after stumbling upon a series of video works entitle “50 People One Question”. I was so moved by the soundtrack he had provided for the work ‘London’ I went searching. The piece on the London video is entitled ‘Célébration à une Nouvelle Vie’, and can be found on the free online release ‘Vie comme un Parasite Faisant la fête’.

Chaz Knapp is one of those artists who has an impeccable knack for creating beautiful music. He has used very simple instrumentation to create moving sound-scapes that leave you relaxed, calm and excited for more. This album revolved around a piano, with violins and cello swaying around the motifs.

The compositions seem to revolve around a theme and variation style of structure. There is an overall theme and tone to the compositions, and as they progress countermelodies and variations swim around the central theme. Sections are formed through this repetition and theme building. The songs flow effortlessly, changing and taking shape almost unnoticeably. This use of repetition and variation creates movement. The ebb and flow of the songs strike visions of a creel running over pebbles, of swaying trees and falling leaves.

The songs seem to be made up of harmonic progressions that mysteriously never seem to end. The repetitions are hidden amongst the countermelodies.

Knapp has used sounds and instrumentation that are not of the traditional studio ‘perfect’ quality. These organic sounds are far more real than sound recorded ‘properly’ in the studio. You can hear imperfections on the attacks and in the room reverberation. These ‘imperfections’ are not errors. They add to the organics of the sound. The ‘imperfections’ are, in fact, ‘perfect. Knapp has also made a creative use of a click track or metronome and static as  percussive devices.

You can feel the striking, resonating sounds in your whole body. This release works well as background music, and is enjoyable to listen to with full attention. I find that I do not want to write about this music, I would rather sit back and enjoy listening to this truly wonderful work of art.

Close your eyes and let the music take you away.

My favourite track is ‘Célébration à une Nouvelle Vie’, which is featured on the Fifty People London video.

Fifty People One Question – London – Where Do You Want To Wake Up Tomorrow?

Released online in 2008.

Available for free download here: http://www.archive.org/details/ChazKnapp-VieCommeUnParasiteFaisantLaFte

What I’m Listening To: Chaz Knapp – Vie comme un Parasite Faisant la fête