A Note on The Believer Magazine

The Believer 10th Anniversary Issue CoverA couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation on The Believer, which is a fabulous magazine that I cannot stop reading (and hope it never comes to that.) We stumbled into a discussion on the need of publications to glob onto the internet in any way possible to make money, increase circulation, become successful or at least survive.

After about 15 minutes of back and forth with the cohort, mostly due to my inability to articulate the function of a literary journal, the professor illuminated the situation to us as a generational divide. The publishing of literary journals is done for a specific audience who prefer or look for a type of writing to be held, read on paper, and published in a tangible object. Previous generations, and the old institutions they learned from, have a deep belief in the medium and the entangled habits of reading. For the current generation–the Millennials perhaps?–they grew up with words published on screens more than or at least on par with word published on paper. The internet is not only the primary source of text, but the only one necessary.

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Working for the People: Lamees Dhaif

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with exiled Bahraini journalist, Lamees DhaifLamees Dhaif before she received the 2012 Tully award at Syracuse University.

She was an inspiring and informative speaker, encouraging her audience to be grateful for their rights, and to support those who struggle for the same freedoms, especially free speech.

Using social media, she continues to critique the Bahrain government and their constrictive policies. She’s been very successful, amassing over 100K followers on twitter alone.

You can read my recap of her visit and acceptance speech over at the S.I. Newhouse website, and the live tweet recap of the evening here.

Sing Along Song : Do It Anyway


The key takeaway from the Ben Folds Five video on their Pledge Music site, is that you’ll have a chance to live forever. Promising immortality in the form or a mention or a place on LP artwork, in essence is the dream of any die-hard fan. Take it from me, it is as close as anyone can get to being a part of their band without actually being Robert Sledge, Darrin Jessee, or Ben Folds. Which I’ll admit sounds pretty dang awesome. I’ll also admit my longstanding love for Ben Folds (though we’ve drifted apart lately) and his music, which I’ve discussed in the past.

Upon learning that Ben Folds Five would get back together, I was skeptical, as a number of my favorite bands from the late 90’s (No Doubt returns in September!) were coming back to perform or record new albums and some (At The Drive-In) were blatant cash-ins banking on nostalgia. What would a BF5 tour or album sound like today, and how much would it be like the BF5 I listened to through high school and beyond? Would I want it to sound the same as it did back then? If you can’t do anything new, what is even the point of playing again? What, in essence, do you think you’re doing? Continue reading

Spree Music with Me: Cults


Photo by Ben Pier

Lots of bands come to my ears from out of nowhere. Overflow bins, opening acts, snippets inside stores, restaurants, too-loud headphones, even the radio. Which is why where I end up stumbling over them tends to be so interesting. Cults is one of the few recent bands I can say I tripped over while listening to the (college) radio. So technically, they came out of thin air.
Or the sky.

The story of Cults begins with the assertion that they came out of nowhere at the tail end of 2010. As the months accumulated in 2011, it was learned that the duo hails from a couple of places where a number of bands are known to reside: New York City and 60s-era pop and rock. Cults articulate mixture of these places is what makes them so enthralling to hear, and so unique when compared to groups with similar influences.

Read the rest of the article on Buffalo Spree. While Elvis Costello helps me explain some of Cults’ sound, I think they’re radically different artists. Cults seems to take the idea of love to dark places, but still make it sunshine and brightness. While some of Costello’s late ’70’s and 80’s work exemplifies the duality that I think Cults is toying with, albeit writ large over each album. An old trick–saying one thing while meaning another–for sure, but an interesting way for both artists to explore saying it anew.

Enjoy a video of Costello’s 1978 performance of “Pump It Up” as an example, and for his glasses.

Spree Music with Me: John K. Samson

Photo by Jason Halstead

Perhaps I should change the title of these Spree posts to “Ostensibly Me” because it sounds like a pretty clever, if not pretentious way to explain the theme that’s been running through this year’s posts. That theme being how I have discovered music. While this article on John K. Samson doesn’t necessarily tackle that head on, it does touch on one of the first things I look for in a recording: lyricism. I fell head over heels in love with Samson’s wordplay when I first heard it, and it is no surprise that he surrounds himself with words, in the inverse way I surround myself with music.

Lyric writing is an interesting art, with some artists preferring to abstract the lyrics in nonsensical words, and others crafting pieces that work more like short stories. John K. Samson, best known in the U.S. as the lead singer for The Weakerthans, is a songwriter from the latter camp, for sure. He admits to being as much in a recent interview with The A.V. Club, and even calls himself a “thwarted short-story writer,” who has merely figured out how to cram a story into a “three-minute pop song.”

You can read the rest of this article over at Buffalo Spree, and watch Plea from a Cat Named Virtue, one of my favorite songs from The Weakerthans.

Spree Music with Me: The Lemonheads

The Lemonheads at Shepherds Bush Empire, September 2005, courtesy of Stuart Goodwin

The other way I come across music is by reading liner notes. So, if you’re paying attention (and you’re ostensibly me), that means you read liner notes, work at a radio station, and follow up on your references to find good music. Sounds kinda boring when its put like that. Anyway, that is, as I illustrate over at Buffalo Spree, how I found The Lemonheads.

The way I stumbled across The Lemonheads, as most of my musical discoveries occur, was due to another band, in this case it was the Continue reading

Sing Along Song : Slapped Actress

Back on the very first post that graced this space I talked about The Hold Steady. Specifically I talked about the transformative effect attending one of their shows had on me, as well as their mythology. Ever since I pulled Almost Killed Me out of the samples bin back in my undergrad days (seriously kids, work at a radio station and access good music), I’ve felt this band was shooting high, and trying to achieve the heights of rock and roll while still being the best bar band in the country. I think there was a point when The Hold Steady reach those heights, and that point is at the end of their 2008 LP Stay Positive. So when it was recently  suggested to me to stay positive, my first reaction was to reach for and listen to that album. That’s how my brain works. This is a disease.

“Slapped Actress” is the final track on Stay Positive, and it could be argued that with it, ends a certain phase of the band, partially due to the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay in 2010. But I digress. In 2008, lead singer Craig Finn did an interview over at Uncut, where he discussed (amongst other things) how “Slapped Actress” fits into the Continue reading

Spree Music with Me: Blitzen Trapper

That’s from Blitzen Trapper’s album Furr, the title track actually. I’ve got a whole nice write up over at Buffalo Spree about them, complete with a couple more videos.

BenFolds - COLOR1

Spree Music with Me: Ben Folds

I interviewed Ben Folds for Buffalo Spree. He was great, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to have met/interviewed so many of my favorite musicians.

Also, I feel this is an appropriate place to reveal that I still haven’t watched Almost Famous. So there’s that. And here’s a video of  “You Don’t Know Me” featuring Regina Spektor.

John Vanderslice, you’re next.

Spree Music with Me: Fucked Up

Punk has an interesting history with concept albums; they’re something that isn’t usually associated with the common perception of punk’s ethos. The Clash gave us Sandinista!, Hüsker Dü dropped Zen Arcade, and, skipping a bit forward and with a looser definition, Green Day released American Idiot. Loud, fast, and short are the adjectives that come to mind, but the main characteristic of punk is, and always will be, to break the rules.

F@#*ed Up, based in Toronto, released their 18 track 78-minute long concept album David Comes to Life earlier this year, and by their name alone, it is clear they are not strangers to breaking rules.

Who doesn’t like a nice concept album or rock opera every once in a while? To add a little to this article, I would have included Titus Andronicus’ recent “The Monitor”, The Decemberists’ “Hazards of Love”, and some longer explanation of concept albums and rock operas, and how much I love them, and how much I think they’re a natural evolution of the album proper. You can read the rest of the article here.

Anyway, I’m excited for this show, and about Fucked Up. Just about as excited as I was when a friend recommended Refused to me almost a decade ago. I can’t resist, here’s the title track from “The Shape of Punk to Come”, live somewhere exactly it should be played.