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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review of The New Arcade Fire Album

Indie rock giants Arcade Fire returned with their third full length release The Suburbs this week, and they did not disappoint. The Suburbs is a different album than their two previous releases Neon Bible and Funeral; in that it is very personal and a very relaxed sounding album; yet it still has that big arena album sound. Win Butler and company dive into the mythology of suburban life and how it influenced their development as individuals On Half Light II (No Celebrating) the lyric: “Since I was a little child. Pray to God. I won’t live to see the death of everything that’s wild”, the band describes their concerns of deforestation and how the grow of Suburbs might affect nature. But it’s not all doom and gloom. On “We Used to Write” the band reminisces about young love and the joy it brings. “It seems strange ankatips. How we used to wait for letters to arrive. But what’s stranger still. Is how something so small can keep you alive?” What this album does is solidify Arcade Fire’s place as the biggest and best Indie art rock band of this generation. This album has some terrific songs, but to get the true feel of the album, you need to listen to it in its entirety. If you are already an Arcade Fire fan, you will love this album, if you are curious about Arcade Fire, this a great album to break you into the band.

Novus Radio Grade:

A+

Independence Day

This past weekend we celebrated Independence Day. The day when our founding fathers wrote a document that stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. “ Over the centuries we have seen this country of ours grow and develop into the greatest nation in the history of the world. Only in America can an individual write about whatever they wish, and have the federal government guarantee them that right. And it is all because of The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

America however is at a crossroads. One of the things that made America so great was the fact that for a long time American society focused on the well being of others. The creation of the Peace Corps, NASA, the GI Bill, and donations of hundreds of billions of dollars to countries that needed help, just to name a few.

Over the last few decades, Americans have focused on their own individual happiness and allowed consumerism to grow into the dominant force in this country. It is no longer what “Ask what we can do for our country, but what our country can do for me.” Now I am not advocating that we need to stop looking for our own individual happiness. I’m just saying that this should not be our primary focus 24/7. We as a society need to look around and see that people, in our own communities are suffering.

According the Ad Council and FeedingAmerica.org one in eight Americans are battling hunger. ONE IN EIGHT!!!! America is the wealthiest country in the history of the world and a large proportion of our population is battling hunger. Our educational system, instead of developing deductive reasoning or critical thinking skills, is emphasizing standardized testing, that only measure on how a student did on that one test. When a new Apple product comes out, we as Americans have no problem standing in line for hours on end to get it, but when it comes to voting in a national or local election we as a society are too busy to participate.

I recently read a book by Father James Martin, S.J., the culture editor of America Magazine. Father Martin wrote a book called: The Jesuits Guide to (Almost) Everything. (You do not have to be religious to enjoy the book either.) In the book Father Martin talks about how we are allowing our possessions to define who we are as individuals. As I was reading this, it was like an arrow in the head. This is what I had been doing just like everyone else in American culture. Then something else hit me, this consumerism was not making me happy.

I feel true happiness is not in what we own, but how we can help improve our society. Think of how good you feel when you volunteer or when you give a friend sound advice. These are the principles that made America great and what I think we need to get back to. When we as a society work together there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.

The Best New Music of 2010...So Far

For this blog I decided to write about the best new music of 2010. This year has been leaps and bounds better than 2009 and it looks like it will get better and better with releases from The Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, M.I.A, and Coldplay still to come. And now, in no particular order, my best new music list of 2010…so far. Enjoy!

Frightened Rabbit: Winter of Mixed Drinks. I first heard of Frightened Rabbit about a month ago when I was listening to my old college radio station, and since then I cannot stop listening to them. Frightened Rabbit mainly writes about relationships that have taken a wrong turn, relationships that are ending, or how a relationship can save an individual. The beauty is they take a totally different perspective on this old chestnut, and the music is fantastic. I cannot recommend this album enough. Please take the time and check this band out. You will not be disappointed.

Recommended Track: Nothing Like You.

Murder By Death: Good Morning Magpie. A couple of years ago, two of my really good friends introduced me to Murder By Death, and I have been hooked ever since. Very much inspired by Johnny Cash, and Tom Waits, Murder By Death tells you a story with every song they write. Topics sung about range from death, to meeting someone in the night, to why we need whiskey in the world, and the cello arrangements are amazing. This might be Murder By Death’s best album yet.

Recommended Track: King of the Gutters, Price of the Dogs.

Goriallz: Plastic Beach. Whether its reuniting with Blur, performing around the world, or his working with his other musical projects, its amazing that Damon Albarn found the time to write and record the next Goriallz album. But he did and it kicks ass. Plastic Beach has awesome beats, cool guest stars, and lyrics with a purpose. Albarn examines Western Consumer Culture and Green Technologies on Plastic Beach and it works.

Recommended Track: Rhinestone Eyes.

Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain’t No Grave. Is it the best Johnny Cash album? No, but it is the last new Johnny Cash album we will ever get, and that makes it worth listening to. The song selection Rick Rubin chose is a fitting tribute to the Man in Black. American VI is not an overly depressing album but it does have its somber moments. This album truly is an end of an era.

Recommended Track: Ain’t No Grave.

Minus the Bear: Omni. If you have been a fan of Minus the Bear since the beginning, there is a very good chance that you will not like this album, because Minus the Bear move into a different musical direction. But I beg you to give it a chance. It is incredible. Minus the Bear finds the right balances of jam band rock and experimental techno on Omni. If you have never heard of Minus the Bear, this is a great first album to check out, it is a brilliant piece of art.

Recommended Track: My Time

LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening. This album is already getting universal praise from music critics. And it deserves it. This is Happening is a brilliant pop dance album by James Murphy. Five years from now, you will still be listening to this album and still find enough little diddies to keep you interesting.

Recommended Track: Drunk Girls

Los Campesinos!: Romance is Boring. If you are looking for a fun, high energy Britpop, look no further than Romance is Boring. Los Campesinos! have been working at a fever pitch their entire career touring and writing, and they don’t miss a step here. (Romance is Boring is their third release in twenty months.) But don’t be fooled, Los Campesinos! definitely have something to say, whether its about relationships or why you do not want them as enemies, Romance is Boring is a complete album.

Recommended Track: We’ve Got Your Back. (Documented Emotional Breakdown #2)

The National: High Violet. Like LCD Soundsystem’s album, the new National is getting universal praise from music critics and it deserves it. High Violet deals with love lost, and loneliness, all set to very dark music. It’s epic, and it deals with subject matter that anyone can relate to. It’s a great album to listen to on headphones.

Recommended Track: Bloodbuzz Ohio.

Rogue Wave: Permalight. Long time fans of Rogue Wave will be in for a shock when they first listen to Permalight. The acoustic indie rock Rogue Wave is known for has been replaced with more electronic sounds. However lyrically, this is the most personal and deep album songwriter Zach Rogue has ever written. It’s the lyrics that you need to focus on with this album.

Recommended Track: Sleepwalker.

Dead Weather: Sea of Cowards. The best way to describe this album is straight up blues and rock n’ roll. It will get your foot tapping almost immediately. Sea of Cowards a far superior effort than there debut album, and should be a lot of fun to see performed live.

Recommended Track: Blue Blood Blues.

I Heart Radio

For the past ten years, I have had an obsession. Well not really an obsession, but something that interests me tremendously. And that is radio. That’s right, radio. I cannot get enough of it. When you sit down, and think about it, the radio is a pretty incredible piece of technology Essential a little box, that can pick up multiple channels of entertainment, news, music, all on different bandwidths and frequencies instantaneously. And you get it all for free! As you are reading this, you are probably thinking that I have never heard of a Television, the Internet, or cell phones, well let me explain why radio has such a special place in my heart.

When I was in college, I joined the university owned radio station. To say it changed my life is an understatement. Without getting all mushy, joining the radio station helped me come out of my shell that I spent 18 years constructing, gave me experiences and life skills I never dreamed of having, but most importantly, it allowed me to meet individuals that have become my closest friends. The friends I made at the station have truly become life long friends and I will cherish their friendships forever. But that’s a discussion for another blog, back to my love of radio.

The second reason why I love radio is the personal connection the radio dj and their listener can develop. It’s like your friends. Whenever you talk to an individual about their favorite television program, the person usually gets excited, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But when I asked someone about his or her favorite radio dj or station, their eyes light up like you are asking them about the “Best Friend” or “BFF” as the youths call it today. Whether it’s Howard Stern, Eric and Kathy, or Mike and Mike in the Morning, the same exuberance comes on their faces.

Why is that? There are many reasons why, and I will not get into all of them. But the main reason, I think, is people are driving to work in the morning, by themselves. Most individuals are going to a job that they don’t particularly care for. They long for something to entertain them or cheer them up in the morning, before they enter the 8-hour work grind. That’s where the morning dj comes in. They can be that little piece of sunny light in an otherwise gloomy day. This relationship is built everyday, for hours at a time, year after year after year. You get to know the dj’s personality, and you may even find yourself speaking out loud in agreement or disagreement with what the personality is discussing. It’s weird to think of, but it’s really a two-way conversation between the dj and the listener.

That’s the beauty of radio, that’s how it can hook so many dedicated listeners every single day. No other medium in the world, not television, newspapers, or even books, can develop that personal connection between the broadcaster and audience like radio can. It’s why people’s eyes light up when they talk about “Stern or Eric and Kathy”. You are asking them about their friend.

Currently though radio is in trouble. Radio is competing with not only the traditional medias of television and newspapers for our attention, but it has to compete with the new digital media as well. The media of iPods, the Internet, podcasts, vlogs, blogs, and everything under the sun that is screaming at us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. What are we to do? We keep getting pulled in so many directions and it seems radio is getting lost in the shuffle. According to the Radio Advertising Bureau’s website, which keeps track of radio’s total advertising net income yearly, advertising revenue was down 18% in 2009. That is millions of dollars lost. This maybe one of the reasons why downsizing is happening at radio stations across the country. So the next question you should ask is, “Why aren’t people listening to the radio like they used to?” I believe it is because radio is not offering a product that people want to listen to. Don’t get me wrong, radio is still reaching millions of people everyday, but not as many as they used to. How many people do you know of, when driving now listen to their iPod instead of the radio? (I am guilty of this sin.)

So what does radio need to do to get people listening to it’s product again? Well two things come to my mind when I ask myself this question.

1. They need to play more unsigned and independent artists. Currently radio is playing it safe and playing proven artists. Bands like Nickelback, Eminem, and Rihanna come to my mind. Very rarely do mainstream stations take a risk and play an unknown artist. Why not change that? Currently in the independent and underground music scenes there are some absolutely incredible artists, of every genre, making music that can change the world. But mainstream radio listeners are not getting exposed to this. I actually have a very good example of radio exposing me to a new artist that has blown me away with how good they are.

Last week I was driving home for lunch and I was listening to my old college radio station. While driving the station started playing this band I never heard of called Frightened Rabbit and their song Living Colour. I had never heard of this band before, but as I listened, I really started to enjoy the guitar rifts, drumming, and the lyrics. I wrote the name of the band down, and when I got back to work I checked out some of their other songs. To say I was blown away was an understatement! This band is absolutely amazing and I found out about them only because I listened to the radio. If I were listening to my iPod that day, I would have never heard them, and would be missing out on some great music. That is one of the great gifts that radio can give to its listeners.

2. My second idea to help improve radio is to allow the djs to talk more to the audience. They need to be allowed to develop interesting talking bits and discussions. Once again, the djs can tell us information about an artist or a band they we may not have been aware of, or they can introduce us to that new local band they just saw over the weekend and want us to check them out. The dj is a musical expert; please let them share their passion with us. The best part is, this is information that the iPod cannot give us, only the dj can. So if we the listener wants to know this new information, we will be forced to listen to that station on a regular basis.

About a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting Chicago Radio legend Clark Weber. We ended discussing the very same subject matter that I am writing about now. One thing that he told me has really stuck with me. Mr. Weber said: “People want to hear stories. When you were little, you would run to Grandma and Grandpa and ask them to tell you a story.” That’s what the listeners want, they want to be told stories, and radio djs can tell them some great stories, if they are allowed to talk to their audience.

Hopefully one day, radio continues to its next stage of evolution, and I hope that this next stage will include a greater role for the personality and more independent artists getting airplay. Until then we will just have to wait and see. But I do have one small request for you the reader, give radio a chance to entertain you, I think you might be pleasantly surprise with how much you can enjoy…when it’s good.

Until next time

Why I Am So Dependent on Digitial Technology

I noticed something about myself recently. I am way too dependent on digital technology, for everything. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I reach for is my iPhone, so I can check my email, texts, or voicemails that I received during the night. After that I go on Facebook and Twitter and see what is going on. Once I have checked all of these, I can then proceed with getting ready for the workday. At work, about 85% of my job is on the computer, as is everyone else’s in the world. I type proposals on the computer, communicate with other colleagues, and listen to music; all on the computer.

When I’m bored or waiting at a stoplight, out comes the iPhone. My trusty, trusty iPhone. But I find myself thinking, “Is this healthy behavior?” “Should I be this dependent on digital technology to constantly entertain and inform me?” I usually come to the conclusion yes, because everyone else is doing it. But then that old saying of “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you too?” pops in my head.

About a year ago, AT&T has some sort of service outage, which caused me to lose service for a couple of hours. During those couple of hours I could not receive phone calls or texts, could not check emails or Facebook, and could not go on the Internet. No biggie right? Absolutely wrong, I thought the world was going to end. I was out of the loop and there was nothing I could do to get back in. I was scared and confused. I thought I lost my iPhone forever.



Yet for the majority of my life I have gone without cell phones, smart phones, and computers and survived. In the past if I wanted to talk to someone, I would have to call him or her on the landline phone or go over to that person’s house and visit. What an odd concept, having to have a conversation with another individual face to face.

I think the reason why we, as a society, have allowed our dependence on technology to grow expediently over the past few decades are 1) It makes life easier, which it does and 2) people are nosey. We like to be in each other’s business, and know what everyone is doing. Plus we can get that information instantaneously. I can personally a testify that I am friends with certain individuals on Facebook just so I can see their news feed and see what crazy stuff they are doing. That’s what Facebook is good at, letting people stay in touch without having to communicate with one another. And I’m not the only one that is doing this; you’re doing it too.

I find myself wondering what’s gong to happen to the next generations’ social skills? They are growing up in this digital age, and don’t know anything else. Are they only going to be able to communicate with one another through a computer or texting? Are they going to be able to read another person’s body language and deduce whether or not that person is happy or sad? Are people going to develop horrible skin diseases because they stay inside all the time, playing on their computer and not going outside? Crazy question, but not out of the realm of possibilities.

So I would like to propose that for one day or one week, which every you prefer, minimize your dependence on digital technology. Don’t go on Facebook or Twitter 47 times a day; go on it once or twice a day. Instead of listening to your iPod on shuffle, pop in a CD in the good old CD player, or better yet listen to vinyl. Are these options possibilities? Will anyone take me up on this challenge? Because I’m not going to do it. I need my digital technology. Until next time. 

Writing is Hard

Writing is hard. I do not think anyone will disagree with me on this. Even as I sit here and write, I am struggling to think of what my next points will be. So if I bounce around all over the place, I apologize.

The prestige of telling people that you are a writer is still something individuals strive for, and who can blame them. We as a society look to our writers for direction, and right now there is no better time to be a writer. Currently the print media is in a period of transition. Consumers are no longer buying the traditional print media of newspapers, magazines, and books. Instead consumers are moving towards the new electronic media realm of blogs, eBooks, and online news sites. This is truly an exciting time. With the click of a button, a writer can give their work to the world instantaneously.

As I surf the Internet and check out other websites, there is one thing that continual strikes me, and that is there are a lot of bad writers out there. Before I continue let me fully acknowledge that I am by no means a great writer. At best I am a fair writer. For me writing is a real discipline. Before I can type anything, I must first hand write it. I have to do this with anything I write, even my blogs, and let me tell you it is very time consuming. But it is rewarding too. It forces me to focus more, which I need to do. Part of the reason I started this blog is I begin Graduate School in less than a month, and I have not written anything formal in almost two years so I need the practice.

I think this is one of my strengths in writing. I admit that I have weakness, and I work to improve in those areas I need improvement in. I brainstorm blog entry ideas, I talk to others about my writing, I do research on my topics, etc. Because of this work I am beginning to see improvement with my writing.

But I do see things that scare me. I work in an educational setting and I see that today’s students are not taking their writing skills seriously. I notice that today’s students do not completely understand the rules of punctuation, do no know when to use their or there, here or hear, and some are even using text messaging lingo in their formal writing. We cannot let this become acceptable in today’s society.

Our society cannot last if we continue to allow our writing skills to erode like this. I am a student of history, and the single greatest achievement in the history of mankind, other than the invention of the wheel, is the invention of the alphabet. Writing allows us to remember and interpret our history, to communicate with one another, to entertain each other with stories of exotic locations that can only exist in our imagination. If we do not emphasize the importance and beauty of writing with our young people, if we do not encourage them to practice their writing skills, and work to improve them, what will happen to our society?

In closing I would like to end with these words of encouragement. The only way you become a great writer is by practicing, and learning from your mistakes. Sure it’s hard work, but the only things worth wild in life are gained by hard work. Even in this high octane, me first society, the written word still has the ability to move individuals; it can still change the world. Be that instrument of change.

Reality TV... You Suck!!

I hate reality shows. They are the cancer of today’s society. Ever since they became the crazy in the early 2000s, I have never understood the appeal of them. Watching “real people” in “real situations”, and see what unfolds? Don’t I do that already? Isn’t it called everyday life? Guess not. (This is one of those instances where TV and I disagree on something.)

Truthfully the thing that has always bothered me about reality shows is the total lack of creativity in them. These programs have writers, but not in the traditional sense. They have “writers” who dream up situations for these “real people” to react to and then just film them. That is not writing, that is scouting locations and scenarios.

As an aspiring media worker/writer/artist/whatever, I see these types of shows killing the creative process. Working with a reality show, you just follow the formula that has already been set up by the successful reality shows, and just copy it. Examples include Real Housewives, Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, and The Kardisians, basically anything on E! or VH1. Call it point and shoot TV.

This is why I love scripted television so much more. You get these truly creative shows like The Simpsons (Seasons 1-10 only), South Park, The Sopranos, Mad Men, etc. that are creative, but tell you a story and give you a message. I feel these shows add so much to our social consciousness. Actually they affect our overall society. How many of us can quote The Simpsons or how many of us can say we have had a Seinfeld situation.

But the best part of scripted TV, in this lonely blog writer’s opinion, is they can take you away from the drudgery of everyday life. Life is hard, and sometimes it is nice to sit in front of the TV and be taken away from your worries for an hour and travel to a far away land. Reality shows cannot do that; they are just a giant reminder of how crappy our society is today. (Real Housewives I am looking in your direction.)

So next time you sit in front of the TV, fight off the temptation of the Reality Show virus, and enjoy the escapism that scripted TV can give you.

Pete and Record Store Day

Saturday April 17th was Record Store Day. For those who do not know what Record Store Day is, it’s where music fans are encouraged to shop at their local independent record store to help support them. Major labels then supply these stores with exclusive products such as limited edition vinyl, cd reissues, etc. to help lure fans into the shops.

This year’s Record Store Day was no exception. Some of the exclusive product included a 7-inch vinyl single of Elvis Presley’s “That’s Alright Mamma”, an exclusive new Blur song (you can download it for free at www.blur.co.uk), the Muse Discography on vinyl, and an exclusive John Lennon Singles Bag. This bag includes three 7-inch vinyl singles of the songs Mother, Imagine, and Watching The Wheels, three postcards, a poster, and an adapter to hook up to your record player to play the vinyl singles.

For anyone who knows me, they know that I am a MASSIVE John Lennon fan. So when I found out about this exclusive release a month ago, I became really excited about it. (Additional I am a big sucker for vinyl.) So on Record Store Day, I headed out to my favorite independent record store, Hyde Park Records. When I got there I immediately started looking for this singles bag and could not find it.

Finally I asked one of the employees if they had any behind the counter. He told me that they had ordered some, but had not received any. He proceeded to tell me that he had called other record shops earlier in the morning, to see if they had any of the exclusive product left, and they were all sold out. I was super bummed. But long story short I was able to find one at another record shop for $20.

Later in the evening, I decided to go on eBay and see how many of these Lennon single bags were up for auction. To my surprise there was about two pages worth of them, ranging in price from $25-$70. Here is where I have mixed emotion. I love eBay and have bought many things from it. Whenever I am looking for something that is hard to find, or I want to do some comparative shopping, I go to eBay and usually find a good deal.

But the flip side of eBay, the thing that really irritates me is people purposely buying something (concert tickets, exclusive albums etc.) just to put it up on eBay, and then charging triple the price for the item. It’s like with ticket brokerages, when a new concert goes on sale, the brokerage buys as many tickets as they possible can, just to resell them at a higher price on eBay or Stubhub. All the while, you can’t even get two tickets in the nosebleeds because the brokerage is hogging up all of the server space. It’s absolutely insane.

Luckily I was able to come out ahead…this time.

The West Wing and Speeches that Move You

For a number of years I have been a massive fan of the television drama The West Wing. The fictional story of President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, and his staff is truly engaging. The program is an idealized representation of American politics and it grabbed me hook, line, and sinker. I love everything about the show, the cast, the setting, the situations the characters are in, but I especially love the writing. Utter brilliance!! If you love television programs that are based around witty dialogue, you owe it to yourself to watch it.

I recently watched an episode in which Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn, played by Rob Lowe, is suffering from writers block. After much discussion with Communications Director Toby Ziegler, played by Richard Schiff, in which they walked around air force one, and yelled at one another, Sam mentions something that truly stuck with me. He starts talking about speeches and words. According to Sam a good speech should get the blood moving, the heart beating, and push an individual to action. “It should inspire people.” I completely agree with this.

However it made me realize something. We as a society are currently lacking this feature. This generation does not have its “Great Communicator”. A writer or public figure that is a voice of a generation, that can move us with his or her words; no F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Kennedy, or Ernest Hemingway. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fine writers currently that are creating some fantastic work, but nothing that truly gets the blood pumping.

I haven’t read or heard anything recently that cause me to think, “You know that’s an instant classic.” The first time I read The Great Gatsby, I was just blow away by the prose that Fitzgerald used. The description given made me feel like I was there with the characters. President Kennedy gave a speech that inspired America to go to the moon within a decade. Imagine hearing and reading these speeches and novels for the first time. You had to get the feeling that this was something special.

It could be that because of all of the noise (television, radio, the Internet, iPods, Social Networks, Newspapers, etc.) that is thrown at people now a days, that an artist or public figure has to condense everything into thirty side bytes, just to hold a person’s attention span before they move onto the next thing. Or it could be that I am not just looking hard enough, and there are works out there that can inspire a person into action. Until then I will just keep on the lookout and watch another season of The West Wing.