Wednesday, March 25, 2009

20 Albums That Changed My Life, Part 2

Here is the next in my series of 20 life-changing albums. I have a lot to say about this one, so I'm limiting the post to one album:

4) The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails
I could probably make a case for Trent Reznor's debut as Nine Inch Nails, "Pretty Hate Machine" (hereafter referred to as PHM.) To some extent, that was a life-changing one for me. However, in retrospect, I believe PHM and the followup EP "Broken" opened the doors for "The Downward Spiral."
I believe some context is in order. PHM came out in 1989, but I didn't become aware of it until a 1991 Spin magazine article about Trent Reznor, following his triumphant summer in the Lollapalooza tour. I wasn't the only one late to the game, either. The tour and the resulting press brought many new listeners to his debut album. This record was a revelation to me, a guitarist who loved the sound of a power chord, but also had a fascination with synthesizers that began with bands like Kraftwerk and Devo. Here was the best of both worlds for me. I'm not sure I even noticed at first that there were no guitar solos, which is surprising for me!
I was also struck by the dark tone of his lyrics. I had been criticized for many years for my dark, depressing lyrics, and I had finally found someone who was even more depressing!
When Broken came out in 1992, it was a completely different record. At first, I didn't like it, but it quickly grew on me. This was a guitar record, although there were still no guitar solos. The synths were there, but they were buried in a wall of distortion. I came to love this EP so much, I quit listening to PHM for a while. Lyrically, there was even more anger, spurred on by the problems he was experiencing with his record label.
After an agonizing two-year wait, "The Downward Spiral" arrived, and I probably purchased it on the very day it showed up in the stores. Here was the record I had been waiting for! I listened to the entire thing, from the brutal, sledgehammer opening of "Mr. Self Destruct" to the blast of distortion and feedback at the end of "Hurt." For the next several months, I listened over and over again, not just to individual songs, but the entire thing start to finish. This was that kind of record. You couldn't just listen to one song. I would hear "Closer" on the radio, and it just seemed weird that they didn't play "Ruiner," the next song on the album.
This was not just a collection of songs. It wasn't even a concept album or a rock opera, where the lyrics unified what was otherwise a collection of songs. This was almost like a symphony, which was probably why it appealed to me, an educated musician. Much like classical music, the album had extreme dynamic range. "March of the Pigs" is a great example of that, with a soft piano/vocal break in the middle, followed by silence, followed by a blast of noise. I know I was fooled by it the first time! There was also the recurring piano motive, heard most prominently at the end of "Closer," but heard several other times as well.
I was also struck by the production, and spent many hours listening with headphones, trying to pick out individual layers in the massive wall of sound that permeated the entire record. This album, more than any other, sparked a returned interest in the recording process for me. After being a recording major as an undergrad, I lost interest for a number of years. I had a home studio, but it was just there to facilitate the songwriting process for me. "Downward Spiral" reminded me that the studio is a musical instrument, capable of as much expression as any acoustic instrument! Here was a pop artist using the same "Musique Concrete" techniques I had learned when I studied electronic music in college.
As a Nine Inch Nails fan, this record combined the songcraft and production of PHM with the raw energy of Broken. To me, it was the perfect Nine Inch Nails record. There were synths and guitars aplenty, and he even brought Adrian Belew in to play a guitar solo! And the lyrics were more dark and depressing than ever.
"The Downward Spiral" was a turning point for me, both as a listener and as a musician. Of course, given the fact that Trent Reznor and I are close to the same age, and he was struggling with similar addiction issues as I was at the time, this is certainly no surprise. If I were to rank all my life-changing albums in order of importance, it would certainly be number one!
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Google Friend Connect

Google Friend Connect recently became available for Blogger blogs, so I just added it. I am interested to see how this service will enhance the blogging experience. If you are one of the 5 people who read my blog, please click the "follow" button in the sidebar to the right. Thanks in advance.

On a related note, I recently created a Facebook artist page. If you are on Facebook and you have a moment, please become a fan. (I promise I won't spam you - I don't even have any gigs lined up at the moment.) This is also a bit of an experiment. I am interested to see if this will be a viable platform for artists in the future. I think they still have a few bugs to work out, but it has potential. I think this will finally make Facebook a viable alternative to MySpace for musicians. We'll see!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

How Do You Use the Internet & Social Media To Promote Your Music?

I am preparing for an upcoming presentation I am doing, and I wanted to poll my musician friends on the following:

How are you using social media to promote your music or your band?
What additional internet tools are you using, including distribution methods?

Please post your answers in the comments. I may incorporate some of these in my presentation, but I won't use your specific sites unless you give me permission. I look forward to your responses!
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

20 Albums That Changed My Life, Part 1

One of my Facebook friends, who hosts a radio show here in Boston and is somewhat of a musicologist, tagged me recently with this note:
Think of 15 albums, CDs, LPs (if you're over 40) that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dug into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the wazu, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean. Then when you finish, tag 15 others, including moi. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you're it! >:) ha-ha-ha-haaaaa.....

Another Facebook/Twitter friend then inspired me to turn it into a blog post. So I took my original list, already posted on Facebook, added some commentary and 5 additional albums. I also decided to do a few at a time. Otherwise, this was never going to see the light of day! These were never in any order of importance, as I consider each of them equally important.

1) Revolver - The Beatles
This was the very first Beatles record I bought, as a teenager, and it did, indeed, change my life. Over the years, I have probably listened to "Sgt. Pepper" more often, but "Revolver" had a profound impact on my early development as a musician. I must single out "Love You To" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" for setting me on the road toward an appreciation for musical experimentation and non-western sounds.

2) Cheap Trick - Cheap Trick
My first Cheap Trick album was "In Color," their second album, which is much more polished and squarely in the power-pop vein. Of course, I then bought their eponymous debut thinking it would be more of the same. It was not, and in fact, it blew my mind! This record is equal parts punk, hard rock, and power-pop, and there is even a ballad! Even though the production is less refined, the Cheap Trick songcraft is already fully-formed, and the lyrics display Rick Nielsen at his sardonic best!

3) Now - The Tubes
This is another example of a band who drew me in through their more commercial work, in this case "Completion Backward Principle." Once I discovered "Now," which is probably their least accessible and most eclectic effort ever, it opened a door musically to avenues I have continued to explore to this day. From their collaborations with Captain Beefheart ("My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains") to the proto-New Wave of "Cathy's Clone" to their cover of band member Mingo Lewis' fusion classic "God-Bird-Change." This one has everything, which fits my weird eclectic musical tastes. However, the label suits probably had no idea what to do with it, and neither did radio!
At the time, the Tubes had 9 members, and almost all of them were contributing songwriters. Their more commercial efforts were helmed by producers who had a strong musical personality, specifically Al Kooper, David Foster, and Todd Rundgren. I think I love this album because it is an example of how the band sounded when they were given free rein!

More to come!
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Should You Give Away Your Music for Free?

TorrentFreak thinks so. I admit, they come from a position of bias, but you should read the article and make up your own mind:

BitTorrent Freed Music, and Now It’s Yours | TorrentFreak

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

New Video - Bay of Pigs

This is my video for my song "Bay of Pigs," which I finally finished recording this week. I shot and edited all the video, and even did a bit of animation. Bonus points for anyone who can make sense of the lyrics!

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