Augustana: Hey Now (and thoughts about 2008)

“Hey Now” is incredibly nostalgic to me.    Although it came out in 2008, it has a distinctive ’90s sound.   Without going into too much detail, even 2008 seems like “simpler times” to me now.    Obama’s election made it seem as if racism was finally a thing of the past.  How wrong we were.   (But that’s another topic for another time).

2008 (eleven years ago!) was also one of the last years actual rock music was still being played on commercial radio, but Augustana (grouped in a catchall category called “modern rock” which included more well known indie-pop bands like The Fray, Snow Patrol, or O.A.R) never caught on big.  I believe their biggest hit was “Sweet and Low,” from the same album.

I purchased Augustana’s 2008 album “Can’t Love Can’t Hurt” and almost all the songs are great, but this one, which was never released to radio, became my favorite song on the album and possibly of that year.

This comment on Youtube sums it up best:

This is one of those songs that confirms that some of the best most epic songs exist in the “unknowns/seldom exposed” category. If this song was released in the late 90s, it would be played in the cycle of those nostalgic 90s sound most of us loved. I don’t think that sound every ended. It just fell asleep, while bands like Augustana and Blue October kept that timeless mood alive for another day.

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“Praying” documents Kesha’s transformation from bad girl to mature woman.

I heard this song, “Praying,” for the first time today and when I found out it was Kesha I thought I was being punked.

I’m blown away by Kesha’s transformation from her shallow, partying “Tik Tok” days to the woman she has become.  I’m also blown away by her incredible, powerful voice.  I always thought she was a lightweight vocally, more a rapper than a singer really.  How wrong I was!

The raw emotion and spiritual depth she shows here is so different from the cartoonish “bad girl” image of 2009.   She fought hard to get here.

Yes, the dollar sign in her name is gone.   It would no longer fit.   Something tells me she was never that shallow, cartoonish bad girl, but was always a butterfly struggling to emerge from its chrysalis.   I’m a fan now (though truth be told, “Tik Tok” was damn catchy).

This song is emotionally cathartic for me.   It may be for you too.

“Praying” was released last year. Kesha is a warrior who not only managed to conquer her own demons of bulimia and depression, she also held her own against a controlling and abusive manager who tried to destroy her. From her psinful struggle, she learned that it’s from the greatest pain that empathy can be born and true forgiveness can occur. Few ever learn this valuable truth. She writes:

“Praying” was written about that moment when the sun starts peeking through the darkest storm clouds, creating the most beautiful rainbow. Once you realize that you will in fact be OK, you want to spread love and healing. If you feel like someone has wronged you, get rid of that hate, because it will just create more negativity. One thing that has brought me great relief is praying for those people. Being angry and resentful will do nothing but increase your own stress and anxiety — and hate is the fuel that grows the viruses. Don’t let anyone steal your happiness!

In this emotional interview from Good Morning America, Kesha talks about her spiritual and emotional journey (and sings too).


Music for cats.

musicforcats

The other day I received my copy of The Humane Society‘s magazine (All Animals), and read an article about a cellist, David Teie, who joined up with a team of animal psychologists to create a new form of music just for cats.

It turns out that cats don’t particularly enjoy human music.   What may be soothing and relaxing to us may irritate or disturb cats, who hear at a higher frequency than humans.  A lower tone which we might find pleasant or relaxing, can be perceived as a threat to them (growling and feline distress sounds tend to be at a lower frequency).

Science has found that human babies develop their sense of rhythm and music in the womb, so most beats in our music are based on the heartbeat that the fetus hears.   Cats, whose brains are much less developed while they are in the womb and who cannot hear until they are born, therefore develop their sense of music as tiny kittens, from the sounds of suckling and purring which were the first sounds they heard.     Teie has combined simulated purr-like, bird-like, and suckling-like sounds with a higher frequency and many more sliding notes (based on cats’ vocalizations) with a cello baseline (which cats can’t hear but make the music more palatable to the humans who will play it for their cats) to make a kind of musical catnip that relaxes and reduces stress in many cats — or just makes them listen.

Musicforcats.com includes a sample of what Teie’s cat music sounds like, and you can also find some of Teie’s cat compositions on Youtube.  To me, most of the cat music sounds otherworldly and mournful, almost sad, like this one (which is my favorite so far):

Some of his compositions are much more energetic and playful-sounding, but those are harder for me to listen to than the slower, more pensive tunes.   I really like the rising, sliding sounds in these compositions. which sound eerie and very cat-like.

Teie has created other species-specific music (most notably tamarin monkeys), and is currently working on music for dogs.   It’s hard to imagine what the dog music would sound like, since dog vocalizations occur at many frequencies depending on the size of the dog, and there seem to be fewer sounds that would be associated with dog learning and early puppyhood (outside of suckling and littermates whimpering).

Here’s a fun video of some cats reacting to their owners’ playing Teie’s music (you can hear samples of some of the songs here too).   But — and I know this has nothing to do with cats or the music —  what exactly is going on with the dog at 2:55?

I must secretly be a cat because I actually really enjoy this music.   I played some of songs for my cats, and only Sheldon really seemed to cotton to it, actually rubbing up against the speakers and becoming more affectionate.   The other two didn’t seem to care one way or the other.

 

Hey Mickey (Toni Basil)

This song from 1982 has been stuck in my head for two days.   Major nostalgia!  I just learned Toni Basil was 39 years old when she made this video.    This is one of the greatest one hit wonders ever made.

Every pop song of the last 40 years in one Awesome song (Axis of Awesome)

The Australian comedy rock trio Axis of Awesome made an earth-shaking discovery:  many if not most pop songs of the last 40 years use the same 4-chord progression:

I – V – vi – IV

Example:  In the key of C major, this would be: C–G–Am–F.    Whatever key you start in determines the mood of the song.   Other than that, I know nothing about writing music, so I dare say no more.  You can play around with the chords if you’re so inclined.

Anyway, it seems that if you write a song using these 4 chords, you will have a guaranteed hit, especially if you write a catchy melody to go over it.  These four chords are also the reason why so many pop songs all sound the same.

All you have to remember is the melody and lyrics are the skin, but the chords are the bones.  The bones may stand on their own with very little skin attached to them (generic commercial pop songs that are catchy but easily forgotten fall into the “bones without much skin” category), but a bunch of skin with no bones (bones could be other types of chord progressions) will collapse like Jello when it’s dropped on the floor.

We humans seem to be wired to especially favor the I-V-vi-IV sequence of chords, so if you want to become a filthy rich superstar, write a song using them.  Conversely, if you want to be an artiste who turns their nose up at anything commercial or too popular, avoid them like the plague.

Here’s a hilarious (and surprisingly listenable!) video by Axxis of Awesome that proves almost every pop song written since forever uses the same four chords.

 

Keane: Somewhere Only We Know

Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know,” released in 2004, seems like it’s from another lifetime, because everything has changed so much since then.   It seems like the world was more innocent then and so were we.   Fourteen years is a long time, but not so long to make me feel like we’re in an entirely different eon.    This piano rock ballad, already melancholy enough, is made even more so for me for this reason.   I still love this song.

Composing music in a dream.

dreaming_of_music

Credit: Stacy Martian, Covermyfb.com

I’m not at all musically inclined.  I’ve never even played an instrument.  I can barely sing.   I’m always in complete awe of people who can just sit down and come up with the music for a new song and then set lyrics to it (or write the lyrics first and then hear music for them inside their heads).  It’s an ability that seems so mysterious and out of reach to me, almost bordering on the supernatural.   I always marvel, how do they do that?

But a few times in my life, I’ve actually been able to compose music in my head — well, maybe.  It happened to me again last night.   Very occasionally, I have a dream in which I hear a song and then I wake up and realize I’ve never heard that song before.   I dreamt I was riding in a car and a pop-rock song came on the radio and I turned it up, saying “Oh, I like that song.”   The song itself was unremarkable and sounded like a lot of other pop-rock songs, but was very catchy, with a sort of ’60s vibe to it.  I can’t remember much else, except the chorus contained the words, “mister, mister.”

Google is a godsend for checking lyrics online.   I typed in “mister, mister” which was all I could remember, and while there is a group called “Mr. Mister,” there doesn’t appear to be any song that has those words in the lyrics.  So I concluded that what I heard in my dream  must have been an original song, at least lyric-wise.  Maybe the melody was someone else’s and I had heard it a long time ago or something and just can’t consciously remember it.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to check a melody on Google the way you can check lyrics.   I don’t consciously remember ever hearing a song with that particular melody though, even it was so similar to a lot of other pop-rock songs (like I said, the style of the song was pretty cookie-cutter).   No wonder so many musicians get sued for copying someone else’s melody.   They probably didn’t really steal it at all, but unconsciously used someone else’s, thinking it was their own.   It’s completely understandable why that happens so often.   How would you go about checking something like that?

The few times I’ve “composed” songs in my dreams, I’ve always really liked the song.  A couple of times the songs have been absolutely amazing.   I’ve always wished I knew how to write music or play an instrument, so I could wake up and immediately pick out the chords on a guitar or tap it out on a piano, and then write down the music for it.

I imagine this is how some musicians come up with the music for a song.  I think it’s largely a function of the unconscious (all creative pursuits are), and probably comes in the form of dreams a lot.   Other musicians say they think of the lyrics first, and then a melody for them just sort of comes to them.   That would also be the workings of the unconscious.  I think it’s such an awesome thing to be able to do that.

The fact I have these dreams at all makes me wonder if I have some latent musical talent that I just never developed or knew I had.  Or maybe they happen to everyone and it’s nothing all that special.

Ray LaMontagne: “For The Summer” and “Beg, Steal or Borrow.”

Here are two songs that when I first heard them back in 2010, I could swear were old James Taylor or Crosby, Stills and Nash songs I had somehow never heard.

Both these ballads were written and sung by a musician named Ray LaMontagne, who was in fact hugely influenced by Stephen Stills and other singer songwriters of the late 1960s and early 1970s, even though he himself wasn’t born until 1973.

Both songs are featured on his 2010 studio album “God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise” and both received moderate airplay.   “Beg, Steal or Borrow” was nominated for a Grammy (2010 Song of the Year) but did not win.

I love these songs because they’re so calming.   I also find them both a bit melancholy and somehow nostalgic.   Love the lyrics too!

 

 

 

Video Killed The Radio Star (The Buggles)

I played this one-hit-wonder nonstop when it came out in 1979.   It was definitely ahead of its time, setting the stage for the sounds of the ’80s and the MTV age.

Musical Midi-Unicorn — amazing!

Someone made this unicorn out of musical notes.