Levels of musical genius

I often think about what kind of unique musical talent some performer I enjoy possesses. A few examples:

  • J-Dilla was at the center of many groups doing amazing things creating an exciting moment in time, but at the same time was a master composer himself
  • Prince or Quincy Jones were often running multiple performers and groups, serving as sort of the well from which their respective musical ideas came from
  • Tom Petty isn’t particularly gifted technically and doesn’t write ground-breaking songs but is very, very good at working within a specific form and genre, one of the best in that space
  • Jimmy Page is not musically the best or most innovative, but very adept at the style he created for himself, is technically a good guitarist
  • Pete Townsend holds a group together, is the glue that leads a group of virtuosos, somehow the master creator and craftsperson who runs the group with a solid hand without making it all about him
  • Brian Wilson plays a whole ensemble, a studio as an instrument, micromanaging every detail to produce a sublime musical whole; Bruce Springsteen is close to this
  • Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen are excellent wordsmiths who get great results when the music around them is also pretty good
  • Annie Clark is a guitar-shred-meister who runs with the avant-alt mantle set forth by The Talking Heads
  • Merrill Garbus builds amazing lo-fi layered music of incredible stylistic range that sounds right at home on the festival circuit

The connection amongst these individuals is more than playing their instruments or writing their songs. They’re working a level above that, whether it’s Tom Petty and Jimmy Page making fine-tuned rock or J-Dilla, Prince, and Merrill Garbus micromanaging a subgenre into existence. I’m a little envious of that level of musical acumen.

Stevie Wonder, for our times of need

Tim Carmody writing for Kottke.org, Stevie Wonder and the radical politics of love:

Songs in the Key of Life tries to reconcile the reality of the post-Nixon era — the pain that even though the enemy is gone, the work is not done and the world has not been transformed — with an inclusive hope that it one day will be, and that faith, hope, and love are still possible.

It’s what makes the album such a magnificent achievement. But I’m not there. I don’t know when I will be. So for now I’m keeping Songs In the Key of Life on the shelf. An unopened bottle of champagne for a day I may never see. But I’d like to.

On three of Stevie Wonder’s best albums, his political writing, and how he bridges saying something and making a good song.

I cannot wait to listen to Songs in the Key of Life again.

I love overproduced music

It seems like some folks don’t like music with a lot of studio work. Overproduced, they call it. Maybe this is a relic of the days when producers weren’t a creative force on par with the actual performers and artists.

I don’t know, because I love overproduced music. Phil Spector, “Wall of Sound”? Bring it. Large band efforts like “Sir Duke”, “You’re not from Texas”, or “Good Vibrations”? Love it. Super-filtered drum sound? Gotta have it.

It probably has everything to do with, at one point, wanting to pursue a career as a double bassist in symphony orchestras. The pieces I loved the most were the big Romantic tone poems and symphonies with a chorus. Hundreds of people, dozens of unique parks, all playing at the same time, often loudly. It’s the essence of overproduced.


Here’s a curious thing. When I hear “Wouldn’t it be nice?” in my head, it’s much bigger and Wagnerian than it is on Pet Sounds. The pedal tone is bigger and more prominent, the first note after the guitar intro is massive. Maybe I’m just projecting my interpretation onto the song.

Contrast to “Good Vibrations”. There’s always more going on than I remember. Vocal parts, instruments. Sooooo good.

Outside of Brian Wilson, I’ve noticed Jeff Lynne is amongst “the overproducers”. Especially, apparently, how he thins out drum sounds. Love it. Have I ever told you how much I dislike the sound of an raw snare drum?

Van Halen ranked, atypically

Best songs that David Lee Roth talks over:

  • “Hot for Teacher”
  • “Panama”
  • “Everybody Wants Some”

Coincidentally, best use of Van Halen songs in film:

  • “Hot for Teacher” in the strip club scene of Varsity Blues
  • “Panama” in the joyriding/donuts scene of Superbad
  • “Everybody Wants Some” in the Hummer scene of Zombieland

Bon Iver discovers the Option key on his Mac

Someone just discovered all the weird glyphs you can make if you hold the option key and type random stuff!
Someone just discovered all the weird glyphs you can make if you hold the option key and type random stuff!

22, A Million, quick thoughts:

  • first track has a very Tune-Yards drums thing going
  • second track has a very 808s & Heartbreak thing
  • a few tracks in: each track is like Bon Iver doing someone else’s track from the past ten years, but with emo autotune
  • I like the background piano/horn tracks on “29 #Strafford APTS”
  • feels like the track sequencing demonstrates thinking through emotional/tempo pacing 👍
  • I really like the use of pseudo-sax harmony e.g. “____45_____”; slightly Ornette Coleman-esque
  • I like how a lot of the individual parts don’t fit together exactly right, but it still works

So what genre is this album? Neo-electro-ambient-folk-jam? Either way, it works!

On the albums of The Clash

Passing thoughts on the discography of The Clash that is not London Calling:

  • Brian and I had a conversation that randomly veered onto the Clash which prompted to me to listen to all of their studio albums
  • I have listened to London Calling a few times before, and recall some story about its producer encouraging them to go broader with the album so as to reach a wider audience; basically that it’s not much like their other albums
  • I enjoy London Calling, but I’m not sure what to expect from a categorical English punk band
  • I like the punk ethos of don’t wait for permission and build it yourself
  • I strongly dislike when punk music is simplistic shouting
  • Enough about me, let’s talk about the music
  • I was pleasantly surprised!
  • Their early albums don’t sound like the learned to play their instruments an hour before they started recording
  • They probably listened to music outside of their genre even before London Calling 👍
  • The albums after London Calling sound like they were trying to walk a line between keeping to their punk/ish origins and exploring integrating other genres into their sound
  • I should mention that their “Guns On the Roof” is exactly the same riff as The Who’s “Can’t Explain”
  • Would listen again!

This has been 🔥 takes.

I love when snares don’t keep time

In the majority of music you’ll hear after 1960, the drummer does most of the time keeping with their snare. On 100% of Bruce Springsteen songs, time is kept entirely with the snare. I listen to a lot of The Boss; it’s a little surprising when I don’t here a consistent 1/3 or 2/4 snare keeping time.

That makes the drumming on most jazz albums pretty delightful. For example, Cannonball Adderley, “Games” (Roy McCurdy on drums):

“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, too much of its time

I really dislike “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears because it’s a perfectly written song that sounds exactly like the year it was recorded, 1985. Five years earlier, it would have sounded mildly seventies-ish and been great. Five years later and it would have had a little more grit and sound very late eighties.

What I’m saying is, if I could un-invent certain musical sounds, the bass on that track would appear on the list.

I look forward to the day when machine learning can differentiate between “don’t play this song because it is awful” from “ don’t play this song because I’ve heard this it a thousand times” (e.g. “Superfreak”, “Rapper’s Delight”, “Come as you are”). Related, I’d love a way to tell the machine learning “if you are ever stumped about what to play next, it’s always OK to slip this song in” (e.g. “Wouldn’t it be nice”, “Summertime Blues”, “Izzo (H.O.V.A)”, “Overture to Samson and Delilah”).