Archive for the category “Music”

Shuffle Up and Deal: Pinback–Bbtone

Wherein I mash that shuffle button and use the song as writing prompt.

Sometimes the ol’ shuffle deals you a song that has layers of meanings for you. I got into Pinback during some difficult times and found great comfort in them. Some people find the band to be a bit gloomy and I get that. I appreciate their subtle humor and experimentalism. They are so fun to see live and I happened to move to their hometown so my appreciation of them has grown over time.


best pic i could find from last show Mari and I went to at Belly Up.

I associate Bbtone with the daily struggle of the cluttered mind and brain chemistry issues. The lyrics seem to reference the claustrophobic feelings that come from dealing with said struggle and the frustration of approaching feeling good or “normal” but not quite making it there. The last verse spells this out well:

Forever wishing
Someone near the goal
Forever pushing
Sisyphus would know
Forever wasting
Promise as it goes
Foresenics (sic) show
A summer in the hole, buddy

This isn’t a “sad” song for me though or one that puts me in a sad place. The struggle IS the point. Life is difficult, people are difficult, your own brain can be difficult.  But the drive to get by and endeavor to make things better is amazing. I take not only that lesson from this song, but also the thought that better or “normal” will (and should be) always over the next ridge.

You’ve got a nerve to be asking a favor

Gonna try this blogging thing again like it’s 10 years ago.

I keep my car parked outside at home. It’s not a big deal for me because I’m not really a car person. To tell the truth I’m still not acclimated to how big of a deal car culture is in Southern California. My visits to the car wash are few and far between and in the past my car has taken on a freeloading arachnid passenger.  This time my vehicle provided more than free rides.

My car is getting older and components and parts are starting to fail. My headlights have multiple bulbs in them and they’re starting to go. The car uses more engine oil than it used to. It’s new enough to have a handy sensor that lets me know when the engine oil is low or bulbs are out. I tend to let these notices accumulate until there is a critical mass, then I’ll grudgingly do something about it. I know, not the best way to take car of a vehicle.

It wasn’t time for an oil change yet so I set out on Sunday to buy more oil and light bulbs at the local auto parts store. I  bought the oil and equipped with my paper funnel tried to pop the hood in the parking lot. Didn’t work. Pulled on the latch harder (my solution for everything) and nothing. I walked around the car a few times, muttering and finally banged on the hood a few times and tried the latch again. No dice. I headed home, defeated.

I turned to your friend and mine — the internet–once I got home. There were theories (More about this later) regarding my make and model year and the hood not opening. If they were correct, I’d need some help from professionals so I headed to the local dealer. They tried all of the tricks they knew. They banged on the hood a few times and used a plunger-thingy to try to help it open. Nothing.  The mechanics stated the latch mechanism has two parts, one for each side, and that the linkage between them must be broken. They said they’d be willing to fix it but it would be expensive.  My mechanic suggested a body shop that could do it for less.

I made my way to the body shop. It was busy as hell and I waited for almost an hour before I could get someone to look at my car. The Body Shop explained up front they were not comfortable because they couldn’t guarantee the hood to latch again. I explained to them that I understood, but there were some pressing maintenance issues (like engine oil) that could only be solved by opening the hood.  I’m OK with taking a chance. They told me to come back the next morning (not ideal) and would see what they could do.

I went back the next day, dropped it off and went to a coffee shop to wait. The mechanic called me an hour later, told me had opened the hood and to come back. The shop workers were laughing when I walked up and told me they figured it out and the hood was fixed. I was surprised as I had been game planning on how I would get to work with a non-working vehicle.

The issue? I had a rat living in my engine.

The rat had been bringing in palm tree seeds and pods and storing them where the hood latches were and jammed them full so it wouldn’t open. The rat also shredded the engine blanket on the hood and fashioned himself a little home. There were seeds everywhere in the engine. The mechanic did his best to get most of the debris out some are just too tough to get to.

Now that the mystery was solved I had another problem. How do I prevent my rat from returning? A few days later I went to get an oil change and there was another lovely nest on the engine. I still have all kinds of questions about this. Would the rat leave when I got in the car? Would it cruise with me? If it left, where did it go? Eventually I started checking every day before I left whether it was still building nests. Every morning I would see this: rat nest

Looks comfy, right? Eventually I bought a rat trap and placed it directly under the car.  This rat was too crafty for my trap and I spent weeks throwing away nests and getting rid of seeds. Eventually it gave up or died, but not in the trap. The rat lives in my memory as a comfortable, fat rat much smarter than me.

Shuffle Up and Deal

Wherein I hit shuffle on whatever music device is handy and detail the 1st song that comes up.

Queens of the Stone Age — Little Sister

Queens of the Stone Age have really grown on me over time.  With repeated listens I found new and interesting things that they do with time signatures.  I just find it really fascinating.

Little Sister is a solid song in their repertoire.  The video above is a live version they did on Saturday NIght Live that includes Will Farrell as Gene from Blue Oyster Cult on the cowbell during the 2nd half of the song.  Kills me every time.  Most songs need more cowbell.   Enjoy!

Shuffle up and deal

NOFX — We Called it America

Love it when a punk song comes up on the shuffle and this song is appropriate for the dark and dreary times we’re struggling through. Saw some great NOFX shows back in the 90’s. Good times. Accordingly I’m more of a fan of their 90’s stuff but this song is a good piece of their later work (2009).

The song opens with a quote from Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross.

The leads are weak? Fucking leads are weak? YOU’RE weak.

The vinyl version of the song uses a different quote by Jack Lemmon instead of the Baldwin one. I’m not really an Alec Baldwin fan (I find him to be quite insufferable), but his work in Glengarry Glen Ross is his best.

The song has the usual strong guitar interplay and lightning fast tempo from Fat Mike and the boys. The lyrics paint a bleak (but accurate) portrait of where America has been and where we’re going. Some lyrics:

Remember when America had a middle class
And an upper class, that was way before the exodus
That was the America that we thought was number one,
Thought would overcome, thought would never die
That was just our pride and faith, two shitty deadly sins
I know faith isn’t one of ’em but it should have been
Cuz when things were crumbling, we had no camaraderie
Just a faith someone would save us from despondence

Seems like they’re onto something, no?

Shuffle Up and Deal

Cavern — Liquid Liquid

Sometimes the ol’ shuffle comes up meh.  Cavern is the song that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five used for their seminal hip hop classic, White Lines (Don’t Do It).  For White Lines, the Sugar Hill Gang’s backing band covered the bass line from Cavern and Grandmaster Flash took some of the lyrics from Liquid Liquid, notably, “slippin in and out of phenomenon.”

Liquid Liquid’s record label took Grandmaster Flash’s label (Sugarhill Records) to court over the use of the song and after a protracted and expensive legal battle, Liquid Liquid prevailed.  They were unable to collect on the judgment, however, as Sugarhill Records went into receivership.

For me, the song is interesting in a historical context.  There is a reversal of roles in the old music industry “white musicians stealing from black musicians” fight.  But the song itself is just OK.  Insanely catchy bass line, some ok bongos and frequently unintelligible lyrics = middle of the road for me.

Shuffle up and deal

Ambulance LTD — Stay Where You Are

Until I just did some research, I had no idea where these guys were from (Spanish Harlem via Ohio) or whether they were still a group (sort of). I did know a few things, though:

First, this is one heck of a pop song. Obvious Beatles influence. The arrangement and harmonies are beautiful.

Second, As much as I have enjoyed this song over the past decade, I never felt the urge to go seek out other Ambulance LTD songs. I think this is because I didn’t want to figure out that they’re a one hit wonder. Without searching, I’ll never know.

Third, I HATE songs with long intros/outros. HATE is not too strong of a word here. I don’t have the patience, apparently, to wait for a long meaningless intro. In fact, I almost missed out on one of my favorite songs (Meat Grinder by Madvillain) because I always hit skip instead of forwarding through the intro. Maybe it’s my fat fingers, but I have some difficulties with sliding the bar on my phone to forward through the intros, especially if I’m doing something else like driving. So, artists, please refrain from this practice. Make the intro a separate song. Please. /endrant

Shuffle up and deal

The Shins — Kissing the Lipless

I’m not here to tell you that The Shins will “change your life” like Natalie Portman’s character notably did in Garden State.  That statement is hyperbolic for me.  But I am here to tell you that James Mercer of The Shins is one heck of a songwriter and that this particular song is beautiful.  The subject matter seems to be sad and messed up, the song is beautiful nonetheless.

The song begins with non-sequitur consisting of a small flurry of claps and a “Woo!”, which happens from time to time with Shins songs.  For example, Australia (from Wincing the Night Away, my favorite Shins album) begins with studio chatter.  Someone, in a German accent says, “Time to put the ear-goggles on!”, to which another high-pitched voice replies, “NO!”.  The Shins like to incorporate those moments of exuberance pre-song.  I’m a fan.  I’m doubly a fan of the “ear goggles” line because it pays homage to the line in the Beastie Boys song Sure Shot where Ad Rock says, “I strap on my ear goggles and I’m ready to go.”

Back to the song at hand.  The structure is relatively simple to begin with and is dominated by acoustic strumming with just a smidgen of “psychedelia”.  As the song goes forward the sonic landscape becomes more complex with beautifully haunting keyboards and glockenspiel.  The last verse and the bridge have an increased urgency and furious guitars. The end part of this song is particularly captivating and beautiful to me.  It’s also where my favorite lyrics of the song come in:

You tested your mettle of doe’s skin and petals
While kissing the lipless
Who bleed all the sweetness away

The visual of kissing a lipless person is off-putting, at a minimum. What do you all think?

Escalades, Maces and Snakes. We know what’s hip.


Mike and I will be having our first overnight date sans kiddos since Michaela was born.  At the ripe age of 3.5 months and Bailey boasting 3 years they can pretty much fend for themselves…

Needless to say, we have strong reinforcements coming in to take over kid/dog duty while Mike and I have our first big adventure!

Where to, you may be asking? I am SO glad you asked!

Mike introduced me to an amazing band about a year ago. Grimes.  He saw a video of a fierce little lady cruising an Escalade, wielding a Mace complete with large snakes, metal ensembles and schoolgirl innocence. He sent me a video link, with a preface of something like, “Babe, Grimes is right up your alley. I think she may be one of the girls”. “The girls” are an elite group of women artists who I hold close and will play at any moment. Sometimes on repeat.

I clicked the link and was hooked.  Since then, I have all of Grimes music and listen to her daily.  One night after too much wine, I contacted her via her facebook page and begged her to visit San Diego and offered her a place to stay. Does that make me a stalker? For the first time I understand why people are crazy over an artist 🙂

Last year, Grimes played Coachella but I was pregnant.  From what I can see on her website she mainly plays at music festivals.  However, a few weeks ago I received a band alert that she was playing at House of Blues in Hollywood. For one night. I couldn’t believe it.  I told Mike about it and the next day he was working on tickets, a hotel and ample childcare.  My husband seriously rocks my universe.

We have hotel reservations on Sunset, are dining at a über hip restaurant and going to see Grimes at House of Blues.  I wonder if we will be the oldest fans? I have no idea what to wear. I want to look cool but not trying too hard.  I told Mike to be ready because I will be the girl up front, tearing up the dance floor (Thanks Lizzie/Tana for the cool term).  I am so excited I feel like a little kid.

Onto Grimes.  Her name is Claire and she is 25 and Canadian.  I love Canadians. In fact, I have never met a Canadian I didn’t like.   I have read up on her a bit, and know she isn’t the kind of girl who likes to be called tiny or adorable.  I can only describe her as a unicorn, which is the highest praise in my world(I have only deemed one other person a unicorn, which is my fabulous friend Molly, truly a magical unicorn inside and out).

Her videos remind me of my best friend Eva and I when we were 25.  I recently played her music for Eva and she said, “Her voice reminds me of Enya with amazing dance music”.  I think Claire has a much stronger voice but definitely understand Eva’s sentiments.  Her music gives me goose bumps and I find myself putting on Grimes for when I want to dance, relax, or work.   I don’t have any other musician in my humble music library that works for all emotions.

I love how simple this video is, the delicious man candy and the emotion of underlying gender stereotypes.

For me, Grimes makes me feel young and careless. Her music makes me want to dance, but also encourages me to know the lyrics because I know they are much more than a pop song.  I feel happy when I listen to Claire.  It isn’t often I find a talented artist who writes her lyrics, has a phenomenal voice and puts together amazing music.  The best part? It sounds like she is a really cool person.  I have read interviews and she is honest when she describes her music.  One of my favorite songs, Vowels and Space made me think it was super deep only to find this candid interview from Pitchfork:

“The song “Vowels = space and time” was actually me angrily writing about the fact that people were always getting on me for not writing songs about things. It’s based on a theory from Russian Zaum philosophy, which is this weird, obscure pre-Dada early-1900s surrealist group that believed language was false because vocal expression had inherent emotional meanings or qualities. I was like, “This justifies my other records!” 

I could write so much more about Claire. Her rider requests puppies. She is eco-friendly and polite.  Her videos are tops, and quite honestly her music just makes me happy.

I cannot wait to see Grimes.  Can you tell?

xo Mari

Shuffle Up and Deal

Foster The People — Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)

Foster the People are just a fun band and I’m not entirely sure why we haven’t caught them live yet. I did catch an interview/live performance with them on Palladia a while back which is really cool. Check it out if you can.

I initially thought that Foster the People were a one hit wonder with Pumped up Kicks because it seemed like a novelty song. Fortunately, I heard a couple of their other songs and I got hooked. I think there can never be enough bands that make you happy and make you boogie a bit. FTP definitely hits both marks for me. They put out some good videos, too. The one for Houdini is especially good, in my not humble at all opinion.

FTP is interesting to me because Mark Foster takes a sort of scientific approach to songwriting. Prior to FTP, he wrote jingles for commercials and such so that was his entry to understanding how music resonates with its intended audience. Some other songwriters take this approach. Rivers Cuomo from Weezer still believes that there is a mathematical formula to the perfect pop song and he has dedicated himself to cataloging and analyzing the great songs throughout history. I appreciate the approach these guys take and I can’t argue with the results.

Don’t Stop is novel because it is written in the perspective of a three or four-year old kid. Some lyrics:

Sleigh ride boat ride piggy back-a ride
I’m going to show them all how I can ride
One two three close your eyes and count to four
I’m gonna (I’d like) to hide behind my bedroom door
Crayons on walls
I’ll color on them all
I’ll draw until I’ve broken every law

After reading up a bit on FTP, I have a theory about this song. Mark Foster lists Blur as one of his influences. I think that Don’t Stop is FTP’s homage to the Blur song Coffee and TV. It’s one of my favorite Blur songs (I tend to like the ones where Graham Coxon sings instead of Damon Albarn). Both songs have a simple rhythm guitar strumming as their backbones and the same tempo. Then the songs juxtapose the rhythm section with some angry guitar sounds (in Coffee and TV) and modulated synth and some angry guitar (in Don’t Stop). The structure of the songs is very similar. Dontcha think?

Shuffle up and Deal

The National — Sea of Love

I resisted liking The National for some time. Resisted them even though I admitted to myself that I liked a bunch of their songs. Eventually I got around to asking myself why I was resisting them and it came down to the stupidest of all reasons: Some people that I am not fans of or actively dislike were singing the praises of the National (and rightfully so) and I transferred my dislike to the band. Poor choice.

Sea of Love was the song that made me ask myself why I didn’t like them. I love the arrangement, the tempo, and the urgency embedded in the song. The chorus bored into my skull like a superheated drill bit:

Hey Jo sorry I hurt you, but they say love is a virtue don’t they?

Been on both sides of that equation and there is a lot of tough-to-come-by wisdom in there.

I heartily encourage you to check them out. Cool video for this song too.

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