ESSAY: I Was Bob Dylan

Written by Jamie Wood on . Posted in Music

Sometimes we have dreams that are simply worth sharing. They can often be more exciting than good grades, a new girlfriend/boyfriend, or a new job. Vivid dreams provide contemplation for many quiet moments throughout the following day, recalling the foggy details over and over again in a Freudian attempt to decipher the hidden meaning within. They provide an instant conversation starter for every interaction, something about which to update your Facebook status or even tweet about over breakfast. Now the versatility of the shared dream makes its way to the silver stage of Rhombus Magazine. Every detail is completely open to interpretation — maybe a prophetic look at the 2012 election is hidden inside. You never know. As you ponder for yourself, I’ll share with you my own personal interpretation. Enjoy.

I was Bob Dylan. I had super human moonwalking abilities that allowed me to leap over buses and bound through the streets half a block at a time in slow motion. I could hear the screaming of thousands of fans somewhere in the distance, anticipating my arrival at a concert to take place. I was probably late for my own show. I possessed a large plastic cup. Not the kind that you get at gas stations to fill with 44 ounces of Diet Coke, but the regular, durable household plastic cup. I think it might have been lime green. Periodically I would shout things through the cup, like “THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING!” or “LIKE A ROLLING STONE!,” which were met with louder and louder cheers in response.

As I continued to lumber through the urban landscape, dodging taxis and whatnot, I moved with determination toward the outdoor stage. Yet suddenly I felt compelled to blend in with the world around me. I needed to remain inconspicuous for some unknown reason. It seemed as though I was being followed and someone was in hot pursuit. I quickly ceased my epic display of clearing whole city blocks at a time and began to walk calmly on the sidewalk, still yelling through my plastic cup from time to time to keep my hungry fans at bay.

Suddenly a black limousine pulled over next to me, and who else could be inside but the governor! An aide rolled down the tinted windows and asked me if I’d like a ride. I accepted. I sat in the back of the limousine with the governor and his aides, thankful that my pursuer would be thrown off by the sudden change in transportation. The governor asked questions, like “Why do you think you’re so popular?” to which I responded in embarrassment, “I’m not sure, I just like to make music.” I might have been offered a drink; If I was, I turned it down. Either way, I never made it to the concert. This is where it ends.

A dream about a moonwalking Bob Dylan saga seemed too weird to ignore, and too weird to interpret. But upon further reflection, I think I may have partially discovered what this sordid tale tells.

My close friends are familiar with my feeble attempts at starting up bands by placing ads on Craigslist (to which I actually received four very prompt responses requesting tryouts within a day, interestingly enough), performing in bogus rap groups and constantly jotting down ideas for lyrics in my Moleskine pocket journal. There are a lot us out there: Wannabe musicians.

Do we play instruments? No. Do we have the skills necessary to weave poetry out of insightful lyrical commentary on social issues like Bob Dylan? No. Do we have the determination to actually put a band together, endure the arduous process of recording music and sell our souls’ worth in demo tapes for a shot at a gig at Velour in front of 15 people (all of which simply arrived too early for Fictionist, RuRu, The Vibrant Sound, Mudbison, insert hip Provo band name here)? No. What defines us is our love for music and an appreciation for those who make it, despite our utter helplessness in producing our own. If any of us actually got the shot at being on stage, we’d probably just end up shouting nonsense through a lime green plastic cup.

I’m a transplant from Seattle who spent the weekends of my teen years giving a can of corn to the door clerks at all the hole-in-the-wall venues downtown to get $1 off my entry fee. I’ve crowd surfed, moshed, grooved and rocked out to some of the best local music the great Seattle indie scene has to offer. Despite my history, the Provo scene has also kept me interested since my arrival. At every Provo show I’ve attended, I’ve stood there grooving my mind out like a goon. I can vividly recall the feeling of complete jealousy and envy towards the musicians onstage: Jealous of the beads of sweat that accumulate on their foreheads as the show progresses; Jealous of the long hair, the beards, the beads, the skinny jeans, and all the other contraband that I’d never be able to pull off — outside of a tool-filled theme party somewhere south of campus; Jealous of the whole experience that they create for themselves through their creativity.

But mostly I’m jealous of the opportunity that is theirs to express a very unique and personal message in a very unique and personal way. The wannabe musician may have big ideas that could leap buses, turn the world upside-down, warrant a hearing by a governor, shouted from the rooftops and played in front of thousands of screaming fans. Yet somehow the Moleskine journal never makes it to the recording booth or onto the stage. It never does, and it probably never will. The opportunity to engage in that form of unique self expression will probably always elude most of us. It’s sad. We’d love to close our eyes, clutch the mike and speak the messages of our souls to a captive audience. Half the time that audience has no clue what the performer is saying, but they’re saying it and that’s what we respect. The musicians that fill our local stages have the guts to say it, and say it loud. The levels may be off, but the feeling is sent with incredible clarity.

That may be what my dream was about: That’s where most of us fall short and never make it to the show, where we get nervous and slink into the background. We find something else to occupy us as a ragtag excuse to be too busy to face our fears and insecurities. That’s the difference between those that excel toward the greatness of self-expression and, as a natural byproduct, the phenomenon of killer entertainment. That’s what makes them great: They’re brilliant enough to do what it takes to be heard. Hats off, fellas, for doing what so many of us cannot. You’re respected, loved and anticipated on a weekly basis. You give us all the vicarious experience of expressing what we wish we could. We need you. See you this weekend at the show.

Jamie Wood is a regular contributor to Rhombus. He’s still taking auditions for his Craigslist band.

SONG OF THE DAY: July 22nd

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

M. Ward (feat. Zooey Deschanel), “Never Had Nobody Like You”

Thursday evening marks the third installment of Salt Lake’s Twilight Concert Series at the Gallivan Center. While the first two shows boasted the likes of Bon Iver, Jenny Lewis and the Black Keys, tomorrow night promises to continue the hit parade with the musical stylings of M. Ward. Coming off the release of his well-received seventh solo album and a successful collaboration with actress Zooey Deschanel (as She & Him), the indie folk giant will bring virtuosic guitar skills and great tunes both new and old to downtown.

In honor of M. Ward’s visit to our little corner of the world, we here at Rhombus have selected the second track off his latest solo album, Hold Time, as today’s Song of the Day. Featuring Deschanel on backing vocals, “Never Had Nobody Like You” starts with a pulsing, “We Are The Champions”-style drumbeat before Ward breaks in with his laid-back vocals and persistent rhythm guitar. The song perfectly melds blues and folk into an amalgamation of rocking loveliness. You should probably take a listen and venture up to the Gallivan Center tomorrow night. It is free, after all.

Click here to hear M. Ward’s “Never Had Nobody Like You”

SONG OF THE DAY: July 21st

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Heads Will Roll (Passion Pit Remix)”

The anatomy of a great remix is difficult to explain. In fact, the requirements are probably most completely (yet vaguely) summed up in Justice Potter Stewart’s statement from the Supreme Court decision in Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.” Now Justice Stewart was talking about obscenity, but the same idea applies to remixes. All I can tell you is that a remix needs to depart just far enough from its source material to be substantively and stylistically different, but not so far as to deface the original’s inherent greatness. I know it when I see it.

Today’s Song of the Day is not a great remix. To be sure, it is a very good remix made by a great band of another great band’s excellent source material, but it is not, in and of itself, great. It is certainly better than the Pussycat Doll’s re-imagining of the Oscar-winning “Jai Ho,” although I concede that is partially because nothing could possibly be worse than that horrendous bastardization. It is also more proficient than Animal Collective’s recent ill-advised remix of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Zero.” But it is not quite great. However, Boston-based electropoppers Passion Pit (whose debut album, Manners, is excellent in its own right) are quite successful at hacking up the Yeahs’ disco-stomper “Heads Will Roll” with exorbitant amounts of Casio keyboards and an operable dance beat. After all, it was good enough to be named Song of the Day, so that has to count for something.

Take a moment and listen to Passion Pit’s remix and let us know your verdict on its inherent greatness (or lack thereof.) I’m sure you’ll know it when you see it.

Click here to listen to Passion Pit’s remix of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll”

SONG OF THE DAY: July 20th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Discovery, “Orange Shirt”

I am a notorious and avowed critic of modern R&B music. It’s awful. The classic sounds of 1960s and 1970s Motown have been replaced by copious amounts of AutoTune, excessive rap cameos and nonexistent song structures — and that’s not a good thing. The genre died with Michael Jackson’s career in the early 1990s. We’ve since been forced to endure artless slop on both sides of the gender divide. (Ginuwine? B2K? Monica and Brandy? Really?) R&B is dead and I have little hope for its revival.

All of this explains my ambivalence about the recently released debut album of Discovery, the side project of Vampire Weekend keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot lead vocalist Wes Miles. The duo bravely attempts to craft an indie R&B quasi-renaissance by filling out the flimsy genre structure with elements of electronica and synth-pop. The result is a fuller, more unique vision of what R&B could be. Yet I remain unconvinced: Discovery’s LP either represents a fresh, innovative way forward for the craft or it merely embodies all the genre’s recent weaknesses (there’s still plenty of AutoTune here) on synth-powered steroids, justified only by the pair’s well-earned indie cred. I am undecided.

“Orange Shirt,” the album’s lead-off track, is included below. Featuring layers of keyboards (producing some insanely fast scales, nonetheless) and an up-tempo beat, the song fits the summer season well. It’s the type of song you can blast from your car stereo while driving leisurely with the windows down in unhealthily hot weather — and enjoy it. What I can’t seem to deduce is whether or not these qualities mean Discovery has made something innovative and worthwhile, or just another disposable summer jam like the many that have come before.

Listen to “Orange Shirt” below and share your thoughts. I’d love to have a second opinion.

Click here to listen to Discovery’s “Orange Shirt”

SONG OF THE DAY: July 19th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

MGMT, “Destrokk”

For those of you who fell in love with MGMT through their 2008 hits “Time to Pretend” and “Kids,” you’re probably wondering when the dynamic Brooklyn duo plans on releasing the follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut album, Oracular Spectacular. Unfortunately, I can’t answer that. I do know that the new album will be called Celebration and the boys have been recording fresh material in between high profile appearances at some of the world’s biggest festivals (including headlining Bonnaroo in June) and opening for Paul McCartney at Boston’s Fenway Park next month. However, to keep you salivating in the meantime, Cantora Records is re-releasing the band’s 2005 EP, Time to Pretend.

The EP provides a glimpse into an MGMT still two years away from taking the music world by storm. The production and songwriting is less polished than on their 2007 full-length, but the songs still rock. Included below is “Destrokk,” a song the group still plays regularly at live shows. While MGMT have become synonymous with throbbing beats and pulsing synths, “Destrokk” scales back both. Slightly more subdued than their usual fare, the track still provides an intriguing listen and a brief hint at the rebirth of psychedelia that was waiting in the wings.

Click here to listen to MGMT’s “Destrokk”

SONG OF THE DAY: July 18th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Matt and Kim, “Daylight”

While most of you are probably unfamiliar with Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim, you may recognize this song from a recent Bacardi commercial. (Not that you would ever pay attention to an alcohol company’s promotional spots…) It’s really a shame that such a fun, interesting band has to sell their soul to a Cuban rum-maker for people to hear and appreciate their music, but that’s the world we live in.

Regardless of the state of their musical souls and/or indie cred, Matt and Kim are loads of fun. Mostly comprised of simple drum lines and a host of parts crafted by Casio keyboards, the music is energetic and unabashedly optimistic, especially on “Daylight.” If you can listen to Matt and Kim without nodding your head along to the catchy melody and infectious rhythm, you might be a corpse and I feel sorry for you.

Singer Matt Johnson’s vocal range is limited and tends to get a bit “shouty,” but you’re not listening to Matt and Kim to find the next Josh Groban. The Brooklynites provide nothing more or less than danceable beats with simple, unadorned melodies. If you can’t appreciate that, you might hate fun.

Matt and Kim are scheduled to play a show at In The Venue in Salt Lake City on September 9th. For more information, visit their Web site.

SONG OF THE DAY: July 17th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Monsters of Folk, “Say Please”

First of all, please don’t immediately navigate away from this page: I promise you the horrible, horrible name “Monsters of Folk” does not bely equally crappy music to follow. This indie-folk supergroup, comprised of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, and M. Ward, could definitely have come up with a better name, but the sheer volume of talent included therein should be enough to at least intrigue music fans.

The first song released off their upcoming September album just cropped up on their Web site this morning and is entitled, “Say Please.” I’ll be honest: it’s not the greatest song in the history of the world. However, it is a fairly straight-forward, solid folk rock song. The group eschews the traditional lead vocalist, instead opting for group vocals throughout. The voices of Oberst, James and Ward blend surprisingly well, and certainly sound better than I’d anticipated from Oberst and Ward’s limited vocal ranges coming in contact with James’ heavenly falsetto.

The song feels like it would fit best on Oberst’s recent solo albums, boasting a more expansive, Americana-tinged feel than the bedroom poetry of his earlier Bright Eyes releases. As previously stated, Monsters of Folk (that really is a terrible name) aren’t reinventing the wheel here, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. The musicianship is tight, the lyrics engaging, the melody memorable — everything we have come to expect from these performers in their individual ventures. This is just flat-out fun, immensely entertaining, well-crafted folk rock — and that’s not a bad thing.

As always, please feel free to listen to Monsters of Folk’s “Say Please” and share your thoughts in the comment space below.

SONG OF THE DAY: July 16th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

This post marks the fourth entry of a new feature here at Rhombus: the Song of the Day. In an effort to bring you great music, both local and otherwise, and fulfill our goal of helping you expand your musical horizons to include the best artists available, we will pass along one Rhombus-approved song each and every day for your listening pleasure (barring global catastrophe.) These entries will be shorter than our normal articles, but we will do our best to provide you with the context and reasoning behind why we feel the included song is worthwhile and/or relevant to you. That being said, we hope you come back every day to check out a new song and enjoy reading Rhombus as much as we enjoy writing it. — Steve Pierce, Editor

Animal Collective, “Summertime Clothes”

I mentioned a few albums in yesterday’s “Song of the Day” piece that I considered early contenders for 2009 Album of the Year honors. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was certainly in that group. The Brooklyn freak-folk band really hit its stride with Merriweather, striking the perfect balance between cutting edge artistic brilliance and mainstream accessibility, which is no easy feat. The album’s first single, “My Girls,” baffled some “average” listeners with its unconventional sound, but generally rocked the face of anyone willing to listen with an open mind.

Merriweather‘s second release, “Summertime Clothes,” is probably more “radio-friendly” (if people still listened to the radio, which they don’t) than its predecessor, but equally awesome. Boasting an arpeggiated synth line, driving beat and addictive melody, the song is pure bliss. The band’s decision to release it as a single last month was particularly timely, given the track’s subject matter. I mean, nothing screams “summer anthem” quite like a song devoted to seasonally appropriate wardrobe items. Sure, the song is about much more than article of clothing, but that’s all below the surface. Most people don’t want to work that hard or dig that deep: it is summertime after all. We just want to lose ourselves in a bouncy, feel-good jam — and Animal Collective provides that in spades.

SONG OF THE DAY: July 15th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

This post marks the third entry of a new feature here at Rhombus: the song of the day. In an effort to bring you great music, both local and otherwise, and fulfill our goal of helping you expand your musical horizons to include the best artists available, we will pass along one Rhombus-approved song each and every day for your listening pleasure (barring global catastrophe.) These entries will be shorter than our normal articles, but we will do our best to provide you with the context and reasoning behind why we feel the included song is worthwhile and/or relevant to you. That being said, we hope you come back every day to check out a new song and enjoy reading Rhombus as much as we enjoy writing it. — Steve Pierce, Editor

Dirty Projectors, “Cannibal Resource”

I’ll just throw this out there at the beginning: Dirty Projector’s might have made the best album of 2009 so far — and potentially of the whole year. Might. There’s some pretty stiff competition out there (Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, Passion Pit’s Manners, etc.), but Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca is as good as any.

“Cannibal Resource” opens the aforementioned album with a big blast of fun and all-around awesomeness. The song features an off-kilter beat, jangly guitars and beautiful backing vocals that will “ooh” and “aah” their way right into your little brain and stay there. When it comes to the meaning of Dave Longstreth’s lyrics about “the arbitrary life,” your guess is as good as mine. Chances are I’ll never understand them, but that doesn’t mean this song won’t continue to karate chop me in the throat every time I hear it — in a good way.

SONG OF THE DAY: July 14th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

This post marks the second entry of a new feature here at Rhombus: the song of the day. In an effort to bring you great music, both local and otherwise, and fulfill our goal of helping you expand your musical horizons to include the best artists available, we will pass along one Rhombus-approved song each and every day for your listening pleasure (barring global catastrophe.) These entries will be shorter than our normal articles, but we will do our best to provide you with the context and reasoning behind why we feel the included song is worthwhile and/or relevant to you. That being said, we hope you come back every day to check out a new song and enjoy reading Rhombus as much as we enjoy writing it. — Steve Pierce, Editor

The National and St. Vincent, “Sleep All Summer”

I was turned onto this excellent cover just recently by one of my favorite writers, Nick Hornby, via his blog. It’s a mystery how I had remained ignorant of its existence before then: The National and St. Vincent are two of my favorite artists and the mere possibility of them collaborating somewhere in the world should have made my ears perk up like a Doberman hearing an inaudible dog whistle. (These things just happen sometimes.) That being said, the original version of “Sleep All Summer” was written and recorded by Crooked Fingers a few years back and is a formidable bit of musicianship in its own right.

However, this National/St. Vincent version — featured on SCORE!, a compilation celebrating the 20th anniversary of indie label Merge Records — surpasses the original in my mind. The voices of The National’s Matt Berninger and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark meld together beautifully, his deep, soulful baritone perfectly counterbalancing her heavenly pipes. The lyrics describe a melancholic longing without delving into depressing, Dashboard Confessional-esque fare; the maturity of the prose and the song’s persistently rapturous beat refuse to allow it to do so. The addition of an excellent (and tastefully restrained) horn section only makes this version ten times better than should be legally acceptable.

Bottom line: this song should be on your 2009 summer soundtrack. (Said season is in the title, after all.) And if it’s not, well, I don’t know if I can help you. Enjoy.