Category Archives: Music

Track Review of Rush’s Clockwork Angels

Finally I am ready to offer my track-by-track review of Rush’s new album, Clockwork Angels.

For my general take on on the album, see my review for The Objective Standard. I think this is a terrific album, perhaps the best of Rush’s career. Anybody who’s remotely a Rush fan should buy it and give it a listen, and then another.

However, I recognize that Rush’s music is not as accessible to non-fans as is the typical rock album. Most hot singles today come and go. They have a fun riff, some fun lyrics, and people enjoy it, for about three months. And then it disappears, nobody cares about it, and few listen to it again.

Rush’s music is different. It’s more sophisticated, lyrically and compositionally. It requires multiple listening sessions to even fully “hear” a track, to notice its structure and texture. Not as many people will spend the time to listen to Rush’s music, but those who do often fall in love with it, and keep listening to it year after year.

In a hundred years, most rock bands of today will be forgotten. A few will be remembered. Rush will be among them.

That said, as with any album (by Rush or anybody else), I like some of the tracks more than others. My goal here is to rate the tracks. Those who just want a taste might want to purchase the best tracks individually.

As I discussed in my TOS review, this is a “concept album” in the sense that the songs tell a story, chronologically, of a man’s life in an alternate “steampunk” universe. You can’t understand the significance of some of the lyrics outside the context of that story. However, as Geddy Lee has said, each song is meant to stand on its own musically. Thus, while I strongly suggest that you buy the entire album and listen to it as an album, you can also enjoy tracks singly. Here my purpose is to suggest which are the strongest tracks.

Best Song: “Clockwork Angels”

I regard the title track, “Clockwork Angels” (the third track on the album), as the best song on the album. At 7:31 minutes, it’s the longest track, and it offers a range of styles within it.

Lyrically, the setting of the song is the Crown City. The protagonist of the story, a simple farm boy, is visiting the city for the for the first time, and he is dazzled by what he sees. The description that accompanies the lyrics offers his perspective: “I had seen many images of the city before, and Chronos Square, but nothing could convey the immensity—the heaven-reaching towers of the Cathedral of the Timekeepers, or the radiant glory of the Angels. . . bathed in the brilliant glow of the floating globes.”

In the beginning we hear chants and some vapory-sounding guitar. I imagine the cart rolling into the city. Then some really bold, rhythmic guitar takes over.

At the minute-eight mark, the song takes a slow turn. When I first heard this, I was disappointed; I was hoping for a more rocking track. But I think the idea is that the protagonist is a little taken aback by what he sees, and he’s trying to take it all in. The lyrics accompany: “High above the city square / Globes of light float in mid-air / Higher still, against the night / Clockwork angels bathed in light.”

Then at a minute-twenty-nine the song takes off, and this is where I start to really love the track. It is glorious, it is pounding, it is intense. Geddly Lee drives with the bass.

At two-sixteen, the song relaxes into the the refrain, ending, “The people raise their hands [toward the Angels] — As if to fly.” That takes us close to the three-minute mark. From there the song mostly builds on variations of the same material.

But then at the four-fifty mark, the song takes a very different turn, sounding loose, almost drunken. This lasts for nearly a minute. It’s a peculiar section, and I don’t love it musically, but I think what’s going on is that the protagonist is starting to let some of his disillusionment show through. The lyrics go, “Lean not upon your own understanding” / Ignorance is well and truly blessed”—hardly an inspiring thought.

But then the song recaptures its positive, uplifting spirit, its spirit of wonder. It is quintessential Rush. And I love it.

Best Tracks

Several other tracks join “Clockwork Angels” in comprising the album’s best.

“Caravan” opens the album with the clanging of train bells. The opening lasts for nearly forty seconds, and then the song takes off with a bass-driven, off-beat riff. It’s great. Then at a minute-ten, the song offers its powerful refrain to the lyrics, “To the distant dream of the city / The caravan carries me onward / On my way at last.” It’s some of Rush’s best music.

“The Anarchist” is great, rollicking rock. To get an idea of why I think it tops the list, listen in at the 2:50 mark. The interplay here between Lifeson’s guitar and Peart’s pulsing drums is just magical. And then at 3:05 Lee’s bass joins the conversation more strongly.

“Carnies” begins as just another hard-rock song. But then at 0:57 it sprouts wings, and then at 1:22 it soars into this airy, contemplative space. I love the song’s mix of pounding rock and sweet melody.

“The Wreckers” has a pretty weak opening, but at sixteen seconds it begins an intriguing interplay between strummed guitar and bass. My understanding is that, in recording this, Lee and Lifeson switched instruments. This is followed by a wonderful, soul-wrenching refrain at fifty-eight seconds: “All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary / ’Cause sometimes the target is you.”

For pure, driving hard-rock genius, “Headlong Flight” is a must-purchase. Plus, I love this song lyrically: “Some days were dark . . . / Some nights were bright / I wish that I could live it all again.”

“The Garden” closes the album perfectly. It is far and away Rush’s best “slow song,” carried by acoustic guitar and Lee’s soulful voice. The refrain (at a minute-twelve) is beautiful musically and lyrically: “The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect. . .”

Second-Tier Tracks

Look, don’t get me wrong, I love all the tracks. But these are relatively weak ones, in my book. Of course, Rush’s weaker tracks are still loads better than most bands’ best tracks, so this is relative.

I enjoy “BU2B,” and it’s a good hard-rock song, but to me the music just isn’t quite as compelling and interesting as with other tracks.

“Halo Effect” is a fine slower song, but nothing about it makes me want to tag it as top-tier.

You can tell right away that “Seven Cities of Gold” is going to be a groovy song. I like it quite a lot, but it seems too repetitive to me, and little about it stands out. I have to say, though, that there’s some fantastic bass work starting at the four-minute mark; Lee grooves out.

“BU2B2″ is more of an interlude than a song. It ably conveys the protagonist’s sense of anguish at this point in his life.

I quite like “Wish Them Well” musically and lyrically, but it’s not a stand-out to me. The theme is that you can’t get caught up with those who wish to tear you down.

The Album

By my reckoning, then, a person could get the “best of Clockwork Angels” by purchasing seven of the tracks.

But, as noted, even the relatively “weaker” tracks are still pretty good.

Plus, the album artwork is exceptional for this album, and it also tells more of the story than is revealed in the lyrics.

So there are several good reasons to get the entire album, even if you’re not a lifelong Rush fan.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank the guys of Rush for making this album. It’s amazing, and arguably Rush’s best album ever. I’m impressed by their long-lasting passion and drive to make the best music they possibly can.

Voice of the Musical Saw: Interview with Natalia Paruz

My favorite scene from the film Another Earth involves the two main characters in a music hall; the composer plays the musical saw for his friend. The director skillfully weaves in scenes of space flight, and the friend (played by Brit Marling, who also cowrote the script) offers a moving response to the music. (I appreciated and enjoyed the quirky film overall despite its problems.)

After I posted my initial remarks, Natalia Paruz—the “Saw Lady”—mentioned to me via Twitter that she played the music of that scene. I’d already seen her perform the “Star Trek” theme on a YouTube video. And, when I was younger, a friend of mine played musical saw. So I figured I’d ask Paruz for an interview. She agreed, and the exchange follows. My questions are in italics.

How did you come to participate in the film Another Earth?

Director Mike Cahill saw me performing in the NYC subway and that gave him the idea to incorporate a musical saw into the film. He asked me if I would help choose music for the saw to play, and then record it for the soundtrack. He also asked me if I would coach William Mapother, the actor who was to act as if playing a saw, to do that.

Did you record the piece specifically for this film? How long of a process was it?

The piece was composed for the film by composer Scott Munson, who is probably the most prolific composer for the musical saw, inspired by the way Mike (the director) described the movie and the feel of the scene in an e-mail. I recorded what was to be a demo of the piece for Mike to hear—I was basically sight-reading the piece. We were certain we would re-record it properly later (if the piece met with Mike’s approval). It turned out that Mike loved the piece so much that he wanted to keep it exactly as is—so we never re-recorded it—what you hear in the movie is the demo! I later recorded the piece again, for my second album.

What was it like working with an actor to teach him to look like he’s playing the saw? Did he end up actually being able to play it a bit?

Working with William was a lot of fun for me because it was different from what I usually do, which is teach people how to actually play. It was challenging to come up with a system of signs that would map out the moves the music requires, for a person who doesn’t read music.

At the shoot I stood in front of William and mimed directions for him while he was “playing.” In the scene it looks as if William is looking as Brit Marling watching him play, but in actuality she wasn’t even there when we shot William “playing.” He was looking at my miming. Later, we shot Brit sitting in the audience. William wasn’t there for that—the director had me play on stage, so that the sound would inspire emotions on Brit’s face.

There is an instant when all one sees is the saw (a shot from behind)—that shot was done with me actually holding the blade. William did an excellent job pretending to play a saw—he never made a sound (he didn’t learn how to actually play) but he looks very convincing. During the shoot I had to give marks to each take, letting the director know which part of which take looked realistic and which didn’t. Editing that scene is a masterpiece of its own—it couldn’t have been easy to assemble all this separate footage, and Mike did such an amazing job!

Can you actually “tune” a saw, as the actor suggests in the film, or was that just made up for the performance?

In actuality one doesn’t “tune” the saw but rather “warms it up” before playing. That is done by bending the blade repeatedly up and down. If the air is cold (say, because of strong AC in an auditorium)—the saw wouldn’t sound good on the first try, and bending it up and down warms the metal to a temperature where it would vibrate more readily. That is what the “tuning” bit is based on.

How big of a deal was the film in terms of advancing your career?

Having a Fox Searchlight film on my bio certainly looks nice next to the other films I played for (Dummy with actor Adrien Brody, American Carny, I Sell the Dead, etc.). Also, the majority of the “Likes” on my Facebook Page are from people who saw Another Earth, so I would say the film certainly helped spread word about musical saw playing in general and myself as well.

As I watched the scene from Another Earth, I was struck by how much the musical saw sounds like a human voice. Usually the violin is described as close to the human voice; is the musical saw the closest to it?

It is amazing how a piece of steel can sound so human. So many times when people hear me playing before seeing me play, they come looking for a singer . . . and when they realize the sound is coming from the saw they find it hard to believe. They put their ears close to the blade to verify the sound is actually coming from there!

The saw’s sound is so much like that of a soprano voice that it was used in a recording of some choir, to do the high notes their sopranos couldn’t reach. I perform with opera singers often. Audience members often remark on how sometimes they cannot tell what sound is coming from the singer and what sound is coming from the saw! I recorded track #13 of my second album especially in order to show the similarity of a soprano voice to that of the saw’s.

I assume one can buy specialty “saws” for music that can’t actually saw anything. What’s the business of producing musical saws like?

About 100 years ago there were many manufacturers of saws made especially for music (see my detailed list of them). Today there are only three manufacturers of musical saws in the USA and some overseas, led by Mussehl & Westphal, which is the only manufacturer who lasted over the years. They have been selling musical saws since 1921. For a few years during the 1920s, sales averaged approximately 25,000 per year! However sales dropped significantly during the late 1930s as the art of playing music on a saw almost disappeared, especially after WWII.

So how did you get involved in this unusual pursuit? How long did it take you to become proficient?

I was introduced to the art of playing music on a saw by chance (or fate). I had mapped out my life as a dancer (I was a trainee with the Martha Graham Dance Company, and I performed with many smaller companies, in musicals, taught dance, etc.) but being run over by a car put an end to that. I searched for an alternate career, but nothing I tried filled the void the lack of dance left in my spirit. To cheer me up, my parents took me to Europe. We went to a show for tourists and part of it was a guy playing a saw, and for the first time since the accident I felt excited about something. It was as if providence pointed its finger to tell me what I was meant to do in life.

Since there was no musical saw teacher to be found, I taught myself, through trial & error (no internet tutorials back then either) how to play. At first I only thought of it as a hobby, but an invitation from a local Salvation Army Center (which heard about my playing from a neighbor of mine who could hear me practicing) changed that. When my phone kept ringing with invitations to perform, I realized that I could turn this into a career.

Anything else?

About 10 years ago I founded the NYC Musical Saw Festival which aims to promote the art form of playing music with a saw. When I started there were only five other saw players, but our numbers grew and we even established a new Guinness World Record for the “Largest Musical Saw Ensemble,” with 53 people playing saws together!

Thank you for the great questions, Ari!

Readers are invited to visit my website, where people can download my music, and my Facebook Page, where people may ask me questions about the musical saw or the movie.

Thank you very much,

all the best,
Natalia

Rush Brings Caravan to Redrocks

Okay, so Rush’s introductory video, which was supposed to lead into the first song, cut out early, leaving the band to walk on and start playing abruptly. Maladjusted sound at the outset helped send Geddy Lee into screech mode for a few moments. Alex Lifeson quickly blew a string, causing a momentary guitar lull. And the sound was too blaring for the venue. Upon breaking after the first few songs, Geddy said, “I apologize for [the video]; sometimes the magic doesn’t happen.”

And sometimes it does. Aside from a few trivial technical problems, Rush’s August 16 show at Redrocks — which Geddy properly called “the most beautiful venue in North America” (see below) — was pure magic (and that was evident even before the band played “Presto”).

Jennifer and I arrived early to beat the traffic, which offered the added advantage of finding a great parking spot right along the road. We each drank a Mexican (real sugar) coke (with a little kick) and ate snack mix as we waited; I read a few pages of Walker Todd’s Progress and Property Rights while Jennifer continued reading Stieg Larsson’s suspenseful third novel. I had to roll up my window when it started raining, but I wasn’t worried, as we had brought our rain gear.

The rain was fleeting, however, and by the time we ascended the stairs to the venue the wind had calmed and the clouds had dispersed perfectly for a sunset. Though I had expected storms, it was the most perfect weather imaginable at the most perfect venue. We sat in row 45, which is close enough to see the band but high enough to see Denver’s city lights over the stage. (That said, I would have preferred to sit in the first three rows, but it seems nearly impossible for a normal person to accomplish that.)

The techies quickly adjusted the sound on Geddy’s mic, and Geddy sang better and better through the evening. A strip of slightly-chewed paper from my ticket print-out took the edge off of the overall volume.

They played “Spirit of Radio.” They played “Subdivisions” and “Closer to the Heart” and the intro from “2112.” They closed with “La Villa Strangiato” and “Working Man.” In other words, amazing. (See the entire set list.)They played for nearly three solid hours, not counting the break.

I challenge anyone to listen to Rush perform “Workin’ Them Angels” and “Caravan” — from the latest and forthcoming albums — and spend a single breath defending Rush’s continued exclusion from the Hall of Fame. These works, along with numerous selections from Rush’s many albums, are among the greatest compositions in rock history. I have never heard anyone seriously question the fact that Neil Peart is the greatest drummer of all time as well as a poignant lyricist. Geddy Lee is among the greatest bassists and a magnificent composer. At this show, because a friend of mine is learning guitar, I spent more time watching the genius guitar work of Alex Lifeson. These are three of the greatest rock musicians performing today, and they play some of the greatest rock music of all time.

They called it the “Time Machine Tour.” Part of the setup for the concert was an alter-ego band called “Rash,” which allowed the (real) band to start off a few songs in alternative styles, such as oompah (maybe you had to be there). I thought it was a lot of fun.

During the first set, the band struck a definite theme, starting with the song “Faithless” (which I have discussed previously). The meaning of the song is obvious, though it is more touchingly positive than one might initially imagine. The next song in the sequence was the new release “BU2B,” which begins facetiously, “I was brought up to believe / The universe has a plan / We are only human / It’s not ours to understand.” The band followed that with the older “Free Will:” “You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice… / You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill / I will choose a path that’s clear / I will choose free will.”

The band started the second set with a full rendition of what may remain the band’s single greatest album, Moving Pictures. And they nailed it.

One interesting detail is that, after the band closed the encore, they played a video featuring the guys from the film I Love You Man, in which Rush’s music played a prominent role. The guys portrayed fawning and slightly silly fans (in other words, themselves as well as many of us in the audience). What’s interesting is that, while the video was supposed to usher people out of the theater, practically everyone stayed put until the video concluded and the crew started packing up the stage. It was a long night, but one fans were reluctant to let go.

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Comments

Trevor August 17, 2010 at 10:40 AM
That’s awesome! I saw them last time they played there and it was a great show. Maybe I’ll just have to see if I can get a ticket for tomorrow night.

kelleyn August 17, 2010 at 1:16 PM
My husband and I saw the Aug. 9 show at the Shoreline. They were Absolutely. Awesome. We were close enough to the stage that we could get a good look at the props behind them, especially with the opera glasses. Geddy’s steampunk sausage grinder was a scream.

What really impressed us was the absolute joy they took in performing and playing their music. They seemed to be having even more fun than we were. That’s what attracts me to them: not just their virtuosity, or the way the lyrics resonate with my own beliefs and values, but the positive sense of life that they emanate. With the overall genius and power that they have, it comes through strongly, and it is deeply inspiring.

Sandi Trixx August 17, 2010 at 6:40 PM
Saw them in Irvine on Friday with friends and we were blown away! I can’t agree with Kelleyn more about their enthusiasm.

http://sanditrixx.blogspot.com/2010/08/rush-was-awesome.html

Evil Red Scandi August 20, 2010 at 10:24 AM
We also saw them at Irvine last Friday – it was an amazing show, even though Geddy had some difficulty (to put it kindly) hitting the high notes in “Time Stands Still.” We love the humor in their demeanor and the energy of their music. My wife got a huge kick out of the sausage machine. It’s great to see some guys that are still rocking like madmen and having amazing fun at their age. A great show, and we can’t wait for next year’s tour.

Interview with Face’s Mark Megibow

Mark Megibow, the percussionist for Face — the all-vocal group featured this week on NBC’s Sing Off — made some time in his busy schedule for an exclusive interview. My questions are in bold.

Have you noticed any increased interest in your group since the December 14 show? For instance, are your web page views or iTunes sales up?

We have received an enormous response nationwide, not just since the show aired on the 14th, but actually while the show aired. According to the ratings, there were 6-7 million viewers during our segment. Apparently people liked what they saw because we immediately saw a surge in web hits and CD sales. We are getting as many web visits in a day as we used to get in a whole month.

Was the December 14 show live, or was it pre-recorded? (At what point did you guys know you’d been cut?)

The first three episodes were all pre-recorded, so we were actually cut from the show about a week before it aired. Knowing that this was going to be our one shot, we spent the week making sure people were going to watch the first episode so they didn’t miss us. We were proud of our performance and wanted people to enjoy it, in spite of knowing the outcome.

Did the show restrict what songs you could sing, or was the decision totally up to you?

There were a lot of factors that went into song selection for the show. The network’s ability to get proper licensing for the song was a very objective restriction, and there were many subjective ones as well. We were brought on the show to be the “rock band,” so the producers wanted our first song to be pretty straight-ahead rock. Playing to a wide viewing audience, they also required that the song be “immediately recognizable to the general public.” There were so many criteria on song selection, we didn’t have a single song in our existing repertoire that matched them all, so we had to start from scratch and choose a song we’d never done prior. I would call the process a “collaborative effort,” with the final decision resting in the hands of the producers. We chose the Bon Jovi song because we felt it would be one that would show off our full range of voices — it has soaring vocals, a signature bass line, and a fun, driving beat, so we thought it was the best pick of the options presented to us.

Similarly, the producers had complete control over our image, wardrobe, and even choreography. We had the right to our own opinions, but ultimately it was their show, so they got to make the call. The producers gave us the nickname of “mountain men” and decided that was going to be their theme for our wardrobe. People who have been to our shows know that this is not how we style ourselves, but that’s what we were given for the TV show, so we decided to just do our best with what we were given.

Do you have any personal reflections you’d like to share regarding the show, its host and judges, and the other participants?

We had a blast with the other groups and staff while we were out there. All of the groups were made up of great people. We spent a lot of time together being shuttled around, as well as in group rehearsals for the opening number, so we got to know them all. We were tremendously impressed with the staff — both with everyone’s professionalism, as well as friendliness. It was a first-class production from top to bottom.

Is there any chance that you’ll collaborate with the other groups in the future, such as in a joint concert in the area?

We would love to see any of the groups again, and we told them all that as we were leaving. Obviously we have to wait for the TV show to come to a close before we can put anything together, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we wind up on stage with some of these groups again in the future.

What impact do you think the show will have on all-vocal music? Where do you see the genre headed?

I’m glad the general public is getting a main-stream introduction to how far all-vocal music has come. I think the producers picked eight great groups that will represent the genre very, very well, and that it will attract more people both as performers as well as audience members. The human voice is the most versatile instrument in existence (or more accurately, the most versatile analog instrument). Most vocal groups are still learning that the music doesn’t have to be limited to choral sounds. Face has been playing with those sounds for years, and I think even we’re still just scratching the surface. Then there are vocal groups that are starting to push the envelope using technology to assist or enhance the human voice, which is opening up a whole new world of sounds and ideas. Purists prefer to hear the unadulterated human voice, but the technology movement has had an effect on all instruments, and it’s only natural that the voice be explored in that realm as well.

It seems like most all-vocal groups concentrate on arranging and performing existing songs. Do you think all-vocal groups (perhaps including Face) will turn more to original compositions, or will the strength of the genre continue to be offering interesting interpretations of music first performed elsewhere?

Although the genre of a cappella has become extremely broad, its roots can be traced back to vocal jazz, doo-wop, and barbershop, all of which rely heavily on “the standards” or “classics.” As a cappella has grown and expanded into the realm of contemporary and popular music, it’s no surprise that most groups continue to cover existing material. In the a cappella world, this is the norm. Song-writing is a completely different skill and you will find far fewer people who are good at song-writing, versus just singing other peoples’ work. There are a number of contemporary vocal groups in the country that are singing original material and are presenting themselves as true bands, trying to make it with their own music. Face has talked for years about introducing original material into our set, and we’ve begun that process. In contrast, we have also found that the audience loves hearing songs they immediately recognize and like, but with our unique instrumentation, so our future will always include a mix of both original material and well-known classics.

Thanks, Mark! Congratulations again, and I look forward to seeing Face’s continued rise.

Face Featured on NBC’s Sing Off

Congratulations to Face, Boulder’s all-vocal rock group, for their appearance tonight on NBC’s competition Sing Off.

I was disappointed that Face was one of the two bands voted out of the show tonight, out of eight contestants. But those who know Face know that vote is not any indication of their talent or musical force. Guys, your fans are thrilled to vote you back onto our island.

I just noticed that Face’s new album, Momentum, now sells at iTunes. If you want to get a better feel for Face’s tremendous talent, check out this album or the group’s previous two albums. (Forward also sells through iTunes.)

I thought that Face was an obviously better singing group than several of the groups that made it through the first round, though I really enjoyed all of the groups. (My other two personal favorites of the night were the SoCals and Noteworthy.)

I was scratching my head by Face’s song selection; they picked “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. I thought the song is too popular, Face didn’t give it any particularly unique reinterpretation, and the song doesn’t let the group’s vocal strengths shine through. I wondered, though, if the show’s producers restricted what songs the bands could sing. If I had made a list of ten songs I’d have liked to see Face sing as their opener, “Living on a Prayer” wouldn’t have made the list. Face’s fans know the band has some extremely strong “signature” songs that would have been much better for the show (if allowed).

Several of Face’s covers I like much better than the original recordings, including “Home” by Marc Broussard, “Calling All Angels” by Train, and “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. I also really like Face’s version of “O Fortuna” and “On the Turning Away.”

As an aside, my wife Jennifer made a brief appearance on the show, because NBC filmed Face performing at Nissis, the Lafayette restaurant owned by the same person who owns the design firm where Jennifer works.

I’ve been a fan of Face since I heard them perform at Nissis four years ago. I was frankly nervous to hear them sing, as I believe they were following the amazing Dave Beegle, and I thought there was no way an all-vocal group could compete with that. Face proved me wrong in a hurry (though I don’t know anybody who can match Beegle on an acoustic guitar.) I even began a first and second opinion column for Boulder Weekly with a discussion of Face.

I think I reflect the sentiments of all your fans, guys, by saying that we’re extremely proud of you. I hope the NBC show allows a lot more people to discover your talented and inspiring voices. And don’t stop believing.

Face Gets Momentum

Last night Face performed at the Boulder Theater. I’ve said it three or four times before, and I’ll say it again: last night was their best performance I’ve seen.

You can listen to clips from their latest album, Momentum, which they released at the concert.

Interestingly, Face has cancelled all of its December holiday shows. Their web page currently claims, “Face will be out of town in December: More details coming soon!” It’ll be interesting to see what the band has cooking.

I’ve been enjoying Face’s performances now for several years, and I’m pleased to see the band continue to meet success. Their sound gets better and better.

Back in 2005 I wrote, “Saying that Face is an ‘a cappella group’ is sort of like saying Jimi Hendrix is a ‘guitar player.’ It’s true, but it doesn’t really get the point across. Face rocks.” Seriously, give them a try.

Their performances are heartfelt and personable. Last night the band brought up two former members to sing signature songs. They recounted a bit of their history together in between songs. The new album reveals the group’s talent as arrangers and singers, but a big reason they have been so successful with word-of-mouth promotion is that audiences really enjoy sharing time with them.

The band also announced the successful birth of a member’s new baby just days ago. As Pamela White wrote for Boulder Weekly, the wife of one of the band members carried to term another couple’s baby. So congratulations on all counts.

Meniskus Releases Partyer!

Meniskus 1The Colorado band Meniskus released the single “Partyer” last night at the Fox Theatre in Boulder.

“Partyer” should be available soon on iTunes. For now, you can listen to it streaming on the group’s Facebook page.

While you’re there, make sure to check out “Brigade,” “Letters,” and “Overbearing.” I consider these the band’s four greatest songs, and an impressive collection for a relatively young band. If these songs hook you, you’ll become a Meniskus fan. (Note: I like the version of “Letters” on Foreign Beyond best. You can also see the video for “Letters” on the Facebook page.)

I’m hoping that “Partyer” is the most radio and party-friendly release so far, and that it draws attention to some of the other songs. It deserves to become a popular hit song.

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Trimming Songs

Memo to rock bands: don’t put annoying filler in your songs. Thankfully, now I can simply cut such nonsense out with my audio editing software (mostly Amadeus, though I have to use other stuff to get around irritating “protection” encoding. I hasten to note that I buy all my music and alter the encoding only of songs I have purchased for my personal use).

I almost didn’t buy the new Depeche Mode album because of the bizarre and off-putting (and long) introduction to the first song, which is otherwise great. With a judicious snip, the song is now a minute, twenty-three seconds shorter — and much better.

I love U2’s “Wanderer,” sung by Johnny Cash — except that they recorded these horrible clanging noises at the end. Now I can enjoy the song without rushing to fast-forward through the completely unnecessary noise.

I also got a song from Ghostland Observatory that includes this grating buzzing sequence about three-fourths of the way through. Now the song is about a fourth shorter — and I can listen to it.

Listen, rock bands: none of you is so great that you can just put annoying noise in your songs and expect us to listen. Knock it off. You’re not being avant garde, you’re not being edgy, you’re not being clever. You’re being annoying. And there are too many good bands in the world for listeners to put up with your annoying crap. That goes for you, too, U2. At least now I can fight back and do your editing work for you.

There is a broader point here: with the digitization of music, listeners can now adjust their play lists, not just to include the songs they want, but to include the sections of songs they want. In general, the digital revolution puts consumers in charge of their media in remarkable new ways.

Face: Best Boulder Band

Congratulations to Face, an all-vocal recently named the best band in Boulder. See Vince Darcangelo’s love letter to Face in the Daily Camera.

My wife and I took my mom to see Face at Nissis on Monday. Good show. The group has sold out that venue something like 80 times in a row. (Note: an owner of Nissis also owns my wife’s company.)

I wrote about Face twice in 2005. I understand the group likes my following line:

[S]aying that Face is an “a cappella group” is sort of like saying Jimi Hendrix is a “guitar player.” It’s true, but it doesn’t really get the point across. Face rocks.

On Monday, I was especially impressed with Mark Megibow’s new “drum” solo: he was singing through his own beats. (I joked that I’d be impressed when he can also sing harmony with himself.) He must have the best-developed mouth and throat muscles in all of Colorado.

You can listen to Face’s music on the group’s webpage.

If you want to read a heart-wrenching mother’s day story, see Pamela White’s article for Boulder Weekly, “2 men, 2 women and a baby.” Here’s the summary. Forest Kelly is another member of Face. His wife suffered from cancer, so, unable to have children herself, she had some eggs of hers frozen. Then Megibow’s wife decided to carry her friends’ baby to term. Happy Mother’s Day.

Meniskus ‘Partier’ Coming

Last night my wife and I went with a friend to the Draft House in Boulder (great chocolate stout and “pork roll” sandwich!) to see Meniskus, a band that I am becoming increasingly impressed with.

Do yourself a favor and go to iTunes to download at least “Letters” and “Overbearing (Part 2),” both available on the Foreign Beyond album. If you like these tracks, then you’ll like Meniskus, and you’ll become excited to learn…

Meniskus is recording their third album, and it will include “Partier.” (I don’t know if that’s the song’s official name, but everybody’s going to call it “Partier” anyway.) It seems to me that, if Meniskus is going to have a breakthrough hit, it’s going to be “Partier.” Then, I hope that a lot of people drawn to that popish, rhythmic party song look into the previous albums.

We’re blessed with some very good music in Colorado. DeVotchKa is one of my favorite groups of all time. Meniskus is working up the list, and I really wish these guys success.

* * *

In other music news, I was excited to see that Depeche Mode has a new album out that Amazon is selling for $3.99 for today only. The first track was bizarre and off-putting in the preview, but the other tracks sound interesting. I figured that for four bucks it’s hard to go wrong. Unfortunately, after buying the album and downloading Amazon’s mp3 downloader, I got nothing. But I called Amazon on the phone, and they solved the problem very quickly. So, yea for real customer service.

Meniskus

Last night I saw Meniskus at Nissis. Thanks to a friend who has dragged me to several shows, I’ve finally become a fan. While I was underwhelmed at an early show, I think because the band wasn’t taking the venue seriously, last night the group was completely on its game, and its members did full justice to their compositional prowess.

Meniskus consists of a violinist who also sings am amazingly wide range, an acoustic guitarist who also picks up an electric bass, and a fabulous drummer who backs up vocals and plays a keyboard on the side. They’re very good musicians, and they’ve written several great songs. I hope that brings them success.

Meniskus has a couple albums out, and I think Foreign Beyond is the one to pick up. (ITunes has it.) They have a video out on YouTube for “Letters.”

This is a Colorado band that deserves a listen.

Enya’s Winter Night

Enya’s new album, And Winter Came, contains several tracks that rank among her best work (with her collaborators, the Ryans.) It’s a great Christmas album, and obviously marketed for that, but it’s a great album period.

Listening to one of the online mini-documentaries, I learned that Enya writes the music first, then Roma Ryan works up the lyrics. The lyrics read by themselves don’t always seem especially impressive. “Have you seen the mistletoe? / It fills the night with kisses.” But, from the same song, these lines, though equally obvious, seem poignant:

Green is in the mistletoe
and red is in the holly…
Gold is in the candlelight and
crimson in the embers.
White is in the winter night…

But when Enya sings it, everything seems lovely and meaningful. Of course it fills the night with kisses!

I think the entire album is worth your collection. However, if you’re picking out tracks from iTunes, here are my recommendations, in the order they appear on the album:

1. “White Is In the Winter Night” — The lyrics above are from this song. As Roma Ryan suggests, you could sing this one around the fire with your family.
2. “Trains and Winter Rains” — This song, set in winter but not about the holidays, is musically the most interesting of the album, I think. You can watch the video on Enya’s web page.
3. “Last Time By Moonlight” — A lovely and lyrical piece.
4. “One Toy Soldier” — As we might expect, the song has a great rhythm. It’s about Christmas, but more deeply it’s about the worry of disappointing oneself and others, then overcoming that by finding the right beat.
5. “My! My! Time Flies” — This is Enya’s swingingest song, and playful, and I quite like it. Be sure to read the fun lyrics. It’s a song about reflection, and moving forward.

DeVotchKa’s Faithful

This Halloween I saw what must be among the greatest shows of the evening worldwide: DeVotchKa’s performance. (The crowd’s costuming was a performance in itself.) The production was not nearly as extravagant as it was last year, as two nights at the Boulder Theater replaced one large performance in Denver last year. But this is not a band that needs props, given Nick Urata’s sonorous energy, Tom Hagerman’s virtuoso musicianship (he is a symphony-caliber violinist), Shawn King’s intricate and precise percussion, and Jeanie Schroder’s steady bass and tuba lines. (Actually it’s a sousaphone.)

I don’t know who does the heavy writing — I suppose Urata and Hagerman — but this band has created some very fine music. I recall going to see another local band some years ago and seeing DeVotchKa in the lineup by accident; it’s the only group of the evening that I remember. Then came “How It Ends” and the film “Little Miss Sunshine,” for which the band provided the music. And this local band has made it big, perhaps surprising given its eccentricity.

I wasn’t sure I’d like the band’s new album quite as well, based on my iTunes sampling of “A Mad and Faithful Telling.” But I picked up a copy at the concert (for a mere $10 — modern technology is extraordinary), and so far I’ve listened to it a half dozen times or so. It is a great album. I don’t recognize singles as rousing as the older songs “Death By Blonde” or “The Enemy Guns” — there seems to be less raucous guitar — but the album is marked by sophisticated and heartfelt music. I like DeVotchKa’s first album, and the other three studios are favorites of my collection.

On stage, Urata said he wished the audience could see the world through his eyes. At least we can hear the world as he hears it.

New Hard Rock

Hurrah! From the local rock station The Fox I learned of new music from AC/DC and Metallica. This follows the release of Rush’s “Snakes and Arrows” last year; I regard those three bands as the greatest of hard rock. So far I’ve spent only a few minutes listening, but I’m excited so far. Metallica’s “The Day That Never Comes” indicates the band has gotten comfortable again with subtle composition; the group’s best songs are very well written. And piano on “Unforgiven III?” Take that, genre zealots. It’s a good song. And nothing else matters.

Rush at Red Rocks

This Wednesday I caught Rush at Red Rocks, in my experience the absolute best place to see any band perform. It was as good of a performance as I’ve ever seen the band offer (and Rush is the best live band I’ve seen).

The northern lightning storm beyond Denver provided the perfect backdrop for the evening. Dark clouds sprinkled lightly till around 9:30, then the stars poked through. The breeze was noticeable but not annoying. Rush’s web page even offers photos of the event.

As I’ve noted, I count the new Snakes and Arrows album as among the band’s best work. My appreciation for it continues to grow. Peart’s famous drum solo was particularly breathtaking on Wednesday. In general, the band was in top form. I didn’t love the new short films for this leg of the tour, but I understand the need to break thinks up a bit for a 3.5 hour performance.

As I was driving down the road from the theater, I happened across a couple of hitch hikers looking for a ride to their hotel. It turned out that the guy was from LA, his girlfriend from Austin. They’ve met in different cities to see Rush several times. They even came to Denver earlier in the month, when Rush’s earlier date was cancelled due to weather. (I’m not sure they loved my ancient, rattling vehicle, but it got them to where they were going.)

Before I knew what he was doing, the guy handed me a $20 bill, and then he obstinately refused to take it back. I was strapped into my vehicle, so I said weakly, “If you leave that in here, I’ll have to give it to charity.”

After thinking about it for a while, I decided that (given the band’s history) donating it to cancer research was the way to go. After poking around a little on the advice of a friend, I ran across the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation, which gets a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. That’s where I’ll send the check.

According to the band’s web page, the tour will continue as follows:

June 2008

28th-St Louis, MO
30th-Cincinnati, OH

July 2008

2nd-Pittsburgh, PA
4th-Atlantic City, NJ
5th-Saratoga, NY
7th-Uncasville, CT
9th-Toronto, ON
11th-Manchester, NH
12th-Holmdel, NJ
14th-Wantagh, NY
17th-Hershey, PA
19th-Washington, DC
20th-Charlotte, NC
22nd-Atlanta, GA
24th-Indianapolis, IN

The fact is that Rush isn’t going to tour forever. Now’s an excellent time to catch them at the height of their powers.

DeVotchKa!

On Saturday night, my wife and I went with some friends to DeVotchka’s Halloween concert in Denver. Amazing. The show opened with a Day of the Dead procession. After some opening music, giant ribbons descended from the ceiling, and three women climbed them to perform acrobatic dance routines. Most people were dressed in stylish costumes. And the music was up to DeVotchKa’s usual standards. The band, filled out by three extra strings and another trumpet player, in addition to the four core members, alternated between the group’s sorrowful tunes and heavier beats. They started playing around 10:00 p.m., and the next thing I knew it was after midnight.

We became fans with the album SuperMelodrama, though I like the next albums, Una Volta and How it Ends, even more. You can sample the band’s music at its web page or through iTunes. One of my personal favorites is “The enemy guns” from How it Ends.