Posts Tagged ‘Music’

The Devil’s Right Hand

The world needs more and better rhythm guitarists.

If you’ll allow me to get all curmudgeonly on you, I will tell you what’s wrong with music today. On most radio hits, synths and drum machines have taken over most the rhythm duties. Where there is guitar, it lacks personality. Somewhere along the line, we as a society stopped valuing great rhythm guitar work, and we are clearly worse off for it.

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of modern production is a sanding down of the rhythm. Every beat is put into place digitally. A song’s chording is run through compressors and digital overdrive to give it a focused, buzz-saw tone. It’s placement against the bass and drums is deemphasized. We allow our songs to be driven by click-tracks rather than allow it to flow organically from the musicians. It’s clear that this style has lead to the increasing homogeny of the last 15 or so years of American popular music.

If I could give one bit of advice to aspiring guitar players out there, it would be work on your right hand. This is the hand from which the rhythm flows. It can lead the band, controlling the tempo, providing accents and character to the song. Your right hand provides propulsion and defines the beat. And too many guitar players today treat it as an afterthought.

I’d like to live in a world where learning guitar meant spending as much time practicing a Bo Diddley riff as learning scales. Where we recognize that rhythm is the soul of a song. Where you can tune your radio to damn near any station and dance.

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Ain’t Nobody’s Problem

The Lumineers turned me on to this song during their Bonnaroo set (which was an experience I’ve been meaning to write about). It’s one of those tunes that sounds so natural you’d think it had always existed.

Sawmill Joe – Ain’t Nobody’s Problem from Humble Monster on Vimeo.

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Josh Ritter Live at the Stone Pony

June 28, 2012 3 comments

Josh Ritter knows how to work an audience. He comes on stage beaming. I have never seem a man do happy to be performing in front of an audience. He is constantly in motion, which is unusual for a folk musician. Perhaps that’s why he put together a powerful band of musicians. The full experience does push his songs over the coffeehouse singer-songwriter mark.

Tonight he played before a packed house at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. It was a warm up night for his tour. He told the crowd that the band hadn’t performed in 6 months. For musicians that can be a career.

There were many new songs, and I will admit that some of the old ones were barely familiar to me while some in the crowd sang along to every word. Ritter clearly relished this, often pulling away from the mic to allow the voices from the audience a chance to shine through.

Until you spend a couple if hours with the man and his songs, you might not realize the extent that religious imagery dominates his songwriting. His narratives steal equally from folk tradition and religious tales. What’s striking, however, is how how playful the biblical characters are. There’s no great deference given. They joke and they kid and they come on to King Arthur’s nights, and often represent sexual ecstasy. This is no bloodless born again philosophy. Saints are never too far away from scoundrels.

The highlight of the night was a rambunctious version of “Harrisburg” that segued into “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”. Josh stopped right before the high note. His band fell silent. He unbuttoned his collar. Took a deep breath. This was totally out of his range. Then he fucking nailed that high note. Ghaaaaaa-uh-uh-un.

Then it was back to “Harrisburg”. But the message was clear. Nothing is out of bounds.

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What You Hear

February 22, 2012 1 comment

Interesting, and moderately technical, explanation of the difficulties inherent in making music sound good in the age of compressed audio.

Most of the music we buy and listen to nowadays comes in what is known as lossy formats. Meaning that in order to make the file size more manageable, a lot of information is tossed out of the songs. All major online music stores sell music this way (there are a few web sites with limited selection of hi def audio tracks). The compression algorithm tries to only get rid of frequencies most people won’t miss, but there’s no way around the fact that compressing these recordings is going to change the sound at least a little. Add in the fact that we spend a lot more time listening on terrible, speakers (earbuds, laptop speakers, etc) and this is a major change from how people listened to music 15-20 years ago.

I’m shocked it’s taken the music industry this long to start mastering songs specifically for people who buy their songs on iTunes and listen on their iPhones, never so much as getting near a Bose sound system.

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