I had heard of Murder By Death before, but I never listened to them until I saw them in 2009. That changed everything. They were opening for the Gaslight Anthem, and I remember that before they even started their set I was intrigued by the fact they had a cello player. Sometimes, a band pops into your life at the perfect moment; there’s something you’ve been missing out on, and you don’t realize until you first hear it. That’s what happened with me and Murder By Death that night. As they played their set, the only way I could think of describing them was like this: they were like Johnny Cash meets Cursive. Take the subtle country twang and the deep booming voice of lead singer Adam Turla, add some indie and alternative rock influences, and throw in that gorgeous cello, and voila: you have something that’s pretty hard to describe; you have Murder By Death. There’s something about them, something cinematic that sets them apart from other bands. Needless to say, I was totally hooked by the end of the set. I needed to hear everything they’d made, from the concept album about the Devil waging war against a southwestern town, Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them? to the very different, but equally epic Red of Tooth And Claw. The more I heard, the more I liked them, and I jumped at the chance to see them live earlier this year at Johnny Brenda’s. Currently, Murder By Death are gearing up to record the follow-up to 2010’s Good Morning, Magpie. I had the opportunity to ask Adam Turla a few questions about the new album, and you can check out his answers here:
This semester at Rowan has drawn to a close, and so the impetus for the creation of this blog is also over. This blog was for my Online Journalism class at Rowan, and it’s been a huge learning experience for me. It’s important to note that although this blog was for class, I never looked at it that way. I looked at the class as the reason to finally do something I had wanted to do for years: write about music. I never imagined the success I would have with this blog when I first started. I expected to be shot down or ignored by the bands I wanted to talk to. That happened sometimes, but I had far more success than I imagined. I expected to have to resort to writing about about bands I didn’t actually like or care about. That didn’t happen at all. I’ve genuinely enjoyed everything I’ve done for this. Everything I’ve written here has been honest and true. I don’t mind that focusing on only bands I actually like makes the blog less accessible to the public. When I get beyond the realm of things I want to write about, I don’t write as well. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer form this blog.
That being said, this isn’t the end of this blog by any stretch. I’ve enjoyed it so much, I can’t imagine just stopping like that. If anything, now I’ll have even more freedom with the blog–no deadlines, no specific assignments. I’m going to continue to review every show I go to, and take as many pictures and videos as I possibly can. I’m going to keep writing about bands I love, and bands I think are worth listening to. As long as bands are willing to talk to me, I’m going to keep doing interviews, Q&As, and maybe even some new features with bands. My next post will most likely be my top albums of 2011.
And now, the part where this becomes an awards show speech: I would like to thank each and everyone of you, my readers, whether you’re friends, family, acquaintances, or strangers. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for sharing. I’d also like to thank the bands I’ve written about for producing awesome music–I wouldn’t be writing this if it weren’t for your music and the inspiration it gives me. Specifically, thank you to Michael Martens of O’Brother, Kevin Devine, Johnny Mick, and Christain Bitto for talking with me about their music and music in general for this blog. Also thanks to Sibyl Kemp, Matt Hovern, Kimberly Southwick, Debbie Stevenson, and Eugene Kim of Invisible Children for talking to me and giving me some other perspectives. Thank you to my friends for going to shows with me and putting up with me taking pictures and talking about my blog all the time.
Whether you’re an old or new reader, here are my five favorite posts. I think they demonstrate my best work, and were all important to me for various other reasons.
Thank you for reading, and keep reading!
Jeff Mangum, lead singer and songwriter for the 90s indie rock band, Neutral Milk Hotel, is quite an enigmatic figure. He hasn’t released any new music under the Neutral Milk Hotel moniker since 1998. No one knows if he’s written anything since that point, that he’s like the Salinger of indie rock, leading a quiet life writing music only for himself, or if he’s totally dried up and incapable of writing anything. It’s likely somewhere in between–in a 2002 interview with Pitchfork, Mangum said he hadn’t written in a while, but also said he writes songs and being unsatisfied with them, throws them out. With his recent triumphant return to the music scene years after that interview, perhaps new material will be released at some point. Mangum is a man shrouded in mystery to most. For the decade since his band Neutral Milk Hotel’s critically acclaimed album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was released, little is publicly known about Mangum’s life. Forget what he’s been doing with his time, few sources agree on where he’s been for the bulk of the past 13 years. Some say he’s been living quietly in Athens, Georgia, others that he’s traveled all over, hopping from friend’s house to friend’s house. It’s a mystery created out of hearsay and the rampant curiosity of fans and journalists who starve for answers. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter where Mangum’s been–what matters is that Mangum’s returned.
Despite the following of devoted fans, and the accolades from publications, musicians, and Stephen Colbert, you may not know who Jeff Mangum even is. You may have never heard of Neutral Milk Hotel, so back to the beginning, back to the roots of what made Mangum the icon he is today. Neutral Milk Hotel was the name Mangum began using for his recordings in the early 1990’s. For years, Neutral Milk Hotel wasn’t really a band as much as simply Mangum and whoever felt like playing with him at any given moment. After releasing his first full-length album as Neutral Milk Hotel in 1996, On Avery Island, Mangum was joined by Julian Koster, Jeremy Barnes, and Scott Spillane for touring, and Neutral Milk Hotel as it is commonly viewed was formed. Two years later, Neutral Milk Hotel released their second and final album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, an album that continues to sell and gain the band new fans today. Listed as one of the greatest albums of all time by more than one source, it’s now heralded as genius and revolutionary by many. Less than a year after its release, after Neutral Milk Hotel started to create some buzz in the indie rock scene, they disappeared. The band broke up, went on hiatus, whatever you want to call it. Mangum disappeared, popping up here and there, but only playing Neutral Milk Hotel songs a few times over the next decade. Recently though, Mangum has returned to playing shows and playing Neutral Milk Hotel songs. After all these years, why is Mangum still relevant, and not just relevant, but able to sell out shows in seconds? How did In the Aeroplane Over the Sea manage to be the sixth best-selling vinyl in 2008, when it was 10 years old and still rather obscure? Continue reading
As the year draws to an end, blogs and magazines all over the internet are naming their best albums of the year. I am going to do a post with my favorite albums of the year, but for now, I’m going to try something different. It’s been an amazing year for music for me, both with albums releases from my favorite bands and live shows. For this post, I’m going to go through my ticket stub diary and talk about some of those amazing concerts. Continue reading
Let me briefly discuss my love affair with Brand New before I get down to talking about the show I went to on November 26. I started listening to Brand New when I was in 8th grade. Their album Deja Entendu blew my little 14-year-old mind. I anxiously awaited its follow-up, an effort that took three years to complete. It wasn’t until this time, in the fall of 2006 that I first got to experience Brand New live. It was an acoustic in-store performance at the now defunct Mars Red Records in Haddonfield, NJ. It was amazing, and they lived up to all my expectations. Then, their album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me dropped shortly after and completely changed everything about my relationship to music. I talked about that album briefly before, and I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but that album is still one of my favorite records of all time. It’s very special to me, and it’s perfect in my eyes. The years haven’t changed that like they have my opinions about other albums. Deja Entendu lost some of its magic for me, but I don’t think the Devil and God ever will. It was on one of the Devil and God tours in the spring of 2007 that I first saw Brand New at a proper gig, and it set the bar unbelievably high. That tour featured Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra as support, and it was just perfect. I honestly can say it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. It might even be the best. In the four times I’ve seen Brand New since then, I’ve never had as amazing an experience. They’re always good, and I always love their shows, but that show was the peak for me. Nothing has been quite as good, and I don’t know that anything else will ever reach that level of brilliance, of perfection, of love. Brand New released another album in 2009 which I also deeply love, Daisy. It’s visceral and raw and heavy, but so beautiful in it’s anger and anguish. They haven’t released any new music since then, but the few strings of shows they’ve played this year seem promising. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get something new in 2012.
Now, let’s get to the show I went to last week. The House of Blues show was announced over the summer, and I immediately got tickets (it was a small miracle, since the pre-sale sold out in about ten seconds). No support was announced for the show until very recently. If you read this blog regularly, I think you know I like this band, O’Brother, from Atlanta, Georgia. I think they’re fantastic, and I’ve written quite a lot about them these last few months. They announced they would be opening for Brand New on this Atlantic City date. My jaw literally dropped when I read that tweet. I mean literally. I couldn’t believe that the little band that I’d essentially watched grow up would be opening for Brand New. A week or so before the show, mewithoutYou announced that they would also be opening. Continue reading
I posted a couple days ago mentioning Thrice’s hiatus. The next day, November 22, Thursday announced that they would be going on an indefinite hiatus. This got me thinking quite a bit about my personal connections with both bands. I wasn’t terribly sad or particularly surprised that Thrice and Thursday both announced hiatuses–all things come to an end and both bands had very productive 13 year long runs. Both bands formed around the same time and had strangely parallel careers. Often lumped together as post hardcore, Thrice and Thursday toured together more than once and were both signed to Island Records (and both left after a fairly short time) around the same time. In their messages to fans, neither band ruled out the possibility of recording and playing together at some point in the future.
Facts aside, there’s another reason I’m writing this. I discovered Thursday in 2003, right after their album War All the Time was released. It was a formative time in my life; I was only 13. That album completely blew my mind. I had never listened to anything that heavy before, and I was amazed by how beautiful a loud record could be. I didn’t realize before then that heavy music could be melodic. Most importantly, Thursday showed me that lyrics can be literature, they can be poetry. There was more to music than lyrics about broken hearts and partying. Thursday’s songs were about bigger, more important issues. I really can’t put into words how much discovering Thursday changed me and shaped me as a person, but War All the Time will always hold a very special place in my heart. I would go so far as to say it was the first serious album I ever really loved (a vast improvement over the blink-182 and other pop-punk I had been listening to).
Thrice followed shortly after Thursday, mainly because I kept reading that they were so similar. They’re really not, but that’s another story. It was love at first listen. Thrice became a fixture in my life from that point on. In fact, from the time I first saw them in 2004, I went to almost every headlining Thrice show in Philadelphia (and some extra gigs too). Thursday may have started my love affair with lyrics, but Thrice continued it. Where Thursday waned in and out of my life at various times, Thrice never left me. Their music made me feel empowered. I became more socially aware by listening to their music. When I was 15, I went to my first Warped Tour and Thrice were headlining. I had recently bought their live album, and a membership to their fan club, The Thrice Alliance, came with it. I was ecstatic when I found out that this would get me into a meet and greet with the band, but I didn’t realize how cool it was going to be. My friend and I got to go backstage. Then while Thrice played their set, we got to stand on the side of the stage to watch. Then we met them. I was just a kid, and I was starstruck. I probably said about a total of ten words the entire time we got to chat with them. It’s still a story I tell, and it’s still one of my fondest memories from that point in my life. Here’s an incredibly embarrassing picture from that day:
Well, that’s awkward. I think I was suffering from heat exhaustion at the time. Back to my little open love letter to Thrice and Thursday. I owe so much to Thrice. Their music evolved with my own musical taste in a way that was almost eerie. Each album changed in just the right way for the time in my life it was released. I’m grateful I got to meet Thrice again this fall and see them perform on one of their last tours. Here’s a much less embarrassing picture of me with Thrice from last month:
There’s so much I can say about this band, and I’m starting to draw a blank and lose any eloquence I had going… The point of this post was to say thank you to two very important bands. Thank you, Thrice. Thank you, Thursday. Thank you for the 8 years of music you’ve created that I’ve followed, and the years before I started listening. Thank you for creating something beautiful. Thank you for playing countless shows and taking time to connect with your fans. Thank you for all you’ve done for me and people like me. Just thank you.
A lot happened in the small realm of music I cover on this blog in the last few days, so I present you with the first conglomeration post for this blog. There will surely be more in the future.
Last week, O’Brother, who I’ve talked about several times on this blog, digitally released their debut full-length album, Garden Window. As beautiful as it is fiery and visceral, the hour long record shattered my expectations. Even after hearing songs from Garden Window live and interviewing Michael Martens about the album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went into my first listen of Garden Window with my expectations dangerously high and was completely blown away. The record engulfs you in a wall of furious sound that immediately drags you in. Each time I’ve listened to Garden Window, I’ve heard something completely different, something that I did not hear on previous listens. If you want to hear the intense heavy and experimental record for yourself, you can buy the album digitally on iTunes or Amazon, or pre-order the gorgeous vinyl version or CD here.
- The Philadelphia based experimental band mewithoutYou have been added to the line-up for Saturday night’s Brand New show at the House of Blues in Atlantic City. O’Brother will be opening, followed by mewithoutYou, then Brand New. It’s going to be an amazing line-up and awesome night of music, so if you can find a way to get into that sold out show, I strongly encourage it.
- Thrice’s lead singer and guitarist, Dustin Kensrue, has announced via the band’s website that after a final spring tour, Thrice will be going on hiatus. Kensrue assured fans that Thrice were not breaking up, merely taking a break from being a full time band. You can read his statement here.
- Lastly, today is the 5th birthday (or anniversary, if you prefer to call it that) of an album I hold very close to my heart, Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. When that album was released five years ago today, I was only 16 years old. My taste in music was still developing, and I can honestly say that the Devil and God totally changed my musical taste forever. The way I perceived music was turned upside-down by that record. I could write volumes on Brand New and this particular album (I consider it their best work thus far), but I’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s an album that means a lot to me, an album that effected my life in different ways, an album that brought me closer to some very important people in my life, and an album that you should listen to if you’ve never heard it. Maybe you won’t like it, maybe you will. I think it’s a heartbreaking and beautiful masterpiece, and that hasn’t changed in the last five years.
I think it’s pretty obvious by now that I love going to concerts. I spend a good amount of my small college student income on tickets, but I’m still constantly frustrated by the amount of shows I just can’t afford to go to. I think I’m incredibly dedicated to music, probably more so than almost everyone I know. Enter Deb Stevenson, my longtime friend and concert-going partner. She goes to far more shows than I can even imagine, partially because of her involvement in the local music scene. About a month ago, Deb got into a nasty car accident that left her with serious fractures in her left hand and foot that required surgery. She was left totally wheelchair bound for a few weeks, only able to hop on one leg to move around at all and unable to use crutches for assistance due to the hand injury. I think it’s safe to say that most people would resign themselves to taking a break from concerts–I certainly would, but not Deb. Even in the days following her surgery, Deb was still determined to not let being temporarily wheelchair bound effect her love for live music. The inconvenience of the wheelchair was definitely not going to stop her from seeing one of her favorite bands, Andrew Jackson Jihad, when they came to Philly a few weeks ago. In the following video, Deb talks about why she goes to shows, how being in a wheelchair changes the experience, and her experience at the Andrew Jackson Jihad show. Also featured in the video is Deb’s chihuahua mix, Lupe, who frequently attends local shows with her and her boyfriend and some footage of Andrew Jackson Jihad at the show we went to.
Disclaimer: this is my first ever foray into video editing of any kind, and I experienced quite a few technological disasters during the making of it.
I did a brief question and answer with an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, Christian Bitto. He’s played at various small venues in the Philly area opening for a variety of bands. Christian is currently working on an album, and you can listen to one of the first songs at the end of the post.
Question: How long have you been making music and performing in Philly?
Answer: I’ve been playing guitar for over 10 years now. I was in a few bands where we never really did anything, and I gave it up for a while. I rededicated myself a few years back. I started writing my own songs a little over two years ago and have been performing for a little less than that.
Q: Any favorite places to play in Philly?
A: The apex for me was definitely the North Star Bar. I’ve played there twice now solo and can’t wait to perform there with the full band. That’s where all of my formative musical memories happened with my best friends, so to go there and be on the stage was such a surreal thing. Not to mention they’re so professional and easy to deal with, something that’s not always the case.
Q: What bands and songwriters influence your music?
A: I grew up in that post-punk screamo scene with bands like Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, The Early November, so I guess it started there. That was the first music I ever really liked and my first bands were all in that vein. But as for my own stuff now, Kevin Devine is a huge influence along with Conor Oberst [Bright Eyes], and Glen Hansard [The Swell Season]. I respond to lyrics almost more so than the music, so I love good songwriters. Oh and I forgot to mention Elliott Smith, what a huge influence his songs have had on me. I sing softly so Elliott Smith was the first person I listed to that didn’t scream or belt out tunes. When I heard him whisper his way through songs and they were just as powerful it made me have faith that I could sing as well.
Q: So you’re recording an album now, right?
A: I am recording an album. We’re finished two songs. It’ll probably end up being a 5 or 6 song EP [to be release] sometime early in the new year. It’ll have both [full band and acoustic songs], I had a demo out last year that was mainly just acoustic songs but this is definitely more indie rock-ish. I’m recording with my friend Jesse Gimbel at his studio, and he’s playing the drums. I’m pretty much playing anything else on it. I’m really looking forward to getting it done and getting out there with a band and performing. I enjoy the intimacy of sitting there on stage with just an acoustic guitar and telling a story, but it’ll be nice to change it up.
Q: The last show I went to last Friday, the opening band was just a guy with an acoustic guitar (Into It. Over It). He was really good, but I feel like it’s really hard to get people’s attention that way. I definitely give credit to anyone who can get up in front of people and keep playing despite the audience being uninterested and disrespectful at times…
A: I agree. I put a big emphasis on writing good lyrics, and for a while I was almost opposed to putting together a fuller band sound for fear it might take away from that…but I realized the stories are going to be there, and if people can enjoy the music without even noticing that, then that’s ok too.
Q: How have your experiences been playing in Philly? Good, bad, both?
A: I’ve had both. Like I said it’s great playing at the North Star, and there are other places that were great too. The Fire was my first show so they have a place in my heart too…but I have dealt with some people who clearly did not care or pay attention to what it takes to put on a good show. I played one show where the door guy didn’t show up, the promoter didn’t answer his phone and no one knew the set times. It was a mess…but even with that, you’re still playing music in front of people, so it’s not that bad.
Q: Do you go to a lot of shows in Philly? Any favorite venues to see shows at besides the North Star?
A: I used to go to a ton when I was younger. I stopped for a while but have started up again recently. There’s a ton of good venues, and I tend to prefer the smaller ones, which I think is why I love the North Star. It’s sort of the smallest place where you get really good nationally touring acts. I just saw Bright Eyes at the Mann Center and that place is just beautiful, such a different atmosphere than a rock club. Both types of places definitely have their merit though.
Q: Are there any local bands that you’ve played with that you really like?
A: Well I mentioned my friend Jesse Gimbel earlier. He has his own stuff, and we’ve played a few shows together and have become really good friends. I’ve met quite a few nice folks along the way, but Jesse and I definitely share a similar musical taste which makes it super easy to work together. It’s weird because I’ve played with everything from punk acts to country acts to poppy singers. It’s been rare to actually play with people in my general genre of interest. I guess they usually just want a guy with a guitar to open the show.
For years, Jeff Mangum, the former singer of Neutral Milk Hotel, has stayed out of the spotlight. While the incredibly influential lo-fi indie bands albums continue to sell–in fact the bands 1998 release, the critically acclaimed In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was in the best selling albums on vinyl in 2008–Mangum has avoided the music scene, with the exception of playing unannounced solo shows every now at then. In the past year though, he seems to have come out of retirement to play a few strings of formally announced shows. What makes this particular announcement significant is that Mangum will be playing in Philadelphia. The show, put together by r5 Productions, will be held on January 25, 2012 at University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium. Tickets go on sale this Friday 11/11/11 at 12 pm, and will surely sell out quickly.
Here’s a video from one of his solo shows earlier in the year that I found on YouTube: