Steve J. Moore

Posts Tagged ‘Music’

Spider Music and Sad Stories

In Music, poetry, Radio on January 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

 Chris ThileSara Watkins, and Sean Watkins started making music together before they were old enough to drive. With violins, a mandolin, a guitar, and sirenesque voices they made five albums just this side of inspired. They took me in and introduced me to folk music as a genre; told me stories about foxes catching their dinner, lighthouses concerned with love, and little birds leaving the nest. Their sound was so rich in emotion, so authentically human, I couldn’t get enough. Why Should the Fire Die  was their most mature, and final album. We were invited continually into their lives through allegory and heard about their hard luck, their heartbreak , and their crises of faith. Then, in 2007, something very sad happened. The band Nickel Creek parted ways after over twenty years of making music together. 


Chris Thile had already made a career on the side as a virtuoso mandolinist even while Nickel Creek was touring and recording. He joined up with a few other neoclassical bluegrass-heads and formed The Punch Brothers. They continue to churn out overpaced octaves and twinkling tiny tunes today along with giving Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer a run for their money.



Sean Watkins took a little more time off. It wasn’t until he met up with former Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman that he got back to work. Together, the two formed Fiction Family. Not the team-up I would have suspected. I hadn’t really even heard Switchfoot since “Dare You to Move” back in 2004. NPR’s Ken Tucker gave the review that introdced me to the Family. He called their work, “spider-web music — delicate, industrious and intricate. Here today and, perhaps, gone tomorrow.” After listening to their work, I couldn’t think of a better fitting description. There are glimmers of beauty like dew drops in the sun, less filled-in areas that leave its makers vulnerable, and awkard stretching strands to some far-away branches. 




  1. “When She’s Near” – 2:55
  2. “Out Of Order” – 3:31
  3. “Not Sure” – 3:06
  4. “Betrayal” – 3:03
  5. “Elements Combined” – 3:38
  6. “War In My Blood” – 2:57
  7. “Throw It Away” – 4:14
  8. “Closer Than You Think” – 3:12
  9. “Please Don’t Call It Love” – 5:11
  10. “Mostly Prove Me Wrong” – 3:02
  11. “We Ride” – 3:18
  12. “Look For Me Baby” – 1:35



When you listen to this album you will hear the simplistic elements of Switchfoot’s New Way to be Human, but infused with the poetic wonderings of songs like Nickel Creek’s When in Rome. Especially on “Elements Combined,” we get a true marriage of styles. You hear the high-strung mandolin’s plea against Foreman’s tin-can voice singing “some day you’ll be mine.”  Other tracks like “Throw it Away” introduce us to the slow contemplation of a man drinking wine alone–the image of a closed book in the corner. This folornness is whispy like the spider web too, because it is easily wiped away by the very next track, “Closer Than You Think.” 


I can’t decide if I like it as a whole. At times it’s “Scotch and Chocolate” and at times it’s alt-rock in a church I heard in 9th grade. It builds its pace up, slows down, shows you a delicate flower in the road, then spends the next fifty miles mourning its loss to the wind. There are songs I’d very much like to come on the radio at random to lift my spirits, maybe to help me appreciate a sunset or to help me find my way home. “We Ride” has a sound of that sort. Ambiant and ambling, the ticking clock of the stringed instruments tumbles forward clumsily into slow drum breaks and a lyric solo.


Sometimes I get very tired of hearing Switchfoot’s laothesome signature ding ding ding ding… circus chime xylophone in the background (you know what I mean), but generally this album stands out as one of the more interesting trials I’ve heard this year. I leave you with their first track, and first single, “When She’s Near.”


Not Too Late for This White Horse

In Music, Radio on January 8, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Warning to People of the Internet: the following post contains references to country music.

Taylor Swift’s sophomore album, “Fearless,” enters the room of coked out pop starlets that is pop music with an enchanted poof of fairy dust, looks around, dusts off a stool with a pink feather, and orders a Coke. Prince Charming, Akon, and John Mayer all ask if they can get her a straw. Swift disposes the notions quickly that she’d be someone’s bong hit (sorry Johnny) or something to smack ’til sore (no love for Mr. Kon). Only a gentleman will do.


Five years ago, I would have never told you that I enjoyed country music, and if I did it would have been a lie. It was usually an experience relegated to the passenger seat of my girlfriend’s car. Slowly but surely, I was assimilated through various means like my interests in folk music (Bob Dylan leads to Gordon Lightfoot, who leads to Nickel Creek, who leads to Dixie Chicks… you get the picture).

I knew even  then that resistence was futile; I would surely soon be reborn in a straw hat, coveralls, a carhart jacket, riding an international harvester. I suppose my conversion is total now, except for all of the stereotypical items I just rattled off, because here I am writing about Taylor Swift.

To be fair, even now I’ve only heard the album because of my wife (still don’t have CMT set to record my DVR, sorry), but I crave variety. My Coverflow should go from Kraftwerk to Tom Waits, from Hootie and the Blowfish to Dave Bruebeck, and from Yo-Yo Ma to (old) Metallica. I’d recommend trying new things to everyone 😉 I find that the more I branch out the more I come to appreciate new things about old favorites.

Back to Taylor, it always makes me happy to see cohesion on an entire album as opposed to a series of single tracks that just happen to be on one disc. Fearless goes from title to title like the pages in Swift’s diary (take that for what you will, but it flows). The fact that she wrote every song herself, with help on only a few, including the female Jack Johnson herself Colbie Caillat, makes for a nice authenticity in style. Every song feels necessary, which, on a pop album of any sub-genre, is not easy to find.

Check out the album on the new DRM-free iTunes +

Taylor Swift - Fearless

Walk This Way Kanye

In Music, Radio, TV on December 31, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Minor disclaimer: I do not like Kanye West  as a person (just see his blog). Mine is far from perfect, but if you actually find a post where he writes, you will get an idea of just how childish and spoiled this overly-produced mega star is. I do, however, have room to appreciate him as an artist.


I do like hip-hop and rap (see post on Atomosphere). My tastes in music vary greatly and I credit myself as a person who gives people chances. So, I listened to Mr. West’s entire new album 808s & Heartbreak (I applaud him for his grammatical ommission of an apostrophe in plural but not possessive “808s”) and tried to sincerely block out my usual desire to laugh, cry out in pain, or sigh in disgust.


I need music to have a reason behind it. I need to believe that the person or group I’m listening to believes in a message of some sort, even if that message is “we have no message.” As I see it (before hearing 808s), Kanye believes in only himself and his continued ability to make money.




The track list is as follows:

1. “Say You Will”  

2. “Welcome to Heartbreak” (feat. Kid Cudi)

3. “Heartless”  

4. “Amazing” (feat. Young Jeezy)

5. “Love Lockdown”  

6. “Paranoid” (feat. Mr Hudson)

7. “RoboCop”  

8. “Street Lights”  

9. “Bad News”  

10. “See You in My Nightmares” (feat. Lil’ Wayne)

11. “Coldest Winter”  

12. “Pinocchio Story”


While listening, I kept thinking to myself,


“Geez… who wrote these lyrics…

they’re so boring…”


Then I realized that Kanye wrote all of it himself (of course!). Perhaps the only well-produced parts of Mr. West are his beats. Most of the words rapped in the album wouldn’t get you through a high school talent assembly. When you usually get infusions from incredible groups like Daft Punk in songs past ( I keep telling myself they just did it for the money) and you only get acclaim for your sampling feats, there’s a problem with your talent.


But moving back to 808s, there were several tracks that started with promise. I couldn’t help but thump my foot and bob my head in time with a few musical phrases here and there. A cool beat would develop… some nice synth motion…that’s not bad… and then BOOM— the Auto-Tune takes over and all you can hear is Kanye’s unsinging, unrapping, whine (it’s something like cats being stepped on during a bowel movement):




It would be different if the well-managed drum machine was interrupted by someone who could either actually rap, like Mos Def, or someone who can actually sing, like John Legend. Sadly, there is no such reprieve with Kanye.


I know things like black lights, venetian-blind sunglasses, and pretending you’re as cool as Jesus (or John Lennon) are important, but when did making good music take a back seat to meaningless (albeit highly sellable) personalities?




Most of 808’s is, sadly, exactly what I thought it’d be: ignorable, forgettable, and some of it just plain bad. I won’t start a separate rant here, but I’m tired of songs “feat. ‘so-and-so'” that you would have no idea of unless you were in the studio during the session and you saw them bring in lunch. Sadly, Hip-hop has become somewhat dependent upon name-dropping lately.


Here’s the game: lay down one hot track…

*beat boxes while holding tin foil*

release the “song” under a cool pseudonym ignoring spelling and reason (probably with Asian influence for good measure) like:

“Sh4ng Sung”shang_tsung

Then, sell your marketable moniker to big names in need of a quick shot in the arm.

“Bounce ‘dat” by Beyonce feat. Sh4ng Sung

Ca$h in!



I’m not trying to say hip-hoppers/rappers need to stop collaborating, but just save your thanks for the liner notes unles your act is like Run DMC and Aerosmith.



I’ll end with a quote:

“Unfortunately for certain media outlets, you will never be able 2 ‘Michael Jackson’ me. That means 2 make it seem like everything I do is so weird or out of place…they always try 2 make it seem like everything is about my ego! That joke is getting old.”

Words for Music, A Sonnet for “The Management”

In Film, Music, Radio, TV, Writing on December 12, 2008 at 11:48 pm

One Strange Title to Another

“Oracular Spectacular” alone is a whopping four iambs,
but I hate counting syllables, hand to my throat
bumping into my chin awkwardly. I’m always left laughing
and I lose count. Better to stick with number of lines
as I listen to the Brooklyn breeding psych pop dancing
of The Management. The only rhyming happens between keys,
as the electric feel wages weekend wars with the youth
and the handshake kids decide “it’s time to pretend”
with pieces of what, I cannot tell. The speaker foam
hides a prision for Bob Dylan, condemned to jamming
with the Sex Pistols using only old church organs,
a hand-me-down strat and Barry Gibb’s larynx. Voices
transport me in a telephone booth to a discotech arcade
where pac-man does lines, trying to escape the ghosts.



The MGMT’s newest album, “Oracular Spectacular.”


On My Way Home from Normal

In Writing on December 2, 2008 at 10:24 pm

It’s been a long couple of weeks and student teaching is coming to a close: papers due, assignments to grade, and time records to double and triple-check (in pencil of course). Driving home from Republic, Ben Folds banged on 88 piano keys and rang loudly in my ears. His new album, Way to Normal, has been out for several weeks now and I’ve heard a lot of good.

If I could give the album three adjectives to describe it:




Ok, that last one is cheating, but I wanted to say philosophical+hilarious! Wistful, is probably too soft of an adjective to describe the entire album per se, but the elements that are so foil the artist I think. Folds has always been full of…wist…to me.

Expectantly or yearningly eager, watchful, or intent; mournfully expectant or longing. (Chiefly in reference to the look.)

Thanks OED, don’t know what I’d do without you! Just looking at Ben Folds you get a sense of his style. His constant half-smirk is always wispering something melodic, existential, and half-cursing, into my ear. I ordered Whatever and Ever Amen from Columbia House (13 CDs for ONE CENT!!!!) back in 1997. I was 13, what can I say? But the album has always stuck with me. His lyrics are raw not like a shank of uncooked beef, but rather like a California roll from a hole-in-the wall suburban take-out place.

Maybe Organ-grinder isn’t an adjective, but I’m adopting it into my musical lexicon of description. Listen to You Don’t Know Me, featuring the incomparable Regina Spektor.

It’s so wonderfully full of noncannon sound. The little five-piece group backing Ben and Regina makes the song my favorite toy in the box. It’s fun, brightly colored, and it hasn’t bored me yet.

I Can Get Behind That

In Music, Writing on September 23, 2008 at 3:53 pm

I recently picked up William Shatner’s album from 2004 “Has Been” upon a friend’s recommendation. My experiences with ol’ Billy Shatsky (as I like to refer to him) were previously limited to reruns of Star Trek, Priceline ads and spots for Boston Legal. The cover art is fitting, a picture of Shatner neck up with a hand covering his face in the pseudo-shame of a true has been. The title track doesn’t come until you’re mostly through the album, but it plays tongue-in-cheek into the ironic concept of hasbeendome and those who would give Bill such a label.

Some songs–and I would call them songs, as lacking in singing as they are–are avant garde amalgamations of Gene Roddenberry sci-fi and the Beatnik oral poetry of Allen Ginsberg in the strangest way. The songs are rich in confession and complex emotions being dealt with in a surprisingly casual way. One track, “That’s Me Trying” is a letter of apology to his daughter for being an absent father. While it could sound like the sadder cousin of “Butterfly Kisses,” (cheesy, overdone, and trite) it is much more akin to songs like Ben Folds’s “Still Fighting It,” a song about growing up written for his son; but maybe that song comes more easily to mind because Shatner borrows Folds’s voice for the chorus.

There’s a surprising amount of emotion in this album–and humor too! I think what I like best about it is the blending of the two. The authentic combination of humor and heartfelt emotion, though they seem to me inseparable, is the seminole mark of success in any artistic medium. Maybe that’s the curse of the eternal optimist, seeing the good in everything means finding ways to lament through a laugh and to chuckle quietly at a tear shed. Shatner’s album isn’t earth-shaking or grammy worthy (although that’s almost an insult anymore for most genres–the Grammy part) but its audacity, eccentricity, and stark likeability are just what every wordsmith, lyricist, actor or singer could hope for in an expression.

Here are a few gems along the album’s lines of humor:

The Shatner WoW commercial

1978 Rendition of Sir Elton John’s Rocket Man

If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything

In Music on September 8, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Vibrating on a frequency somewhere between The Police and Maroon 5, The Script writes themselves into my list of great new discoveries of 2008. I won’t get into the grammar of referring to bands as wholes or parts, because they come from Ireland and it would just get too confusing. (European English usually referrs to bands as singular entities, whereas American writers typically denote bands plurality by their name, ie-The Beatles is plural, versus The Fray is singular). I learned that from Grammar Girl!


I struggle to do more than compare The Script to other bands and ask anyone listening to interpret my description for themselves. They are implottable in our world of strict genre guidelines. Their website points out that they have “anthemic” lyrics, “R n B production” and “pop melodiousness.”  What I will say is that their album is wonderful. Wikipedia classifies them as “soft rock”…which is an outright insult. Soft rock is something that no one really listens to, it just gets played by people at boring desk jobs because it’s moderately uptempo music that was once probably decent, but is now just considered “politically correct.” The Script isn’t exactly PC.

The Script is a Mac for sure. Their sound is clean and full of a hip hop-anonymous poetry that doesn’t quite shock you when it drops the F bomb. They don’t curse to be crude, cool, or hard, they do so because their narrative songs are gritty and express a reality that calls for cursing. There’s humor and edginess there too; one of their songs is called “If You See Kay.”  

Did you get it?

I kept listeing to the chorus If you see kay… and it finally hit me as to why it sounded strange. I laughed out loud (IF YOU SEE KAY). Har har. They pull off what would otherwise be just a cleverly done crude joke because the song ends up being a very sweet little love song.

Tracks like “Breakeven” remind me of my favorites from Third Eye Blind in the way that the words can so beautifully lament a troubled heart in a major key. 

I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing
Just prayin’ to a god that I don’t believe in
‘Cause I got time while she got freedom
‘Cause when a heart breaks no it don’t break even

They say bad things happen for a reason
But no wise words gonna stop the bleeding
Cause she’s moved on while I’m still grieving
Cause when a heart breaks no it don’t break even

I’ll post a “video” of the song here from YouTube.

I’ll say again–as I probably do in every music post–that probably the most pleasing feeling for me when I finish listening to an album is that of finding a cohesion between the songs that brings the album together as a whole rather than ten or twelve separate radio tracks (bleh!). 

Quotes like “Sometimes tears say all there is to say/ and sometimes your first scars won’t ever fade away”  and “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” may just sound like pop-rock soundbytes out of context, but they are merely players in a larger play going on. The Script has colorful palate, rich in musical and emotional tones painted in broad strokes by their soaring lyric performances and simple musicality. I’ve got to put another track on here that I just love, The Man Who Can’t Be Moved:

I think that sums up my review just fine.

Through the Glass

In Film, Music, TV on August 8, 2008 at 1:42 pm

While browsing through the overpriced movie section of Borders a few years ago, my friend Ed and I stopped on one particular shelf. He picked up The French Connection to emphatically remind me how badly I needed to see it as he reveled, wide-eyed, at its box. My eyes were searching the shelves as well for appealing movies I hadn’t seen. What I stopped on was Koyaanisqatsi. What on earth was this I thought. Being a filmhead, Ed could read my thoughts entirely and immediately began explaining why the film was titled after the Native American words for “life out of balance…”

$8 and an earful of explanation later, I was looking forward to watching this important work of cinematic and acoustic art. Ed had explained to me that the entire film was merely 88 minutes of instrumental overture lain upon a cinematic landscape of rural and urban themes. The music takes the viewer through by the hand through a journey from the order of nature to the chaos of the urban and human world. The movie is meant as a meditation on the connection between the natural and artificial worlds where people have become disconnected.

If you would have asked me then, I wouldn’t have been able to explain that because I only watched the first 20 minutes before I was bored out of my mind.

But wait! Steve! I thought you were into art?

Keep reading.

I did glean more than I had first thought from my brief initial encounter with this film. I learned who Phillip Glass was. It was his music that is the foundation of Koyaanisqatsi, the engine by which any message is ferried from screen and speaker to eyes and ears. Hauntingly simple strings of notes are repeated over and over building a melody as one builds a bridge from ten thousand toothpicks with no glue at all.

I immediately went searching for other works by this fantastic composer and artist ( I have a big soft spot for piano music in general) and found that he had a solo album called Metamorphosis, and that Glass’s work could be found in many movies already like The Hours and The Truman Show.

Writing about this has reminded me that music in movies always has a significant effect on me, both in terms of the emotional weight music can add and also of my opinion about a particular film or genre. Another instance of this happened just the year before.

I hadn’t yet left Augustana College in South Dakota for Missouri State (nor the field of chemistry for that of English), but my position as a Peer Advisor (RA, TA, SA, call us what you will) on a freshman floor allowed me ample free time to watch a lot of movies as I was waiting for people smuggle in booze and girls in the wee hours of the morning. Often, I watched movies with my residents ( I call them “residents” but we were all friendly, barring any Halo-influenced rage), and in some cases movies I may not have otherwise watched. This was particularly the case with Spirited Away.

Let me paint you a picture of Myself in 2004: I like a range of movies a bit wider than when I was in high school, but one genre I still don’t understand is Anime. Why not you ask?

[2004 simulated explanation]

“Well besides the fact that it sucks, Anime is mostly centered around retardedly underclad and over-breasted (yes, over-breasted) ladies who also happen to be computer hackers and ninja masters who do karaoke while riding motorcycles into store windows, out of space ship airlocks, and on top of buildings. There is also a lot of blood-spurting and limb-removing going on so the animators, who are all tasteless old Japanese perverts, have something to draw besides breasts. Also, none of it makes sense and I think they all involve some kind of rehashing of Robot Jox

Yes, for those of you wondering, the “jocks” are people who ride inside of giant robot warriors and fight each other.

All of that aside, my conception of the genre was completely reversed when I saw Hayao Miyazaki‘s masterpiece. My heart melted and ran down my leg into a puddle on the floor–ok they were tears, but who doesn’t like a good metaphor? The point is that I was emotionally moved by this film and my eyes were opened to a wonderful new world I was unaware of before.

The music did play a major role in easing me into the unfamiliar (non-Disney) animated landscape and I eventually bought the incredible score by Joe Hisaishi. After being so blown away, I wondered what exactly I had been missing out on. Before watching the movie with my friend and dorm-mate Alex, we would often play chess together in his room while listening to various soundtracks and scores. One I was attracted to in particular was the work of Yoko Kanno for the Cowboy Bebop TV series. It’s basically the best jazz fusion mix I’ve ever heard and so I decided to give the series a chance based solely on the music.

But discussion of that series and its music deserves its own post on another day entirely. Until then, I’ll advise everyone to take a step out of their comfort zone and check out something new in film, music, or both!

Au Revoir, a teut a l’heure

Goodbye, until next time.


<– Vrooom Swooosh –>

I don’t care what they say…

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Writing on music was not something that I had ever intended to do often however, given my current state of affairs I’ve found myself listening (and catching up) on music more than other things because I can multi-task while listening to an album a lot easier than I can with a book, beverage, film, or game.  So, very pleasantly I find myself in the position of listening to more and more music of late.

In the past four years or so, I’ve broken down just about every wall of musical prejudice in my heart. Now, I like to think there is almost no genre or style of music that I wouldn’t give a chance. Everything done out of honest expression has some sort of value that can be derived or enjoyed. That being said, no I’m not reviewing anything really strange and obtuse like a John Cage album with tracks of complete silence. Nor am I going to try and posit the presence of some transcendental value in Hannah Montana’s latest musical foray. It’s just something I happen to profoundly enjoy.

The British winner of The X Factor (I promise my blogs on music won’t solely reference contest winning singers) has more than a heaping spoonful of vocal talents to backup her debut release Spirit. Here on the other side of the pond, most of us did not hear about her until months later when her single Bleeding Love hit the charts and decimated whatever it is that makes songs top charts…I’m no expert on such events but I know that they are certainly no indicator of how “good” a song is.

That’s what ears are for and boy, does she make me wish I had more ears. Lewis’s voice is hauntingly powerful in scope and yet serenely delicate in its style. Bleeding Love was produced by someone associated with One Republic‘s lead singer, which is maybe one reason why that song is just incredible. The abrasive pulse thumps and claps as her voice just shines through with shrill highs that are actually pretty rather than feline and annoying like Mariah Carey some people we have heard.

Somehow this album makes me feel vindicated as a child of the 80s and early 90s. The subtle clave and synth snare just make me want to start working out in hot pants or something.

I don’t care what they say/ I’m in love with you/They try to pull me away/ but they don’t know the truth/ my hearts crippled by the vein it keeps closin’/ You cut me open and I keep bleedin’ love.

Lewis feels to me like everything I wanted in a successor to Whitney “crack is whack” Houston. Sheer power and beauty in sound with great production value on top of it all.

I’m in love with this album a little bit and I’ll keep bloggin’ love.

PS- Since my wife teaches dance, it’s a given I have no choice to that we watch So You Think You Can Dance together. This piece is choreographed by Napoleon and Tabbitha D’umo who also host Rock the Reception where they teach couples who can’t dance how to throw it down on their big day. Mostly they are the people in the industry responsible for making hip-hop dance more than humping and well, more humping. This is what made me get this album:


The American Idol Life

In Music, Radio on August 1, 2008 at 7:38 pm

Before this year’s American Idol winner David Cook was crowned, not many people outside of the Midwest, or even Missouri for that matter, had ever heard of a town called Blue Springs. Now the world is abuzz with, well… buzz about this small town’s proclivity for producing even more musicians of Cook-esque caliber.

Let’s take a moment to cross genres from pop-rock to what I’m going to call pop-punktronica.

Enter onto the scene: The American Life, Kansas City’s own octet of punk ambassadors. What tastes David Cook meets with his clean cut charm, powerhouse voice and Seacrest-pleasing boyish face, TAL does so with a rougher-hewn blade; skin-sleeve tattoos, chops, and a general badass nature that escapes anything durrogatorally emo.

Somehow these guys manage to remind me of what I like best about bands like Lit and Marvelous Three while infusing both elements of more hard-edged bands like Pillar and Hawthorn Heights with the occasional Kraftwerkian electronic twist. The synth leed runs rampant behind high-strung guitars while you’re left far away from everything you know about punk rock. Their salutary address Intro comes through loud and clear to herald their arrival onto the scene.

No more are the three-chord filled tracks days of wailing whiners with poorly written anti-establishment lyrics. TAL’s exposition is personal and narrative, giving way to the band’s soul. When was the last time you heard punk rock with a soul? The depth of sound in each chorus and verse leaves you floating in a peaceful state of mind as Coming Home ends. No emo comas here though, a wicked key line snaps you out of any sleepy state you were in and reminds you that We Are Alive.

More surprises await as you surrender your ears to the electronic snare/synth cadence of Wait. Right here is where I knew this album was different; this album was good. You may just have to wait for more yourself.

The American Life’s All the Things I’ve Grown to Miss can be purchased on iTunes

The American Life