Archive for the 'Music' Category

Love and Kisses, Your MC

2011 Feb 19

Sage suggested it might be time for another indie game designer rap battle, but what’s the point when we all know I’m going to win again? I set a pretty low bar, believe me, but you folks gotta bring it if you want this to really be a competition.

I rock the phonics like Seattle Supersonics
you tap your mox ruby, I tap my mox onyx, then
dark ritual, let’s make it official
I cast magic missile and you’re ancient history
+3, +4, mark XP
my flow’s so golden it’s a Tier 7 MRCZ
in cultivation, don’t change the station
when I threaten badness y’all go on vacation

Runners: Part 1 Demo

2009 Aug 1

As I was leaving Boston, I decided that I wanted to write a longer, narrative piece for my band Agents of Marque, something we could work on recording from opposite coasts, something with both solo and harmony vocal parts, something that would really show off how much we’d gelled over the past two years. So my plan was to write a “mini-opera” in the mode of the classic Who track “A Quick One While He’s Away” (9 minutes long), which was the compositional predecessor to Tommy and thus to rock opera as we know it.

I decided that I would write a piece about blockade runners during the Civil War, specifically a British blockade runner whose ship is held hostage by a group of runaway slaves who demand to be taken to Haiti, the closest country under black rule. With that in mind, I picked up the naval classic Running the Blockade: A Personal Narrative of Adventures, Risks, and Escapes during the American Civil War (1896) by Thomas E. Taylor and read it on the epic train trip out to Seattle. Turns out, a large number of blockade runners were British, out of ports such as Liverpool, and escaped slaves did try to escape to Caribbean islands by hiding on blockade runners. So it started coming together. Finally, I decided to steal the main character from James Taylor’s “The Frozen Man” (New Moon Shine, 1991), a sailor from Liverpool born in 1843, and also several lines from the middle of that song where the character talks about himself.

So here’s the lyrics for the first part of the new song, with a demo you can listen to here:

my name is William James McPhee
I was born in 1843
raised in Liverpool by the sea…
and if you’re coming for me then you best forget it
I’m more than a match for any Federal frigate

I was just a little page boy
waiting for the day, boy
hoping somebody would call my name
then states got seceding
so the boss got to needing me
running that blockade

though I never gave a damn about slavery
or a fig about Lincoln and Jefferson Davy
my ship’s 120 x 20 x 12
packed full of powder and shoes and belts
trying to make Wilmington without getting shelled
God save the Queen, I’ll save myself!

though I never gave a damn about Jesus
just show me what good that’s done anyone
if he’s got anything to say about it
he can tell me when his kingdom come!

For the next part, where his ship gets held hostage by “contrabands,” I think I need to read some slave narratives. Maybe I’ll have to pick Julia’s brain on places to start, since she did a lot of research for Steal Away Jordan.

Last Call for Rockin’

2009 Jul 6


Fresh Punch

2009 Jul 2

Just found this Punch Brothers video and had to share. Second-best bluegrass band in the world, IMO (after Crooked Still), and they sound damn fine here. I was in the freshman talent show at Oberlin with the guitar player.

Agents of Marque

2009 Jul 1

Melissa, John, and I have been working on a musical project for nearly the past two years now and finally have a MySpace page with demo tracks. We have a lot of stuff we’re still in the process of recording and about 15 songs total right now, so there’s a bunch more songs coming down the pipe eventually. These songs that are up are from our early “international spy” period, where we sounded like a James Bond lounge-funk act. Nowadays, our new songs lean more towards electro-folk and agnostic gospel, but we still play our earlier stuff too, so it’s an eclectic mix of awesome. If you still remember your MySpace login from 2003 (the Dark Ages!), you should totally Friend us.

JLC Muzak?

2009 Jun 27

I’m sitting here in Bruegger’s Bagels and Jump Little Children’s Mexico just came on the speakers… but it’s not Jay Clifford singing but some female vocalist. Who in the world is it? Also, if I search for the song, how many of the tracks I find will be covers of James Taylor’s Mexico?

P.S. iTunes has failed me. I have no idea who that was.

Holy Crap

2009 May 16

Wiley is a beast.

New Pants Go Even More Retro

2009 Apr 20

One of my favorite Chinese rock bands, New Pants, used to sound kinda 90s pop-punk, then went through a sorta 80s electro-rock phase (that claymation video is legendary), before going more bizarro glam-dance-rock (especially in this ridiculous video or, even more so, this one).

However, I just discovered a video they made last year, making fun or paying homage to the early Beijing rock scene of the early-mid 1980s. It is unbelievably hilarious and surprisingly accurate in its depiction of bands like Black Panther and Tang Dynasty. Check out “Even Wild Men (Barbarians) Have Love”:

Why Most Chinese Rock Criticism Sucks

2009 Feb 17

Chinese rock music is a rather different beast from Western rock music. Mao died in 1976. Deng came to power in 1978. The reforms started around 1980, bringing the Beatles and the Stones with them. Before that, no Western music since the 1940s.

According to popular accounts, Chinese rock music began in the early 1980s when a Korean-Chinese trumpet player named Cui Jian grabbed his electric guitar and played Nothing to My Name at a peace concert in Beijing. “Nothing to My Name” is not what we would normally think of as a rock song. It’s more of a modern Chinese folk song, a slow sad one at that, set to electric guitars. Once he got started, Cui Jian also experimented with rap, jazz, ska (trumpet player, remember), and, more recently, electronic music (check out “City Boatman” from his 2005 album).

When I interviewed the lead guitarist of Lun Hui in 1999 (Zhao Wei is the long-haired guy rocking the awesome solo in this video), he said that, in the beginning, the early rockers really didn’t have much context to understand what they were doing. He said something like, “We called ourselves ‘hard rock,’ because we thought that’s what we sounded like, but we really didn’t know what that meant.”

If you walk into a CD shop in China, for one, everything is fake. Finding genuine CDs takes a lot of work. Secondly, very frequently you’ll be able to find every Rhapsody album but nothing by Sly & the Family Stone. Consequently, the perspective you get on Western rock music in China is a rather interesting one. If you’re a high school or college student on a limited budget, your musical education in rock music is bound to be eclectic, assuming you have one at all.

Another thing: nobody listens to Chinese rock music in China. 95% of people are happy with Western music and the Asian pop mainstream. The folks who like it are 25% older musicians, 25% teenage rebels, 25% not really interested but at the concert anyway, and 25% Westerners. People often say that liking rock music is a phase that teenage boys go through but quickly mature out of.

And yet… when I read Western criticism of Chinese rock music, I see all these assumptions that it’s basically just an extension of rock elsewhere in the world. Take the “post-punk” label frequently applied to the kinds of bands that generally show up on Modern Sky. Punk barely happened in China at all and then it was mostly Green Day and Blink-182 inspired pop-punk in the late 1990s. Where does Chinese “post-punk” come from? That music is really more of a reaction against mainstream Chinese pop, previous Chinese rock music, and a host of other social issues (vocal and instrumental aesthetics, disillusionment with economic reforms, the rise of auteur culture). Yeah, it’s also part of a dialog with Western rock music, but that’s not nearly the most important aspect.

The other thing I see a lot is assumptions that Chinese rock musicians are mimicking Western artists that they like. In some cases, this is undoubtedly true, such as the way Ashura is very clearly inspired by the Linkin Park school of emo rap. However, in most cases, critics have no way of knowing what kind of music Chinese musicians have been exposed to unless the artists choose to talk about it. Maybe they never really listened to the Talking Heads until everybody started comparing their band to those guys, like the way Coheed & Cambria weren’t into Rush until later on.

In general, the problem is that nobody talks about Chinese rock in comparison to other Chinese rock bands, putting it in the context of what else is happening and has happened in the past. Often, this is because the critics themselves are just dabbling in this music and don’t have enough context to really make sense of it themselves. That’s cool and people should definitely come check this stuff out, but it sucks that more thorough and insightful commentaries are super hard to come by.

Chinese Post-Punk on iTunes

2009 Feb 16

When did this happen? Why didn’t anybody tell me?

• Zi Yue
• P.K. 14
• Rebuilding the Rights of Statues
• Wild Children
• Car-Sick Cars
• and more that I haven’t found yet.

Yay, globalization! Nothing like drowning my sorrows in the weird, dissonant, semi-melodic plodding of multiple generations of post-Communist disillusionment. Rock on!