Notes, Semi-Regular Edition

Hey everyone! I haven’t talked about music in a little while. I’ll keep it short and sweet for you, but here are five albums to go check out:

The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down, by The Reverend Shawn Amos. I love blues rock. The Reverend Shawn Amos is sort of like if The Blues Brothers were a serious group.

Outrun, by Kavinsky. This has got to be one of the weirdest electro-prog-rock concept albums I’ve ever heard, about a musician whose soul binds with a car. It’s awesome.

The Slow Wonder, by A.C. Newman (who was the front man for The New Pornographers). This isn’t a super-polished album, but it’s fun to listen to and I like it. It’s chill.

The Cult, by Crystal Viper. This is metal the way metal should be done. If you don’t like the genre, you definitely won’t like this – but if you’re an old fan, it’s a must-listen, especially for the King Diamond cover.

Internet Breath, by Hey, Ily. This is such a great “indie-electronica” sound. It’s unique and interesting, but doesn’t just lean on that – it’s also well-played and proficient. Go make them less unknown!

Music is the fuel for the engine of the soul. Share it if you got it.

Notes, December 2020 Edition

Hello everyone! For this month’s Notes, I’m going to do an end-of-year recap/highlight thing and talk about the music that was my favorite from the year. Specifically, I’m giving a Top 5 of the albums I discovered this year – each Notes is usually a mix of new stuff I’ve discovered and stuff I already loved that I wanted to share with you. But this end-of-year review is for just the things that were new to me in 2020, even if they weren’t “new” albums overall.

RTJ4, by Run the Jewels. My thoughts on this incredible album are here. Suffice to say this album has held up incredibly well, and it’s been the album on this list that I’ve made other people listen to more than anything else on this list.

Letter to You, by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss returns at his absolute best – if you were a deep fan of Springsteen, this will be your favorite of his albums. If you hate Springsteen, this might well be the once exception. My thoughts here.

Folklore, by Taylor Swift. Swift actually released another album between the release of Folklore and this post, and while the new album (Evermore) is very good, it isn’t as good as Folklore. In fact, nothing she’s done has been as good as Folklore, and that’s coming from someone who likes a great deal of her work. There was a lot of drama surrounding the transition between the writing of her first six albums and the writing of her last three (too much for me to recount here), but the latter circumstances have clearly been conducive to her having significantly more creative freedom and energy.

Fish Outta Water, by Karen Lovely. I’ve continued to add more Karen Lovely to my collection, and overall this is an artist I was thrilled to discover, not just a single album I liked. My original thoughts here.

Cuttin’ Grass, by Sturgill Simpson. This one gets the list for two reasons: one – because the album is incredible; and two – because I discovered in listening to his other albums that he has absolutely incredible range. The album released before this one, Sound & Fury, has a completely different (but equally amazing) style to it, and discovering a new artist at such depth is really great.

And lest you think that this is just a “greatest hits” episode, I do have one new entry for you – and quite honestly, it gives every one of these a run for their money. Heck, it gives all albums a run for their money:

McCartney III, by Paul McCartney. Have you ever heard of this guy? Kind of obscure, I know. But seriously – this album is so good I put it on and just froze in place for the entirety of the first track, unable to move. Unable to think. I could barely breathe, and I’m not overselling it. The entire album is McCartney reminding everyone how it is well and truly done.

Happy new year, everyone. May it – and all the years that follow – be filled with music.

Notes, November 2020 Edition

Hello everyone! Listen to some cool music:

Jailbreak, by Thin Lizzy. Man, what an underrated album. You’ve heard half of this album a thousand times, and the other half never. But the other half is super good! Yeah yeah, “The Boys Are Back In Town” is played out from every sporting event, wedding, and action movie you’ve ever seen. Skip it if you want. The rest of the album has a ton of range and depth.

Laughing into the Void, by Tiny Stills. I found this band kind of by accident on a YouTube rabbit-hole, but I’m really into the limited stuff they’ve released so far. They remind me a little of another band that I love, Cruiserweight, except a little more folk and a little less punk. Listen to the last song on the album, “Someday Everyone Who Hurt Me Will Be Dead” if you want a neat first glimpse. Then you’ll go back and listen to the whole album and end on that song again, and it’ll be great.

Stranger Than Fiction, by Bad Religion. Oh, the glorious glorious 90s. Never was bad music so good. Only one song on this album is above 3 minutes, and many are under 2. They didn’t waste time or drag it out! So I won’t either – go listen.

I’m Not Dead, by P!nk. Okay, I admit that I slept on P!nk for the most part when she was super big. Which is weird, because she’s exactly the kind of musician I usually love, but hey, no time like the present. Anyway, I really just want to talk about one song on this album: Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self. This might be one of the top 20 most powerful songs I’ve ever heard. She’s at the absolute TOP of her vocal game, the production is amazing, the concept of the song is incredible. It really knocked me out the first time I listened.

Fight or Fight, by Vilhelm Hass. Super cool album of solely instrumental, high-octane metal tracks. I love a lot of metal, but there’s also a lot of metal that I would otherwise love except I don’t like the vocals. So I’m already halfway sold by just the concept, but Vilhelm Hass delivers a really fun and intense album as well. I know a lot of people also find the vocals to be the “barrier to entry” for their enjoyment of the genre, so this is great “starter metal” if you’re looking to dip your toes into the musical style.

As always, enjoy the music in your life – and share it with others!

Notes, October 2020 Edition

Hey everybody! I’ve been listening to some great tunes this month, and I’d like to share them with you.

Letter To You, Bruce Springsteen. The Boss has always seemed like a “love him or hate him” sort of artist. I’m firmly in the former camp, but as a true New Jersey native it’s almost mandatory. That being said, lots of Springsteen’s stuff isn’t that great – a lot of his work was over-produced and mediocre, but when he’s at his best he’s absolutely amazing. The album Nebraska is long-considered his best work (and I don’t disagree with that assessment), but listen to me. Listen to me. Letter To You is better. This is incredible stuff. No skips, every song is incredible, The Boss at his best. If you have ever once in your life driven down a lonely road at night and not known what was waiting for you around the next curve of your life, this album will find that moment and pull it out and turn it into something somber and hopeful and painful and joyous and just help you get around that next curve. I know it sounds like I’m overselling it, but I promise I’m not.

Girl Next Door, Saving Jane. Saving Jane is a mid-2000s one-hit-wonder who sounded a little like Smashing Pumpkins except with LeAnn Rimes singing instead of Billy Corgan. While Marti Dodson (the lead singer) has had a pretty prolific songwriting career outside of Saving Jane, the band only really had one hit, the eponymous track off this debut album. But like a shocking number of one-hit-wonders from the 90s and aughts, their “hit” is actually one of their worst tracks. This is in fact a superb album; the songs are really put together well and they’re played with talent. If you’re looking for something a little between pop punk and country, this is it, and it does that weird niche very well.

Cuttin’ Grass, Sturgill Simpson. Speaking of country! I’ve been on a kick lately to try to increase the amount of country music in my rotation. I love old country artists, but I really disliked the whole “stadium country” thing that happened in the past few decades. So I sort of wrote off the genre for a while, but now I’m discovering that some of the really recent stuff is fantastic. This album is a great example. Go listen to “I Don’t Mind” and still try to say “I don’t like country” with a straight face. People who say that are almost always talking about this Toby-Keith-style “bro country” music and not the stuff that’s really hitting home where you don’t hear it.

The Bang Years, Neil Diamond. Man, what a freaking non-stop hit factory this guy was. I’m not going to waste a lot of words talking about one of the greatest and most prolific musicians of the 20th century. But I will say that there’s definitely a whole new generation that’s sleeping on how good songs like “You Got To Me” are, so if you either haven’t listened to this stuff or you just haven’t in a while, do yourself a favor and go ahead.

Boogaloo to the Beastie Boys, Reuben Wilson. Reuben Wilson is a legendary and fantastic jazz organist with a really great sense of humor and fun. This album is entirely jazz organ covers of Beastie Boys hits. If I have to say a single additional word to make you go listen to this album, then you’re a lost cause.

Enjoy the music in your lives, everyone. If you have a moment, share it with someone else.

Notes, September 2020 Edition

Hey everyone! I’ve got a little music I’ve been listening to that you might like. Some of this stuff has really been getting me through the days!

Psychic Warfare, by Clutch. Clutch is a weird band, because as awesome as they are they don’t seem overly concerned with sounding pleasant, which kind of feels like a prerequisite for most music. They sound good, but in a way that doesn’t allow you to fade them into your background. They’re meant to be loud, to drown out other noise, to grab you by the neck and make you listen. Their aesthetic is sort of like if George Thorogood was the front man for Rage Against The Machine, so you can imagine what I mean. Anyway, go listen to “Our Lady of Electric Light” and then the rest of the album.

Hozier, by Hozier. So I really, really disliked this album when I first heard it. But I’ve done a complete 180 on it and I think this just falls into “acquired taste” music. The sound is sort of similar to Leonard Cohen, very deep and spiritual, and I think you have to be open to it. “Take Me To Church” and “Foreigner’s God” are excellent songs in particular. Listen to one or both of them, and listen to the other the next day before forming an opinion. I think Hozier is better if you already know it.

Illinois (or: Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the ILLINOISE) by Sufjan Stevens. Hahaha, what a weird and cool album. I love a good concept album, and I also love “music meta jokes” (like the fact that there’s no Traveling Wilburys Volume II), so this being named Illinois after Stevens’ previous album was called “Michigan” made for an insinuation that he would do 50 albums, one for each state (which he sort of encouraged people thinking) before he admitted that he wasn’t. Regardless, the album itself has some stunningly good music along with the kind of weird experimentation similar to They Might Be Giants. “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” is a particularly good track.

YNOT by Tony K. Tony Khnanisho comes to America from Iraq in the early 90s as a little kid, his family fleeing the violence there. They land in Detroit, where he grows up absorbing hip hop and becomes an outstanding artist himself. YNOT (officially a “mixtape” and not an album) is full of great contributions to the scene while still keeping a pretty unique and unusual sound compared to the genre as a whole. His sound is incredibly sharp and well-produced (owing to his awesome production skills) and his talent will definitely have you moving.

Goodnight Girls, by The Unwed Teenage Mothers. The Unwed Teenage Mothers are a bunch of fabulous dirtbags from Mississippi who sound like what would have happened if punk had been Dixie instead of Yankee. I caught one song (“Nothing Will Ever Get Any Better”) and immediately got the album. That song is one of my favorites, but “For Rhianna” and “Sunday” are also excellent. The whole album is great and really easy to listen to – give it a shot if you like fast, fun music.

That’s all for this month – keep listening, keep sharing, and may all your notes be high ones.

Notes, August 2020 Edition

Hello everyone! I have some music I’d like to share with you. As usual – no agenda, no theme, nothing but music I like and think you might, too.

Violent Femmes, by Violent Femmes. The debut, eponymous album by this stripped-down punk band is absolutely iconic. This is high-school angst at its finest (quite literally, as most of the songs were written while Gordon Gano was still in high school), and in the same way that you can’t ever really recapture that spark, the band never really did better than this. But it doesn’t matter, because they immortalized it with this album, and you can go listen when you want to feel that way too.

Fish Outta Water, by Karen Lovely. This is the most recent album by Lovely, who has been releasing albums for about a decade. This was my first exposure to her music, though, and I only recently heard of her. I’ve been blown away though, and Fish Outta Water has been on heavy rotation. “Next Time” in particular is such a fantastic song, though the whole album cooks.

Red of Tooth and Claw, by Murder By Death. These guys are so weird and cool. I heard of them years ago when I decided one night to send out a mass text message to everyone in my phone asking them what they were listening to. This was one of the responses and it’s super, super cool. They’re a little Johnny Cash, a little Jim Croce, a little Bobby Fuller, but all with more modern indie rock vibes. Modern cowboy music. I like it a lot, and it’s just so different that the band stays really interesting. Listening to this album is like watching a good movie.

Cage The Elephant, by Cage The Elephant. Some punk/alternative takes itself WAY too seriously, and I love that Cage the Elephant isn’t like that. They’re like Rage Against The Machine but having more fun. They’ve got fantastic hooks and this album is incredibly fun to listen to. The band members were all blue-collar everymen before their music careers and it shows in the subject matter of their songs – extremely relatable, and able to get you pumped even for a mundane day.

Comfort Eagle, by Cake. Cake is one of my favorite bands, but their album structure has always been a little off to me. I have every album, and there’s something to love on every one – but at the same time, I don’t think they’ve ever released a “no skips” album where every song is outstanding. Their total library therefore has an incredible volume of great songs, but on my music playlists they’re pretty curated. That being said, Comfort Eagle might have the best ratio of fantastic songs to skips out of their discography, so if you’re looking for an introduction to this fantastic band this is a great place to start.

Enjoy some music, everyone! As always, tell me what you’re listening to, and be grateful for every second.

Notes, July 2020 Edition

Hey everyone! I’m going to do a slightly-expanded version of Notes this month because of a bonus sixth album I want to talk about! Here’s what I’ve been listening to:

Burning Organ, by Paul Gilbert. Paul Gilbert is a rock music veteran with an absolutely amazing pedigree, but more than that this dude clearly just loves what he does. He’s fun at times, serious at other times, but always creates music you just want to bathe in. This album slaps from beginning to end and deserves the maximum volume settings on whatever you’re playing it on. And despite the fact that Gilbert’s real power is in his guitar playing, he has some great lyrics as well – such as on “I Am Satan” (a love song sung from the point of view of the devil himself): “But will you condemn me to hell // when you know why I dance so well?” I’m such a sucker for clever bits like that.

Sam’s Town, by The Killers. I like The Killers, but what I really liked about this album is how much better it gets over time. The album was REALLY hyped in marketing prior to its release, to the point where pretty much nothing could have lived up to how good everyone said this album was going to be. Despite that, it’s a beautiful album. There’s a lot of comparisons to be made between this and Springsteen’s (absolute best) album Nebraska, so if you liked that then definitely give this a listen.

Riot!, by Paramore. Great pop punk anthems and heartfelt ballads side by side on this album. Paramore is a really cool group, and while they’re more polished and less raw than I usually like my femme fatale punk, they make up for it in obvious talent and songwriting ability. I think a lot of people in the 2000’s were trying to be exactly what Paramore ended up getting exactly right.

RTJ4, by Run the Jewels. Their fourth album is actually the first of theirs I’ve heard, as I’m really new to this group. But they’re incredible hip hop, nailing everything great about the genre. In my opinion, the hands-down best track on the album is “Walking in the Snow.” Go listen to just that song, maybe even a few times and let it sink in. If it hits you like it hit me, listen to the rest of the album because it’s all incredible. I know it’s a strange comparison, but Run the Jewels actually remind me a bit of Rage Against The Machine – both scream at power structures in ways that give me life.

Jagged Little Pill, by Alanis Morissette. Such a classic album of my youth, and it still holds up. This is one of those albums where pretty much every song became a hit in its own right, and I’ve heard every song from this album on the radio at least a few times. They’re all worth it. Nobody was quite like Alanis, and she didn’t fit neatly into the genres she was adjacent to like alternative or singer/songwriter. She carved out her own niche and it remains wonderful, encapsulated nowhere more perfectly than this absolute gem of an album.

Folklore, by Taylor Swift. Bonus album! Taylor Swift released a surprise album literally less than 24 hours prior to me writing this blog, and I’ve already listened to it all the way through twice. It’s beautiful, and it’s definitely my favorite of her work. There are no skips on this album. I’m definitely NOT the target demo for Taylor Swift, but that makes it all the more enjoyable for me to listen to her, because I’m not really caught up as much in who she is as a celebrity, but rather can just listen to her music as it is. The fact that in that context I still think her music is absolutely incredible should tell you something.

May you find something to love in this list, and lots to love out in the world. If you do, share it with me!

Notes, June 2020 Very Special Edition

Hello everyone! I’m doing a departure from my normal format of the monthly “Notes” post. Normally I just pick a handful of albums and talk about them, but I’m going to step away from that a little this month to talk about why I do that, and the awesome thing I’m going to share with you this month instead.

I like music. I don’t know anything about it, but I love it. I’m not a talented musician (I can actually rock pretty hard on the harmonica, but that’s it). I’m not well-versed in music theory or history or anything like that. I just really, really like it. I listen to anything anyone shows me – I’ve never said, “eh, I’m not really into that kind of music” because I’ve never encountered a genre yet that didn’t have something in it that could move me. So my goal is twofold – I want to learn about as much music as I can (knowing full well I’ll never even scratch the surface of all there is), and I want to share what I’ve learned with other people who also just feel the thrill of listening to something with such power.

To that end, I pick a few albums every month and talk about them, link them, and hopefully start a conversation. My dream is that someone new listens to those albums for the first time as a result.

Last week I had the absolute honor of getting to talk about this stuff on season finale episode of the Music Challenge Podcast, a podcast dedicated to exactly that – the stories that connect us to the awesome music we listen to. I’m going to link the episode I was in below, but listen to the whole season (and the ones to come!) because you’ll get more from them than you ever would from just a single blog post of mine. (Plus, as a bonus, I still talk about multiple albums in the episode so you’ll get the normal content of a Notes post anyway!)

The only universally shared languages are math and music, and music is just math with soul. Go and listen.

Notes, May 2020 Edition

Hey all you music lovers! I’ve got some albums I’d like to share with you. If you’re looking for some new (to you) music, or even just want to gab about old classics, look no further. Here are a few for your playlists:

Rust in Peace, by Megadeth. The early 90’s were a really glorious time for metal, and this album is one of the great harbingers of that era. The threshold of talent required to make metal good is way higher than a lot of other genres of music, so the truly outstanding metal bands always feature incredible proficiency that just isn’t duplicated anywhere else.

Carnival, by Bryce Vine. This is new music, and it’s just so incredibly vibrant. Try not to involuntarily move while listening to this. If you just want one sample, listen to “Drew Barrymore,” and just let the music give you a good time.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters, by Fiona Apple. What? New music from Fiona Apple? She’s as savage and deep as ever, and whether you were a fan of hers in the past or not you won’t be disappointed. She has a way of singing that makes you feel like you did something wrong, like you broke somebody’s heart, and she just forces feelings into you. If the current world has gotten a little monotone and you need a hit of something different, listen.

So Much For The Afterglow, by Everclear. Everclear had a few hits in the 90’s, mostly from this album. They’re still around and they’ve done great work since (Black is the New Black is a great and more recent album), but So Much For The Afterglow had everything going for it. Catchy pop hits with genuine heart and fun tracks to sing along to in your car. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

It’s All In Your Head, by Eve 6. Eve 6 is one of my favorite bands, but this album flew under the radar for me for a long time. Horrorscope, their second album, is in my top 5 of all time, and I think that made it almost impossible to appreciate any follow-up when it was released. So it took a long time for me to come back to this album and really give it its own space, but when I did I found out that it was actually excellent on its own.

That’s it for this month. As always, I hope music gives you something you need – and if it does, share. Sometimes that’s all we can do.

Notes, April 2020 Edition

Hello everyone! I’ve got some music I’d like to share with you. As usual, there’s no method to my madness – just albums I think you may enjoy.

Boston, by Boston. Boston came out of the gate hot in 1976 with this album, and I don’t think they ever produced something that was as wall-to-wall fantastic. Boston at times seemed to put out music that would seem physically impossible for other artists, especially Brad Delp’s vocals and Tom Scholz’s… well, everything. When I talk about bands like Boston, sometimes I worry that I’m not exactly shining a light into an obscure corner, but then I remember one of my favorite scenes from the movie Role Models, where Wheeler tells Ronnie about KISS for the first time. I think about that scene and remember that no matter how famous a band already is, there’s someone who’s never heard their magic. Maybe today I’m the Wheeler to your Ronnie (extremely NSFW link, but hilarious movie), and that would be awesome.

Fly Like An Eagle, by Steve Miller Band. Steve Miller has a really great handle on how to make music seem effortlessly cool. This is the kind of Americana “driving music” that creates a great backdrop for fun adventures, great and small. There’s something on this album to serve as a soundtrack for almost anything you’re doing, and you’ll be slightly cooler doing it.

Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), by Wu-Tang Clan. The genius of this album has allowed it to burrow into the collective consciousness of our culture for decades since its release. One of, if not the most influential of all hip-hop albums, Wu-Tang Clan’s debut combines raw, incredible music with humor, depth, and Wuxia film references. I definitely didn’t grow up in hip-hop culture, but even I understood how great this album was, proving that great music can truly transcend all barriers.

Rumours, by Fleetwood Mac. Dear lord, I love Stevie Nicks. This album is incredible, and its one of those albums that gets better every single time you listen to it. Despite their focus on making a more pop-style album, there are subtleties to songs that wash over you the deeper you go. “Go Your Own Way” has a certain almost euphoric quality to it; when I really close my eyes and listen to it, it feels like its driving tension out of my neck and shoulders. Anyway, it turns out that if you get a bunch of really talented musicians together and really let them sink into drug- and hedonism-fueled debauchery and pain, what might come out on the other side is one of the best albums ever. The band didn’t come out the same on the other side of recording this album, and you can hear it.

Has Been, by William Shatner. Yeah, that’s right! Okay, so hear me out. Shatner is hilarious; one of the things that makes him so funny is that he’s clearly in on the joke and having a great time. He voiced himself in a hilariously self-referential episode of Futurama (one of the best, actually), and he recorded this album of his spoken-word-combined-with-music tracks, produced by Ben Folds. Before you judge, go listen to the first track – a cover of Pulp’s “Common People.” It might be the greatest song you hear this month. It’s definitely the best song on the album, though the whole thing is surprisingly better than you think it’ll be.

That’s it for this month’s entry. As always, I love to hear what you’re listening to – music connects us and inspires us to connect even further. I hope you’re listening to something good.