Monday, August 27, 2012

A thank-you note to Awolnation

Back in July there were a whole bunch of articles about how, for the first time, sales of older albums had exceeded sales of new albums. Industry execs spun the trend as a result of price: catalog records sell for much less. Observers speculated that new music sucks.

I found the whole thing depressing. I've been complaining about how "new music" sucks since I was 13 years old. I've been searching for bands that prove me wrong for about the same length of time, with only occasional success.

Ron the Drummer and I have tried to do our part. Sadly, commercial radio isn't playing Cinder Bridge, and I don't want to limit my consumption of newer music to songs I wrote myself.

Anyway. Around the time all of those articles hit, I started noticing a tiny handful of tunes that were actually pretty good. Mostly they played on KFMA, Tucson's alternative radio station. I acquired a couple of the CDs featuring said tunes and finally got around to listening to one of them last week: Megalithic Symphony by Awolnation.

First listen: This is surprisingly not bad. "Kill Your Heroes" isn't the only good song. I hear strong influences from the past, but it still sounds new.

Second listen: I could've sworn they reminded me of the Bee Gees in a couple of those songs. Which ones were they?

Third listen: Although I've just listened to this twice, I'm in the mood to hear it again.

Fourth listen: In fact, I don't think I want to listen to anything else.

Holy hell. It's rare enough that I find a new artist with a song or two that I like. I almost never replay an entire album. Four times in the space of a week is unheard of. Offhand I can only think of a small handful of albums I've encountered in the last 15 years that stood on their own. Sheryl Crow (1996). Whatever and Ever, Amen by Ben Folds Five (1997). White Ladder by David Gray (1998). Our Endless Numbered Days by Iron and Wine (2004). Eye to the Telescope by KT Tunstall (2004).

Thank you, Awolnation, for proving that it can still be done.

Queen and the Bee Gees get into a dance fight. Everybody wins.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Carole and me

A woman approached me after yesterday's gig to say how much she enjoyed the music. "You sound just like Carole King!" she exclaimed.

Not surprising. Of all the people we've been compared to, I think her name comes up the most. I assumed it was because we were both singer/songwriters who play the piano. A friend insisted that it was my voice.

It took a long time, but a few years ago, while listening to Tapestry, I finally heard it. Though we don't approach singing in the same way, there's something similar in the vocal quality every now and again.


One of these days I would love for Cinder Bridge to open for Carole King. She does still perform sometimes. How cool would it be to meet up with her after the show and say, "So do you think I sound like you?"

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I knew it had been a while since I'd set foot in a brick-and-mortar music store, but wow. Here's what I ended up taking home from Zia Records tonight:
  • Awolnation, Megalithic Symphony: new, $9.99
  • The Lumineers: new, $12.99
  • Beatles, Rubber Soul: used, $3.99
  • Beatles, The White Album: used, $16.99
  • Shawn Colvin, Fat City: used, $2.99
  • Shawn Colvin, A Few Small Repairs: used, $2.99

At the checkout counter I asked, "Is it me, or have prices gone way down?

The guy ringing me up confirmed that they had. Especially for used CDs.

"The digital download crisis has been going on for so long," I said, "that I figured it would never happen. That the music industry would be in denial forever."

The guy said, "There's a rumor going around that by the end of this year, nobody will even make CDs anymore. Of course, it's only a rumor."

Googling around later, I found an article from Side-Line Music Magazine claiming that except for special limited editions, the CD format will be abandoned by major labels by the end of 2012. They say they can't get official confirmation, but they seem pretty sure it's going to happen.

I dunno. While the demise of the CD is bound to happen eventually, it seems like someone would have announced it if "eventually" were less than a year away.

On the other hand, the timing seems right. CDs at reasonable prices? Can't have that.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Grammatical Gotye?

A lot of elements go into writing good lyrics. Finding the right words to express what you mean. Matching the syllables to the beats. Avoiding cliches. And, of course, impeccable grammar.

Wait. Grammar?

Yes, according to Joe Hadsall. He wrote a whole article about how the title of "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye is grammatically incorrect. He cites the Associated Press Stylebook, which states that "who" should be used when it stands in for a human being. For instance:

I bought a drum machine that didn't cost a lot of money.

But ...

I listened to a drummer who plays with a local band.

Therefore, says Hadsall, the song title should be "Somebody Who I Used to Know."

Gawd. Where to begin?

So much of lyrics depends on how the words sound. Does "I can't get no satisfaction" work better if you eliminate the double negative? How about Beyonce's line "Don't be mad once you see that he want it" Is "Single Ladies" better if she fixes the subject-verb disagreement?

"Fixing" the Stones example would be more obviously wrong. The rhythm gets thrown off if you change the line to "I can't get any satisfaction," whereas it would still scan correctly if Beyonce were to sing "Don't be mad once you see that he wants it." But "want it" (actually pronounced "wannit" in the song) is easier to sing and more pleasing to hear.

It's possible that Hadsall would concede those points. He does make allowances for creative expression. He just isn't willing to make them for Gotye.

... songwriters take creative, musical license with grammar when coming up with unique turns of phrase, and I'm OK with that. But "Somebody That I Used to Know" is so boring and bland that it should really be grammatically correct -- because grammar is boring and bland.

Nope. I'm lukewarm on this tune myself, and I still have to disagree. When faced with the prospect of breaking a rule, songwriters do not and should not base their decision on how good they think the song is. They base their decision on whether breaking the rule makes the song better. By that standard, Gotye made the right choice. "Somebody who I used to know" doesn't flow as well.

Listen, I care about grammar too. I care more than the average person. Writers pay me to correct their grammar. But this guy is just wrong.

[Late update 11/4/2013: Hadsall actually argued that the title should be "Somebody WHOM I Used to Know." I should've caught that. I probably didn't because, while "whom" is grammatically correct here, it sounds just awful.]

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Hat tip to Jeremiah Tucker, whose article Songwriting should always trump grammar alerted me to the original post.