Music Monday: Lower Dens

Off their new album Escape from Evil out March 2015 via Ribbon Music.

I love when a band surprises me in the best way possible. Lower Dens’ sound, most notably on their debut album Twin Hand Movement (2010),  is very Beach House-esque, a broody walk through the fog that then creeps into dream pop with their sophomore album Nootropics (2012). Now, this taste of their upcoming album is much brighter and infectious, but with lyrics that remind you it is still a Lower Dens song. It’s a departure from what I initially expected. It’s better than what I initially expected. Lower Dens shows they have more in their arsenal, making Escape from Evil one of my most anticipated albums of 2015.

Amoeba Music

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Music makes my brain happy.

Science tells us that the brain’s reaction to music is similar to its reaction to food or hallucinogenic drugs. The brain finds intellectual reward in following and understanding a sequence of sound. An appreciation of its understanding results in a pleasurable experience for the listener. And that’s just the sound alone! Music is more than an audio dopamine cocktail. In some cases, lyrics can heighten the listening experience with attached associations and memories. Music makes it possible for two very different people with very different political views and theological beliefs to have the same biological reaction to the same sound. Even with all the tension in the world, music is transcendent.

I often seek out new music and new ways to experience music whether it be through social media, word of mouth or live performances. Living in a world where music is so easily accessed and purchased via wi-fi connection and a few clicks shouldn’t mean the inevitable extinction of music stores, but a greater appreciation for them. I take trips up and down the West Coast a couple of times every year and this summer I visited Amoeba Music, both the Berkley and Hollywood locations, for the first time. Thus, my obsession with music stores that began with my first viewing of Empire Records as a younger person intensified.

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Music Monday: Cool Down the Pace

Normally, I’m not a fan of reggae. The exception being Bob Marley because who doesn’t know, love and respect Bob? When is Bob never the exception to the rules? I distinctly remember having a Bob poster pinned to the wall of my dorm room freshman year of college, courtesy of my surfer-slash-stoner roommate. I also distinctly remember a time before that, my dad blasting some obscure reggae track when I was already agitated thanks to the 90-degree Hawaii heat and trying to study for finals in high school. Let’s just say we had words in the latter situation. I prefer indie and alternative or rap to reggae, but the scale tipped today.

I’m currently suffering through a hazy head cold and taking DayQuil as often as the small print permits. We were driving to dinner. I had my hood pulled up over my head, shielding my eyes, miserably leaning against the car window, wishing away my runny nose and constant sneezing when Gregory Isaac’s “Cool Down the Pace” came on the radio. I expected to be annoyed, especially when my uncle insisted on singing along, but there’s something so soothing and comforting about this song. It looks like I found another exception to the rules.

 

Music Monday: Tunnel Song

 

 

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You know the “tunnel song” from The Perks of Being a Wallflower? At the end of the movie, Sam (Emma Watson) hands Charlie (Logan Lerman) a cassette tape (because it takes place in the early 90’s) and says she found the “tunnel song.” Then the young adults we’ve grown to pity and love and relate to over the course of the movie take a drive through a tunnel with the windows down and the song blasting. Charlie stands in the truck bed, holding his hands up above his head and swearing that in that moment he and his friends are infinite.

Tame Impala’s “Apocalypse Dreams” is my tunnel song. It is bottled infinity. It’s best heard while driving down a highway at night with the windows down and the volume turned up as loud as possible without ruining the car speakers. That baseline. The way the song just kicks into warp speed at the three-minute mark and runs free till the closing minutes. The way the fuzzy, almost lazy vocals contrast with the depth of the lyrics.

Well, am I getting closer?
Will I ever get there?
Does it even matter?

This song is otherworldly. It offers escapism and reflection simultaneously. It isn’t exactly a new song, but it is one that has stuck with me. This blog isn’t about discovering the newest and hippest the entertainment industry has to offer, but contemplating what remains once the hype fades. I don’t think I’ll ever be over this song and I never want to be.

Live Music Fix: Childish Gambino

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Two words: religious experience

My criteria for an awesome concert:

1) The person on stage is the epitome of cool, at least in my opinion.

2) It’s basically a large-scale sing-along.

3) I smile. A lot.

20140428-154907.jpgGambino hits on all three and then some. His commitment to the performance — the way his face contorts, eyes widen, and forehead wrinkles, resembling an exorcism scene out of an indie horror flick — should be terrifying, but, no, it’s captivating. Being sandwiched between strangers, bodies literally pressed up against each other from every direction, sweat mingling, heat sharing, as giant speakers launch a full assault on the eardrums, is the best kind of sensory overload. It’s exhilarating. I love a good mosh pit, but Gambino in concert is more than the average concert-going experience. It’s deeper.

I’ve always been a Childish Gambino fan. I have most of his music, including Culdesac and Sick Boi tracks. I’ve been a fan of Donald Glover throughout his run as Community’s Troy Barnes and back when he was writing jokes on 30 Rock. Gambino on shuffle is what gets me through the workweek, mumbling lyrics under my breath during particularly uneventful hours. As a writer, I appreciate Bino’s clever, amusing choice of words and as a music fan I enjoy his flow and when he hits those high notes. So when Bino tweets that he’s doing a pop-up show in Hawaii on my birthday weekend there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

The concert experience outweighs the quality of sound. If you judge live music on how closely it matches the studio album, you’re better off listening to vinyl alone in your bedroom. The audience at the concert is loud and rowdy, overpowering Bino at times and I’m surprisingly okay with that. It feels like we’ve gathered for something greater than merely listening. Live music is messy and spontaneous and far from the mechanical perfection of a jukebox or an iPod.

Bino is real, living, breathing on stage. We are real, living, breathing faces in a crowd. We jump, thrash, sing, and rap along with Bino and to Bino. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to stand in front of a sold out crowd, a sea of sweat-drenched faces that have your lyrics committed to memory. Bino and the band feed off our energy and we feed off theirs, forging a symbiotic relationship and searching for the kind of high only accessed through music.

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One of the biggest things that left a lasting impression on me beyond the music and the experience is the honesty, when Bino tells us that his biggest fear is disappointing us — his fans. And if he ever does disappoint us he hopes we understand he’s just a man. The fact that he sings the last part is icing on the cake that spells out  “Roscoe’s wetsuit.” That moment of vulnerability pushes this concert experience over the edge and transforms it into something more and unexpected and refreshing.

I’ve been to concerts before. I know the formula:

Play songs from current album + play throwbacks because everyone loves a little nostalgia + fake walk off + encore (Plus a little teasing interaction between the artists and the audience if you’re lucky)

I thought I knew what to expect and that’s why this moment caught me off-guard. Bino chooses to be open with his audience as if he’s giving a piece of himself to each of us in person. We can hold on to this memory, seeing behind Childish Gambino’s artistry and antics, beyond Donald Glover’s IMDB and the jokes he writes, to the core of who he is. Most people have trouble sharing what makes them human with the people closest to them and Bino left it all on the stage for a sold out show to see.

There’s so much I love about this concert, so much that makes the four-hour wait worth it, so much that I managed to ignore the guy behind me bragging about going to Coachella. I love the mix of Because the Internet, CAMP and his other throwbacks. I love singing along and shouting every lyric till my lungs burn. I love the bruise on my forearm from being smashed against the metal barricade at the foot of the stage. I love Bino, but everyone says that. Mostly, I appreciate his effort, how he puts in a tremendous amount of work in order to give his fans everything he can and I respect him for all of the above.

20140428-154921.jpgThere’s something so freeing about live music. For an hour and a half or however long the set lasts, I don’t have to be me, I don’t have to be anyone. I don’t have to care that I’m sweating profusely or that I’m covered in other people’s sweat or about my ruined makeup. I don’t have to care that I have responsibilities outside of this venue. I don’t have to care about anything before or beyond this moment. I feel connected with Bino, with his music and lyrics, with everyone around me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alive, more accepted or more apart of something greater than myself — especially not in any official “public places of worship.”

Childish Gambino is all about what’s “deeper than rap” so it only makes sense that his performance is more than just an ordinary concert and something so profound. I can go on and on, but still fail to fully explain the way that night affected me. It’s been a little over a week and my thoughts still drift back to that night and it’s still all I ever want to talk about. I am content. I am concert-starved no more.


Check out Childish Gambino’s website:  & Twitter

Once you fall in love with Because the Internet, fall even deeper into the companion screenplay: http://becausetheinter.net/  (It’s great. Reading it made me want to stop writing commercial and go back to writing all the weird surrealist scripts I wrote in college.)

Pictures courtesy of my sweaty iPhone & my designated driver

R O S C O E ‘ S    W E T S U I T

THROWBACK THURSDAY: My First Concert

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I love live music. I love experiencing live music whether it be in a small, dive bar or a sold out arena. I love being in a crowd of strangers, one collective body absorbing the pure energy emitted on stage, brought together for a single purpose, the mutual love of sound. Flashing lights, screaming fans, sweat and smiles. As a youth, what I didn’t love as much was craving live music and living on an island where concerts were less accessible unless you’re into local, Hawaiian music, which had never been my favorite flavor.

The first big, stadium concert I ever went to, sans parental guidance, was Gwen Stefani’s Sweet Escape Tour. 2007. I was sixteen, worn out by the daily struggles attached to high school life. My high school did not sit atop a Hellmouth. It was a Hellmouth. (And all-girls. Enough said.) I was mentally exhausted, plagued with friendship drama, and couldn’t think or talk about anything else. Then I walked into that arena and the lights dimmed and the show began and it was as if nothing else mattered. That’s the power of live music.

All that mattered was the music and how freaking cool Gwen was as she ran up and down the aisles of the arena accompanied by her human doll Harajuku girls. The screams and the cheers and the energy of the room was infectious and cleansing. There’s nothing like being fully immersed in an experience and engrossed in a performance, taking it in with every one of your senses, escaping reality for at least a little while.

I TOOK THIS!

This also happened to be the time my friend snuck her “professional” Canon camera into the venue even though “professional” photography and video weren’t allowed. She took a few pictures, I took a few pictures and we switched back and forth. Mid-picture taking, a giant Samoan security guard pulled my friend aside and gave her a firm talking to. Meanwhile, our other friend and I just watched, wondering if it’d make us bad friends if she got kicked out and we stayed till the concert was over. Luckily, the security guard let her off with a warning. It’s one of my most memorable moments, one we bring up every time we see each other.

I think that’s the moment I realized the true power of live music. Not only does it bring people together and transcend the difficulties of daily life, but it makes us happy, auditory heroin as I like to call it. Experiencing live music is the safest kind of high (except my hearing will probably be shot in thirty years). I remember every single concert I’ve ever been to in ridiculous detail. It all started with seeing Gwen Stefani perform, close enough to reach out and touch (and my friend actually did, was nearly knocked into her). From then on I was hooked. My name is Jessyca and I’m a live music addict.

(Yes, that picture was taken with the alleged camera. One of my favorites ever.)

New Music Obsession: The Zolas

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My definition of “good music” isn’t even narrow or complex. I just like music that effortlessly infects my memory, makes my ears happy, and manipulates my brain into craving more. See, that’s probably the broadest definition of “good music” in the history of sound, thus I’m open to listening to music from nearly every genre. From indie bands who play tiny basement venues and don’t even have any merch on sale to rappers with sick flow and albums that resemble narrative poems recounting life struggles. I’ve always been that person who stumbles upon artists lurking beneath the mainstream radar, so imagine my surprise when my younger sister introduced me to my newest music obsession.

The Zolas are a Canadian band spreading postmodern pop love one song at a time. Their newest album, Ancient Mars, released October 2, 2012, is on repeat on my iPod and in my head. The piano, vocals and lyrics all work together to create a visceral experience of listening. If each song is an island, their lyrics build one end of a bridge and the listener uses their own experience to build the other, creating a personal connection with each song and between songs. It also doesn’t hurt that every song, every word and every hook is insanely catchy.

Ancient Mars is one of those rare creatures where I love every single song. More often than not, I like a song or two from an album and don’t care for the rest, which always leaves me feeling a little disappointed and a little guilty considering  all the time and effort the artists put in just to elicit a “meh” reaction from me. Luckily, the Zolas don’t have that problem. The album flows so well from one song to the next and I fell in love after the very first full-length listen.

 

Sample and buy the entire album here.

Learn more about the Zolas at their website.

Support good music.