Thursday, April 26, 2012

Music Made Me 29

September - Earth, Wind & Fire

We celebrated Jessica's thirtieth birthday with a disco house party. We'd warmed up with a number of excellent New Years Eve events, but this disco party was where the house dance floor really hit solid gold. People dressed up and really got into it. Of course, disco is genetically engineered to speak directly to the booty, so there's no denying it.

1901 - Phoenix

There was this song on the radio that kept getting stuck in Jessica's head. She would try to sing it to me, but I had no idea what she was talking about. What the hell is "Lisztomania"?

She found the album on Zune and downloaded it in time for our trip down to Portland for my friend Carlos' wedding. So at last I was able to hear this catchy tune. But wait, what's this next song… "1901"?

This is… perfection. I don't even know where to start. This song just drives the whole way through, taking you on an expertly crafted journey. I have no words for it. I'm completely in love with this song.

Later we're at the wedding venue, but it's the day before. We're hanging out in the pool outdoors, and another wedding is going down nearby in the place where Carlos will be married the next night. I remember them playing another song off that Phoenix album we'd listened to on the ride down: "Girlfriend".

Okay, it was settled. I had to explore this band for real. Upon returning from the trip I completely absorbed myself in Phoenix's discography. Was. Not. Disappointed.

Intro - The XX

This is one of my all time favorite album intros. It's exactly how you should prepare someone for the musical journey that follows. Simple, building, ear catching, but not overwhelming.

And what a solid album it is. A distinct point of view, and a refined sound. Generally super relaxed, but also completely capable of getting things moving in its own way. My only complaint with this album is that it's the only one. I demand more.

Underneath the Sycamore - Death Cab For Cutie

I find that I paint best when I have music on. So when I sat down for the crazy task of painting every day for thirty days, I needed a lot of music. Which made it a great time for a new Death Cab album. I don't think I would have listened to this album so much in immediate repeat if it hadn't been for the fact that I was spending hours painting every single evening. Not because it isn't excellent, because it is. I just generally try to space out my album listening more.


And at last we have caught up with the present. Thirty of years of my life, defined by the music I was listening to. 140 tracks in total.

It seems odd to just trail off here. But that's the thing, isn't it? Now that I've started this… it won't be done until I'm dead. Who knows what music the next thirty years will bring?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 28

Yes - Morphine

After nine years of courtship, I finally married Jessica. We had met so early in life, neither of us expected to find such perfection by then. So we felt no need to rush. Maybe we overshot a bit, but I'm much happier that we made our own decision on our own schedule, and walked into our wedding more confident and loving than ever.

We walked down the aisle to "The Nearness Of You" by Norah Jones. And we walked out to "Yes" by Morphine. Not a typical choice, I know. But a song by a band we both loved that chanted "yes, yes, yes" seemed like the perfect song to start our marriage.

Moondance - Michael Bublé

We'd been ballroom dancing for a number of years by this point. There was zero interest in half-assing our first dance. So months before the wedding we started working on our performance. The final number had foxtrot, swing, balboa, lindyhop… seriously, we went all out. I had a spreadsheet to block the whole thing out. It was probably the only thing I was nervous about on our wedding day. I mean, that whole wedding ceremony was obviously going to be fine… but could we pull off the dance?

The dip and kiss happens at 3:30, in case it isn't obvious.

Slow Dance - John Legend

Before the wedding Jessica's aunt Donna gifted her greatest piece of wisdom: play this song. I don't think I had ever heard it before. Which is a shame, because that's too many years without this absolute treat of a song in my life.

We played it immediately after "Moondance". The idea that was that people would join us and start the dance floor. We'd even seeded certain people in advance to set up the whole transition. But in that moment far too many of them lost their nerve. Apparently dropping a dance number like that wasn't good for convincing the general crowd that it was time for them to dance too. Oh well, their loss. Great song.

"Our love is… \  Our love is… \  Our love is… slow dancing together."

Loud Pipes - Ratatat

Oh hell yes, Ratatat. This was an introduction from Jevan. One of the awesome things about working on music software is how talking about music is just part of the culture. There was truly a love for music there.

Another Zune Arts video brought me Ratatat earlier, but it was so short I didn't dig deeper into the music. I didn't even make the connection that I'd heard the music before until a year later. But seriously, those videos are awesome. I highly recommend watching all of them.

Ratatat filled a void that Daft Punk had left empty. Instrumental, tightly mixed, conceptual but hard hitting and rhythmic. And like Daft Punk, I'm always left wondering why there isn't more of it.

Your Touch - The Black Keys

I first heard the Black Keys while tooling around on Zune looking for new music. I believe I started with Attack & Release, since it was the new release, but it was when I traveled back in time that I found what I was looking for.

Discovering The Black Keys felt a bit like unearthing one of my dad's old records. The band just doesn't sound like something from this era. Clearly this can't be music from the year 2006? What sorcery is this?

Raw simple blues rock. No tomfoolery. Heartfelt, pure, and oh so good. There are times when I find a new album, and there are times when I find a new artist to delve into completely. This was most definitely the latter.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 27

Dirty Laundry - Bitter Sweet

I'd been working on the same product at Microsoft for four years, and it had come time to change the scenery. My team was migrating from Media Center to work on this new music project called Zune. A friend of mine, Ian, was already over there, and was able to give me some preliminary info on what it was all about. Sometime before I'd made the switch Jessica and I were going on a trip (to San Francisco, I think) and Ian lent Jessica his Zune device for the duration.

Preloaded on the device was a number of surprisingly decent tracks. One of which was "The Mating Game" by Bitter Sweet. There was a big full sound to the band that reminded me of Supreme Beings of Leisure. So naturally I liked them immediately.

If "The Mating Game" was the entry point, "Overdue" quickly became the favorite. I love the stilted groove of that song. It hits so raw and hard with this odd collection of sounds that don't really map to instruments in my head. It's then swapped out for this super relaxed MMW-esque organ groove and excellent silky vocals. But it keeps coming back to that sublime groove. Love it.

However if we're picking the song based on sheer number of memory connections then it has to be "Dirty Laundry". One of the cooler things they did at Zune was commission these animated music videos to represent the brand. I don't think it did much good, but the videos were pretty consistently awesome. The one for this song, titled "Moodbot", was no exception.

I also remember recommending the album to a friend who ended up putting together a brilliant burlesque number to it. So I have not one but two visual aids for this song, one with robots and one with explosions of glitter.

And now I'm realizing that we're starting catching up to reality. Because around a year after this point I went to see a Bitter Sweet show and blogged about it here.

All Mine - Portishead

We'd already been listening to Portishead for awhile, but there was a bit of a rebirth of Portishead around this time. And none of it more than this song.

Damn this song is sexy. It crawls, it bumps, it slides. But I'm amazed at how this live recording manages to carry more weight than the album recording. I guess that's what happens when you bring a 35-piece orchestra to your live show.

Brick House - Commodores

My cousin Kelly got married some years before this. Halfway into their traditional first dance she and the groom broke into a surprise swing routine. It was highly entertaining, and provided the inspiration I needed to finally cave into Jessica and get some dance lessons.

So some time after that Jessica and I started partner dancing together. And then some time into that we started trying out west coast swing. It was at that point that we truly discovered the song that is "Brick House".

It's so perfect for a laid back sloppy west coast. It is impossible for this song to come on and for Jessica and I to not to dance to it. I couldn't even count how many times we've danced to this song, yet it's still awesome. It's a staple at most weddings, and there's a reason.

Move Along - The All-American Rejects

I've already mentioned here all sorts of music and rhythm games. Singing to Karaoke Revolution; drumming to Donkey Konga, and strumming to Guitar Hero. I even once threw a party where we had all of the above available at the same time. Thankfully someone else thought this was just as awesome as I did, because Rock Band was released and made the world a better place.

While working on Zune my team played plenty of Guitar Hero during breaks. When Rock Band came out we got a full kit for the office and kept the tradition going. The addition of drums was the newest most exciting element since they were obviously many steps above the crude bongo drums of Donkey Konga. A couple times before I had sat down in front of a real drum kit and felt immediately lost. But making a game out of it enabled me to grasp the basics.

Once I grasped the core it was possible to really feel the difference in performing various beats. This song became an absolute favorite, and one where people would fight over who got to play the drum part. It's exactly the sort of song I never would have a relationship with if not for Rock Band. It's total pop fluff, but I've had so much fun playing the song (all parts of it, even) that I unquestioningly turn up the radio when it comes along.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 26

Proper Hoodidge - Amon Tobin

I was at the Experience Music Project for some reason that I can no longer recall. I remember getting my dad a pass as a Christmas gift, but this particular time I know that I was there alone. Regardless of the reason, I found myself in the attached music store, which actually had a decent sampling setup. I found myself reading some staff reviews and trying out some albums in the store.

Amon Tobin didn't sound like anything I had heard before. It was electronic music on a more fundamental level than I was accustomed to. It wasn't just lightly remixed, it was as if someone was crafting music out of the raw waveforms in the ether.

It can be challenging to listen to. Not always satisfactory, but always interesting. Because of the uneven listen-ability of the album as a whole it's not something I can generally just put on, but there are many sparks of brilliance at work here.

Stitched Up - Herbie Hancock & John Mayer

I'm in Oslo, Norway. I've got a Creative Zen Micro and a pair of headphones. I'm sitting in a park, enjoying the scenery and the (unrelenting) sun. My dad is there too, and we're talking a bit about music. I remember playing a couple songs for him then, and just sitting there to enjoy the moment.

I know this was one of the songs. I'm not positive, but I think the others were The Shins "New Slang" and The Postal Service "We Will Become Silhouettes".

New Slang - The Shins

I was introduced to this song by that scene in "Garden State". And ever since The Shins have had this folksy throwback feel to me. Like that melancholy moment at the end of The Graduate where "The Sounds of Silence" plays. I guess there's just something Simon and Garfunkel-y about them.

The Shins have more versatility than I expect of them. "Kissing the Lipless" surprises me every time. And there's that the raw energy when "Sleeping Lessons" breaks through. I feel like I've put The Shins in a box, and I keep forgetting about how much more they have to offer. That initial association was so strong that it's hard to overcome for me.

Vultures - John Mayer

With Continuum John Mayer was officially forgiven of any prior trespasses. The pop is dialed way back here and makes way for the likes of "I Don't Trust Myself", which sounds more like a modern blues song, or "Gravity", with its excellently nerdy choice of a scapegoat. And of course "Vultures".

This is the album I was hoping from Mayer all along. It feels like what he wanted too, but he just needed some distance from being confused as just some pop heartthrob. Hard when the ladies are throwing their money and themselves at you.

Canned Heat - Jamiroquai

I'd guess that most people think of this scene from Napoleon Dynamite when they hear this song. I personally didn't find that movie nearly as funny as everyone else seemed to, so that association never formed for me. I had already long ago filed Jamiroquai and this song filed under "awesome".

It's time for CES, and I've decided to hitch along with some coworkers for their trip to Vegas to work the booth. This is at the same time as the launch of Windows Vista, and there's a corresponding party at some club at Caesar's. Naturally, we go.

The DJ at this event is notably awesome (I look up this "DJ AM" later and find him to be "kind of a big deal"). He has a knack for being able to play completely un-danceable songs and make them awesome without compromising their familiarity. I keep trying to get another drink from the open bar, but find myself pulled back to the dance floor by mix after awesome mix.

Despite the talent on display this is of course a party with too many geeks and not enough dancing. I decide that we need more Jamiroquai. But of course it's loud and verbally communicating a request to the DJ is not possible. I improvise, type "Canned Heat" into my phone and hold it up for him to see. He sees it, nods, and shortly thereafter makes it happen.

When the song comes on the dance floor gets a surge of new energy. It implants this idea in my head that "Canned Heat" is a song with magical powers. This is an idea that has yet to fail me; the song somehow always delivers. It took me some time to realize that this is probably mostly related to that scene from Napoleon Dynamite. Which is a bit disappointing for me, but whatever it takes to get the bodies dancing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 25

Brothers On A Hotel Bed - Death Cab for Cutie

I remember having a rather vivid, deeply sad dream with this song as the soundtrack. I don't think my dreams generally have soundtracks, but this one did. I hear the song now, and my breathing instinctively slows. It's so sad, and so beautiful. Thankfully I know that I don't process lyrics well enough for that dream to actually be about what the song is about. I can pick up on emotion, and melody, but lyrical comprehension is not my strong point.

I Bow Down and Pray to Every Woman I See - Chuck Prophet

Jessica got this album as a recommendation off of the radio. And I'm glad, because it's a solid album through and through. There's some blend of folksy and groovy happening on it, and I dig it.

There are lots of songs I could pick from this album. I was deeply considering "Summertime Thing", with its heartfelt nostalgia. Or the sweet album send-off that is "Old Friends". "I Bow Down" won over on account of just how damned slick it is.

Eple - Royksopp

While we were playing games Rob put this on and introduced it as "Swedish Daft Punk". Well, they're technically Norwegian, but I guess that's close enough. It's a softer sound that Daft Punk for sure, but I could see what he was getting at.

He burned me a sampler disc which I know now as a subset of Melody A.M.. It's odd when someone pre-filters an album for you. Because later you can come across the album in full and become curious about those unexplored tracks between. Are they undiscovered treasures, or awful that you were mercifully spared from? Do you trust your friend's taste or not?

I general I think Rob pulled out the high notes, but he maybe didn't need to filter so heavily. But it's all good, it just gave me some b-sides to search for later.

Texas Flood - Stevie Ray Vaughan

This odd little game came out that required a plastic guitar as a controller. I didn't even technically own a PS2 of my own, but I bought a copy of Guitar Hero because it was just so damned awesome. Sure it wasn't playing a real guitar, but it was still freaking cool. Much cooler than bongos.

I was already quite familiar with this song, but playing it in the game was an entirely new experience. Stevie Ray was far out of my range on a real guitar (and it's not as if I'd picked one up in years anyway), but in the game I could incrementally close that gap. A false sense of accomplishment maybe, but it didn't feel like it. Striving to keep up with Stevie felt deeply satisfying. Gamer me and musician me were finding some common middle ground.

Train - Goldfrapp

Goldfrapp rocks my face. After listening to them I'm always left wondering why I don't listen to them more often. Great super-danceable grooves, gritty electronic elements, sultry vocals. There are so many totally ass-kicking-ly awesome tracks to choose from. How is it that I keep forgetting to come back to them? What's wrong with me?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 24

Inner City Blues - Marvin Gaye

I don't know what inspired Jessica to start delving into a 1971 album all of the sudden in 2003, but she did. It was less of a discovery of Marvin Gaye and more of a rediscovery. "What's Going On" is a great album, but there was no question about what song to put in here. Makes me wanna holler...

Love and Happiness - Al Green

At the same time as Jessica was rolling out the Marvin Gaye she was also dropping the Al Green. I think she did this specifically to confuse me. They sound very different to me now, but at the time I was very mixed up. Al Green seems to on average have a groovier sexier sound, but Marvin Gaye is the one to really call out "Let's Get It On" and lay down some "Sexual Healing". However Marvin Gaye is the one with the thoughtful social commentary, while Al Green is the Reverend. It was a bit disorienting.

But ever since I'm prone to, as Morphine put it, "put the Al Green on". You really can't go wrong. Everybody wins.

I Believe In A Thing Called Love - The Darkness

Music games. They're a huge thing now (or maybe a huge thing that's jumped the shark a bit), but not so long ago they were new and niche.

I remember Ben first bringing around Karaoke Revolution to our gaming gatherings. His idea was simple: he wanted to get better at singing, and a game seemed like a great feedback mechanism to make that happen. The idea of a game judging your musical ability was still a novel idea back then. So we played this game, and soon it became clear that non-gamer people were interested in this too. Even, gasp, girls.

Fast forward to the sequel, and we have a growing crowd of people. But no one has the balls to tackle this song. Until Rand does. And he fucking nails it. He committed, he delivered, and it was awesome.

For years I was waiting for this song to make it to Rock Band. It always seemed like an obvious pick. Fun and challenging vocals, rocking guitars, and of course a big cup of awesome flair. I mean, have you seen the video? One of the best ever. Anyway, someone had once figured out the rights to get this song into a music game, so what was the hold up? I did eventually get my wish, although only a year ago. I'm still waiting for someone to really step it up and deliver the vocals...

Habanera - Carmen (Donkey Konga)

Okay, so no orchestral recording of this song is going to accurately represent how this song exists in my head. Thankfully bored people on the internet exist to archive this stuff for me.

So, somehow this crazy Gamecube game that came with a plastic bongo controller made it stateside. The track selection was… well… I'd be generous even calling it "uneven". But beating drums to music is pretty much fun no matter what. Even if they're fake drums, and even if the music is often terrible.

By the time Donkey Konga 2 came around we had a setup with a TV and two bongo controllers at work. When the mood was right at the end of the day we'd have some drinks, bang some bongos, and have an all awesome time.

Oddly enough, this song was the best one. So many times Jon and I would be scrolling through the track list, pondering, and just end up back on Habanera. It makes zero sense until you've actually drummed along to it.

Go It Alone - Beck

Beck, you're not so sad anymore are you? You've had years to heal that broken heart, and as a result you were able to give birth to Guero. Which I like to believe is so much better for the heartbreak that preceded it. So... thanks for taking one for the team.

This song… yum. It's a foot stomping, snappin', can't help but bob your head kind of a groove-a-long. A minimalistic triumph. So. Good.

I actually first hit this album via the GameBoy Variations remix. Okay, it's not all proper chip tune mixes, but the thought is still there. I actually prefer the remix version of "Hell Yes" to the album version. The "Girl" remix is also pretty rad.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 23

Transatlanticism - Death Cab for Cutie

I remember listening to this song, lying face-up on the floor of the townhouse we lived in at the time. Jessica had put on this album on and it was this song that first stood out to me. Which is saying something, because the song is pretty deep into the album, and there are a lot of great songs that come before it. But it was the one that operated on the wavelength I needed.

I think the reason for that is that this song isn't as concerned with being, well, a song. It finds a space, and then it spends some time just existing there. Building without building. I can see myself lying there on the floor, listening, and then really starting to feel it as the song enters its latter half of pure jam. Then at 6:31 the vocals come on in this lifting way that's perfectly justified and made more powerful by what preceded them. And then of course it just expertly blends into the next track. Album planning for the win.

Once my ear was cocked, I delved into Death Cab pretty deeply, and they quickly became a favorite. This was the bridge.

Catch Me - Supreme Beings of Leisure

I discovered Supreme Beings of Leisure in a bit of a roundabout way. I got the Animatrix DVD as a gift. I want to say that the soundtrack came with it, but it's possible I just followed up and checked it out later. Doesn't matter. There were a couple interesting tracks on it, but the one that matters here is called "Under the Gun" by Supreme Beings of Leisure. I enjoyed it, but didn't immediately dig deeper.

It took hearing the name a second time, from Francis if I recall, to lead me to Divine Operating System. And with that came many things, but especially the excellent James Bond anthem that never was: "Catch Me". This band is one sexy, classy act.

Somersault - Zero 7

Ambient chill background music, it's a thing. Here is some more. But there's a bit of a story to go with this one.

I remember hearing about this band on the pilot episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. For those first couple episodes they had some other dude sitting in the questionable "culture" seat. I remember him riffling through the subject's CD collection and criticizing it. Making fun of a dude's clothes and lame bachelor apartment is one thing, but it's something else entirely to hate on their music. Sure, I think some music is less than worthy; not all of it is good. But it's ridiculous to think that you can take someone's entire music history, dump it in the trash, and replace it with something hip. They can't un-experience all of that. Maybe other people don't have the emotional nostalgic connection to music that I do, but I can't imagine completely changing my music tastes overnight. I mean, that's why I'm doing this whole thing - I consider music to be part of my identity.

Anyway, the culture guy had the subject put on this Zero 7 album in the background during his date. It's odd how despite my negative reaction to the whole scene I actually looked up the album. The thing is, it's not the music recommendation that I found repulsive; it was the request that the subject also throw out their pass.

The album actually has a number of good tracks on it. Super soft, super chill, but good.

Panther Dash - The Go! Team

This is something that my officemate Krishna brought to my attention. We would close our door, crank up the volume, and groove to Go Team.

The entire album sounds like it was duct-taped together in a basement with bargain bin recording equipment. But there's so much energy in the music that it doesn't matter. Actually, I prefer it this way. It's raw. The only downside is that this makes it incredibly difficult to insert into a mix with more-produced music.

I mean, this whole album is bat shit crazy. It's got this bizarre backbone of cheerleading chants. Mix that with funk, and pop, and hip hop. And a harmonica. And trashcan drums. And a string section. And... holy crap what the hell is happening and why is it so awesome? How did I get this huge grin on my face?

The sort of raw delight that this music can induce is probably why they decided to use "Get It Together" as the theme for the adorable Little Big Planet. Which is a good pairing. But despite that huge marketing association Go Team always takes me back to those times with in that office with Krishna.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 22

Sure Thing - Saint Germain

Okay, one more ambient track before we move on. Groovy, bluesy, relaxed, repetitive. Good for programming and parties. I like it, partially because of the fact that it doesn't tax my brain.

Undress Me Now - Morcheeba

Jessica finally made it out to a Morcheeba show, at the Moore. It was around the release of their album Charango, but I remember that we hadn't heard it. Either it wasn't out, or we hadn't picked it up yet, I can't remember which. What I definitely remember is that it was very fortunate that we caught this show. Shortly after the band split ways with the lead singer, Skye Edwards, in pretty much the Worst Idea Ever. I don't care if you have artistic differences and are miserable, it's your job to suffer through that and keep bringing me more music. I have needs.

I remember her singing this song at the show. She was entirely wrapped up in the performance. When the song was over it was as if she woke up and just then realized what she had been singing. "Undress me now, you know how / Using my mind". Suddenly she had returned to earth and was blushing and embarrassed. It was adorable.

We Will Become Silhouettes - The Postal Service

There's something special about The Postal Service. The way the electronic elements blend with Ben Gibbard's vocals is so… something. Wistful? It sounds nostalgic to me now, but I'm pretty sure it always has.

I remember listening to this album while playing Halo with the boys (Alex, Ben, and Rob). It doesn't seem like the most obvious pairing, but there's something about the genesis of this music that works so well for a bunch of programmers playing video games.

I think it was actually in response to Daft Punk, and it was probably two years earlier, but I distinctly remember a car conversation with Rob where he made a critical connection for me. Our generation grew up with Nintendo. The only way to communicate music on this hardware was with glorified bleeps and bloops. What the musicians of the time were able to accomplish with this was actually pretty incredible, but the important point is that we as kids were absorbing this new kind of music slowly, and in an enjoyable context. Those seeds laid dormant for years and years and eventually blossomed into brain receptors that were attuned to things like The Postal Service or Daft Punk. We had never thought of ourselves as being listeners of electronic music, but without knowing it we had been prepared for this since childhood.

I adore this album. I've heard it countless times, and it still totally works. It's simple, and joyful, and just lovely. Except for the last track. I recommend erasing it from existence.

I Know You (Pt. III) - Morphine

Back when I was in college I used Napster to fuel my music discovery. There wasn't much barrier to trying something new. Then they shut down Napster and that all became hard again. People still did it with torrents and such, but at this point I had a job and a paycheck and didn't feel comfortable stealing music off the internet. Music is important to me, and when I find something I like I don't have a problem paying for it. But in this legitimate world how do you discover new music?

Into this situation was born the music subscription. Pay a fixed fee for access to all the music you want. I started doing this when Napster relaunched as a service, and I've been doing it ever since (although now with Zune). Under this system there's absolutely nothing getting in the way of finding new music, which is how it should be.

Another aspect of this newfound access is that I could dig into my back catalog of artists. Despite my love of Morphine I hadn't really had a chance to listen to their older albums. As soon as I hooked up to the music subscription fire hose I was able to check out everything else they had ever put out.

This song is off of Like Swimming, and it's amazing. It's so deep and dirty. Soulful. I love how it rolls into the chorus with those paired sax hits. It's sexy, sultry, and oh so good.

Chicago - Groove Armada

Through work I got on the Halo 2 multiplayer beta. I had played my fair share of local LAN multiplayer on the first Halo. In the sequel they were doing some pretty revolutionary stuff with how they brought this online, and that's what I was supposed to be testing.

What does this have to do with music? Well, I had both my Xbox and my Media Center hooked up to the TV. I had a Napster app on the PC that let me stream pretty much whatever I wanted. I figured out a workable setup where I could get the audio from that in addition to the audio and video from the Xbox. I set this up right around the time I got on that multiplayer beta, so the whole time I was playing I could listen to music.

This song is completely linked to the "Ivory Tower" map from that game. As it grooves along I can see myself running around in that space. The song and the environment and the game just all fit together for me. It's one of those crazy tight links that I keep talking about here - personal but undeniable.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 21

Paper Tiger - Beck

Beck went through a serious breakup, and he wrote an album. There is no denying the impact of one on the other. Gone is the manic spread of tunes from the previous albums. In their place is solid cohesive songwriting. This is the ultimate breakup album. Thankfully you don't need to be going through epic heartbreak to appreciate it.

This song is probably one of the least depressing of the lot. I mean, it sounds borderline uplifting. Tonally, not lyrically, that is. The whole album is a pit of crushingly depressing lyrics. So it feels a little odd to single it out this song, a relative outlier, to represent the album. But it's just so damned good I can't bring myself to put anything else in its place.

I apparently get off on depressing music. Too much happiness and I start to get suspicious. So naturally I love this album.

Teardrop - Massive Attack

Apparently most people know this song as the instrumental intro theme for House. Yeah… no. I can't even imagine this song without the vocals. I mean, I've seen House. I just get disoriented and keep waiting for the rest of the song to kick in.

As great as the song is, I'm putting it on here for the album as a whole. It was a recommendation to me by Francis. Jessica was very confused when I mentioned this, because she already owned the album. Had for years. And somehow I'd missed the whole business.

The album fit in so well with my other M's: Morphine and Morcheeba. Deep, dark, and lovely.

Clarity - John Mayer

This song is a fantastic album opener. It starts out sparse and gentle, slowly adding elements. It feels like waking and opening up to the day. It takes a full minute to put it all together, but even then it doesn't overpower. It's relaxed. The thing I love about this song is how it comes out of the bridge at 3:18. Restraint, horns, and then the wall of sound hits. It gets me every time. Perfection.

I've already gone over my introduction to John Mayer. I felt some betrayal at the overproduced Room for Squares. Plus I could do without Mayer's pop crush image. Jessica and I went to a concert of his at the Paramount and were overwhelmed by the large number of swooning young girls. Mayer was too, apparently, and openly mocked them from the stage. Sadly it seemed to go over their heads. They weren't so into his jazzy instrumental indulgences with balding accompanists; they just wanted to hear how their bodies were wonderlands. Gag.

Heavier Things was still pretty poppy, but less so than Room for Squares. This thankfully proved to be a positive trend that would continue with the following albums.

Lebanese Blond - Thievery Corporation

I think Jessica and I first came across this via some sort of compilation. From there we dug in dabbled with The Mirror Conspiracy and The Richest Man in Babylon. There's definitely a fusion of a wide range of elements happening here. Latin, Indian, African… the album just kind of stirs them altogether into some sort of super chill soup. Because of that it's hard to develop strong opinions about any track in particular. The whole experience is rather ambient. Not really challenging, just there and… listenable.

It feels weird to punctuate this list with music that feels a bit like filler to me. But it's what I was listening to at the time. I think I needed some ambient filler. As I mentioned before, that sort of music is of particular use to us programmers. Sometimes you need music that doesn't make you think, but keeps you driving forward.

Epoca - Gotan Project

This is such a lovely blend of old and new. Tango music met electronica, and a beautiful thing was born. But I don't know if I have more to say about it than that. Yes, it grooves, it moves, it's hip... but it's destined to stay in the background. It fills a certain kind of need. Party music. Something to put on so that there's not nothing, but it’s not something that's going to invade and derail you from whatever it is you actually want to be doing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 20

Buena - Morphine

Oh Buena. So aptly titled. This song starts with such powerful elements, rolled out one at a time to slowly increase its hold on you. And when it stops it just drops you on the floor, ravaged.

I had been listening to Cure for Pain for awhile by this point. But I have a specific memory of gifting this song to Rob in the middle of the computer science lab. I'm wearing headphones, grooving on some Morphine, and Rob's sitting next to me. I hand him the headphones and queue up this song. I can see it washing over him in waves. After about a minute he's taking off the headphones and demanding to know what it is he's listening to and how he can get more.

"I hear a voice cry out... you want something good."
"I think it's time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena..."

Bubble Toes - Jack Johnson

It would have made sense for me to discover Jack Johnson through his work with G. Love, but that's not how it went down. It also feels like something Dan could have put in front of me as a guitar showcase around the same time as John Mayer and Monte Montgomery. But it's probably more simple. Jessica heard it on the radio, picked up the album, and eventually put it in front of me.

What really connected for me was the unrelenting chillness. There's an undeniable rhythm to his vocals. This song in particular highlights it around 2:00. Yet despite this the sound always manages to stay relaxed. It works incredibly well.

The runner up here was "Flake". Great song, but it doesn't capture the vocal quality that really caught my ear in "Bubble Toes".

Ghosts - Dirty Vegas

I graduated from college and got a job. With this came something called a paycheck. Those are handy for paying rent and utilities and such, but they can also be used to buy stuff. So it was that after getting some essentials out of the way I bought myself an Xbox.

The Xbox had this nifty feature where you could rip music to the hard drive and use that as a soundtrack in certain games. Racing games in particular seemed more likely to support this feature. These games also happened to be something that Jessica and I could play together. I remember us dabbling with Project Gotham Racing, Rallisport Challenge, and especially Quantum Redshift (because racing games where you can shoot the guy in front of you are inherently more awesome).

The games had their own music. In fact I believe the first time I heard The Chemical Brothers was in PGR. But it was so much more awesome to drive along to your own music. One of the few discs I put in there was Dirty Vegas, and to this day when I hear those songs it makes me think of these games.

I had thought "Days Go By" would be the obvious pick here, but listening back on the album "Ghosts" actually better captures this time for me.

Star Guitar - The Chemical Brothers

I was going to put "Star Guitar" in as an honorable mention for the previous story. But then I listened to it again and decided, f-that, it gets its own entry.

I remember jumping through some serious hoops to get this song and put it on the Xbox just because I thought it'd be awesome to drive to. It involved getting the song a la cart, then burning that to a disc, then ripping it again onto the Xbox. When I finally got it in there, I was totally right. I remember happily zipping around in a virtual Mini Cooper S with "Star Guitar" driving me forward. But I don't remember how I got the idea that this was a good idea. It could have been a suggestion from Francis, but I'm not sure.

As far as I'm concerned the song was invented for this sort of pairing. I mean, have not you seen the music video? It resonates with me on a fundamental level. Seriously, it feels like childhood. Riding in the car, bored and staring out the window, listening to music, my eyes and my ears finding hidden connections. It's still true today, as I commute on the bus. But now I get a bit more emotional about it, feeling that the connections I see are part of some sort of cosmic transcendental truth.

Last Nite - The Strokes

There's something about The Strokes that sounds like they're saying "Screw you mom, I'm gonna be a rock star!". Not in an angry way, but in a teenage optimism sort of way. It's earnest and detached all at once. It's like they care more than anything in the world, but also don't want to let you know.

At the same time this music sounds to me like something both old new. The vocals are… distant. But perfectly paired. It somehow makes them even more present. The musical structure is so incredibly simple, not overly produced, and just… good.

Simple. Good. Love it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 19

I-76 - G. Love & Special Sauce

The first time I heard G. Love I wasn't ready for it. Despite the title Yeah, It's That Easy was not an easy album to relax into. I know that Jessica tried to start me on "Willow Tree", but I didn't connect with that song. She was trying to pick a track with fewer of the hip-hop elements. But for me the pace didn’t feel right - it was too sloppy. The same idea is done better on the album in "Lay Down the Law" and "Take You There", which are both great songs.

It took some warming up, but I did eventually fall for G. Love. It wasn't a vocal style I was accustomed too, and at first it sounded abrasive. But over time I could really feel how much fun they were having with the music and I started having fun too.

After some deliberation I chose "I-76" to represent my entry point into G. Love. But it was hard, because this album is all over the place. This song does a good job of introducing a number of the musical styles without overwhelming you. It's got the rhythmic vocals, but also the dude harmonies, and a general overall playfulness. It was part of the bridge I needed to get into the album, and the band in general.

Reckoning - Ani Difranco

Ah, at last an Ani album to fit in with the rest of what Jessica and I were listening to. This one has such a strong point of a view, a deliberate feeling. And it really comes across in this, the title track (well, one of the two title tracks) of Reveling/Reckoning.

The horns. Oh my god the horns. When they come in it completely changes the character of the song. It jumps from melancholy to uplifting immediately. The guitar and vocals sound cold and alone in the beginning, but there's this undeniable warmth that the horns bring that transforms everything at 1:13.

Those parts later where the horns are walking up the scales really remind me of Bar Kokhba. And then there are parts where I can hear a bit of Chicago in this. I didn't think about these connections at the time; this is something I say now listening to it in close proximity to the rest of my musical journey. It's nice to see the context compressed like that and understand why I had particular affinity for certain songs.

This album changed Ani from something just Jessica listened to into something we would really listen to together. It's a magnificent collection of sound and feeling.

So Far Away From You - Dire Straits

Every summer Jessica was away for one reason or another. Road trip, camp, whatever. This was of course on top of the fact that we lived far apart in the first place. We needed an anthem to get through it all, and this song was it. "Tired of making out on the telephone…" Yep, this was the one.

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag - James Brown

I hit college at the same time as the likes of Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament. It was a new era, where multiplayer gaming was becoming so important that developers were releasing games with no singleplayer component at all. This was happening at the same time that I moved off of a dial-up modem and onto the blazing speed of college ethernet. Mind. Blown.

Some other kids in the dorm were playing this game Half-Life, so I decided to check it out. In addition to its own multiplayer, Half-Life also had a vibrant mod community. After sampling many of them I eventually stumbled across one called Science & Industry.

But first let me back up and explain something. There was nothing like a centralized gamertag back then, so whatever name you were known by was whatever you typed in. There was nothing to prevent you from changing it as much as you wanted. You could pick a name that matched your mood… or whatever song you were listening to at that particular moment.

At the time I was starting to listen to a lot of James Brown. And on one fateful day while I was listening to "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", I popped down the in-game console and typed "/name PapasNewBag". That same day, on that particular server, I met two guys (Whiplash and Cadaver) in charge of development of this mod . Turns out they had inherited it from the original creators, and they were in a bit over their head. In particular, they badly needed programming help. We talked some then, and more later after I'd earned their trust, and before too long I had taken over primary development of the mod. It was a turning point in my life.

Getting to know a new community meant I needed to keep a consistent face. So my habit of constantly changing my name had to stop right then and there. It stuck at the song I was listening to at that one point in time.

Good times.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger - Daft Punk

I started listening to Daft Punk during that same summer when I first started working on Science & Industry. Functionally and thematically the music was perfect suited for the large amount of programming I was doing. You need something driving, light on distracting vocals, and maybe even slightly repetitive. You know, like Daft Punk.

This song in particular was perfect. One of the things I was working on for the game was a new cybernetic implant system. I wanted to flesh out that part of the fiction to give new alternatives to weapons or device development. I wanted players to be able to become faster and succeed through raw agility. I wanted them to become stronger and overwhelm with in-your-face melee proficiency. For me this song, that development time, and the end product are all completely intertwined.

When the development team played against the other clans we called ourselves the "Six Million Dollar Men". So, in tag form, I was "-smdm|papasnewbag-". Except when we were being inclusive of our UK members, and wore it as "smpm". Anyway, I think you can see how this song was such a good fit.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 18

Neon - John Mayer

I discovered John Mayer as a guitarist first. Yes, he was a singer/songwriter too, but for me it was his acoustic style that initially caught my attention. I scoured Napster for all sorts of bootlegs of his guitar work. Some of them were live recordings, some were apparently from this album. On Napster the metadata was always screwed so it was hard to know these things.

Shortly after this he released Room for Squares, which was so overproduced that it made me sick to my stomach. It wasn't until he redeemed himself with his next album that I was truly able to forgive and return to Room for Squares to pick out the goodies.

"Neon" is a great track to demonstrate what initially caught my ear. The riff in this song is incredibly powerful. And it comes across far stronger here than it does with the full wall of sound from Room for Squares.

When Will I - Monte Montgomery

It was definitely Dan that pointed me to Monte. We were playing a lot of guitar together, and sharing recommendations of awesome artists we came across. He said something along the lines of "OMFG, this will blow your mind". I'll probably never find the bootleg live recording of "When Will I" that did exactly that. I remember that it ended with a stunned silence and then someone saying "holy shit" before the recording cut out. The album recording doesn't do hit the same highs, but it's all I've got after my hard drive with all those Napster MP3s failed. And it's still pretty damned good.

Gravel - Ani Difranco

So Jessica listened to a lot of angry female vocalists. It’s similar to how she loves books and movies where everything ends in beautiful tragedy. Later I would be exposed to many other different sides of Ani Difranco, but in the beginning it was mostly just the angry stuff.

I have two memories related to Jessica’s Ani mix tape. The first is her singing along to this song in the car, a bit too emphatically for my tastes. I mean, you really don't want your girlfriend singing "I abhor you" in the car with lots of ambiguous pointing. Sure, it also turns into "I adore you", but that whole love/hate blend wasn't exactly what I was looking for.

The second memory is an argument. She's not wearing her seatbelt, and is refusing my pleas to put one on. I now have a vested interest in her safety, and mild discomfort is not an acceptable excuse. She's not budging, so I escalate. I take this cassette tape, her Ani mix, out of the stereo and threaten to throw it out the window if she doesn't put her seatbelt on. She tries to call my bluff, and I chuck it.  It’s lost forever.

I don't think I've ever lived that one down. It was one of her favorite mixes. But I did eventually get her to start wearing her seatbelt.

I was really conflicted about what track to nominate here. I had a pretty intense reaction to "Fuel" as well. It's this crazy rhythmic poetry… something. It's music, but not in any conventional sense. And it's very powerful. But in the end the image of that mix tape laying in the gravel somewhere won out.

White Ladder - David Gray

I had gotten so used to Jessica introducing me to female artists that when she first played "Babylon" by David Gray I thought it was a female vocalist. She made fun of me for quite a while after that.

We went to see him at Bumbershoot. We don’t go anymore, because it turns out all the other people at Bumbershoot are colossal pushy assholes. But I do remember that David Gray evening show fondly.

I love the B-side of this album. Basically from "Silver Lining" on there's this lovely cohesive stretch. I don't know why they felt the need to include a second version of "Babylon" at the end of the album, because otherwise the close would be perfect.  When you can finish off with an album that has “Goodbye” in the title, you should.

Into The Mystic - Van Morrison

There's something about this song that seems to capture the maturing relationship between Jessica and me. We were relaxing into the more serious thing we’d arrived at. I was getting along better with her parents. For some reason this song sounds like that time to me, but I can't pinpoint any specific reason why. It's sure a great song though.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 17

Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer - Morphine

I discovered Morphine through my dad, of all people. Although at pretty much the exact same time Jessica also came across it too. To this day I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but what I know is that me, my dad, and Jessica were all grooving on this at the same time. My mom couldn't stand it, but she was outnumbered.

The entry point was The Night, and at least for me the first song was "Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer". It was the sort of song that really worked for my dad, a real foot tapper. I remember sitting at the dining table listening to it with him and Jessica.

It's actually really striking how perfect an introduction this was for me. It's not an entirely representative Morphine song, but it was the right one for the journey I had been on. The beat, the organ, the horns, the nonsense lyrics, a deep earthy bass-y feel. Looking back at my path, this song had so many elements that my receptors were perfectly tuned for, waiting. And once this song hooked me, I delved into Morphine deep.

But let me tell you, there are few things as tragic as finally finding your favorite band, and then realizing that the album you hold in your hand is a posthumous release. There will never be any more Morphine, and it kills me. Their music speaks to me in a visceral way, and there's truly nothing else out there like it.

Souvenir - Morphine

Souvenir didn't hit my radar right away. But hot damn how it worked its tendrils in. The creepy piano. Minimalistic sound. Crippled drum beat. A rumbling darkness. It evokes a dark smoky bar, silent after hours. Or a black swamp. I feel like I'm moving through molasses. And then the horns start to come in, gently at first, and then in full climax. Rolling, unearthing, drudging up… something. So. Hot.

Running to Stand Still - U2

This is an odd choice to place here in the timeline. Let me explain. This was the Napster era. For music discovery, it was a beautiful revelation. Thought could become experience within a matter of moments.

But it was also an opportunity for rediscovery. Songs, ideas that I had been exposed to in the past… I now had a tool with which go back and explore them. This happened with The Joshua Tree. I'm pretty sure my brother had the album while I was still at home, but he wasn't about to let me hang on to it after I had so thoroughly stolen Rattle and Hum. It wasn't until the Napster era that I went back and turned those initial glimpses into a real experience. That's when I really found and fell in love with "Running to Stand Still." And then I bought the album.

Debra - Beck

The magic of the internet also enabled discovery of new awesome things, including this song. I had heard some Beck back when he put out Odelay, and that sound didn't really work for me. But this song. Is. Awesome.

It's funny. It's groovy. It's sexy. It made me like Beck, and really see the dynamic and capable artist he is. It takes some serious skill to pull off something like this, and he's got it in spades. I wouldn't start processing Beck on album level until Sea Change, but it's this song that laid the groundwork.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 16

Ever So Lonely - Sheila Chandra

I feel like I've been saying this a lot (and will continue to): this song is huddled inside, out of the cold and rain, in bed with Jessica. It sounds scandalous, but even though it's none of your business I feel like I need to say I'm not implying any impropriety. We just spent a lot of time in bed, cuddled up, listening to music. Let's be fair, we still do. But those first months were a huge injection of shared musical experiences. Some were new for just me, some were new for both. In this case it was an album from her roommate Erin, so we were processing it at the same time.

It's noteworthy how not in-line with my style this is. It's all vocals, and there's not a lick of rhythm to most of it. It's more ambience than what I'd usually consider music. But it's also incredibly beautiful.

Years later, Jessica and I were probably the only two people in the movie theater who perked up to a song in The Two Towers to wonder "Is that Sheila Chandra?"

Almost Done - Morcheeba

I remember "Friction" off of Big Calm being the first Morcheeba song Jessica played for me. But it wasn't the one that first connected. Naturally, it was the stuff we listened to while laying around: Who Can You Trust?

Apparently the whole time we were listening to it Jessica was a little on edge. I was listening to almost strictly acoustic music at the time. Every time a track had a little record scratch she was worried that I would freak out. I didn't. I had never heard this whole "trip-hop" thing, but it totally worked for me. Relaxed, but rhythmic? Sign me up.

"Trigger Hippie" is the catchy song that welcomes you in. "Tape Loop" then firmly carries you into a relaxed groove. But the real destination of all of this, the place you hope to elevate to, is "Almost Done".

I just want to breathe it in and live there. It's slow enough to leave you eagerly anticipating every next movement. This song is just so damned sexy. It's like the song is making love to my head.

Shoulder Holster - Morcheeba

After Who Can You Trust? won me over, it was time to delve into Big Calm. The tone of was considerably more up-beat, but still ever so good. Where the previous album was down and gritty, this one immediately lifted me up with the crystal vocals of "The Sea".

But the song that stood out for me was "Shoulder Holster". And I couldn’t immediately put my finger on why. It was this crazy blend of all sorts of musical influences, and it totally worked in this way unlike anything I'd ever heard. Deep vocals, a heavy beat, sitar, record scratching, slide guitar… it all melded into some crazy kind of awesome.

Dishonorable mention to the title track, "Big Calm". Pretty much every Morcheeba album had one truly awful song that never should have happened. How that became the title of the album is beyond me. Skip it, enjoy the rest.

Criminal - Fiona Apple

I had heard Fiona Apple before. I remembered seeing the video for this song on the MTVs, with her all vignetted, emaciated, and red eyed. I also remember her legendary acceptance speech. For as much as they tried to turn her into some weird heroine-chic sex object, there is some serious power in that tiny body. Her voice, her piano… so deep.

So I first heard this back in '96. I almost ended up with the album too. There was one of those CD club things where you could get a couple albums cheap if you then remembered to get out again quick. This album was barely cut from my first draft list, and I didn’t end up getting it.

Which brings us to this time with Jessica, who was smarter than me and had picked up the album. It's basically impossible to pick a single song to represent it; the album is just too good. And it matched the chill mood that Jessica and I had together. I finally got to my chance to sink into the deep rolling tones of Tidal, and it was so good.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 15

Say Goodbye - Dave Matthews Band

I told you Crash was going to show up a lot on this list. This one's special though, trust me.

I’m in my dorm room, and it’s raining outside.  With me is my new friend Jessica, and we just had an unexpected and delightful make-out session. The sound of the rain... I can still hear it in the song. I swear it's part of the track.

In that blissful moment we are listening to this song and drinking the lyrical kool-aid. “Tonight let's be lovers… and tomorrow go back to being friends.” I mean, this diversion was fun and all, but long-term it's a terrible idea. So we should just stick with the original plan and be friends. This is totally going to work. No problem.


Spoiler: I married her. Not right then and there, god no. We were so young! Years later. The point is, I can't hear this song without thinking about the beginning of it all. The moment when we first really saw each other and what could be.

Perfect Blue Buildings - Counting Crows

Jessica and I didn't go to the same school. We weren't so far away as to make crossing the distance impossible, but we only got to see each other on the occasional weekend. The difficulty was compounded by the fact that I didn't have a car, so mostly she had to come to me. But there were definitely times when I could make it out to her. And those times are deeply ingrained into me.

Jessica had painted her dorm room blue. This most definitely wasn't allowed by the school, but that didn't stop her. It was this beautiful soothing deep blue, with a print of Starry Night on the wall. It was sanctuary.

We spent a lot of time in that room together. Laying around, talking, and listening to music. This entire Counting Crows album is a big part of that. It's hard to pick out a single song to represent it. In the end I went with "Perfect Blue Buildings", in memory of her perfect blue room.

On & On - Erykah Badu

This song comes from those early times spent lounging about with Jessica. The Counting Crows weren't exactly a stretch for my palate; Erykah Badu was. But damn, this album is good. And not just as a collection of tracks, but as an album. It's got planned book ending with "Rimshot", which leads you in and out of the sound of the album. It's got songs in the progression that set up and then call back to each other. It was planned as a cohesive experience. And I love that.

Remember how not so long ago I was paying attention to lyrics? Yeah… don't think for a moment that that stuck. I was about to select a different song for this album, until I was informed that I had been mis-hearing the lyrics for, um, a decade. I thought the lyric was "still in bed", apparently it was "still livin'". Completely changed the song for me. Oh well, I still had "Certainly" and "On & On" as alternates.

Heavy Things - Phish

It was time to ring in a new millennium. Most years I would let the new year drift in without much celebration, but this was a moment worthy of epic party. I ended up going to a show in Portland with Jessica, Kevin, and Billy. Somewhere in a box I have photos from this trip, taken on a commemorative disposable camera.

The headlining band was The String Cheese Incident. I had heard of them before, but never listened to them. They were another jam band in the style of the Dead or Phish. I'm sure their performance was perfectly fine, but there was so much else going on that it didn't really leave an impression on me. I did pick up an album to check them out, and remember getting a kick out of their cover of "Take Five".

After the New Year had come I remember seeing a bit on TV about the various celebrations around the world. Of course our little Portland dig wasn't featured, but they did show a full song from the epic Phish concert. It was weird to see Peter Jennings introduce this band that I'd spent so much time with.

The song was "Heavy Things", and in no way did I experience that song during my actual New Year's Eve celebration, but after the fact it became the song I associate with the event.

Brunette - Keller Williams

There were many acts at the millennial New Year's Eve show: musicians, jugglers, dancers. One single musician really captivated me. He would record little bits with his guitar and voice (mouth trumpet and all), and in real time layer them over each other. It started out simple, but over time created a full rich sound.

He was clearly a very talented guitarist and the act was fun to listen to, but the nature of this type of performance doesn't really transition to an album recording. He did have albums, but they're just so different from what he did that night. I think something that at least somewhat captures his one man band sound is "Brunette". It doesn't have the layering, but it's sure a whole lot of sound for just one guitar.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 14

Baba Blues - Hanuman Trio

I was in Portland with Kevin for a show of this band I had been listening to called The Jazz Mandolin Project. I'd had a mediocre experience with opening bands before, but this one stole the show. The leader of the trio, Jarrad Kaplan, illuminated that difference between a drummer and a true percussionist. He was surrounded all sorts of things that made sound, and he worked each of them to his advantage. You can hear Jarrad in the background of this recording, vocalizing along with the guitar. Because he was so damned into the music that he couldn't help it. Such an raw energy in that man.

This song has such a delicious slow groove. It has time to breathe before it opens up. And the tone of Paul Benoit's guitar… tasty. I bought an album from the band on the spot. I walked away far more interested in this small local band than the band that had actually brought me to the show.

Green Man - Hanuman

I tracked this Hanuman band down with the magic of the internet. I found some sample tracks of their music on their web site, which was the first time I'd seen such a reasonable discovery experience. Try before you buy… what? That may had been technology magic, but the purchase was decidedly low tech: I sent a check to a local Seattle mailing address and one of the dudes in the band sent me back a CD.

The album that I had purchased was actually a journey backward in band time, to a time when the band had a flautist. You know… with a flute.

I liked the album, but I was oddly self conscious about it. I remember having a conversation with this girl in the dorms, Amy, about whether other people would judge me for my music. Maybe it was being thrust into a completely new group of people. Maybe it was living so close to everyone without a ton of privacy. But for moment I doubted myself. I doubted my music. She was reassuring. I got over it.

I think the track I played for her was "Green Man", the first track. But in cataloging this entry I was extremely tempted to skip the memory and use the slot to promote "Emry's Vision", on account of it being rad. Or "Moon Dog Funk". Lots of great moments on that album.

One Sweet World - Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds

I listened to a lot of Dave Matthews Band in high school, as you know by now. The same year I left for college Dave released this album from his acoustic college tours. He paired with Tim Reynolds, and the two of them worked without additional accompaniment to replicate the band's full sound. The album thus centered on songs that can be played by two guitars. As I set off to meet new people, guitar in hand, this was perfect for me.

I have many memories of doing Dave Matthews covers with my friends Dan and Billy in the dorms. Some of the residents loved that; others wanted us to shut up so they could go back to studying. Regardless I think of this as my high point in guitar-dom. Good music, good friends, simple times. One of us would continue on to take music more seriously. Sadly, it wasn't me; that honor goes to Dan.

My choice of One Sweet World here is pretty much arbitrary. It captures the feel of the album, but we pretty much played all of them and so much more.

Run On - Moby

Although we were in my acoustic golden age, that wasn't all I was listening to. This song… this song is excellent. That driving piano beat, the sampled vocals with that olde thyme feel, the smooth tone, and relentless grove. This isn't music performed by musicians on raw instruments. It's remixed, blended… and somehow better for it. This album laid some groundwork for my acceptance of music to come.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 13

Hmmm… I may have been a bit overzealous in zipping to the end of high school. These first two songs should be retroactively spliced in before prom and "Like A Prayer". I know, the academic sloppiness of being off by a couple months… you must be horrified.

Do What You Have To Do - Sarah McLachlan

I never owned this album. I say this not in an effort to protect my manliness (although this is probably the girliest entry on this list). I say this because it's noteworthy how well I know the album given that I never had personal access to it. This is the result of dating someone with a different musical history; you get a deep dive into their music tastes without even realizing that it's happening.

As I built this list I often do research by listening to albums I remember being exposed to at the time. Sometimes I come back with memories, sometimes I don't. This one was a bit of a late addition, something I didn't even consider until a week ago. But I'm glad I acted on that idea. This album sounds like high school to me. It sounds like prom. And it sounds like the relationship I was in.

I didn't go out of my way to select a song with any lyrical significance. But in listening through the album this song oddly stuck out to me, and then I noticed the lyrics of what I had chosen. "I don't know how to let you go." Wow, okay. Um, did I mention that this was a doomed relationship? It was the end of high school, and we were each going away to colleges in different states. The experiment had an undeniable fixed end point. It didn't really matter if it was going well, it was going to fall apart. It had to. That creates a very particular brew of emotions. And this song stirs those up.

There were less heavy aspects to this album. "Ice Cream", for example. But I'm going to stick with my first instinct and go with the melodrama.

They Can't Take That Away From Me - Diana Krall

Okay, I feel terribly exposed talking about all these intimate details on the internet. When I started this project I didn't realize how personal it was going to get. I guess that's just the cost of telling my musical story. My relationship to music is intimate and steeped in memory. I'm apparently incapable of talking about one without the other.

So, continuing...

It's a unique kind of relationship that starts from an existing close friendship. There's an immediate intensity to it. Combine that with a fixed time limit, and it's even more so. In this song I clearly see the two of us, up late talking, listening to music, and just generally enjoying the moment. This memory must have taken time during high school, not the summer after, because I specifically remember hearing the lyric of "the way we dance 'til 3" and realizing that it was at least 3am at that very moment. On a school night. And I had to be up in only a few hours. Still, no regrets.

For someone who isn't really into lyrics, I seem rather focused on them here. But the song doesn't lie, this was a person who really and truly changed my life. I would not be the same person if I had never met her. The memory of all that… no, you can't take that way from me.

Weapon and the Wound - Days of the New

Okay, we need a shift in tone. Something a little less heavy. Well… this song has one of those odd associations that's entirely personal to me and completely irrelevant to anyone else. This song makes me think of mammoth tanks.

I'm on the computer in my dad's office. I'm listening to the radio and they're doing an interview on the release of the second Days of the New album. It turns out the band is really just one dude, Travis Meeks, because he fired the rest between albums. The first album was basically acoustic guitar porn; the second one is a far more ambitious project.

The point is that I was listening to this interview and later the whole album as I'm playing Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun. I'm building my base, sending out tanks, and listening to my custom soundtrack. Two independent pieces of content consumed at the same time, forever linked together in my brain.

I struggled to pick the one song from the album to represent this connection. In the end it had to be "Weapon and the Wound", because I have a reaction to the orchestral beginning of this song that evokes specific units from the game. What I was doing and what I was listening to matched particularly poorly at that point in time. The song does not suggest mammoth tank carnage, but that's what was unfolding before my eyes. Yet now, they totally match for me, because that's how memory links everything together.

The Opera - The Jazz Mandolin Project

Probably more than any other, this song represents what this list is about. Music memory.

I had just dropped my girlfriend and her family off at the airport. I saw them off at the gate, because back then you could do that sort of thing. It's shortly after that moment, and I'm driving their minivan home. But it's my music in the stereo. This isn't the first song that comes on after leaving the airport; it's actually a bit later when this perfect match to my mood hits. To this day I can see where I was in all clarity, driving on I-5, every single time this song starts.

In that moment emotion and music found each other and fused. Permanently. Those first couple notes hit me so hard, and they still do. After that gentle start then the song develops this understated drive that perfectly synced with my very real and physical drive away from a difficult emotional moment. It then turns its somber character to be slightly more optimistic. I was in that moment considering my very near and very unsure future, and this tone was a great aid to me.

That first minute and a half of this song are so intensely familiar to me. It's honestly startling the power it still has over me.

I've always considered myself to have a poor memory. This whole project has really helped solidify a different perspective on that. It isn't that my memory is bad; it's that it doesn't store what I expect it to. I never have forgotten the memory of this song, but I didn't realize how many similar connections I have buried in my head. This musical archaeology has helped me realize this, and I'm so happy that I decided to go on this crazy journey.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 12

Little Wing - Stevie Ray Vaughn

In my last two years of high school I added on part time community college classes via the "Running Start" program. Between the two it was a lot of school. It was kind of ridiculous. For some reason I didn't really question the sanity of it.

It was the one time in my life that I ever really drove. I had delayed as long as possible before getting my license, and only a year or two later when I arrived at college I ditched personal transport for public transit. But when I was doing high school and community college at the same time there was no other way to get it done.  One of the few things I liked about driving was the excellent acoustics. There was something just truly personal about being sealed in with music all around you.

I have a distinct memory of driving to class at the community college when "Little Wing" came on. It created a dilemma. If I were to get out of my car right then (which is what I needed to do to be on time for class) I would miss the rest of the song. But this song was too good. I hung out in the parking lot to let the song play out. Finishing that song was clearly more important than my education.

The thing is, that wasn't even my first time with the song. I had heard it plenty of times before, and knew I would again. That was kind of the problem; I knew exactly how good it was. It's pure bliss, beginning to end, and on a level that manages to make Jimi look like barely knew what he was doing with the original.

Lie in Our Graves - Dave Matthews Band

This unassuming song takes me a couple places.

First is to an empty parking lot with my friends Kristin and Dave. We're listening to Dave Matthews on the car stereo, windows down, and dancing outside.  We probably look like total idiots, but we don’t care.

Next is at a church Young Life function, where Kristin is going through the song lyric by lyric in some presentation on the power of secular music. Dave and I are in the back, dancing in our chairs, and being thoroughly distracting.

Finally is me by myself, playing the song on the guitar. This was one of the few songs I actually learned how to play in its entirety. That may sound like it’d be a more common occurrence, but unless you're actually performing music it's far easier to just learn the main riffs of songs and leave it at that. This song has many different forms and transitions, and I decided to learned them all. I could play it from beginning to end, or at least I could back then.

It's not my favorite Dave Matthews song, but it is one that's special to me through some set of oddly personal events.

All-Star – Smash Mouth

This song is Dave. He was a totally charismatic guy that would go through the halls and somehow be friends with everyone. I've never known anyone with as much school spirit as Dave.  During Senior year he called everyone "All-Star".  He was kind of a catch phrase kind of guy, but he somehow managed to make it sound personal for each person.

We eventually became pretty good friends. We'd been around each other for all of high school and earlier, but it wasn't until Senior year that anything clicked. This was largely the result of shared proximity to Kristin, but Dave and I found our own ways to bond, like Starcraft.

Later we had a sort of a falling out. There was an incident involving a girl that Dave didn't approve of, but we never talked about it. We just allowed things to drift apart.  When you've both left to different cities for college it's incredibly easy to just let things fade and die naturally.

Sugar Craft – Medeski, Martin & Wood

Later in life Jessica (we’ll get to her, but not quite yet) would be worried about exposing me to Morcheeba because of the record scratching and general mixed and/or electronic elements. I had become pretty strongly acoustic in my music listening habits, and she was worried about offending my gentle sensibilities. But she had nothing to fear, because years earlier I had been listening to the continually evolving and experimenting music of MMW. Although it was dormant then, I’d already adopted stuff like this to my vocabulary years earlier.

Like a Prayer - Madonna

There are two memories to go along with this song. The first is well before this moment in time, somewhere early 90's.

It's dinner time, but MTV is playing in the adjacent living room. For some reason it just gets left on. My dad wanders over to watch what's going on over there. On MTV is Madonna, specifically "Like a Prayer". He seems a little overly fixated, or at least according to my mom's perception. Shortly thereafter a call is made to the cable company and we no longer have MTV.

This remains true until years later when they switch what channel MTV airs on and instead we're blocked out of some other (far more harmless) channel. My brother and I neglect to inform my mom of the change.

Pulling the plug on MTV was for the best, really. By then it had already started its transition from music television to teenage marketing. I was glad to be exposed to music videos at all, because the pairing of music to imagery can be extremely powerful. But in the long run I was better off without MTV.

Okay, so given that story why am I talking about “Like a Prayer” now?

It's Senior prom. Not my school's prom, but that of a friend. A special friend who never really became a special friend. Look, it's too complicated to get into here.

Despite not knowing anyone there because it wasn't my school I still had a good time at the prom. When it's over we head to an after-party at one of her friend's house. Nothing rambunctious, just a small group of people hanging out, giggling, and signing karaoke.

It was at this point that my friend completely transformed my interpretation of this song. She explained to all of us that this song is about fellatio, right before singing it, and dancing along. I remember laughing, a lot. She was quite convincing, and now that's all I hear from this song.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 11

I Could Be Wrong - Seven Mary Three

There is a drum kit in my basement. There isn't normally, but today there is. That's because there's music brewing in the basement. Me and a collection of friends are recreating “I Could Be Wrong” to the best of our ability. Including drums. Including horns. This shit is happening.

I don't think we did a terribly good job of covering the song. But we tried, and it was fun. I remember going through the shared guitar/horn solo with Andy. I remember that feeling of a group of people working together to co-create. For as much time as I've spent on music in my life, not very much of it has been spent making music with other people. That's probably not very wise of me.

This motley crew of half-committed musicians also attempted some original works. I have a cassette case labeled with one of those recordings. Cruelly the case is empty; the tape that goes with it got lost in the shuffle. I still hope that one day I'll stumble upon it and unlock a window into this time period.

Born on the Bayou – Creedence Clearwater Revival

In Freshman year my social studies class required a presentation on a scale that blew my middle-school mind. The teacher wanted us to talk for how long? In front of everyone? It was supposed to be about some modern nation, but I had Egypt and totally cheated by talking about pharaohs and mummification the whole time. I spent more time on the rendition of Anubis on my oversized poster than I did on planned talking points. When my presentation was over my teacher made some comment about my radio voice. I barely heard it over my relief to be finished. But it turns out he was slightly prophetic, as that I ended up being a radio DJ for my final high school years.

Okay, so it was only the local student station (KGHP). And it's not like I was selected for my voice - I just got the gig as a hand me down from my friends Phil and Ethan after they graduated. But I had a fair amount of fun with it.

I played a selection of music that sourced from all the things you've read about here, but more than anything I played classic rock. And Creedence Clearwater Revival is about as classic rock as it gets. So why "Born on the Bayou"?  Sure I could put on something like "Fortunate Son", but that song's only like two minutes long. Since I needed to manually transition every song change I found myself subconsciously preferring the longer songs that gave me more time between. Plus "Born on the Bayou" has a great groove.

Shelf In The Room - Days of the New

My dad has acquired a rental property. I'm there to see the units for the first time. For some reason there's an odd thing in the wall that also acts as a radio. I don't think there was a callbox, so this wall device can't be related to that. I feel like it was a thermostat, but what's a thermostat doing with a radio? I remember thinking this was odd, but nonetheless tuning the radio and picking up this song. The speaker sounded awful, but there was still something nice about filling the empty apartment room with some raw acoustic music.

That wasn't the first time I had heard the band or the song, but I think it was shortly after that that I picked up the album. It was exactly the sort of thing I needed: a celebration of the acoustic guitar. There are other instruments at work here, but there's no denying the aggressively foreground guitar. It's got a full and varied sound that makes you question why you'd ever need to electrify and distort such a powerful instrument.

I was excited to try to learn these songs. I bought the guitar tablature, but it turned out almost every song on the album had a crazy unique tuning. That killed the ability to pick up and play songs like these in a mixed rotation. It was hugely disappointing because I had been so excited to try to learn this style. Oh well, it was still inspiring to listen to.

Paran - Bar Kokhba

So my friend Kevin had already been this great source of music influences. This one time I was hanging out at his house and he was playing… this. It catches my attention. I got the name from him and later bought a copy of the album. It's the most Jewish thing I own.

I believe Kevin found the album as a result of the involvement of John Medeski, one of the M's in MMW. It's a strange album compared to the rest of my collection. I didn't know exactly what to make of it, other than that there was something I liked about it. And because of the purely instrumental nature it was something I could listen to alongside all sorts of things. This gave it some legs.

There's something about this album that makes me think of Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, a PC game that I would be playing later in college. That association exists, but I'm not exactly sure they are things I experienced overlapping. It's true that this album feels like a good soundtrack for the early sections of the game in Prague and Vienna, but logistically I just can't imagine myself setting up custom background music. There's always been a mental connection between Kevin and Vampire (both the pen and paper game and the card game), so it's possible that my brain just connected these two things up all on its own.

#41 - Dave Matthews Band

Eventually I took a deeper look at The Dave Matthews Band. I can't remember what song brought me in, but it's safe to say that Crash was the album. I listened to Under the Table and Dreaming around this time too, and very much enjoyed it, but for whatever reason it didn't manage to form concrete memories like Crash did. Crash will have more contributions to this timeline than any other album, and that's on a list where I try hard to only pick one song per album unless absolutely necessary.

Once I discovered The Dave Matthews Band I got into them a big way. The band was capable of a diverse sound from its unique combination of instruments, which I appreciated. But something that was particularly important to me was that Matthews could actually play the guitar. Well. And it was an acoustic guitar. These were not simple three chord jams hidden behind waves of distortion. Playing along to these songs demanded that I make significant growth as a guitarist.

I can't imagine "#41" being played by any other band. It's a song that defies description, which is probably why it never got a name. It was most likely "Crash Into Me" that caused me to pick up the album, but it's the complexity behind something like "#41" that caused me to delve deep into this band for years.

Although I also have a loving memory of my dad dancing around like a monkey to "Proudest Monkey". That's good stuff too.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 10

Under the Bridge - The Red Hot Chili Peppers

I put this song far later into the timeline than when I first experienced it (which would have been 1991-1992). That's because to me it goes with a very specific memory, one which eclipsed whatever previous attachment I had for the song.

I'm on the return trip from my one and only experience ice skating. I'm riding in the back seat with a girl. I've been seeing more of this girl at school lately, and I've decided I like her. Somehow I muster the courage to sing this song to her. I'm sure it must have been along to the radio, not unprompted a capella, although over the years my voice has grown louder and the radio has grown quieter. Following this there was some head-resting-on-shoulder action. Apparently it wasn't so terrible as to make her run away.  She must have liked me, because it’s not like I can sing.

Three Marlenas - The Wallflowers

I remember a discussion about what was the best song on this album between myself, my brother, and my brother's girlfriend Francesca. The decision made (at least by that vote) was that it was "Three Marlenas". It's a good song, sure, but I think perhaps my brother may have been unduly influenced by the fact that the song mentions Chevrolet; he was a bit of a fanatic back then.

I'm sure my brother only has vile things to say about her now, but I really liked my brother's girlfriend. It was like having a big sister. She could give me advice that I very much needed.

At this moment in time I had a viable prospective love interest. A first.  As in a girl that seemed to like me back, and I thought we might kiss. Which I have never done before. Oh crap!

Francesca gave me the invaluable tip to practice kissing on my hand first. This is the sort of thing you need a sister to tell you to do. I felt more than a bit silly, but it better to work out the kinks well in advance. I don't know how awful I was, but I'm sure I would have been way worse without that advice.

Comedown - Bush

For me this is the point where we transitioned from calling it "grunge" to calling it "alternative". I mean, this is a pretty man. How can the music made by pretty people be called "grunge"?

This was an influence from my newfound girlfriend (!) Cambria. It wasn't a lasting impression musically, but it was nice that we could listen to the same things. I recall her not having a problem with the lead singer being a pretty man.

I had an image in my brain from the music video for this song. In my head I see a guitar cord that's a big tube and someone aggressively thrusting a guitar towards the camera. The particular image coincides with 3:33 in the song, where the music lands after drifting away a bit and is celebrated with a masterfully singular guitar hit. It's the powerful return to form that "Lightning Crashes" didn't have. Anyway, I had an image in my head of what that looks like in the music video. And I just watched it again and it’s not there. Clearly I remembered the video, but in my head the details are incredibly different. The edit of the song for the video is shorter, so the same moment happens at 2:47. I don't know when my memory drifted apart from reality. The specific image I have doesn't occur anywhere in that video. It's weird to have a concrete image in your head that is provably wrong.

Lucky - Seven Mary Three

This album is the greatest musical takeaway from my relationship with Cambria. After my general dissatisfaction with the previous Seven Mary Three album I hadn't followed up on the band. I should have, because the next album, this album, is great.

Well, great-ish. The correct way to experience this album is to listen to the first track ("Lucky"), and then skip ahead to track 4 ("Honey Generation"), and after that move to 6 ("People Like New") to ride out the rest of the album. I believed this so strongly that years later when I ripped the CD (digital music, crazy I know) I deleted those tracks (2, 3, and 5) entirely. Right now, as I'm writing this, I'm listening to them for the first time in at least a decade.

It's not that those songs are the worst ever. They're just wrong for the album. I feel like I'm repeating myself here, but the B-side of this album is the album. It has a sound, and that sound is good. That stuff at the beginning just gets in the way.

So why "Lucky"? Well, there would have been an easy way to bypass my problem entirely: always start at track 6. But I could never listen to the album without "Lucky". That would just be wrong. I would rather tolerate the pain of having to wait for the song to end and then quickly skip ahead past the bad stuff. The song was (and is) that good.

Soldier's Daughter - Tonic

Here we have another album brought to my attention by my first girlfriend. Shortly after hearing this song I decided I was going to attempt to learn how to play it for her. But playing it wasn't enough, I was going to both provide guitar and vocals. This is not something I actually could (or can) do, mind you. I don't know if it's the guitar playing or the singing that takes more concentration, but what matters is that the combination requires more than I have. So this was a doomed desire from the outset and thus never fully materialized.

One key thing made it even possible to attempt in the first place. That thing is the internet. Yes, we have an internet now at this point in the timeline. I know this because I looked up the guitar tablature for this song on the internet. Back in '97 with some pre-Google search engine.

The end result of all of this is that I know the song rather well. Not well enough, of course, but well. And I still like it, because it's a great song. I like the album as a whole, actually. It's something I only really listened to during this time in my life, but I feel like deserves more.