RIP Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries

Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries, died today at the age of 46. This is a sad day for those who love Ireland and 90s music.

Just last month, I was thinking about their song “Dreams” again. At first blush it can come off as too light, too fluffy–it was featured in the movie You’ve Got Mail, after all–but the song’s pop catchiness is deceptive. It’s not a simple, formulaic pop song–far from it. The story presents a new infatuation as a chance for self discovery and reinvention, optimistically claiming that such growth is inevitable. The iconic guitar riff complemented that perfectly, and perfectly represented the early 90s with its bubbly electricity, part gritty grunge, part power pop.

But back to the words–not only did O’Riordan’s lyrics delve deeper than they seemed to, in ways that strayed outside the norm, but so did her vocal work itself. If the guitar in “Dreams” was prototypical early 90s, her voice was the exact opposite. It was the style for women at the time to try to sound as tormented and angry as their male counterparts, but she was happy to chirp out pretty melodies which were no less affecting for it. To be earnestly positive while still communicating a solid connection to elemental reality–that’s a tough balance to strike. Few try. Dolores did it. Witness “Linger” and “Ode To My Family.”

And yet, this is the woman who also wrote and sang “Zombie,” a passionate lament about actual political violence! This was a deep well of lyric and vocal artistry, friends.

46 is far too young. Her work will be missed.

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7 Old Albums

One of my goals while I’m 40 is to listen to 40 albums that were important to teenage me. I’ve gone back and heard seven so far.

1. U2, The Unforgettable Fire

This one’s a bit of a cheat–I’ve listened to parts of this pretty consistently over the years, but I haven’t heard the whole album, start to finish, in who knows how long. My preferred tracks probably hurt this, though: the tracks I tend to avoid–“Fire” and “Indian Summer Sky”–sounded out of place now. Besides, they’re harsher than the soft, mellow, flowing tracks that attract me to this album: a lot of late work nights this last semester were capped off by a long drive home to the trio of “Promenade,” “4th of July,” and “Bad” on earphones (but of course I still love “Pride,” so go figure).

New Verdict: B+

2. The Cure, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me

I remember this being a long, rambling, uneven album…and this re-listening confirmed that. The surprise here was that some of the highly visible singles from my childhood–like “Hot Hot Hot!!!” and “Why Can’t I Be You?”–are just annoying now, and some of the more obscure tracks from later on towards the end of the album–such as “The Perfect Girl,” “Like Cockatoos,” and “A Thousand Hours”–are more catchy and pleasant than I remembered.

Still a deeply uneven effort. Why make the album so overstuffed with discordant filler like “The Snakepit” and “Icing Sugar,” the later of which sounds like a ripoff of their own classic “The Hanging Garden?”

New Verdict: B-

3. The Cure, Disintegration

Holy crap, this is even more of a perfect classic than I thought it was! The themes are explored so deeply that the album has more variety than I recalled, but every detail is tightly in service of the overall effect. It’s genuinely moving. No surprise that the lesser tracks now strike me as just as powerful as the well-known ones: though not a popular single or anything, there’s a reason why the track below gave the album its title! Really, a total masterpiece from the first note to the last.

New Verdict: A+

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Quiet Biking at Night

Last summer I bought an old van with enough space in the back for my bike, which I started taking with me to work this semester, so I could ride it across the UNLV campus on the days I teacher there. It has saved me a lot of the rushing and running I’ve had to do from parking to classroom for over a dozen years, but even better, it has allowed me to simply spend more time on my bike.

One of my favorite things about the fall semester is the atmosphere on that beautiful campus on any November night–most everyone else has already gone home by the time my evening classes get out, and the trip back out to my car was always very quiet, cool, and pleasant. Now, getting to do that on a bike, it’s even better.

One night last month, I did that ride while listening to the soft, luminous Lou Reed track, “Revien Cherie.” Bikes rides have rarely been sweeter.

Speaking of, I spent one afternoon in October riding my bike home across town from my day job, listening to the live stream of Celtic music from Thistle Radio. That was also an enjoyable time, and a little memory worth having.

Life is really good.

Haydn

So I’ve spent a lot of this year getting into Haydn. It’s odd–I’ve been courting a taste for classical music for most of my adult life, but I never really listened to Haydn until now. He slipped through the cracks somehow. I read something recently about how Haydn used to be regarded as highly as his younger contemporary Mozart, and was just as popular, until the last generation or so, when we decided Mozart was the be-all and end-all of music. (I enjoy this channel of animated classical music, which has hundreds of videos, but which I just found has zero pieces by Haydn.)

The two men’s styles are certainly similar, but in Haydn I see a man I find spiritually simpatico. His symphonies each sound simple, but developed deeply–each a paean to grace–like Mozart’s–but also direct in a clean, friendly way, as opposed to Mozart’s often overbearing showmanship. A balance of lofty and grounded.

I just watched a lecture by Robert Greenberg about Haydn, and learned that he was a child of the working class, and a late bloomer: another level at which I connect with him. It may be illustrative of pretension, but when I listen to Haydn, I feel the best of both my abilities and aspirations underscored–ambitions for productive contemplation, if you will. I’ve listened to the Sunrise quartet on some Sunday mornings, for example, and find it a perfect fit.

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The 10 Best Albums Of My High School Years?

Recently, a friend posed an interesting question for us to ponder: what were the best albums of our high school years? We decided to make our own lists to compare and discuss.

This is tricky right off the bat because we became freshmen in 1992, a year after music’s best calendar year ever. Still, the early 90s had a ton of amazing quality: our lists had to be from albums released between August 1992 and June 1996.

I decided my list would have to balance personal taste with importance and impact on the larger musical world. This is really just a first draft, but for now, here are my ten.

10. Rancid, …And Out Come The Wolves

9. Beck, Odelay

8. The Crow, Soundtrack

7. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

6. Nirvana, In Utero

5. Live, Throwing Copper

4. Pearl Jam, Vs.

3. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral

2. REM, Automatic For The People

1. Nirvana, Unplugged in New York

 

Favorites From the NPR 100

I just found some notes I made from a bucket list item I checked off a few years ago–listening to NPR’s 100 essential American recordings of the 20th century. I thought I’d blogged about this before, but apparently not.

Some of the items were familiar, but many were new to me. Here are my favorites from the ones I was hearing for the first time.

“Adagio for Strings” This beautifully ethereal piece is just magical. It’s heart rending and haunting.

 

“Ain’t That a Shame” Fun, early rock track.

 

“Blue Moon of Kentucky” An early bluegrass track with a legacy in folk and country music. Feeling connected to roots here.

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New Listenings

Here’s some great stuff that I’ve heard recently:

This piece just reminded me that no matter how much classical music I listen to, there will always be more to discover that will simply dazzle me. It’s a great big wonderful world out there, and this lusciously moving track carries a feeling that doesn’t soon fade. I need to get more into Dvorak.

 

A student recommended this one, and it’s great, isn’t it? Lots to pick apart in here.

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“Flower of Scotland”

I’ve reached the age where, whenever I discover something new in this world that I love, I wonder how I made it this far without ever coming across it. Such is the case wth this weekend’s discovery of the song, “Flower of Scotland.” How did I, an inveterate Celtiphile and music lover, never hear this beautiful little song in four decades?

It’s wonderful–a Scottish “Edelweiss,” if you will. Here’s the most beautiful version I’ve found so far:

Face Melting Bagpipes

I took my family to Celtic Thanksgiving IV on Saturday. Among other great acts was bagpiping stud Stuart Liddell (pronounced like the children’s book mouse), and this guy was AWESOME. I’ve never seen such blistering shredding! He has a bunch of videos on YouTube; here’s a good one:

Remembering The Huntridge

We took the kids to the Nevada State Museum this summer, and one area was dedicated to remembering the Huntridge theater. It really had a fascinating history. I saw plenty of concerts there in the 90’s, including Nine Inch Nails just as The Downward Spiral came out. I had to take some pictures of these displays, as they brought back some great memories. Strange that I never think of this stuff–I work only a block from there and drive by it all the time.

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Look at all these forgotten 90’s bands! Hemlock, Dinosaur Jr., Suicidal Tendencies, The Ataris, Dance Hall Crashers, KMFDM, Save Ferris, Voodoo Glow Skulls! I used to save these little fliers and put them on the wall of my bedroom. I wish I still had them–there were dozens just plastering the whole thing.

 

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I used to have that exact KUNV shirt in high school! I just checked eBay, and nothing, sadly. The “Rock Avenue” slogan on the right refers to the legendary overnight show that radio station used to play–the DJs there knew everything and played the most amazing range of stuff.

A Song and Three Videos

I heard this contemporary cover of “Nearer My God To Thee” on Mormon Channel radio last week and loved it.

Also, I found these three videos to be very helpful in picturing the detailed directions for making the tabernacle, priestly clothing, etc. in Exodus 25-30. The narration isn’t from the King James Version, but it’s easy to tell what’s what. In fact, the updated terminology also helps clarify the KJV text.

The first video covers Exodus 25 (0:00-5:27), Exodus 26:15-30 (5:27-7:07), and Exodus 27:1-8 (7:07-8:09)

The second video covers Exodus 27:9-21 (0:00-2:30), and Exodus 28:1-43 (2:30-9:08)

The third video covers Exodus 30:1-10 (0:00-1:56), and 30:17-33 (1:57-4:30)

“Lascia ch’io pianga”

Soft, sweet, simple, sad. I first heard this aria on the radio a dozen years ago and have loved it ever since. I like seeing music performed, and this video is a classy tribute to the piece. Also, the singer’s voice is perfect for it; this isn’t one to belt out. Here are the words in English:

Let me weep
over my cruel fate,
and sigh for freedom.
Let my sorrow break the chains
of my suffering, out of pity.

Isn’t that perfect?

Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro

Courtesy of a DVD from the library, I watched a whole production of this opera for the first time last week. I was blown away by everything about this work: the music, acting, singing, comedy, lighting…just a stellar ensemble all around.

Some of the kids watched much of it with me–another testament to its power!

Also, here’s a reminder of how powerful a complete work can be compared to snippets and summaries: three hours long, but well worth it. I’ll remember this far better than any exposure I’ve had to it before.

Turns out the whole thing is on YouTube:

 

 

My favorite piece is still this one, featured in The Shawshank Redemption:

Reviewed: Desire–A Tribute to U2

I saw this great tribute band play for $10 at the Cannery in North Las Vegas on Friday night. Their set was a decently wide range from the U2 catalog–ranging from two tracks off the 1980 debut Boy album through 2004’s “Vertigo.” Most tracks came from The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. Basically, it was a roll of greatest hits, well chosen with the longtime fans in mind.

The lead singer does a pretty decent Bono impression–not as obnoxious as Ben Stiller‘s by a long shot, but still in that vein. His performance was faithful and loving, but avoided any arrogance that impersonating Bono might invite.

Still, his friendly, casual approach to the role led him to do some good stuff (like adding bits of classic rock lyrics to the end of songs, Bono-style), and some questionable stuff (like warbling improvised lyrics several times, off time to the point where it clearly confused the rest of the band–tighten this up in rehearsal, guys).

The rest of the band was strong, too. Some tracks had some weak spots–as good as the guitar was, on a song like “In God’s Country,” the searing, soaring sonic harmony of Edge’s work must be impossible to duplicate–but overall the sound was solid, and on some songs, even stellar. Their cover of “Running to Stand Still” was positively inspired–a heart-wrenching elegy worthy of the original.

The tough job this tribute band has is their own fault–they’ve chosen to imitate one of the best groups in history!  :)  As talented as they obviously are, much of their playing only served to illustrate just how amazing the men in U2 are. With that in mind, they were very entertaining. Somewhere out there is a Nickelback tribute band with the easiest job in the world.

The appearance of the guys in Desire was even impressive. Though their bassist doesn’t look anything like Adam, the other guys have enough similarity to pass on stage. (Then again, most any guy with a square jaw can get an earring and a crew cut and look like Larry.)

If you have any interest in U2 and you ever get a chance to see these guys live, I highly recommend it. Ten bucks well spent; I’ll gladly go see them again.

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“Bad”

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“All I Want Is You”

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“With Or Without You”