Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Heeding Musicurious' Call for Submissions!

My friend, Zach, is trying to put together an anthology where writers find a song they have a particular attachment to and write a response of some sort, whether it be the feelings it conjures up, another verse to song, or a direct response (more information on the project is at Zach's site, Musicurious). I didn't have a lot of time, unfortunately, to really think about this, but I did get something to him before his deadline. I'm not happy with it (who really ever is happy with what they write?), but it is what it is.

Hands - "The Helix"

I am not alone.
Would you clear the dust from my eyes?
Would you recognize my voice if I should talk to you?
Oh, I feel so tired.
So wake me up.
I believe your hands hold the sun.
But in the deepest of my mind, I question everything you've done.
Give me rest.
I believe your breath fills my lungs.
But it's a thought that's hard to swallow, I feel ashamed I can't hold on.
Give me rest.
I will take your hand.
Just lead me through the dark.
I will take your hand.
Don't ever let me go.
"Be still and know that I am God."

Rick Gebhardt - "Someday"

In 100 years, I won't be here. 50 years ago, I wasn't here. But right now... right now I'm here. That's a sentiment with a very finite, extremely limited lifespan, at least in regards to my saying it. Death comes for us all--this we all know. We feel it, we deny it, we rationalize it, we ignore it, we fear it, and we try to accept it. Realizing that you have an expiration date... when you first truly swallow that fact... is scarring. You may argue that you lose your innocence the first time you have sex or the first time you willingly do something hurtful or the first time you understand that the world is imperfect, but you truly lose your innocence when you realize you don't get to be here forever. You will die. It's a thought that haunts, that drives, that depresses, and that guides. Seeing someone gasp their last breath sears you. Even surrounded by friends, loved ones, and care-takers, death is faced alone. Or so our rational mind tells us. But if we rationally know this, why do we search for someone to be there with us ethereally? Why do we try to convince ourselves so assuredly that we don't simply end as our body stops? Why does the collective human experience seem to have a spiritual component that defines our existence? Are we simply that deluded, or is there something more beyond the rational? We all will face that moment of truth, alone as we blink out of existence... or with a god of some form as we move on to our next phase of life.

I don't want to face death alone. Who would? I don't want to cease to exist. Who would? I don't want to end. Who would? So... I believe. But I struggle daily to convince myself that I actually do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

As I Fight For Life...

It's day 5 and there's been a minor setback. I sit here at my desk, simultaneously cold and sweaty, contemplating how long I'll last today. Things are bleak, but there's got to be an end at some point, right?  Maybe we should back up a bit and set the stage. It wasn't always like this. Less than a week ago everything was as normal as could be expected...

After a nice Thanksgiving day with my parents and brothers visiting, I woke up Friday morning feeling a little out of sorts. It's happened before when I gorge on pizza and sweets, so I didn't think anything of it, but it was the start of the war. There's no doubt about that now. My stomach was the first of many battlefields, many of which would see me losing.

...ok, creative writing 101 is done for the day. I had a nice complex war story to tell that would recount my current battle with flu and fever, but it's sapped even my will to write. I'm past the worst of it, I think.  At the moment I'm simply achy, dead tired, and headache-ridden, which is a much smaller subset of symptoms than what I was punished with over the Thanksgiving holiday break.

I honestly thought I was maybe just coming down with a slight cold, until I laid down on our couch late-afternoon on Friday and then didn't really remember much of anything that happened until Saturday morning at 10:30 am when my wife woke me up wondering what had ravaged me. I was disheveled, pale, sweating profusely (my clothes were like sopping wet dish rags), feeling cold, and had a temperature a few degrees higher than normal.

It's weird being in a state where everything feels foggy, memories are only sort of there, and you know you had conversations but don't remember how they went or sometimes what they were even about. It's rare for me to get sick, especially really sick, so this is such an odd feeling. I'm glad I'm out of that fevered state where my body was obviously in the throes of fighting some invader, but the continued grogginess and headache is still annoying (and I still have the occasional sweats).

I mistakenly thought I was well enough to play in my volleyball league last night, even though I needed to take a nap for a couple of hours after work just to have the energy to go.  After the first few points of the game I was soaked with sweat, every muscle felt like it had just been put through a marathon, and my head was foggy.  I'm surprised I made it through the entire game.

So it's another day of pushing through. I know I'm whining about being sick. Everyone gets sick, but it's not something I experience very often so when I do it seems like I usually get the worst of the worst in symptoms. Now I need to go get another pot of coffee, take some more Exedrin, and try to force myself to focus.  Only 8-ish hours to go...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rick's Discoveries Volume XII

As I look over the contents of this installment of my Discoveries series, there is quite a wide array of genres covered. This is one of the more scattershot lists in some time, containing everything from hip-hop to djent to classical to modern rock to post-hardcore to post-rock. I chalk this up to my being extra ADHD lately, as I constantly needed to mix up genres and try out different bands from across the musical spectrum. You might not enjoy all of these picks, but there should at least be one or two that interest you.

Elitist – Earth

This EP is frustratingly short... but unbelievably promising. It’s 7 tracks, but 3 are instrumental versions of the 3 actual songs, and the intro doesn’t really count. Elitist is extremely appealing because of the way that they are able to blend technical metalcore (a la After the Burial) with electronics and djent leanings (a la Periphery). It should also be noted that Earth is a hefty step up from Elitist’s first EP, Caves, and if they can maintain their meteoric ascent, their next effort will be unstoppable.

I’ve recently fallen in love with the show Community, whose breakout stars (in my opinion) are Danny Pudi and Donald Glover. I also recently found out that Glover has an alternate hip-hop persona in Childish Gambino (I know, I'm late to the game), so I figured I’d check it out, and I am so glad that I did. This is probably one of the most surprising hip-hop albums I’ve heard this year, mostly because of the diversity on display. Glover is all over the place, both musically and lyrically. There’s hints of Mos Def, Kid Cudi, Drake, Kno, and even some Dessa (in the mix of smooth instrumentation and singing between verses) throughout this album. The lyrics are cocky, unsure, pop-culture-laden, aggressive, passionate, and conscientious making for quite a compelling listen. I know I need some more time with this album, but it may be one of the best hip-hop efforts of the year.

Autumn – Cold Comfort

You like The Gathering, right? If so, then go get Cold Comfort. Simple as that. Autumn’s latest is extremely reminiscent of mid-to-late career The Gathering with their liberal use of mid-tempo song structures, strong female vocals (courtesy of Marjan Welman), and progressive rock leanings. That description should tell you exactly whether or not you’re going to be into this album or not. If you are, then you’re also in luck that Autumn has a rich discography of 4 albums prior to this one that you can also explore.

The Dreaming – Puppet

For a not insignificant amount of time, I was completely obsessed with everything Stabbing Westward had written. When they called it quits in 2002 I was very dismayed, but lead singer Christopher Hall is still making music today with his band The Dreaming. After putting out Etched in Blood in 2008, they’re back with Puppet which can best be thought of as a modern rock version of Stabbing Westward. Hall’s vocals are still center stage, but instead of industrialized rock backing him up, The Dreaming are quite content to play modern hard rock with some slight electronic flourishes here and there. This album isn’t treading onto any new ground, but for those looking for good modern rock or that miss Stabbing Westward, it’ll do.

The Even Tide – Inevitable Collapse

Following in the modern hard rock theme, I present to you The Even Tide. Inevitable Collapse is a great mix of modern hard rock combined with the melodic aspects of many current post-hardcore bands. Think of the clean choruses and sung verses of your favorite Rise Records bands (such asDecoder, Sleeping with Sirens, and Emarosa) and instead of going to the metalcore realm of breakdowns and screamed vocals, The Even Tide channel straight up rock similar to Anberlin or 10 Years. It’s a great change of pace from the usual post-hardcore template being used by altogether too many bands nowadays.

Pianos Become the Teeth – The Lack Long After

My initial thought when listening to The Lack Long After was, “Wow, this is like a much more listenable version of Envy with better vocals!” I realize I’m going to get killed by Envy fans for saying that, but I think the comparison is apt. You can also hear pieces of La Dispute and early Thursdaythroughout the album’s strong screamo attack. And, kids, this is what “screamo” actually sounds like, not like all the trendy post-hardcore crap being bandied about nowadays.

Fading Waves – The Sense of Space

This 40 minute EP feels like a fully realized album to me. Fading Waves is a one man band made up solely of Russian Alexey Maximuk. Throughout the course of the five tracks on this EP, you’ll be pushed, pummeled, and caressed by the band’s combination of post-metal and atmospheric post-rock. Yes, this sounds like an overused description and the band does play similarly to Isis, Russian Circles, and Pelican, but after having listened to the slab of boredom that was the most recent Russian Circles effort, The Sense of Space filled the gap it left. And, truth be told, this EP can stand up on its own simply on the strength of the epic track “Destroying the Time,” which is one of the better post-metal tracks I’ve heard this year, complete with a heavy wall of sound, aggressive male growls, and ethereal female vocals. Keep your eyes on this band.

Drawing the Endless Shore – Don’t Despair

Looking at the bandcamp page for Drawing the Endless Shore, I see genres such as post-rock, ambient, and trip-hop listed. I’ve had bad experiences when those have been mixed in the past, but Don’t Despair is quite different. There are elements of all three of those genres present, but their compilation together into what constitutes this album is much more than the sum of those parts. Imagine a slightly more mellow God Is an Astronaut if you will, combined with some elements of From Monument to Masses and healthy keyboard usage. What this creates is a laid back, yet engaging, album that traverses a healthy portion of your emotional spectrum.

Heart in Hand – Only Memories

Lately I’ve had a hard time finding metalcore that I truly enjoy. Yes, there are lots of competent bands, but they’re all interchangeable and I have a hard time connecting with them. However, with Heart in Hand I did make that connection. Their ability to take punishing breakdowns and meld them onto a mix of Misery Signals and It Prevails styled metalcore is not exactly unique, but they do it so damn well. There’s also some peppering of melodic hardcore (a la Comeback Kid) throughout the album that keeps the pacing and flow interesting. If you’re still craving solid metalcore, this is a band to check out.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra – The Greatest Video Game Music

Yes, I admit that this seems like an odd pick, but if you’re a video game fan, you’re going to absolutely love this album. Similar to the Video Games Live series put together by Jack Wall, this is an album of video game themes given the classical music treatment, which isn’t anything new, but when you have the London Philharmonic Orchestra performing the songs, the execution is perfect. You get some classics like the Tetris theme, a suite from The Legend of Zelda, the Super Mario Bros theme, and Final Fantasy’s theme, but you’ll also hear some newer video game themes that are equally as engaging and recognizable, such as themes from Halo 3, Uncharted, Angry Birds, Mass Effect, and Bioshock.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Statistically Speaking, These Are My Favorites

Over at Decoy Music there was a lot of discussion around what people's favorite albums of all time were. I mulled it over a bit in my head and couldn't really think of a list of 10 albums that I would have to choose as my all time favorites. My tastes are always changing, I love discovering new music, and honestly I don't think I would choose the same 10 albums tomorrow that I would choose today. So instead of thinking hard about it, I went to visit my profile to see what artists I've listened to the most since I started tracking my habits many years ago. Consider me quite surprised by some of the entries...

1. Nine Inch Nails

I was pretty obsessed with NIN from college onward. Everything that Trent Reznor has put out I've found myself drawn to it, so this isn't too surprising to see NIN in my top 10 of all time, however, it being my #1 entry is a bit surprising since I haven't actively listened to NIN in a couple of years. Apparently I racked up quite a few listens during college and directly after college.

2. In Flames

This really surprised me. I enjoy In Flames, but I've never been overly obsessed with them in any way. I think they may have made it this high because of the number of albums they have. Considering I own their discography and rarely turn them off when they come up on random, it may have been a slow but sure accumulation of listens. What's interesting, at least to me, is that I enjoy their least critically well-received albums the most, so if you look at my individual track listen counts, you may question my ability to judge what a band's good material is.

3. Dream Theater

For a while I was extremely into Dream Theater because I was impressed with their technical abilities. Over time, however, I've found more and more that I don't "like" their music, but appreciate the talent they possess. Listening to a lot of their albums now, I don't find myself engaged by their music, which may explain why I've grown out of this band a bit, but there's no denying how devoted I was to everything this band did for a period of more than a few years. I've simply come to realize there is maybe a bit too much cheese in their music for my current tastes.

4. Katatonia

I honestly expected Katatonia to be #1 on my all time listens list, but they're only at #4 crazily enough. This is a band that I formed an immediate connection to when I first heard them and still am completely engrossed by the majority of their discography. I find myself still queueing up their music whenever I find myself in a melancholic mood and never seem to tire of their music. And, unlike the previous entries, I anxiously anticipate anything that the band may put out in the future.

5. As I Lay Dying

I'm pretty sure AILD have made it this high because I spin each of their albums a million times right after they drop until I get sick of them. I then move on and revisit them mostly when I'm working out since they produce some wonderful weightlifting soundtracks. And, for me, they've yet to put out a bad album so that definitely helps inflate their play count.

6. Porcupine Tree

Of my top 10, this is the band I have the least interest in currently. They're in my top 10 solely based upon an obsession I had with them for about a year where I sought out everything they'd ever written (and there's a LOT of albums in their discography) and listened to it, hoping to eat up every piece of the band's genius... but then I got burnt out on it and realized that a lot of what they wrote was quite boring and uninteresting. Yes, they have some stellar songs and albums I still appreciate, but I find myself lacking any type of engagement when a lot of their stuff comes up on random.

7. Buckethead

He's up here as high as he is based solely upon sheer volume of work. I've been fascinated by all of the various compositions Buckethead has put together over the years (I think I have about 20 albums of his when I check my Buckethead folder), mostly as I listen in awe to his mastery of the guitar. Sure, a lot of his stuff is just technical wizardry, but he also has a number of solid albums with some great songs.

8. Atmosphere

Atmosphere was my first introduction to Minneapolis area hip-hop and has remained my most listened to hip-hop artist. The varied styles on each of Atmosphere's albums has led to my continued fascination with the duo, but I should also note that most of the hip-hop artists in my library owe their placement there to Atmosphere. Before discovering their unique breed of hip-hop I was completely turned off by the genre. Now, I find myself eating up anything I can from Midwest hip-hop artists and conscientious hip-hop groups in general. It's likely that over time, Atmosphere will climb further up this list.

9. Soilwork

At about the same time I discovered In Flames, I discovered Soilwork. Truthfully, I feel like I've listened to Soilwork much more than In Flames, and maybe I have with it not getting tracked, so I find myself more connected to Soilwork.  Similar to In Flames, I find myself liking Soilwork's more accessible works as opposed to their critically acclaimed albums.  I also don't mind queuing up their albums from time to time, so I anticipate many more listens in the future.

10. Demon Hunter

I've listened to every one of their albums too many times to count, most of the time in my car, so those listens didn't get tracked by Even though the bands last couple of albums have been very weak, their first three albums are staples of my metal listening habits. Much like Katatonia, I had an initial connection to what the band wrote and continue to enjoy their music to this day.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Rick's Discoveries Volume XI

As you may have noticed in past articles, and as you’ll definitely see after reading this article, I’ve been fully sucked into the djent genre. I’ve been trying to listen to all of the bands I run across, regardless of genre, but I find myself gravitating towards anything djent related before hitting up other artists. I’m sure that I will eventually sour on the genre, but as it stands the sound is still interesting enough that I am completely on board with the genre. That being said, my Discoveries articles aren’t focused solely on one genre since, given my ADHD tendencies, I can’t listen to one style of music for an entire day. Just be warned that there might be a larger swath of djent coverage in the next few articles. With that having been said, enjoy 10 new albums that I think deserve your attention!

Future of the Party – Future of the Party

Sporting former members of Paulson and Houston Calls, I expected something completely different than what I got. Instead of pop-punk or indie, Future of the Party play synth-laden pop-rock that reminds me a lot of a weird combination of The Static Age (music-wise) and Holy Roman Empire(vocal-wise). The synths take center stage for sure, making this EP a danceable, fun listen, but the songs still have enough gravity to them so that they don’t sound like a pure party band. They’re a serious band, but you can’t help yourself as you start to nod along to each song. There’s a bright future for this band.

Redemption – This Mortal Coil

Progressive metal fans already know and love this band, but they have often criticized Redemption for being nothing more than clones of Dream Theater. That’s been a valid criticism since Redemption are extremely similar to them, especially to those not well versed in progressive metal. This Mortal Coil isn’t going to change that opinion, but it is the band’s strongest album yet. Again, the downfall with this band (similar to Dream Theateras well) is the cheesy lyrics and overall lackluster vocals. However, the band has some stellar riffs on this album, much more so than on past releases. I would kill for an instrumental version of this album, truthfully. And if you were as disappointed by the latest Dream Theater album as I was, this should fill the progressive metal void that you have.

Fit For a King – Descendants

It seems like it has been a few articles now since I’ve had a good metalcore band to recommend. No longer! Fit For a King blend together metalcore traits that could be found on releases from the likes of Gwen Stacy, Impending Doom, A Plea For Purging, or Memphis May Fire. There are destructively heavy movements, stretches of melodic vocals, space-y instrumentation, and aggression to spare. I think what I like best about this album is it doesn’t stray into the deathcore tropes so many metalcore bands are falling into nowadays. This will make for a great weight-lifting soundtrack.

ForTiorI – Triton

Well, this will be the djent entry for this Discoveries article. I originally stumbled upon this guy (yep, this is another one-man djent band) because he did a cover of a Skrillex track. It was novel enough that I wanted to check out anything else he’d done, and he packed a lot into this album as it is around 90 minutes in length (in the digital age, you’re not confined to 80 minute albums any more), treading over all of the usual djent bases. Truth be told, the majority of the tracks are pretty basic djent, exploring all of the usual territory, but it’s executed quite well and kept me interested through most of the run time (it did drag at times… but it is 90 minutes long).

Spiralmountain – Blacksand

Ok… maybe I’ll have two djent entries. Spiralmountain, much like ForTiorI, stick to the usual djent template, but there is still a lot to like. Some songs are given space to utilize ambiance in structuring movements, while others are more focused on being industrialized jackhammers. It’s this variety that keeps the album from getting to boring or same-y feeling. If you are getting burnt out on instrumental djent, however, this isn’t going to do anything to bring you back into the fold. I’m still eating up every band trying the genre on for size, so you’ll probably see at least a few more djent entries in coming articles.

Friend For a Foe – Source of Isolation

How about a third djent-y album? This isn’t a straight up djent album, but it does have a few djent-ish moments here and there. The closest comparisons I can think of for Friend For a Foe would probably be to After the Burial or Born of Osiris but with a healthy dose of clean vocals to offset the well placed harsh vocals and some Periphery styled passages. Friend For a Foe might not be quite as technical as the aforementioned bands, but they have the same technical and mechanical approach, and they also manage to make stellar use of clean vocals and TesseracT like mellower sections. All in all, this band shows a ton of promise and could easily be a breakout artist if given the right push.

Jo Blankenburg – Vendetta

I’m again confronted with the same conundrum I was when trying to describe Thomas Bergersen… is there a genre of “movie trailer music”? All of the tracks on Vendetta are perfectly constructed to fit as 2-3 minute musical movements that could underscore any emotionally charged film trailer. The music doesn’t require a visual accompaniment to appreciate, however, so don’t think that’s what I’m driving at, but you can almost visualize what a trailer would look like set to each song on this album. The music is epic in scope, grandiosely composed, and is larger than life. Listening toVendetta as you go about your day can make everything you do seem life-altering and supremely important… even if it’s only brushing your teeth or making dinner.

Camo & Krooked – Cross the Line

And here’s your dubstep entry for this Discoveries article! I wasn’t very impressed by Camo & Krooked’s first album, Above & Beyond, but Cross the Line adds a lot to what they established on their previous album. This effort isn’t filled with epic drops or crazy wobbles, but they do keep it filthy. There’s a lot of drum n bass influence, along with some house and jungle, but for the majority of the album, you get some high quality dubstep that’s focused on solid song structuring instead of drops and wobbles which, let’s be honest, is getting a bit old.

Marionette ID – Alluvion

I’m not sure who I’m reminded of as I listen to Alluvion, but I’m constantly struck by the fact that this sounds so familiar… and so good. There’s pieces of Moving Mountains, hints of Engine Down, and maybe some Oddzar at times. It’s all quite an interesting combination of genres as there’s indie, post-rock, alt metal, and post-metal swirled around together with each other. Marionette ID effortlessly shift between the various genres they employ, keeping things engaging throughout the 7 tracks on this album, all of which are above the 5 minute mark.

Kendrick Lamar – Section.80

I feel like it has been a couple of articles since I’ve featured a hip-hop discovery, so here to rectify that is the full length debut from Kendrick Lamar.Section.80 gives you a glimpse into the dark, despairing world of the downtrodden and listless. Lamar uses his intriguing flow and lyric style to illustrate a number of dark topics, often times treading upon usual hip-hop topics such as drug use, banging chicks, and living the hard life, but instead of glorifying these topics or rapping about them simply to mention them, he brings them up in ways to show that in the darker, bleaker world he is writing from these are hazards of the day and things you slip into because there is nothing else for you. Despite some catchy choruses and upbeat sounding beats, this is actually a very dark conscious hip-hop record, so don’t expect a lot of bangers, but instead nimble explorations of modern ghetto life.